Friday, 23 September 2011

Make Every Effort Part 2

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is near-sighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. 2Pet 1.5-11 NIV

Twice in this passage the phrase ‘Make every effort’ is used. The text is really important for us. Like the other texts we have already looked at this is about ordering our priorities in life and ministry so that we succeed. That’s what the apostle Peter wants; that we be fruitful Christians. He says it’s possible for us to ‘confirm’ our calling. In other words our life matches our profession.

The key idea here is adding; to make sure you add to your faith. Faith is foundational according to 1Cor 3.11. Jesus is that foundation and faith in Him creates that foundation in your own life. Without it you are lost. But with Him as your foundation you are able to build a life that can bring praise to God.

We build be adding. Peter gives us a list of things. He begins with virtue. This is moral excellence or goodness. This along with, perseverance, self control, and love are also listed by Paul as a product of the fruit of the Spirit in Gal 5.21-22.

This tells me two things in particular. The first is that the fruit of the Spirit is not meant to be an exhaustive list. In Peter’s list there are four things mentioned also by Paul. Fruit can have many expressions. It is not limited to the list of nine by Paul or seven by Peter.

The second thing is that fruit is a product of life. It is organic. Like a tree that grows and produces fruit, so we too are meant to grow and produce fruit. So when Peter tells us to ‘make every effort’ he is not telling us to try hard to produce fruit. He is telling us to order our lives in such a way that the organic process of God’s life in us will manifest in fruit.

Many Christians begin well but then something in life makes them stumble. Maybe they get offended. Maybe they drift away. Maybe the cares of this world overwhelm them and the life of the seed is choked. Peter tells us that if we are purposeful and add to our faith we will continue to grow in our knowledge of Jesus.

Now a house is built from the bottom up. First there is a superstructure, then the roof, windows and doors and then the fittings and utilities. Finally the place is decorated. This is how we are to build our lives. We add to the foundation so that a house is built.

If we don’t add to our faith we remain vulnerable. Peter implies that we eventually develop spiritual myopia. We simply can’t see clearly and without clear vision people cast off restraint, Prov 29.18. Growth and advancement are meant to be the norm for believers.

As we add to our faith we keep our vision clear. It helps us make good decisions in life, because we have established good priorities. These priorities develop our character and this in turn helps to shape our choices and ultimately our destiny. Adding to our faith is a must but where do we begin?

This is not difficult. Just be honest with what you are struggling with in your life. Are you in a situation where you feel like giving up? Then maybe you need to add perseverance to your faith. Your present circumstances often tell you what it is God is working on right now in terms of developing your character.

For the person who is newly saved but lives with a partner they need to add knowledge and virtue to their faith. Knowledge of how God sees marriage. Studying what the Bible has to say on this issue, or doing a marriage course can help with this. Virtue enables them to be able to talk to their partner in a loving way. In time something should change.

The teenager who has lived with few boundaries and so is brash and undisciplined needs to add self-control to their faith. Without it they are captive to badly learned patterns of behaving. Remember too that this is a process. It takes time. Nor do these additions to our faith need to be sequential. Some can be happening at the same time. They are often linked.

This kind of process often means coming into a relationship where someone else can hold you accountable for your progress. Wanting to change is half the battle but some people confuse desire with accomplishment. We often judge ourselves by our intentions but others by their actions. To ourselves we are gracious while to others we can be unnecessarily tough. Someone else can help us keep it real.

Adding to your faith is a life long process. That’s why I try and position myself to be a lifetime learner. Paul says in 1 Cor 8.1 that knowledge can puff up. The danger is that we think we have arrived. He encourages the Corinthians to take a different position. “We don’t yet know as we ought to know”. There is more!

There is a certain quality I find with lifetime learners.

1. They are more eager to listen than to speak. This resonates with the book of proverbs that often distinguishes the wise man as the one who will listen or take a rebuke. The proud and the foolish don’t do this. They blurt out every thought without really considering their audience or the impact they will have.

2. They don’t write people off just because they disagree with them over some issues. Many believers have vilified Dan Brown because of his book, ‘The Da Vinci Code’. I’ve read it. It’s disappointing. He is not a theologian or a historian. Maybe if he were he would be better informed. But it is a piece of fiction and he has written some other great books. ‘Digital Fortress’ and ‘Deception Point’ are excellent. In my opinion they would make great movies. Lifetime learners know how to make a discerning choice. They don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

3. They read widely. Doing a Masters Degree brought a certain discipline into my life when it came to study. It forced me to read widely around the subject I was preparing my thesis for. My professor helped to point me towards all the authors who had made a significant contribution to this field of study. I find some believers very narrow in their thinking. They read one book on an issue and think they now have the truth on that subject. It’s sloppy and careless.

Read widely around a topic and use a mentor to point you to the authors who really have something to say. I know believers whose only view of the end times is informed by the ‘Left Behind’ series of books and films. If you want to be provoked to consider a different view then read Tom Wright’s book, ‘Surprised by Hope’. He is a brilliant theologian. Try adding to that the ‘Counterpoint Series’ published by Zondervan that presents different views on several topics each held by sincere orthodox Christians.

4. They welcome critique and input from peers. This is fundamental to good research. This is why we do life together. We need the input and feedback of others. Even when it comes to interpreting the Bible we should do it as a community. We have a shared faith. Gordon Fee says the first community we are indebted to is the church in history. In other words what others have said in the past is important to know!

5. They give deference to those who have helped them in their journey. Growing up in a little Brethren church helped me understand the meaning of hospitality. They were great at that and I’m grateful for what they showed me. But it was John Wimber who helped me add the experience of worship and healing to my faith.

Peter Drucker became a great influence on my take on servant leadership. Through the writings of Henry Cloud and John Townsend I added boundaries to my life and it brought a whole new experience of freedom to me. I honour what each of them brought to my Christian experience and understanding.

6. They remain open to learning something new all the time, even in an area where, according to others, they may be an acknowledged expert. Life has taught me that the more I know about a subject, the less I fully know. It helps to create a genuine humility in me. Someone may actually be able to add to my knowledge and experience of God if I maintain that posture of heart.

7. They don’t presume what others don’t know. They begin by listening and then asking questions. The great Danish theologian and writer Søren Kierkegaard said that we couldn’t presume to teach anyone until we first learn what he or she knows. This is the attitude of a real servant. Don't presume what people need to know. Get to know them first, then you can help them.

Let me challenge you this week to reflect on your own journey of faith. Are there some missing pieces? Is there a need for you to add to your faith? Everyone should be able to answer this in the affirmative. The only real question is what do you need to add.

Take some time to think this through. Ask some of your close friends or peers what they think. Dare to listen to what they have to say. Then ‘make every effort’ to realign your life and priorities so that God can add this to you too. Remember, if you do, you will never be barren or unfruitful and your progress will be apparent to everyone around you.