By David Jewel
Thanks to Liz for an excellent first sermon last week. This is the penultimate in our series and the last will be taken by Simon next week.
I am speaking this morning about loving God with all of our strength and I had been thinking back over my years as a Christian thinking of those who have been great examples, people doing this or aiming to do this in their lives and one of the examples in my life which came to mind even before his death on Friday has been John. He was deeply intentional about his commitment to follow God. I was surprised when I sent out a note to the church fellowship to ask those who would like to meet with me regularly for spiritual mentoring to contact me and John did. Whenever we did this, he had a list of questions in his head he wanted to ask me. He wasn’t a pseudo spiritual head in the clouds sort of person, he enjoyed life. Pete Holley, John and I would regularly go out for coffee together and John would often enjoy a cheese scone. The first time we went to Merkins Farm, neither Pete nor I knew the way, but there was John confidently directing us. We would sit in the shepherd’s hut and chat. John had a lot of interests and knew a lot, but his priority was to know God more, to love Him more, to become more like Him. I learned a lot from John, as I’m sure many of us will echo.
FIRSTLY, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LOVE GOD WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH? I have said before that the Christian life is a balancing act, like walking the high wire. There are many reasons for this, but one is the balance we need between doing and resting. To amplify that, we are called by God to be His children to do mighty acts-Paul writes in his second chapter to the Ephesians: ‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works’ and there are many other verses in the Bible which echo that-but at the same time Martha is admonished for always being busy at work and she is encouraged to be more like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus. The point is that we are to sit at Jesus’ feet, because without those times we would be running on empty, but we are to use the strength that we receive to reach out to others. We are not to be like the dead sea. That is a very strange environment, one thousand feet below sea level, a sea which receive the waters of the river Jordan, but there is no outlet, so evaporation occurs which is the reason for the high salt content. Even I, a non-swimmer, could float easily in the Dead Sea! The warning is that we must have outlets for God’s love within us. We find those outlets through conscious acts of service and through circumstantial happenings, I call them following God’s threads. The first port of call for acts of service is to be the Church, the vehicle by which Jesus chooses to reveal His presence here on Earth. So, the first question to ask yourself is, ‘What am I doing in the church?’ This may not entail being on a rota for anything, it can be a ministry of encouragement, such as Barnabas had, or a commitment to pray for the church leaders-I certainly need your prayers and when great prayer saints die I can feel the loss of their prayer support! Talk about Dad and Rex.
SECONDLY, HOW DO WE LOVE GOD WITH ALL OUR STRENGTH? We are all called to be servants, to see others as more important than ourselves, just as Jesus did. In these days of online churches, it is much easier to try other services or to become frustrated that you feel that you are only a spectator in your fellowship. This is one of the issues we face at present, but I would urge you to subvert that impression by offering to read and pray during services and by becoming involved in our house groups if you haven’t already joined one or the Monday morning prayer meeting. It is actively countering the sense of dissatisfaction in us, which is part of living in the UK in the twenty first century. We are made to want God, as Liz said last week, but so often our desire for God is sublimated by our running after things. You may get to that stage in life when there is nothing that you want or need when it comes to your birthday or Christmas. Fi and I have made a couple of big moves in under six years so we have got down to the essentials. We no longer have CD’s or DVD’s and not many books either, apart from my study tomes. We as humans really need so little!
I think the other main reason why Christians do not spend their lives in service to God is that they do not think they are good enough. What I spend a lot of time in doing when I meet with you for mentoring is encouraging you to use those wonderful gifts God has given you. I understand that they are very hard to see in yourself and that, as Christians, we feel we should be humble, but please feel confident to use those gifts which another-whether me or someone else-has observed in you. Humility doesn’t mean that you consider yourself to be rubbish: God has seen you as precious enough that He has saved you through the death of His Son, so look at yourself honestly or get someone else to do it . The more you commit yourself and your future to God, the more assured you become that, yes you do have something to give, often something which others are unable to.
THIRDLY, WHERE CAN WE GET THIS STRENGTH FROM? Very strangely, we get the strength to love God from God Himself! One of the great dichotomies of the Christian faith is that we best receive Christ’s strength when we are at our weakest and most vulnerable. Paul wrote that God told him that God’s power was made perfect in Paul’s weakness. Look at some Biblical characters, you know the ones, the big, strong men-Saul who became the first King of Israel, Samson, born with the power of the Holy Spirit in him, even the great Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. All of them fell into the trap of trusting in their own strength…in the New Testament we have Peter who told Jesus that he would follow Him to death and then denied that he ever knew Him. Our strengths can often be our downfall. It is in our weakness that we fully rely on God, so remember He often calls us to go into work which stretches us, causes us to plead for His help. I was quite happy leading youth groups and house groups, the part of what I do now where I speak to large groups of people I was never happy with. But God made it clear that if I was to do a job which gave me opportunities to meet and encourage people one to one then I had to work hard at doing the things which I regarded as not my strong areas.
TO CONCLUDE: Let us look at this passage we have just heard read. A bit of context…Hezekiah King of Judah has just shown great stupidity in showing a King of a rival nation all his treasures and Isaiah has warned him that this act of folly will cause the downfall of his country. Chapter 40 is one of the most glorious prophecies in the Bible. We sense the compassion of God, but also His mighty power. We cannot compare Him to anything else and He gives strength to the weak. People will often talk to us about coming to the end of their strength: maybe during this period of lock down you have struggled in physical, mental, or spiritual areas, maybe you have struggled with loving your family when you have spent so much time together? Athletes talk about ‘a second wind’ when they are out running and feel that they haven’t got anything else to give; God gives us our second wind. Mother Teresa said: ‘’I have found the paradox that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.’’ Jesus lived and died for others: in effect, He gave until He was killed. It is in loving God until it hurts-that is recklessly rather than cautiously-that we find our true strength.
Our spiritual strength then is found in God and if we use the strength God gives to love Him and serve Him more fully then we receive fresh strength from on high. God is a generous God, not giving stingily and always with conditions, but freely and overflowingly.
David Tisdall, I remember, went through the trust exercise at church during a morning service where he encouraged volunteers to fall backwards trusting that someone would catch them. Many people I speak with have fundamental issues with trust. The LORD God, the Maker of Heaven and earth declares to us that He is trustworthy. And how can we prove that? By putting our trust in Him, by committing our way to Him. You trust in your bank, your pension provider, your spouse, do you trust in God?