How To Serve The Lord In The Way That Pleases Him

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You can tell a lot about a company or a company’s leader by observing its employees.

If the employees are cheerful and helpful, you think their company or  boss must be great to work for. If Christians are discontent, grumble and act down-in-the mouth like Eeyore, what does that say about our Master? If we’re doing the right thing but our heart isn’t in it, it says God isn’t a good master, that he doesn’t take care of us, satisfy us or make us glad, that we didn’t make a good decision by calling on his name.

God tells us in Ps 100:2:

Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!

When we sing to God we should do it with glad hearts. How does God feel if we say, OK, I’ll worship, because I have to, but I won’t like it. In Malachi, God rebuked the priests because of their lack of joy in serving him:

But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the LORD of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the LORD. Malachi 1:13

The priests were doing their duty – they were offering the sacrifices – but they didn’t bring their best and rather than serving the Lord joyfully they said, “What a weariness this is.”

How often are we tempted to have the same attitude. When that difficult brother or sister needs for the hundredth time, when we must tend to our kooky children or care for a sick parent, when we must serve our spouse – we too can think “What a weariness this is.” I know because I have done this.

Yet Scripture calls us to do all things as unto the Lord:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. CO 3:23-24

Whether it’s working on a spreadsheet, shoveling manure, changing a diaper or doing the dishes, we are to work heartily as for the Lord – “you are serving the Lord Christ.” And we are to serve the Lord with gladness. God rebuked Israel for failure to serve him joyfully:

Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything….DT 28:47-48

We have every reason to serve the Lord with gladness – he saved us, washed our sins away, and made us joint-heirs with Christ! So what if we have to deal with a difficult brother, we’re saved! So what if our job is boring, nothing can separate us from God’s love! I’m not saying it’s easy to serve the Lord cheerfully. But if we will pray and ask for grace to serve him joyfully he’ll pour it out.

The gladness of servants speaks volumes about their Master. Let’s serve the Lord with cheerful, glad, joyful hearts today and show the world what an incredible Master we have.

God Prepares Our Works, Motivates Us, Then Rewards Us. What’s Up With That?

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Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Php 2:12-13

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Eph 2:10

God is the ultimate “worker,” the great worker of “good works.” He deals bountifully with us (PS 119.17), he is good and does good (68). In fact he rejoices to do good to his people (Je 32:41) and he purposes to bring good to his own (Zech 8:15).

God did the ultimate good work when he sent his son Jesus to redeem us. And Peter preached to Cornelius’ household that Jesus “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil.” (Ac 10:38).

By contrast, we are not good in and of ourselves – “no one does good, not even one” (Ro 3:12). But when he saves us, God makes us new creations. The great worker of good makes us his workmanship, and creates us in Christ Jesus, the one who went about doing good. God creates us for good works.

Not only that, but he prepared our good works beforehand, in eternity past, long before he created the universe. All we need to do is walk in them.

God not only creates us in Christ for good works, prepares the very works we will walk in, but gives us the desire to do those works. He works in us both to will and work for his good pleasure. We who once lived only for ourselves, who worked only evil, and loathed the light, now long to please our heavenly Father, to act like him and his Son. God not only gives us the will but he supplies the strength and energy to do good.

But wait, there’s more. The great Giver gives us gifts to use in the service of others. Mercy, administration, helps, giving, faith, prophecy, teaching, sewing, cooking, artistic gifts and skills in every craft (see Exodus 35), musical and medical skills – every kind of gift. God not only gives us the works to walk in, but the talents to execute them.

But God doesn’t stop there. He rewards us for using the gifts and doing the works he gave us.

What kind of God is this? A wonderful God. A good God. A lavish, generous, amazing, creative, surprising, loving God. It would be enough if he only saved us. But he transforms us, then rewards us. Unbelievable.

And God won’t forget to reward us. He sees every work, no matter how “insignificant” in our eyes, and records it for the last day. Not a single cup of water given to a disciple will go unrewarded. Not a single visit to a sick person, a piece of bread given a hungry one; not a tiny act of kindness done to a child – none will be missed or forgotten.

For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do (Heb 6:10).

Last night I joined some members of our church who conduct a monthly service in a personal care facility. Patients were wheeled in and handed large print hymn books. The folks from our church went around cheerfully greeting the patients, shaking their hands, making small talk. Then they led the service, playing and singing some good old hymns, Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art. Then one of my friends gave a short talk about the love of God from Romans 8. A couple more hymns, then our folks helped wheel patients back to their rooms. These members of our church have been serving the residents of the home every month for years. Last night I thought what a reward they are going to in heaven. Month after month, singing The Old Rugged Cross and What A Friend We Have In Jesus. Loving these people who can’t give much back. Year after year of doing good to the weak. I thought, I want to be there applauding them when Jesus says “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

Your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Let’s thank God for his incredible goodness in giving us works to walk in, the will, strength and gifts to do them, and then rewarding us. What an incredible God we serve!

Me, Bob Wiley, And Getting The Grace To Be Cheerful

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Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: …the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. (Romans 12:6, 8)

I’ve seen lots of people doing acts of mercy lately. My 95-year old Dad, JJ, fell on the ice last December, fractured his ankle on both sides, had surgery, spent a week in the hospital then several in a personal care facility, then had a small heart attack 3 weeks ago which landed him back in the hospital. Lots of people showing my Dad mercy. Many with cheerfulness. Some not so cheerful.

Being the son who lives in the same town as Dad, I’ve gone to the hospital and care home more than I ever want to again. Of course, I love Dad and want to do all I can for him. But trudging to the hospital every day gets old. So does helping Dad with bodily functions, wiping his mouth and chin when food is caked on, getting him a drink, turning on his TV, etc. None of this tiny acts of mercy are hard. I don’t share this to evoke admiration or pity. I share this because I don’t always do these simple acts of mercy with cheerfulness.

Sometimes I do. You’d think I could always do them cheerfully. I mean, it’s my dad. He’s always been a great dad. It’s the least I can do. And I know others with immeasurably bigger challenges than me, who have cared for a disabled spouse or child for years with smiles on their faces and gladness in their hearts.

I have seen anew and afresh how much I need Jesus. I need his grace. I need his joy. I see that I am so week that I need him to help me do even the most peewee acts of mercy with cheerfulness. I’ve seen yet again the truth of Jesus’ words “Apart from me you can do nothing.” And I’ve also experienced the truth of “Ask and it will be given to you.” Jesus fills me with joy in serving when I pray. Day after day I come back to Jesus, like Bob Wiley to Dr. Marvin in “What About Bob” and cry out, “I need, I need, I need, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme.” I need grace. I need joy. I need strength.  For even the smallest things.

I know that Jesus was tempted in every way I am, yet without sin. He probably didn’t always “feel” cheerful when the crowds were pushing in on him. It’s hard for me to imagine that he felt cheerful the night before his crucifixion when he thought about washing the disciples’ feet. Yet I believe he sought his Father for strength and joy. He regularly prayed throughout his ministry. I would imagine he prayed for God’s grace to preach and heal and put up with his disciples with cheerfulness.

I’m happy to report that Jesus answers my prayers. He helps me.  He gives me joy in mundane acts of serving. He gives me enough grace for this hour. He doesn’t give me several days’ worth or even several hours’ worth of grace ahead of time. He gives me enough to be cheerful now. I’ll have to pray again soon, because I seem to leak. But I’m confident he’ll fill me again.

When You Do Good And It Comes Back To Bite You

After we were brought safely through, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god. (Acts 28:1-6)

Paul was trying to serve others – he was gathering sticks for a fire to help people warm up. And what happened? He got bit. Sometimes you try to do good and it comes back to bite you.

Years ago I counseled a struggling couple for months. Many evenings I drove to their home after receiving a desperate call to intervene in a major blowout. After a couple years the wife left her husband. And who did he blame? Me. Me. All I did was try to help and it came back to bite me.

A fellow pastor spent hours and hours trying to help a different couple, and our church helped them financially. The thanks my friend got was they left our church and told people he was a Satanic high priest. He did good and it came back to bite him.

Jesus is the supreme example of suffering for doing good – he went about healing people, delivering people from demons, and teaching the truth, and he wound up nailed to a Roman cross.

2 things to remember when you do good and it comes back to bite you:

Suffering does not mean we have done something wrong.

We can think, what did I do wrong? Is God punishing me? Suffering doesn’t mean we’ve done something wrong. Very often we’ve done something right. Satan isn’t happy when we serve the Lord and often he resists us and afflicts us. And because we live in a fallen world, we sow good seeds but along with our crop, thorns and thistles come up. Don’t be surprised when you sow good deeds and some weeds pop up alongside.

Our reward is from God, not those we serve.

Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)

When we try to do good and it comes back to bite us we can think what’s the point, why bother? We feel like the preacher in Ecclesiastes: all is vanity. If this life were all there is, our labor would be in vain. But we know differently. We know that “in the Lord” our labor is not in vain. Our reward is from God, not those we serve. That child you adopted (or your own child) may never thank you. Those neighbors you reach out to may never be saved. That man in prison you visited all those months may never appreciate it. You may never see the good your giving to the poor does. But your labor in the Lord is not in vain. Even if it feels like it.

When we do good and it comes back to bite us, we can feel giving up. Don’t. Your suffering doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. And your reward is from the Lord, not those you serve. Do you have a viper dangling from your hand? Shake it off and keep serving. Jesus is pleased with you, even if things didn’t work out like you hoped.

Being Epic Is Killing Us

These days everything is “epic” (insert one to fifteen exclamation points). Every movie is an epic story of heartbreak, love, and survival. Every book is the most epic tale since Homer’s Odyssey. Every sports rivalry, no matter how lame or inconsequential (“the Altoona Curve take on their epic rival”) is the epic game of the century. The Super Bowl is epic. The World Series is epic. Those wings I ate last Thursday were epic.

We Christians are epic junkies as well. The books that sell and the blog posts that spread are those that portray the Christian life as an epic journey of thrills, excitement, and crazy adventures, all for the glory of God. And don’t get me wrong, there will be times in our lives when we will do big, difficult things for God, like go on a mission trip, adopt a child, or plant a church. I am ALL for those things. Praise God if you have the opportunity to be a part of something big.

But, to paraphrase the movie The Incredibles, if everything is epic then nothing is epic.

Does God really want all of us to be constantly living epic, exciting, thrilling, over-the-top lives? If so, where does that put those of us who simply read our Bibles, go to church, take care of our kids, and serve those around us? I would put myself in that category. Am I missing out on something? I don’t think so.

In 1 Timothy 2:1-3 Paul says:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…

Wait, what? Peaceful, quiet, godly, dignified lives? Where is the epicness? Where are the crazy adventures for God? Where are the thrills? Where is the radicalness?

Maybe we’ve got this epic thing all wrong. Maybe God wants us to live epicly quiet lives. And maybe, just maybe, living a quiet, godly, dignified life truly is epic.

I think this is what Jesus meant when said: “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” (Matthew 10:42) Most of the Christian life is ordinary, at least in the world’s eyes. We go to work. We take care of our children. We serve those in our neighborhood. We take care of the new mom in our small group. We reach out to the sick in our church. We pray for one another. We instruct our children in the fear of the Lord. We change diapers. There is nothing epic or extraordinary about any of these things.

But the reality is, serving the Lord in any way truly is epic.

When we serve the Lord in any way, big or small, quiet or loud, at home or abroad, we are storing up rewards in heaven. We are laying up treasures in heaven. And when we get to heaven the real epic life will begin. Heaven truly is epic in every sense of the word. Everything we do, see, say, and enjoy in heaven will be epic.

If you feel discouraged because your life doesn’t seem very epic for the Lord, maybe you need to redefine your understanding of “epic”. All service to Lord is epic. Serving your children can be epic. Cleaning the bathroom can be epic. Creating a spreadsheet can be epic. Every day of the Christian life is meant to be quietly epic. Because a day is coming when life truly will be epic in every sense of the word. Let’s live for that day.

+ original photo by Curtis Fry