Friday, 16 September 2011

Make Every Effort Part 1

This phrase is found several times in the NT. In a way it helps us to establish a set of priorities for living. When the Bible tells us to make every effort to do something it trying to help us see what is truly important. By focusing on the right things we are able to move forward in life and ministry. Success follows.

In part 1 of this series I want to start with three statements that begin with the phrase, ‘Make every effort’. The Greek word behind this phrase is Spoudazo. It is variously translated as ‘labour’, ‘be diligent’, ‘study’, ‘to exert oneself’ and ‘bend every effort’.

In 2 Peter 3.14-15 NIV we read this advice from the apostle Peter:
But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Peter is telling us to live now, in the light of the future. In the future there will be a new heaven and a new earth filled with righteousness, God’s righteousness. That’s what we look forward to. It’s coming as sure as the sunrise tomorrow. That should impact how we live today. So Peter says, ‘make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him’.

One word summarises this approach to life, integrity. Integrity is about how everything in life fits together as a whole. To have integrity is to have an integrated life. This is not about being perfect; it’s about being authentic in the light of the gospel.

There is a great search today for authenticity. It has produced more honesty but not more integrity. Honesty s a good thing but it can be rooted in pride. The youth who boasts in getting drunk to his friends is honest, but he lacks integrity. He carries no sense of shame. Integrity would give him that and compel him to want to change.

The businessman who boasts to others about how he evades tax is honest, but not to the taxman. He lacks integrity. Integrity takes honesty to a new level. It’s not just about admitting what is true but living in truth. There is a difference!

Job was a blameless man. He held on to his integrity even when the circumstances in life pushed him to blame God and react, Job 1.8; 2.3. He chose to worship instead, Job 1.21. But notice that it wasn’t easy for him to do this. The easy thing was for him to take his wife’s advice; ‘Curse God and die’, Job 2.9. But Job ‘made every effort’ to remain blameless – and he succeeded.

Sometimes we experience things that make us want to react, to blame God, to blame others, to choose a course of action that we know won’t help. In those moments take the apostle Peter’s advice. Bend every effort to remain spotless. Joseph could have easily compromised his integrity and allowed himself to be seduced by Potiphar’s wife. But he said no. He chose to be blameless.

And part of his challenge was accepting the false accusation that was laid against him after doing what was right. It must have taken amazing effort not to give in to despair and despondency. He drew on heavens grace and within a few years God honoured his choice. He honoured his integrity.

These statements by the apostles to, ‘make every effort’, is not about summing all of the human willpower you can muster to get through life. It is about establishing new priorities. A life of integrity is to be our priority, even when it hurts! When our priorities are in agreement with scripture there is grace to live in them. God empowers us to live in truth.

David could have killed Saul on at least two occasions. The situation presented itself and his men saw this as a divine opportunity. But David held back. Even cutting the edge of Saul’s garment brought conviction to his heart. Letting Saul live meant David remained a fugitive. It hurt. But he kept his integrity. And ultimately he became king.

What pressure are you under at present that is tempting you to let go of your integrity? Don’t. Hold on. Make every effort to be what God has called you to be.

The second passage is in Hebrews 4.11 NIV
Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

I love this text. We labour to enter His rest. Labour and rest in the same sentence? It doesn’t seem right, but it is. Think about what happens when most people go on holiday. How long does it take for them to unwind; to really disconnect and enjoy the break? How about you?

I have a friend who is a high-flying businessman. He takes his laptop and mobile with him everywhere – including holidays. He can’t let go. For him to turn off his phone would take a huge effort. I understand this. I am wired that way too. But life and faith have taught me this is no way to live. It is in fact a sign of unbelief.

The Sabbath principle is that we don’t need to work all the time. We can rest and trust God to give us enough the other six days so we can enjoy Him on the seventh. But we must prioritise this. We must make every effort! My old Bible College teacher told me that the promises of God work best when we rest in them. It’s true.

Labour to enter into God’s rest, God’s provision, and God’s salvation. This is the place of blessing and fruitfulness. Jesus invites us to take His yoke upon us because it is well fitting, (this is what easy means in the Greek), and light, Matt 11.28.

Zacchaeus laboured to enter that rest by climbing a tree. It changed his life. Peter laboured all night and caught nothing but then made an effort to obey the command of Jesus and caught a massive amount of fish. Too often our effort is misplaced. It is directed towards selfish goals or an expression of faith in our ability to do things without God. Don’t live that way. Make an effort to live in the promises of God.

Choose to make an effort to live trusting God and entering into His rest. For the children of Israel this meant the Promised Land. That was their place of rest. Sadly few of them experienced the goal that God had for them. Unbelief robbed them of their true destiny. They died in the wilderness. But as men of faith Joshua and Caleb did enter in. They believed the promise of God and made the effort of letting that be their point of reference, not the walled cities of canaan or the giants in the land.

What is your point of reference? What promise has God made to you that you are holding on to? What unbelief is being spoken by others that is designed by the enemy to rob you of your destiny? Will you give in or will you make every effort to hold on to the promise and enter what God has for you. Remember all the promises in Christ Jesus are yes and amen, 2Cor 1.20

The third text is found in 2Tim 2.15 New Century Version
Make every effort to give yourself to God as the kind of person he will approve. Be a worker who is not ashamed and who uses the true teaching in the right way.

Various products in Britain need to be made to a specific standard of safety. Once this standard is achieved they are awarded a kite mark. It’s a sign that they have fulfilled the criteria required to earn this prestigious sign. They are approved. Wouldn’t it be great if we could see a kite mark on Christians, churches and leaders, to know that they too are approved?

Often it takes time to see whom God has truly approved. Like the fruit on a tree it’s the last thing to appear. Paul was telling Timothy to make this his priority. That’s what David did. He was obedient to God because he sought God’s approval. Saul on the other hand sought the approval of the people. He became a slave to their desire and he disobeyed God. It cost him the kingdom.

David on the other hand had a heart after God. It was His approval he chased. Even when he sinned he returned to the Lord and trusted in His forgiveness. This is vital for us to get right. In our culture we are obsessed with approval from every corner except heaven.

TV producers determine the success of a programme based on ‘approval ratings’. No matter what intrinsic value a program may have it is cut from the schedule if it doesn’t hit the targets set by the station managers. Light entertainment has for the most part replaced serious documentary or news coverage.

The same is true for music, films and theatre. Sometimes A class actors will put their names to a project because they know the film will not be made if they don’t. Peer pressure works on the same basis. We get approval from others and it is important to us. We bend to the expectations of others, often to our own hurt.

But at the end of the day we will not stand before a TV audience or our peers or any human court. We will all stand before God. Ultimately it is His final verdict that makes all the difference. So Paul advises Timothy to live life in the light of that reality. For Timothy this meant pursuing excellence in ministry.

All of us are aware of when someone is performing well and when a job is under par. When a singer hits a bad note we all hear it. When a carpenter makes a window that won’t fit the hole it’s meant to go in, it becomes obvious. Remember a skill is a practiced ability.

What skills do you have that need to be taken to another level? Can you point to what you do with a sense of pride that it’s your best effort and it will gain a kite mark? Are you happy for others to look at and critique your work? A skilled craftsman is never afraid for their work to be inspected.

But today we have ‘cowboy builders’, ‘knock offs’ and ‘pirate videos’. Quantity has become the substitute for quality. I think we are missing something. Now the danger is that we take this attitude into our churches and ministries. It will show in time. You can paper over the cracks but eventually they will show through.

If you are involved in worship then you need to know the songs that you sing or the music that you play and know them well. The best way to learn them is by heart. Then you are free to minister while singing or playing without focusing on reading the words or music. They flow from your heart. And there is a flow.

If you are a preacher then you need to prepare well. Use every opportunity to write down a good quote or a good illustration. Like any journey, know you destination. Read widely, pray fervently, prepare well and then deliver your message without apology. If you have to apologise before speaking it’s probably not worth even talking.

My point is simple. Excellence attracts excellence. Skill is always admired. Seek to get God’s approval for all that you do in life and ministry and you will not feel ashamed when you stand before Him. Your work will be tested, 1Cor 3.13-16. If you’ve built with gold, silver and precious stones you will get the title AUG – Approved Unto God. There is no better accolade.

Now developing skill takes effort. Yet when we connect with our passion the effort is a joy. I have a friend who is passionate about art. Her idea of fun is spending a day in London going around all the art galleries. When she paints time flies. She is making a huge effort but if you asked her she would say it is effortless. You see it’s her passion.

Find your passion in life and ministry and then pursue it. David was a worshipper so when he wasn’t fighting battles he was writing songs and gained the title ‘The Sweet Psalmist of Israel’, 2Sam 23.1 NKJV.

Make every effort to live a life of integrity, to enter into God’s promise for you and to pursue excellence. It will be worth it in the end. And heavens smile will be on your life.