“Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to us.  Disobedience to God is the worst thing.”

This is from a story Tom White shared.  As the director of the organization called The Voice of the Martyrs, he was in the central highlands of Vietnam when someone remarked about how the Christians suffer there.  One Vietnamese Christian remarked, “Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to us.  Disobedience to God is the worst thing.”  You don’t hear this in North America.  Actually, when we hear it, it can surprise us and it can sound edgy.

We are in a series called Success.  We want to challenge you to think through what success really is.  The struggle we Christians have in North America… wait for it… is that we live in North America.  And as much as I am grateful to live here, it’s undeniable that our culture has impacted us.  And because we live in our culture, like a Thanksgiving turkey cooking in its own juices, what is normal to our culture can become normal to us.

Everyday our culture is sending us messages.  Messages like happiness is found in having things.  You should get all you can for yourself, as quickly as you can.  Security is found in money, power, status, and good health.  Everything is about you and what you want and how to make life easier for you, your banking, your shopping, your vacations, and even your church.  Above all, you should seek all the pleasure, convenience, and comfort you can.  God is irrelevant to our everyday life.  Christianity is just one of many alternative spiritualities.  You’re not responsible for anyone but yourself.  And this life on earth is all there is.  Source: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

Then we hear what the Christian in Vietnam said.  “Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to us.  Disobedience to God is the worst thing.”  It kinda wakes us up.  It sounds edgy to us.  Why?  Because our culture has shaped our understanding of success.  We think success in this world is what our culture tells us it is.  Comfort.  Health.  Security.  Control.  It kinda explains why people come to church and ask, ‘What can Jesus do for me?  How can he make me more wealthy, healthy, and secure?  What does this Church offer me?’  People normally don’t ask, ‘How can I come around the local church and make it stronger to reach people far from God?’

Let’s go a little deeper.  When you became a Christian, did your definition of success change?  Or when you gave your life to Jesus, did your definition of success stay the same and the only difference is, God is on your team now?  Maybe you have been a Christian most of your life, does your definition of success look a lot like everyone around you?  Success is comfort, health, security and control.  Do you realize how disappointing Christianity is when we bring our cultures ideas of success into the church?

Let’s be clear.  Success is surrendering our lives to Jesus.

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me?” NIV – Jesus in Matthew 16:24

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. NLT – Jesus in Matthew 10:39

Success is surrendering our lives to Jesus.  That means I die to the selfish, sinful parts of my life.  I enjoy the good parts for sure, but I when I surrender my life, I surrender it all for His kingdom.

Remember the quote Sam gave us week one in this series?  “Success according to Scripture, is becoming the person God calls you to become, and doing what God calls you to do, in His way, and according to His timetable.” – Pete Scazzero.

Then we shared five practical indicators or gauges that give us handles on what surrender looks like in day-to-day lives.

Sam told us last week.  Surrender begins by slowing down to be with God before we do for God.  Do you remember how Sam brought out how crazy this is?  He called it God math.  God math doesn’t make sense to us.  Everything He asks of us, doesn’t make sense to us.  Jesus said, to be first, be last [Mark 9:35].  Paul said, when he was weak, he was strong [2 Corinthians 12:9-10].  This is what the entire Old Testament is about.  God told the Children of Israel, trust me, love me and I will protect you and provide for you.  And for hundreds of years, the Children of Israel said, ‘Nope.’  Why?  God math didn’t make sense to them.  They continued to worship demonic idols.  They continued to have sex with anyone, anywhere.  They continued to take advantage of the weak.  They continued to lend money at outrageous interest rates.  They absolutely refused to enter into God math.

Think about this.  Does it make sense to you, to get more things done, you need to be with God before you do for God?  Nope.  Me neither.  It’s God math and it won’t make sense.  You would think, to get things done for God, we need to be so busy we wouldn’t have time for God.  Like Sam said, like bugs to a zapper, we are just attracted to activity – aren’t we?  Today I want to give you handles on how to be with God.  How to slow down to be with God.  What it looks like to surrender.

It starts with making a radical decision.  The decision that says, ‘I cannot keep living the way I am living.  The way I am living is killing my soul.  Regardless of the cost, I must be with God.’  We simply can never spiritually grow up until we make that radical decision.

Let me read Peter’s radical decision.

27 Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”  28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  29 “Come,” he said.  Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. NIV Matthew 14:27-29

Peter wanted Jesus more than anything else, so he made a radical decision.  I’m not suggesting you go to Raystown Lake today and try to walk on water.  What I am saying is, fully surrendering to Jesus is a serious thing.

We must decide, I am done living a scattered, busy, and uncentered life.  I am done living in the prisons of my life and not making changes.  I am done living physically, spiritually, and emotionally tired.  I am done ignoring my relationship with God.  I am done feeling stuck.  I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.  I cannot keep living the way I am living.  The way I am living is killing my soul.  Regardless of the cost, I must be with God.

Do you know the story of Cortez? In 1519, Cortez with his over 600 men, 11 ships, landed in Mexico.  What did he do?  He burned his ships.  Why?  He was telling his men, there is no retreat.  He made a radical decision.  He was all in.  He eliminated all options so they would have passionate focus.

To surrender, it demands that you make a radical decision.  You must burn your ships.  Eliminate all options.  Decide today, ‘I cannot keep living the way I am living.  The way I am living is killing my soul.  Regardless of the cost, I must be with God.’  Why?  Following Jesus is a serious thing.  It’s not a part time thing.

Jesus explained.

24-25 “These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit – but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

26-27 “But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards.” MSG Matthew 7:24-27

I need to share one more thing before I move to my second point.  Do you know the worst thing that could happen to you spiritually?  To become lukewarm.  To be around God stuff and not really care about God stuff.

Listen to what God said.

14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. NIV Revelations 3:14-17

The beginning of going after God is to burn your ships.  Make the radical decision.

When you make the radical decision and are alone with God, what do you do?  Be real.  Be real about what you are feeling about life, about God, about yourself and about others.  Be real.  I don’t care if you yell it.  I don’t care if you journal it.  I don’t care if you walk and say it in your head.  To be a spiritual person means you are honest and real with God.  You bring all of who you are and what you are feeling to God.  The good parts, the bad parts, and the ugly parts.  That’s real.  If you aren’t honest or real about your feelings, you aren’t living in reality.  You are living in a made-up fantasy world of religious traditions and activities.

Listen to how David talked to God.

1 Lord, why are you standing aloof and far away? Why do you hide when I need you the most? 2 Come and deal with all these proud and wicked men who viciously persecute the poor. Pour upon these men the evil they planned for others! 3 For these men brag of all their evil lusts; they revile God and congratulate those the Lord abhors, whose only goal in life is money.  4 These wicked men, so proud and haughty, seem to think that God is dead. They wouldn’t think of looking for him! 5 Yet there is success in everything they do, and their enemies fall before them. LB Psalms 10:1-5

David is ticked off and confused.  God, where are you?  Why are you not on my side?  I am hiding from my enemies.  I’m the good guy in this story.  I am the one who loves you.  These guys are proud and wicked.  God, why are they getting ahead?  Why are they succeeding?  Where are you?  David is so real.

Are you this honest with God?  You should be.  Being in a real relationship with God is not about being fake.  It’s about being real.  Being real about your feelings and emotions about what is happening in your life.  We simply can never spiritually grow up until we are honest with God about our feelings and emotions.

Never settle for the religious traditions and activities and fail to bring your heart to God.

Listen to how God explains this.

13 The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught. NIV Isaiah 29:13

Did you hear that?  They come and do religious things, but it’s not real because they aren’t honest about what is happening in their hearts.

As I spend time with God, as I am honest about my emotions, I begin to see things about myself, and this is good.  This is the journey we take to be with God.  We are real and we begin to see things in our lives.  We then should begin to ask ourselves the bigger questions.  Why is there so much anger under the surface?  Why am I always in a hurry?  Why am I always afraid of things going bad?  Why do I always feel like I am rejected?  Why do I turn to alcohol when life gets stressful?  Why am I such a people pleaser?  Why do I have anxiety, fear, and stress, all the time?  Why am I always anxious, touchy, and irritable?  Why do I avoid conflict?  Why am I so controlling?

To get close to God, we must be honest about who we are and what is happening in our lives.

Let’s recap.  What did we say today so far?  Burn your ships.  Make the radical decision, ‘I cannot keep living the way I am living.  The way I am living is killing my soul.  Regardless of the cost, I must be with God.’

When you are with God, be real.  Be real about what you are feeling about life, about God, about yourself and about others.  This is when you allow God access to your life–to show you who you really are.

You may think, Ken, this doesn’t make sense to me.  I make the decision to be with God, then in that time I am supposed to be honest with God how I am feeling?  How will that change my life?  It’s God math.  I told you God math doesn’t make sense.  This is exactly what it looks like to fully engage God and in that process, it gives God access to your heart and you will change over time.

And after you are real with God and are honest with God about how you are feeling, have some time to be quiet.  Why?  You and I live in a world with so many distractions, fears, people wanting things from us; it’s overwhelming.  We need God.  We need to be quiet.  Truth is, we simply can never spiritually grow up until we are quiet before God.

David wrote:

My soul is quiet and waits for God alone. He is the One Who saves me. NLV Psalms 62:1

In this silence, we learn we are not the center of the world, God is.  We can begin to let go of demanding control, demanding the approval of others, and demanding security in this world.  We move from, ‘God you must do this for me,’ to, ‘God, just hang out with me.’  We discover this relationship with God isn’t about success like our world defines it, it’s about surrender and giving God our lives.

This is what it means to be with God.  Burn your ships, make the radical decision.  Be real with God.  Be quiet with God.  This is the beginning of being transformed.

I need to point out something.  Do you see why some avoid this spiritual journey?  Many don’t want to burn their ships and make a radical decision.  It is easier to attend church and not take God seriously.  Many don’t want to be real with God.  They don’t want to deal with the reality of their feelings and emotions.  It’s easier to follow a religious program while not dealing with our true heart condition.  Many don’t want to ask the bigger questions.  They live busy lives, so busy, they never have to deal with real issues that keep popping up.  It’s easier to be busy, overcommitted and ignore what is boiling in our hearts.  Many don’t want to be quiet with God.  They would rather stay in control and try to get things done or just disengage and veg out.

And because many don’t take this journey, many report that the Christian life is frustrating, tiring, and it just doesn’t work.

This spiritual journey isn’t always easy.

Eleven indicators to help us recognize, we are moving away from ‘being’ with God.  Source: Emotionally Healthy Discipleship.

  1. I can’t shake the pressure I feel from having too much to do in too little time.
  2. I am ignoring the stress, anxiety, and the tightness of my body.
  3. I am concerned too much with what others think.
  4. I am often fearful about the future and experience a sense of dread.
  5. I am always rushing and always making excuses as to why I can’t be at peace.
  6. I am defensive and easily offended.
  7. I am preoccupied and distracted.
  8. I fire off quick opinions and judgements.
  9. I feel unenthusiastic about or threatened by the success of others.
  10. I spend more time talking than listening.
  11. I feel miserable, I blame others for it, and I do nothing about it.

To close out today, I want to be clear.  Spiritual success is surrender.  Practically that means, I do God math.  I must be with God before I do for God.

If you want to grow up spirituality, it demands a few things.

Have you made your radical decision?

Did you burn your ships?

Have you become lukewarm and really have no passion for the mission of Jesus?

Are you honest with God about your feelings and emotions?

Are you honest with God about how you feel about life, God, others, and yourself?  I am talking about passionate, maybe even rated ‘R’ prayers.

Are you quiet before God, just surrendering to him?

Are you having one-minute moments throughout the day inviting God into that moment?

Please hear me.  If you are struggling in life, don’t go another day until you walk into God math.  It will transform your life.