Have you noticed how often God seems to lead us to do things in a specific way in life that seems to be like the exact opposite way that we would plan or design things to be done?  These things can bring a lot of tension to our lives if we aren’t willing to live fully surrendered to God.  I mean Jesus tells us things like if we want to be first, we should what?  Be last!  Remember that?

Mark 9:35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”  NIV

Is that how you would think we would get to be first in life?  LOL, probably not.  We find tension points like this all through Scripture, like Paul here talking about strength and weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  NIV

So opposite right?  Do you walk around boasting about your weaknesses and finding delight in weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulty?  Yeah, I don’t either and then that last line there, I mean can we humans do this math?  When I am weak, then I am strong?  I could do this with you all day, look at different tension points that we face as we look at Scripture, and God’s lead in our lives that often seem to pull against every instinct we humans have…it’s interesting, and makes these words from the Prophet Isaiah really resonate in my heart as I think this all through.

Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”  NIV

But you know, I think that is a hard thing to accept, if we aren’t living fully surrendered to God.  It’s hard to trust, and just move forward with all that is so opposite of our thinking and instincts which is why surrendering our lives to God is so important because if we do stop and think, there are some tension points…there are some moments and thoughts that will challenge us along the way, and there will be times when what God leads and asks of us, does feel and seem to be the exact opposite of our instincts and everything the world would pushes in on us.  And I will just tell you as we get started here today, that we are going to continue to press in on some challenging areas and tension points in our lives, as I build out from where Ken was last week, and we continue to dive into this idea of Success and what it is.  Two weeks ago, I showed you how Pete Scazzero defines success. Do you remember that?  We were looking at 5 reasons why Christianity may feel like it isn’t working and the importance of defining success the right way…

“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

I love this definition of success, because we can all accomplish this…but it does show us yet another one of these tension points or ways that God’s ways are just so opposite of our human instincts, because I don’t know too many of us that would picture success as Scripture defines it!  Which is why Ken’s talk was so important last week.  Last week, Ken really pressed in on this idea of success and what it is, and he let us know that success is absolute surrender to God.  He showed us 5 gauges that can help us see where we are at or how we are doing with this idea of surrendering our lives to God.  Do you remember that?  This was so good, let’s review those 5 gauges to see if we are walking in Spiritual Success

  1. I spend time with Jesus, and it leaves me content, non-defensive, and free from the approval or disapproval of others. 
  2. Because I am with Jesus, I am able to bring out the best in those around me, and that starts at home. 
  3. I want to be who Jesus created me to be and I am willing to wait for His timing. 
  4. I trust Jesus so much; I am able to allow life to unfold because I give up control and ego. 
  5. I am comfortable dealing with the reality of who I really am in my emotions and actions. 

Ken said these gauges show us courage, love, patience, peace, and integrity.  And do you remember the popular story he walked us through?  It was the story of Mary and Martha…that Bible story so many of us know about “Martha busy body” and led into a great conversation that I think we can all relate to.  But I want you to see that all of Ken’s message continues to press in on some real tension points for us in this area of slowing down to be with God in a world that doesn’t seem to slow down for anything or anyone.  Not to mention the fact that Martha was actually serving Jesus…so it adds to the tension, doesn’t it?  It’s another one of these tension points that feels so opposite to the way we think, and are wired, and maybe would instinctively live without God leading our lives…and it’s something we will continue pressing in on today.  Just like in our intro we see things like how we find strength, or how we can be first which is so opposite, we are also learning how to live and how to be productive and true disciples of Christ…and it’s more math that may make your brain hurt.  We are learning that our doing for God must come from our being with God.  This is essential, and is often overlooked by good hearted, passionate well-meaning Christians, who lose that energy and passion over time because their doing for God isn’t coming out of their being with God…they are all in on the doing, but overlooking the being, and they can burn out, or exhaust themselves over time, but when you think about it, and try to do that math, it can mess with you some can’t it?

How do we slow down to be with God in a world that doesn’t ever slow down around us?  And to add to that I want to do things for God, and I want to serve Him, and now you are saying that all of my doing for God and serving Him should come out of my being with God and slowing down to be with Him?  Yes, that is what we are saying…it’s always opposite of how we may instinctively think or act and it’s exactly what we are talking about today as we continue this look at Spiritual Success.  And to get things rolling I would like to show you how Jesus and His disciples’ model for us that their doing for God came from their being with God…let’s start with Jesus…never a bad idea right?

I wonder if you have ever stopped and thought about something as we read of Jesus’ life in Scripture?  We see Him born, and then really there is a large gap between those wonderful Christmas stories and the next time we see Him in Scripture.  We may not realize or have ever thought too much about it but there was around thirty years of Jesus’ life where he is hidden or anonymous, he is in the background, and simply just being and establishing who He is with His Father.  So, thirty years of just being before doing!  Then, when He does jump into the intensity of His public ministry, we see this rhythm that Jesus had of moving back and forth between doing things for God and carving out time and space to be alone with God.  I believe this is very intentionally shown to us in Scripture…

Luke 5:15 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.  NIV

I love that word “often” in verse 16 and feel these moments are put in Scripture so intentionally for us.  You know as Jesus selects His disciples; He does the exact same thing with them.  Making sure they understand that their doing for Him would come from their being with Him.  Look at how intentionally this is placed in Scripture here…

Mark 3:13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him. 14 He appointed twelve — designating them apostles — that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach 15 and to have authority to drive out demons. NIV

Do you see it?  The doing for Jesus came out of the being with Jesus…this is what Jesus did and what He taught His followers to do.  But it’s so often overlooked in the world we live in today.  For many of us we see the preaching and driving out demons, doing great things for God, the miraculous, and the flashier things and it just draws us in, like a bug to a bug zapper…lol wow, maybe not the nicest analogy but frankly it’s a pretty accurate image of what can happen.  I get it, the doing for God is often more exciting than the being with God (which no one sees you doing but God) but what God desires is to be with us, and what Jesus led and taught is that without being connected to Him we can’t do anything…

John 15:5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” NIV

So, in many ways, maybe the bug zapper imagery isn’t such harsh thing after all, because those who do for God without being with God are going to burn out, struggle, and almost resent the doing because they aren’t engaged and working out of a heart full of God’s love, finding energy and strength in Him.  A lot of us are drawn to activity and busyness which without compensating time with God will lead to burn out and well, death…zap!   I think the disciples really understood the importance of what Jesus was showing them and teaching them on this subject of being with God.  After Jesus’ death and resurrection, the disciples continue to carry on this pattern of being with God first, then doing for God out of their being with God as they built and led the early church.  The early church was growing, and there was more and more need, and the disciples realized they couldn’t neglect their being with God and needed to start building teams so the church could function and help everyone without losing the most important portion of what they are called to do, which is being with God.

Acts 6:2 So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program. 3 And so, brothers, select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will give them this responsibility. 4 Then we apostles can spend our time in prayer and teaching the word.” NLT

You know I think for a lot of us we seem to miss out on the importance of our relationship with God, and we dive into doing for God.  And I truly don’t believe this is done to be rebellious but often it either makes sense to us, is what we were taught and just comes out of pure passion and gratitude for all God has done for us.  But in all our efforts to impress or earn things from God, or maybe just in our complete effort to serve Him we can lose sight of the most important thing!  Which is being with Him and if we aren’t careful because we aren’t finding life in Him, we can burn out over time in our doing for Him or become resentful of something that should or could bring us to life!  Just a few weeks ago I was talking to the team at MRG about this expression that you have probably heard before…

You just can’t give what you do not have.  Have you ever heard that?  This expression really rings true in all areas of life.  No matter how generous you would like to be, you simply can’t give what you don’t have.  I may want to be generous with my time, but if my schedule is full, I can’t give any time to anything else.  I may want to be generous with my money, but if I have a lot of debt and no wiggle room there it’s tough to be generous with my finances.  Even when it comes to serving, I may want to serve, but when I’m exhausted, and flustered, lacking rest…I just don’t have any energy left to give or serve in any way.  I may want to share God’s love with everyone I meet, but if I don’t have a full heart of love that flows out of my relationship with Him…I don’t have that love to give.  Do you see what I’m getting at here?  You can’t give what you don’t have…which only magnifies the importance of being with God and allowing your doing for God to come out of your being with God.  This is why we encourage you to rest, spend time with God, and find health in all areas of your life.  Without it you simply can’t live out the life of love that we are learning is so essential to a disciple of Christ.  You just can’t give what you do not have.

So, this should start leading to some questions.  I want to slow down a bit here and think this through.  Scripture is crystal clear, Jesus’ teaching and life also crystal clear.  Our doing for God must come out of our being with God.  So, if this is so clear, and seen all through Scripture and seen in how Jesus himself lived life, and we are seeing and would agree that our relationship with God is this essential and should come before anything else…well, then we have to ask an important question.

Why is being with God before doing for God such a challenge for us today?  Great question for sure and one that I want us to slow down and really look at…we started this talk looking at different tension points in our faith, and this is another one.  The challenge is that when we choose being with God before doing for God we are forced to deal with and confront who we are, and who we are not.  A few weeks ago, I mentioned that we need to be willing to do the hard work, or heart work to grow into Spiritual Maturity. Do you remember that?  This is the challenge for so many of us, we find Christ, and are very happy with our new eternal destiny, but often we don’t grow into Spiritual Maturity because we aren’t willing to do this heart work!  For many of us, we would rather not confront who we are and who we are not…and in many ways it’s simply easier, and a lot less painful to push all of that heart stuff aside, never confront who we are, and just brush that all under the rug with a lot of good activity and busy lives.  I mean who would ever challenge me on my heart condition while I’m doing a lot of good things right?  And if I keep moving, I may never slow down enough to have to deal with my heart issues, my hearts, and my pain.  Do you see it?  Busy is easier in some ways and protects us so that we don’t have to slow down and feel, or assess, or deal with the true issues going on in our hearts and souls.  It’s not easy to engage or confront those more challenging and deeper areas of our lives, and we can be honest here…getting busy, doing for God does feel positive, helps people, and keeps us moving, like a boxer in the ring…if I just keep moving and punching hopefully, I never get hit!  On top of that when I’m doing for God, who could ever call me out on that?  Look how good I look in the process, even when the reality of pain still lies underneath.  But, and it’s a big but here…there is still stuff that isn’t being dealt with, and no matter how much we do for God, or how big we smile while we do it, or how many people we help along the way, we aren’t being true to ourselves, and we end up living in something we call, the false self.  Do you remember that quote from two weeks ago, about this truth or reality that we can ignore?  I want to bring that back for a moment here before we dive into this idea of the false self.

“Ignoring our emotions is turning our back on reality, listening to our emotions ushers us into reality.  And reality is where we meet God…Emotions are the language of the soul.  They are the cry that gives the heart a voice…However, we often turn a deaf ear-through emotional denial, distortion, or disengagement…In neglecting our intense emotions, we are false to ourselves and lose a wonderful opportunity to know God.” – The Cry of the Soul by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman

For so many of us this is a real challenge, because it’s truly where we must confront our stuff…which is hard, but if we ignore it, and just get busy we lose the opportunity to know God and we are false to ourselves.  As we get busy doing for God while not engaging our true self or confronting our heart issues and hurts, we can end up living in this false self.  The false self is this version of ourselves that is built through how we appear to others or want to appear to others, how we are treated by others and pushed in on by this world, we can build this false self by sighting a lot of external things like our educations, jobs, financial status, material possessions, maybe how we were brought up, talents and skills and in all of that we protect ourselves or build up a version of ourselves, and find our own self-worth in all this stuff rather than where it should be found which is in God…but this life we build and show the world is what is known as the false self.

You know, I think the world and the people in it do an amazing job of pressing in hard on who we are and who we are not.  I can look at my own life and look back at so many life-shaping, hurtful, identity changing moments that really caused me to struggle and stand up as the person God created me to be…it is so tough out there.  And it feels like with every dig, or jab, or criticism, or hurt another layer of this false self is built around us…yet somewhere deep down is the real us.  One of the hardest things for me in life has been watching my four teenagers walk through life and to just see how the world and the people in it just push against every beautiful part of who they are, and I see these layers of the false self-go up…because the world’s message is loud and clear.  “DO NOT BE YOU AND WHO GOD MADE YOU TO BE!” I will just say it’s hurt me to watch that, and I wish I could take it from them, and at times all I can do is just pray that they will continue to see and walk in their true selves, even as this difficult world tries it’s best to steal and beat that from them.   It is so challenging in our world today to stand in our God given identity, frankly it’s rare not only is it hard to confront those areas of our lives that need to be confronted and dealt with, but we seem to live in a world that never wants us to be who we were created to be, that picks and cuts and criticizes and with all of it this false self seems to be built, yet we are challenged to find and stand in our true selves.

Ephesians 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. NIV

Well, that reads clearly, and sounds easy…but it is really challenging to live out, isn’t it?  We are to get rid of this “old” or “false self” that the world seems to accept as right and put on this “new self” or live authentically in our ‘true self.”  This is awesome and important and I’m very willing to admit that this is challenging for sure!  Actually, I will take it a step farther…I think it’s impossible to do without God’s help.  We simply can’t stand in our true self, if we are not being with God and allowing His love, and view of who we are to shape our hearts, thinking, and way of living.

So, the world seems to push in hard on who we are, and through all that pressure and so many external motivators and so much pain the false self is built and we can walk in this false self…yet we are to shed those layers of that false self and stand in our true self.  It’s so tough because the false self is such a big part of us, and everything seems to push against us ever moving out of that, so how do we do this?  Well, it’s all about slowing down and being with God, which Ken is going to hit that with you next week, but we also need to start to figure out where we are at personally, we need to be aware of this false self in us if we ever want to move forward differently.  So, we need to go back to something I say to you often…it’s hard to work on something that we aren’t aware of…so we need to be able to slow down, look at our lives, and identify the false self in our lives.  You may be wondering right now if you are living in your true self or your false self, and maybe you do need some help seeing where you are here…so let’s think through some questions here today that can help us assess where we are at with this.

  • Do you compare yourself to other people?
  • Do you tend to say yes to things that you would rather say no to but don’t want to disappoint anyone?
  • Do you tend to not speak up in an effort to avoid confrontation or the disapproval of others?
  • Are you easily offended and defensive?
  • Do you struggle to laugh at your shortcomings or mistakes?
  • Do you avoid any chance or risk that would make you look weak or foolish in social settings?
  • Are you the person you appear to be, or would you say who you are and what you look like are different?
  • Does your sense of self worth come from what you have?
  • Does your sense of self worth come from what you have accomplished?
  • Does your sense of self worth come from what others think of you?
  • Are you the same person in every environment you are in or are you different depending on where you are and who you are with? 
  • When you feel hurts or pain is your answer to slow down and confront those emotions or to get busier and avoid those emotions?
  • Do you have intentional time with God built into your schedule each day?  Do you have a schedule, and priorities in your day?
  • Do you pray through decisions and different challenges you have in life or with people do you simply react first and maybe pray later?

I know, this can be challenging but when you answer the questions honestly, they can help you start to see whether you are living in the true or false self.  The false self is this version of ourselves that I see as literally building around us, like a thick layer that doesn’t allow the true self out.  It builds through hurts, wounds, outside forces and it’s just our way to stay moving and functional and keeps us somehow active in life, while the true self stay hidden…it’s tough, but as Paul says we must get rid of that and find the strength and freedom to stand in our true self…which is the exact opposite of the false self.  Here’s an awesome definition of the true self from a Christian writer and psychologist named David Benner.

Your true self is “your total self as you were created by God…the unique face of God that has been set aside from eternity for you.” – David Benner

That is amazing, isn’t it?  The more of this false self we can get rid of the more God and our true self can come out of us.  I know this can feel daunting if not impossible when you think about how hard and hurtful life is, but there is something so important for us to remember and that God is in you…He has made His home in you!

John 14:23 Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. NIV

What an amazing thought, the more of this false self I can get rid of the more of God who has made His home in me can come out in my true self.  I want you thinking about that, yes it is tough to get rid of the false self, frankly it’s impossible without being with God but we must see that God has made His home in us, He is in there and the more of this false self we rid ourselves of the more the true self can come out…the more of His glory which is in us can be shown and seen through us!  When you think that, this prayer of Jesus really can come to life and takes on such a personal meaning for us!

John 17:20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. 22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. 24 Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began! 25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.” NLT

It can feel almost impossible to shed this false self.  With every hurt, with every time we have felt belittled, been made fun of or our judged…it’s only grown.  With all the pressures from the world to conform and have what everyone else has, the layers grow, but we can stand in our true selves…now not in our own strength…but we don’t live in our own strength, do we?  When we prioritize being with God over doing things for Him, we begin to shed layer after layer of that false self, and more and more of this true self comes out!  It’s all done through Him.  God does in us what we can’t do in or for ourselves!  You want to stand as who God truly made you to be?  Well, then your being with God has to be the highest priority.  If you think to yourself, ‘how is that possible in a world that just won’t slow down for me?’  If you hear that and think it’s another one of these tension points, we find in Scripture like being last to be first or finding strength in weakness…that may also be helping you see something in your heart today.  If this is still the wrestling match you face, that is ok!  It’s showing you some areas of your life to push in on, not hide from…not get super busy doing positive or good things in an effort to avoid, no this is a good thing and leads us back to the idea of surrendering our lives to God, because the reality is it all starts with being with God…and next week Ken is going to walk us through four ways to do be with God which I’m really looking forward to next week.

Remember you can’t give what you don’t have.  What you do is important but who you are matters more…and who you are continues to come out regardless of how hard you try to hide it…this is why everything starts with being with God…and any doing for God comes out of that being with God.