Press On

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord… (Hosea 6:3)

I first remember hearing this verse when I was in college, and it’s one that has stuck with me ever since.  The world is teeming with opportunities to pursue our interests, cultivate our passions, and develop relationships.  When it comes to knowing God, though, we might not think twice before taking a less persistent approach than we would in other areas of life.

When I contemplate the words “press on” in Hosea 6:3, a couple of principles come to mind.

Knowing God requires effort.  In His grace, God has chosen to make Himself knowable, but like any meaningful relationship, a relationship with Him takes work.  We won’t drift into intimacy with Him just like we don’t haphazardly arrive at intimacy with loved ones.  If we want to know Him, we’ll have to spend time cultivating a relationship with Him through His Word, prayer, the Church, and other means.

Knowing God will be met with obstacles.  The words “press on” convey the necessity of perseverance.  It’s no secret we are broken people living in a broken world.  Every day we are bombarded with enticing alternatives to knowing God better.  Sometimes we undervalue the privilege of knowing Him and become lax in accepting His invitation to intimacy.  At other times we recognize the value of knowing Him, but we feel the constraints of our relationship this side of Heaven.

Knowing God is worth the effort it requires.  In my favorite section of Scripture, Paul demonstrates the incomparable value of an intimate relationship with God when he writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8).  Knowing Jesus is better than the very best things this world has to offer.  Paul essentially says there’s no contest; the scales are always tipped in favor of Jesus.  And not just a little bit.  The value of knowing Him greatly exceeds the value of knowing anyone else or pursuing anything else.  This doesn’t mean we ignore the worth of other things, it just means we appropriately value them by acknowledging the far superior value of knowing Him.

You and I were created to have a relationship with God, but because of sin’s destructive effects, we don’t know Him as fully as was intended.  The day is coming, though, when He will return and we will finally “see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2).  Until then, let’s press on to know Him.  There’s nothing more valuable we could do with our time or energy.

Eyes on the Prize

Finish-lineI was in high school when I ran my first 10K.  A few of my cross country teammates and I spent the weekend in Charleston, South Carolina and participated in the race together on Saturday morning.

After the race began, it didn’t take long for me to realize this was a different kind of event than an average cross country meet.  While water stations were set up all along the course – an accommodation typical of most road races – these stations provided more than just water.  Each station was marked by enthusiastic onlookers cheering us along as they provided all sorts of entertainment.  Some stations even offered snacks for the daring runners, the most memorable being Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Because the 10K race was longer than I was used to running, each water station provided the boost I needed to keep going.  I started to look forward to the checkpoints along the course, knowing that each one would bring motivation and encouragement.  But what if I viewed the checkpoints, not as stops along the way, but as the finish line itself?  If I only paced myself to get to the next water station instead of to the finish line, I wouldn’t have the stamina to complete the race.  And if I deceived myself into thinking the next water station was the end goal, I’d miss out on the pride of a strong finish.

So often in life, I’m tempted to focus on checkpoints along the course instead of keeping my eyes toward the finish line.  I want to get on with the next thing, whatever it may be at the time.  Maybe you understand what I mean.  We train ourselves to think life will finally start when we can drive or when we go to college or when we get married or when we have a baby.  We pace ourselves for the checkpoints instead of allowing the checkpoints to serve their intended purpose – to fuel our endurance as we run toward our goal.

Life isn’t going to start later when that next thing – whatever it may be – happens for you.  Life is happening right now, and the Bible describes it as a race (Hebrews 12:1).  None of us knows exactly how long our race will last, but we do know that nothing along the way is the ultimate prize.  Learning how to drive, going to college, getting married, and having babies – all of which are great things – are checkpoints we may or may not pass on the course God has set for us to run.  The good experiences of life are like water stations, but Jesus is the Prize.  The best part of the race will be when it ends – when we cross the finish line and are finally able to enjoy the relationship with Him for which we were created.

Savor the checkpoints of life, but don’t confuse them with the finish line.  Let them fuel your endurance as your run your heart out to the One who makes the whole race worth it.  Take your sip of water, but keep your eyes on the Prize.

Image Rights: Shutterstock.

Christmas Gift Ideas

Ready or not, Christmas is just three short weeks away.  If you’re like me, you still have shopping left to do and could use a few gift suggestions.  I’m happy to be able to recommend three books that would make great gifts for the readers on your list.

Adobe Photoshop PDFChasing God by Angie Smith is written with the perfect blend of humor and vulnerability.  One minute you’re laughing out loud and a paragraph later you’re in tears.  Because of her informal style and warm tone, Angie makes you feel like you’re catching up with a friend over coffee – a friend who demonstrates incredible wisdom as she distinguishes between the joy of following God and the exhaustion of chasing Him.  Although it’s a quick read, Angie’s book is full of profound insight and life-changing truth.

StudyBibleForWomen_W14_LID_PRINT_R3.inddThe Study Bible for Women is one of the most user-friendly study Bibles I’ve encountered.  It is a Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), which is known for being both accurate and contemporary in its translation style.  The Bible includes countless outlines, word studies, timelines, and other resources expected of a study Bible.  In addition, there are a number of character profiles, essays, and devotionals written especially for women.  The print version is clear and easy to use, but there is also a digital edition.

51Pu8Ep10EL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World by Andreas Köstenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw is intended to help high school and college students understand the Christian faith and how to defend it.  The authors successfully identify and respond to some of the most popular objections to Christianity and, in the process, equip readers to think clearly and critically.  This book, while accessible to its target audience, is not a light or quick read due to the nature of its content.  It will take time to read and digest the material, but it will be well worth the effort.

There you have it, folks – three books that would make great gifts this Christmas.  Now it’s your turn.  What gift suggestions would you like to share?

B&H Publishing Group provided me with a free copy of these books in exchange for my honest reviews.  I did not receive additional compensation for this post.

Area of Influence

“We…will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you.” -2 Corinthians 10:13

Yesterday morning I came across a phrase in 2 Corinthians that caught my attention.  In this particular section of Scripture, Paul was writing to defend the legitimacy of his ministry.  Apparently some people were questioning his message and methods, and Paul was compelled to refute their claims.

Tucked away near the end of chapter 10, we find the phrase “area of influence” three times.  The expression appears first in verse 13 when Paul attributed the scope of his ministry to God.  Two verses later, he voiced hope that that scope would eventually broaden.  Finally, in verse 16 he affirmed others’ God-given realms of service.

The translation “area of influence God assigned to us” is unique to the English Standard Version; other translations include “the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us” (NIV), “the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us” (NASB), “the measure of the area of ministry that God has assigned to us” (HCSB), and “the boundaries of the work God has given us” (NLT).

Although the precise wording varies between translations, they all communicate the same concept.  As I’ve contemplated Paul’s words, a few principles have stood out to me.

First, influence is God-given.  Regardless of the size or shape of your particular area of service, God is the One who entrusted it to you.  The ultimate task, then, isn’t manufacturing influence but identifying the influence you’ve been given.

Second, influence is God-contained.  While God does appoint you to a certain sphere of ministry, the flip side is also true: there are certain tasks to which He doesn’t call you.  No one influences everyone, but everyone can influence someone.  The ultimate goal, then, isn’t expanding your influence but faithfully stewarding the influence you already have.

Third, influence is God-glorifying.  Although God gave Paul an exceptionally large area of influence, Paul didn’t have a monopoly on effectiveness for the kingdom of God.  Paul recognized the influence of others believers, indicating that ministry is to be a God-honoring, cooperative partnership rather than a self-exalting competition.  When we realize we’re playing on the same team, it’s easier to embrace the positions we’ve been assigned.  The ultimate victory, then, isn’t your influence being applauded but God being adored.

If you’re like me, it’s tempting to be jealous of someone else’s area of influence, but it’s liberating to be reminded that God is the One who makes us influential, sets the boundaries of our influence, and honors Himself through that influence.  Instead of focusing on what God has called someone else to do, take a look at the people you know and the positions you hold.

There is an area of influence God has assigned to you.  Will you leverage it for His glory and others’ good?

Growth Takes Time

It’s always nice to see a familiar passage of Scripture with a fresh perspective.  This happened for me recently when my small group was discussing Galatians 5.  At the end of this chapter, Paul contrasts “the works of the flesh” with “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:19-23).

Until now, I have always focused on the primary distinction Paul makes as captured in the final word of each phrase – flesh vs. Spirit.  While Paul’s emphasis is on distinguishing our natural tendencies from the characteristics the Holy Spirit produces in believers, my eyes were opened to another helpful dimension of the comparison when someone in the group commented, “Fruit takes a long time to grow.”

It took a minute to sink in, but I understood her point eventually – and it is profound.  The list of “works” identifies common attitudes and actions which characterize who we are apart from Christ.  In other words, we were all born with the capacity – in and of ourselves – to “gratify the desires of the flesh” in whatever form those impulses are manifested (5:16).

Those who have a relationship with God by faith, on the other hand, have the Holy Spirit living inside of them.  Part of His task is producing in them “fruit” – godly character – that accompanies authentic faith and glorifies God instead of self.

Although the lists prove that both sinfulness and godliness can be displayed in a variety of ways, there is a noteworthy principle implicit in the word “fruit” and explicit in a cursory comparison of the items.  While the “works” certainly attest to underlying tendencies and orientations of the heart, many of them can be achieved almost immediately.  The Spirit-produced alternatives, though, are developed over time and become increasingly characteristic of the Christian the longer the Spirit works.

In this context, the comment “fruit takes a long time to grow” has at least two implications.  First, fruit is sweetest when it’s most fully developed.  Making kind or faithful choices, for example, is the starting point, not the finish line.  Kindness and faithfulness are the result of a Spirit-empowered pattern of kind and faithful decisions.  Second and most important, the Spirit is like a wise and patient farmer who does the dirty work today so the harvest can be enjoyed in due season.  He’s taking His time for a reason, cultivating something that gets better with age.  Like one of my former professors often said, “God grows things, and He’s not in a hurry.”

The lady in my small group was right.  In contrast to the instant gratification promised by the “works of the flesh”, fruit does take a long time to grow.  Like an apple seed which eventually matures into the real thing, the Holy Spirit is in the process of making us who we are destined to be (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 1:6).  One day the fruit of His work in our lives will be in full bloom, and He will get all the glory.