Monday, 22 August 2011

Largeness of Heart

Look at 1Kings 4.20,29
Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand by the sea in multitude, eating and drinking and rejoicing.
And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore.

This is a summary of the establishment of Solomon as the new King of Israel. The people were happy. They were eating, drinking and rejoicing. It was a time of celebration. They were a numerous people, a multitude like, ‘the sand by the sea’.

Then later in the same chapter we read of God’s endowment to Solomon of wisdom and exceedingly great understanding and largeness of heart is also like ‘the sand on the seashore’.

A multitude of people needs a leader with a heart big enough to care for them and lead them. Solomon knew he was called to be King. It was his inheritance, his calling, and his destiny. But he was also acutely aware that he lacked experience and maturity, things that bring wisdom, 1Chron 22.5. In His prayer to God he cried out for the ability to judge and lead Israel well.

God answered his prayer by giving him largeness of heart. I am convinced that we need to learn to develop a multitude mentality. Jesus had compassion on the multitudes. He was never overwhelmed by the size of a crowd. Rather He demonstrated unflinching confidence in the Father’s ability to provide for them whatever they needed.

Sometimes His compassion moved Him to pray as in Matt 9.36. He saw that the people were like sheep without a shepherd. Here He was as the good shepherd but he knew that he needed others to care for the flock too. This was His commission to Peter in John 21 – feed my sheep.

And so in this text He told the disciples to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out labourers into the harvest. He wanted more shepherds who could care and feed the flock. The people were scattered and the heart of God is always to gather and include others.

Jesus said ‘How I longed to gather as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing'. A scattered flock is not God’s heart. Further Jesus had a heart that could receive all. It was large enough for all. John 3.16 says; 'For God so loved the world’. He had room in His heart for everyone.

Sometime Jesus was moved with compassion and He healed the multitudes as in Matt 14.14 In Mark 8.34 His compassion moved Him to teach the multitudes and then later in the same chapter He fed them. The Compassion of Jesus motivated each of these acts. It moved Him to action. His heart was stirred and He did something. He did not remain passive. He prayed, He healed, He taught, and He miraculously fed them.

This challenges me. I am persuaded that most churches are small because the heart of the leader is not big and in turn the heart of the congregation is small too. Imagine being part of the early church. You are part of the 120 disciples in the upper room. People who for the most part you have been with for three years. Others, like the siblings, James and John and Peter and Andrew you have known all your life.

Suddenly there is a mighty rushing wind and God comes. 3000 people are saved. Now your nice little group of people is ruined. Each person becomes responsible for caring for 25 new believers. But their heart was large enough to embrace this. They didn’t turn them away. Like Jesus they received them and cared for them – even if it meant selling houses or lands. Wow. Largeness of heart. It’s what helps us reach the world.

There is a lot written about revival these days. Great. I’m for that. But my observation of many believers is that they are clueless as to what revival will mean for them if it comes. It will mean you have to open your home to more people. People who may not be like you. People you may not normally choose to associate with. People outside your social network. People whose needs may mean you need to make significant sacrifices for. Do you really want that?

Too often we focus on programs. These are good. They have their place. But people run programs. And Jesus focused His prayers on labourers for the Harvest. In the context of Matt 9 he is looking for those who have a heart to care for the sheep. Those with a desire to lead the way He does, fearlessly, confidently with the good of the people in mind. Leadership that gathers. The very word church means gathered assembly.

In 2Cor 6 Paul speaks to the Corinthians about their attitude of heart Listen to his words:

O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.

Paul had a big heart. It was wide open to these people. But they were not reciprocating. Their hearts were closed. JB Phillips puts it like this: “We are hiding nothing from you and our hearts are absolutely open to you”.

Think of John 3.16. 'For God so loved the world…' What a heart. Big enough to take in all the peoples of the world. And the heart of Jesus is like that. He never turned people away. He received all who came to Him. His heart is big. And if we are to be like Jesus then our hearts need to be enlarged too. But it is a choice!

John talks of those who see a brother in need and shut up their heart to him. He asks a question. “How does the love of God dwell in him?” 1John 3.17. Largeness of heart creates generosity of spirit. Without it we become miserly, self-serving, isolated and fearful of others.

Largeness of heart enables us to do the uncomfortable and the inconvenient without complaining. Largeness of heart increases our capacity for wisdom and understanding. We become more discerning. People are afraid that they will be ripped off if they are generous. But Solomon had great wisdom. Nobody got the better of him. He ruled with wisdom and Israel flourished under his leadership. They became a multitude.They grew.

This is God’s heart for the church. He wants it to grow. He wants to add to the church daily. But we need hearts that are big enough to work together with God for the good of His purposes; to embrace what He wants to do.

Largeness of heart is never threatened by the success of others. Think of John who saw someone delivering people from demons but he wasn’t part of Jesus company of followers. John forbade him. He wanted to protect Jesus’ franchise. Listen to the generosity of spirit coming from Jesus:

“Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side”, Luke 9.50.

Imagine that. Someone else doing what Jesus and the apostles did but not part of their company and Jesus affirmed his ministry. That’s largeness of heart. What would happen if pastors in a local area began to cheer one another on when a new church was planted or someone else was having success?

Instead of being jealous or insecure about loosing people pastors rejoiced and blessed what God was doing. But my experience tells me this is the exception not the rule. Why? Smallness of heart. Something needs to change!

People with largeness of heart are discerning without being judgemental. In Luke 9 a Samaritan village refused to accept the ministry of Jesus because He had set His face to go on to Jerusalem. Perhaps they wanted Jesus just for themselves. Perhaps the animosity between the Samaritans and Jews made them resentful that He would go on to minister to them too. Whatever the reason they said no.

James and John got mad. The sons of thunder went into judgement mode. Not only that, they used scripture to justify their judgmental attitude towards these Samaritans. Listen to them. We are talking genocide here, all in the name of Jesus.

“And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village, Luke 9.54-56.

Jesus is straight. 'You have the wrong spirit guys' - my paraphrase. Largeness of heart keeps you from being offended by others. Jesus wasn’t. He respected their decision and moved on. How do you handle it when people don’t respond the way you would like them to? Do you get offended and then find a Bible verse to justify your ‘righteous indignation’?

Jesus is on the business of saving people not condemning them. That is another spirit, one the Pharisees were well practiced in. Self-righteousness does not produce largeness of heart. Only responding to God’s compassion can do that. I have read some very disingenuous statements abut Mother Teresa from evangelicals because she was a catholic. But I have been to Calcutta. I have read her journal. I was impressed by her love and devotion to Jesus. It manifested itself through her love for homeless children. She took in thousands because she had largeness of heart. I admire her.

Why not pray a dangerous prayer this week. Ask God to give you largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore. Ask Him to take you on a journey where your capacity is increased. Dare to do something this week that takes you out of your comfort zone. Something that shows your heart is getting bigger.

I have a retired couple in my church. They are amazing. Their son is a pastor and has planted churches in Africa. They have a nice home. I asked them to take in an intern from our church. This is a young man who has recently graduated from Bible College but was looking for ministry experience. I asked them to give him board and keep. They did it for a whole year, willingly, unselfishly, and joyfully. I call that largeness of heart.

And we as a church have been richly blessed, by them, by him, by God. They weren’t sure at first but they took a step of faith. They have largeness of heart. Give me a hundred more people like that and I could build a church of a thousand.

Smallness is good – as long as we don’t stay small. In life we begin as single cell, but we don’t stay that way. When we are born we are tiny, but we don’t stay that way. When we plant an acorn it is small but it doesn’t stay that way. Life brings growth – with all its associated problems.

The Kingdom of God begins as a mustard seed. Small and apparently insignificant. But it grows. It becomes a mighty tree that even the birds of the air can nest in Matt 13.31-32. We should celebrate this and welcome it and prepare our hearts to embrace it. How big is your heart? Who is God challenging you to embrace? What will you do to become a big-hearted person? Dare to ask the Lord to give largeness of heart.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Working Heartily for the Lord

Six days shall you labour …… Ex 20.9

Rest is important, but the greater part of our time is given over to work. This is not always paid work either. The mother who is a home builder works. The countless volunteers in numerous charities work. Every day we meet people who work.

Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now and I have been working”, John 5.17.

He went on to say, “I must work the works of Him that sent Me ….”, John 9.4

Both the Father and the Son work! They work according to a purpose, a goal. They have an aim in view. That is how it should be for us too. We are yoked to Jesus in order to do His works and that is not just the stuff we do on Sunday! Every day is an opportunity to do His will right where you work. Jesus delighted to do the work of the Father, every day of His life.

Creation itself is a reflection of God’s handiwork. He works. He creates. He expresses something of His own glory through creation. As the scripture says in Psalm 19.1-4 NIV,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.

Creation speaks to us. Its language is universal. Every culture has the capacity to understand that it points to a creator of infinite power, Rom 1.20. God’s creation points back to Him.

In the same way what we do points back to us. It’s not difficult to recognise a painting by Van Gogh or to recognise an impressionist work of art. For years the unique and distinctive designs of Frank Lloyd Wright dominated architecture in America. With each of these men their work pointed back to them. This is why Jesus could say: “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father in Me, or else believe Me for the sake of the works themselves”, John 14.11.

To believe in the work of the Saviour is to believe in the Saviour. So what we do is important. It is not distant from who we are as people. It is, in part, a reflection of who we are!

Take a look at Col 3.22-24 NIV:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Let’s unpack this a little. First some background. Slaves were prolific throughout the Roman Empire. The Emperor had 250,000 slaves. Every household wanted slaves. They were productive and the more you had the more it became a social status within the community. Slaves were treated well on the whole, after all they were a financial investment. If you buy a new car you make sure it is serviced! Slaves were given food and board and some money. Over a lifetime, if they excelled, it was possible for them to buy their own freedom.

Imagine being a slave and coming to faith in Jesus. Now you have dignity in Christ. You hear Paul teach that there is no longer Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. Wow! The old distinctions have gone – in Christ. And yet Rome doesn’t recognise this great truth. What do you do?

Paul begins by reframing the life and work of a slave. He lifts it from the ordinary and mundane to the spiritual and significant. Now this is important for us because many people feel trapped in jobs they don't like. The obligation of family and a mortgage keep them there. Let’s hear what Paul has to say and take his points in reverse order.

1. You serve the Lord Christ. Imagine that. Not Rome. Not your master/employer. Not Caesar, but Jesus – the Lord Christ. If that was true then for slaves how much more is it true for us as believers in the 21 Century. Think about the change in attitude such a perspective could bring both to the worker and the organisation they work for. And that is the point. Paul wants to change their inner world by changing their view of reality. He wants them and us to see things from a divine perspective.

Imagine the change that could happen to our world if instead of waking up on a Monday morning and heading off to work at Ford’s or the bank or the university or MacDonald’s or the hospital, instead you saw yourself going to work for Jesus! He is not just our Saviour. We learn from scripture that all things were made by Him and for Him. His creativity is boundless. And as you serve Him, he has the power to help you be creative right where you are.

2. At the end of the week you receive a payment, money, thanks appreciation of some kind. But Paul says Jesus has reserved for us an inheritance. That’s a lot more than a wage. If we work with a good attitude of heart, as if we were doing it for Jesus, then He will reward us. He is not unjust. We serve a higher master. Our boss in Heaven notices everything and He will repay us for our labour.

3. The danger with serving any person is that we can make judgements about what we consider fair or reasonable. By seeing ourselves as serving Jesus Paul raises the stakes. Now it’s not just a question of working hard when we are being observed but working hard all the time. We are there to give it our best because even though our human boss may not be worth it, Jesus is.

God doesn’t want you to develop into a man-pleaser. He is looking for a deeper commitment through a deeper understanding of who we truly are in Christ and whom we truly serve. The opposite of eye-service is heart service. Our work is to be from the heart, heartily. This means that we do something without restraint. We are vigorous. We give our best. In time this produces excellence. Excellence begins with an attitude. That is how Olympic champions are made. They commit to a process where they give everything and in time they become the best. Excellence is the consequence of doing things with all your heart.

Listen to Proverbs 22.29 in the Message version: "Observe people who are good at their work - skilled workers are always in demand and admired they don’t take a back seat to anyone".

A Skill is competent excellence in performance. It is always noticed. It is seldom passed over. The reason is that bosses love hard workers. They are productive and help organisations to succeed and grow. Even unbelievers recognise the value of such a person. Think of how Joseph was promoted by Potiphar. He ruled over his entire estate. When thrown into prison he was again promoted so that all were under his care and management.

Even Jesus learned a trade. He was a skilled carpenter. All those years of obscurity were part of His preparation for ministry. They were significant and they counted. Before David became a King he kept sheep. His commitment to care for them is what qualified him to care for God’s people. He risked his life to protect them from the lion and the bear! This was the mark of a true shepherd according to Jesus – he gives his life for the sheep.

Working heartily is also about working joyfully. Psalm 100.2 says; “Serve the Lord with gladness”. If we are serving the Lord at work then we should be able to bring an attitude of joy into the work place. This isn’t difficult. Smile at people when you meet them. Smile when you talk on the phone – it makes a difference. We can’t always change our circumstances or our job but we can always change our attitude.

The fruit of the Spirit is Joy. You can bring joy even into the workplace when you serve from your heart. Remember joy is rooted in inner contentment. It is not affected by the circumstance of life.

4. Finally Paul says, “Whatever you do…” That sounds very comprehensive to me – whatever you do! No area of life is meant to be outside of the blessing of God. Our work life demands many things of us. Some things may go beyond the remit of what you feel able to do. Some may seem too menial for the level of training and qualifications you have. Knowing that you are doing this for Jesus can change the value of what you do. This is not done for men, it’s done for Him.

Jesus was not afraid to wash feet. In the first century this was the most menial task given to the newest slave. Nobody wanted to do it. But Jesus did it because He placed a different value on the men He was serving. I have found in life that there are things I like to do and things I have to do. I naturally gravitate to the things I like. But self-discipline has helped me to do the things I have to. In time I saw these as having value too. Embracing humble tasks can send a powerful message.

Proverbs 18.9 in the Message version says: Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism. That has bite to it. Vandalism is the wanton destruction of property or goods. None of us appreciate it. It is costly to any community. But the wisdom of Solomon tells us that slack habits and sloppy work are just as bad. At root there is a similar attitude – “It doesn’t matter”, and ‘Who cares!”

Paul is helping us see that God cares and it does matter. In Rom 12.11 KJV he writes: “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord”. Notice the contrast; slothful or fervent. The word fervent comes form a Greek word meaning to apply heat. It was used when water was boiled. This is what we are to bring to our tasks at work, fervency.

And it’s worth remembering that someone who works in this way creates an environment that is infectious. Happy, hard working people impact the attitude of others. You actually have the power to change your work environment. It may take time but you do reap what you sow.

Proverbs 10.4 tells us; “The hand of the diligent makes rich”. And Proverbs 12.24 says; “The hand of the diligent shall bear rule”. In other words prosperity, productivity and promotion go to those who are diligent. To be diligent is to be hardworking and conscientious in what you do. The dictionary says it is to be attentive and persistent in doing anything.

Think about your life and what you will be doing this week. What tasks lie ahead for you? Can you see yourself performing these tasks for the Lord? What attitude do you need to change to feel good about doing this job? What skills do you need to take to a new level to be better at what you do? At the end of the day who are you working for? My prayer is that you will find a new freedom and joy in what you do as you pursue excellence in serving the Lord.