How do I climb out of the pit of discouragement? Part 2

“And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” I Kings 19:4b

We are learning from the prophet Elijah how to climb out of the pit of discouragement. After experiencing a tremendous spiritual victory on Mt. Carmel against the prophets of Baal (I Kings 18:20-40), Elijah encountered resistance from the vicious Queen Jezebel whose god Baal was defeated and her prophets killed (I Kings 19:1-2). When Jezebel threatens his life, Elijah gets scared and runs into the desert and prays that he might die (I Kings 19:3-4). He has gone from the mountaintop of victory to the bottom of the pit of discouragement.

Last time we saw the first step to take out of the pit of discouragement was to focus on the facts, not your feelings (I Kings 19:1-4). To climb higher out of the pit of discouragement, DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS (I Kings 19:4b). “And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’ ” (I Kings 19:4b). When Elijah said, “I am no better than my fathers,” he was comparing himself to his ancestors who failed to remove Baal-worship completely from Israel. He was feeling guilty for not being any better than they had been.

When we start comparing ourselves with others, we are going to get discouraged. We may try to motivate ourselves through criticism and condemnation. We do it by “shoulding” ourselves. “I should be more like that person. I should be able to act better and feel better like him or her.” Nagging ourselves like this leads to discouragement.

There is only one person that you can be, and that is you. That is all God expects. When you get to heaven, God is not going to ask you, “Why weren’t you more like him or her?” Most likely He will ask, “Why weren’t you like the person I created you to be?”

The Bible tells us, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Before we become Christians, we are defined by our “trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). That is what defined us and drove our lives. But now we are “in Christ” (Ephesians 2:10). We used to be “dead” spiritually (Ephesians 2:1), but now we are God’s “workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10).  

The word “workmanship” comes from the Greek word poiēma which is where we get our English word “poem” from. A poem is a collection of words that are specially chosen and put together so that they make a powerful statement that lasts. God is saying that you are His heavenly poem – you have been specially chosen by God to make a powerful statement about His grace that endures forever.

Another word that describes poiēma is the term “masterpiece.” Like a painting that has been specially created or like a potterer carefully creating something out of clay that is unique and has His personality and stamp put on it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are God’s Masterpiece – something He has poured Himself into to change your life. You used to be defined by sin and shame, but now you are defined by being in Christ. And God sees in you holiness … beauty… and goodness. Everything He sees in Jesus Christ He now sees in you.

You may see yourself as this person who has failed or who lacks certain abilities, but God sees you as royalty… as His masterpiece. Perhaps the voices from your past have told you that you were a mistake… that you can’t do anything right. But God is now telling you that you are His masterpiece – a beautiful work of heavenly art that He is putting on display for all to see and admire just how great His grace is toward you. 

The last part of Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are … created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This verse tells us why God created us. We are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.” That is God’s plan for us. Before we were even born, God planned the “good works,” the specific ministry, He wants us to have. We don’t have to make things happen. We can rely on the Lord to show us the good works He wants us to do.

How do we know God’s plan for us after we believe in Jesus? We look at the way God has shaped us. I have borrowed the acrostic S.H.A.P.E. from Rick Warren’s ministry. God has uniquely shaped us for a reason. Let’s look at five things that shape us to serve the Lord:

S – Spiritual gifts (I Peter 4:10). Ask yourself, “What am I gifted to do for the Lord?” God has given believers in Jesus one or more spiritual gifts with which to serve Him in ministry (Romans 12:3-8; I Corinthians 12:7, 11; Ephesians 4:11-13). The best way to discover your spiritual gifts is to start serving the Lord Jesus in a local church. He will manifest your gifts as you begin to serve.

H – your Heart (I Samuel 12:20b; Romans 15:20; Galatians 4:18; Colossians 3:23-24). Ask yourself, “What do I love to do for the Lord?” There are some things we love to do and there are some things we hate to do. The things we love to do reflect our hearts. Where did we get that natural inclination? God put it in us. The Lord wants our ministries to be a blessing, not a burden. So it is a legitimate question to ask yourself, “What do I love to do?” Why would God give you a ministry that He hasn’t given you a heart for? When you look at your gifts and your heart, what do you love to do? What are you passionate about? What motivates you?  What gets you excited?  That is your heart. Some people love to serve or help others. Others love to influence, improve, perform, repair, prevail, follow the rules, or lead and be in charge.

A – your Ability (Exodus 31:3; I Corinthians 12:6; 2 Corinthians 3:5). Ask yourself, “What natural talent and skills do I have?  What vocational skills have I learned?  What natural talents have I been given by God?“ God wants to use the natural talents and skills you have in ministry. Some of you may have skills in arts and crafts, childbirth, computers, cooking, communication, construction, counseling, decorating, graphics, law, management, mechanics, media, music, safety, security, sewing, singing, song-writing, speaking, and teaching, etc. Be open to God using these natural talents or skills in your ministry.

P – your Personality (I Corinthians 2:11; Galatians 1:13-14). We are all very different.  We have all got different personalities, different blends of temperament.  Ask yourself, Where does my personality best suit me to serve?” If you are an introverted person you would probably not want to get involved in being a greeter at church. That would place a lot of additional stress on your life. When you have an area that you may be gifted to do and a heart to do, but you don’t have the personality to do it, it puts enormous stress on your life. God doesn’t want you to have to do that. 

E – your Experiences. There are four different kinds of experiences you want to look at when you are trying to discover the shape God has given you. First, ask yourself, “What kind of spiritual experiences have I had?” (Galatians 1:12, 15-18; Hebrews 5:12-13). This has to do with the times you have had with the Lord. Maybe you encountered God at a retreat or campground or at home, or as a young person, or during a crisis you went through, and that brought you closer to the Lord. 

Next ask yourself, “What kind of painful experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 1:4; 11:23-27; 12:7-10). God often allows us to go through a painful experience and then heals us and comforts us in that experience so that He will give us the ministry of helping other people in that very same thing. Who can relate to somebody who is struggling with alcoholism better than somebody who has been an alcoholic?  Who can better relate to somebody who has lost a child in miscarriage or stillbirth than somebody who has had a miscarriage or stillbirth. God never wastes a painful experience. Even the painful experiences we bring on ourselves through our own decisions, God wants to use in ministry.

Next ask yourself, “What kind of educational experiences have I had?” (Acts 22:3). What have you learned? Maybe you have educational training in computers or dance or debate or auto mechanics or teaching children. God wants to use these experiences in your ministry to others.

Then ask yourself, “What kind of ministry experiences have I had?” (2 Corinthians 9:13). Some of us have already served the Lord in ministry and we have proven ourselves in the body of Christ and can see what God has done in our lives. Others of us may be new to the Christian faith and have not yet served God in a ministry.  

All five of these things shape you and make you, you. When you understand how God has shaped you, then you will know His plan for your life, and how and where He wants you to serve Him.

When we trusted in Christ for salvation, we probably did not realize how much everything changed. We thought we were just forgiven and going to heaven. But God has so much more for us here and now. And He wants us to be encouraged and see ourselves as the new person we are through His eyes. Because when we do, being a Christian is not a matter of living by rules and trying to clean up this and that. It is a matter of living as the royalty that God has made us by the blood of His Son. When we understand this, there will be no need to compare ourselves to others. We will be free to be the unique person God created us in Christ to be.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, when we take our eyes off of You, it is easy to compare ourselves with others and become discouraged. Right now, Lord God, we want to pause and reconnect with You. Please restore our union with You. Help us to see ourselves through Your eyes in Christ. Before Jesus, we used to be defined by our sin and shame, but now we are defined by being in Christ. And You see in us all the holiness … beauty… and goodness that You see in Jesus Christ. Everything You see in Jesus You now see in us. Thank You for the good works You have prepared for us to walk in. Please help each one of us to identify the shape You have given us so we may bring You the most glory by following Your plan for each of our lives. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Lesson 1 Part 4 – Three principles to guide discipleship training (Video)

This is the fourth video of our Lesson 1 discipleship training. It addresses important truths for growing in the Christians life. It also looks at three essential principles that will guide the remainder of this discipleship training.

How can we experience the blessedness of clean feet? Part 2

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” John 13:3-4

Jesus is in the final week of His life before His crucifixion. It is Thursday, our time. We are learning in John 13 how to experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Jesus Christ. Last time we saw that we are to recognize Jesus’ loyal love for us (John 13:1-2). Today we discover we are to RECKON WHO WE ARE IN CHRIST (John 13:3-5; cf. Ephesians 2:10).

What happens next is incredible. “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God…” (John 13:3). Jesus knew that His Father in heaven had given Him a position of absolute authority (“the Father had given all things into His hands”). He knew His origin (“He had come from God”) and His destination (“and was going to God”). He knew who He was and where He was going. From this position of strength and security, we see Jesus taking the role of a lowly servant.

Jesus “rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself.” (John 13:4). “In Palestine the roads are dusty, and though guests would normally bathe before a social gathering like Passover, after a walk across the city their feet would be dirty. A basin of water and towels were customarily placed at the door of a home for washing. The task of washing guests’ feet was generally assigned to a household servant. A basin of water and towel had been left in the upper room for the disciples’ use, but not one of them took responsibility for washing the others’ feet. They were too busy thinking of themselves to think of others.” The disciples’ refusal to put themselves in the place of a servant reveals their own insecurity.

We are told that Jesus “rose from supper and laid aside His garments.” Pentecost observes that “there are several hints from Scripture concerning the outer clothing which Christ wore. From the record given to us at the Crucifixion, we know that He wore a seamless robe. This would have been an unusually costly robe. Normally robes were made of strips of cloth that had been woven on narrow looms; these strips were sewn together to make a garment of sufficient size to be wrapped around an adult. But the robe that Christ wore had been especially prepared at great cost… We also notice that when Christ during His ministry went into a strange synagogue He was greeted as a rabbi and welcomed in that assembly. A rabbi was normally designated by the color of the tassels or ribbons sewn onto his robe. It may be that Christ wore the robe of a rabbi. Such a robe would have entitled Him to respect and honor. In Israel only the priest was held in higher esteem than the rabbi… It was such a garment as this that Christ laid aside in order to wrap a towel around His waist. A towel was the sign of a servant. A servant had no position and no honor.” 2

Imagine the look of shock on the disciples’ faces when Jesus stood up and laid aside His robe of honor to wrap Himself in a servant’s towel to wash their feet. Yet, even after Jesus took the position of a slave to wash their feet, no one offered to do the task instead. They were too embarrassed or too proud to perform a house servant’s task. This is the extent of Jesus’ love for His own disciples. He is willing to humbly serve them. Humble servanthood is not an expression of weakness. It is actually a show of strength. The more we embrace who we are in Christ and where we are going because of His amazing grace, the more we can serve others from a position of strength and security. This means we must lay aside our robes that entitle us to honor and respect and put on Christ’s love with which to serve others.

“After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.” (John 13:5). The “towel” was long enough to wrap around Jesus’ waist and use the free end to dry His disciples’ feet. This was a tremendous expression of love! Jesus loved them enough to become their servant and minister to them. You would have thought that Jesus needed them to minister to Him as He faced the cross. Instead, we see Him reaching out to them and meeting their needs. He knew that in a short time they would reject Him, but here He is serving them. What an amazing Savior and Lord we have! The more secure we are in Christ’s love and our identity in Him, the more empowered we will be to serve others.

When Jesus took the position of a lowly household servant, He made Himself extremely vulnerable. He knelt down before men who would betray Him. Among those feet were Judas’ and Peter’s. One man would betray Him and the other would deny Him before the night was over. Still, in love, Jesus knelt down before them. Today, God’s love kneels down before us wherever we are. And as He does, He urges us to bare ourselves before Him, to be vulnerable before Him with our dirty feet (i.e. sinfulness). Jesus’ security and strength to humbly serve these men (John 13:4-5) was based upon His knowing His absolute authority from the Father, His origin, and His destination (John 13:3).

Likewise, as we discover and believe who we are in Christ, we can also make ourselves vulnerable to serve others even when it involves washing dirty feet. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The word “workmanship” is the Greek word poiēma from which we get our English word “poem.” God has made us a heavenly piece of poetry on this earth. We are His masterpiece, not a mistake. The more we see ourselves as He sees us, the more we can “walk in the good works, which God prepared beforehand.” You and I are not defined by our sin and shame, we are defined by God’s view of us recorded in His word. The more we embrace the way God sees us, the more vulnerable we can become in serving one another.

What are the “good works” God has “prepared beforehand” for us to walk in (Ephesians 2:10)? I believe some common “good works” for all Christians to walk in involve going into all the world and preaching the gospel to everyone (Mark 16:15) and making disciples or followers of Christ by baptizing those who believe in Jesus and teaching them to obey all of Christ’s commands (Matthew 28:19-20). Christ’s gives all Christians the “authority” to do these works for His glory (Matthew 28:18).

Do you want to experience the blessedness of clean feet or intimacy with Christ? Then recognize Jesus’ loyal love for you and reckon who you are in Christ. When you do, you will be in a position to humbly serve our Lord by serving others. The world could use a lot more of this right now.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, what a beautiful picture of Your love when You got up from the table and made Yourself extremely vulnerable by taking the position of a lowly household servant to wash the dirty feet of Your disciples who should have been washing Your feet. Even though they would eventually abandon You in Your darkest hour, You chose not to abandon them. Lord, none of us deserve this loyal and unlimited love from You. But we gratefully receive it because we need cleansing from our own sin and shame. Thank You so much for meeting us where we are at. Please help us to see ourselves through Your eyes so we can serve others from a position of strength and security. We have been given Your authority to represent You on earth as Your ambassadors (Matthew 28:18; 2 Corinthians 5:20). We have been entrusted with Your gospel message to boldly share it with a lost world (Mark 16:15) and then make disciples of those who believe in You (Matthew 28:19-20). Because You made Yourself vulnerable for us, we can now make ourselves vulnerable for others. We love You, our Lord and our God. In Your gracious and loving name we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 239.

2. J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), pg. 428.