Looking particularly at verses 7-11:
The first thing I want to point out this morning is that we are not Paul. Obviously right? I find it a relief that I likely won’t have to be shipwrecked or stoned or beaten or martyred as a result of giving up everything to follow Christ.
But like Paul, we must give up whatever we hold most dearly to.
What was it that Paul had to give up? He gives a list in verses 4-6. Paul, before he was Paul, while he was still Saul, was such a committed Jew that he stoned Christians, persecuting them for following Christ. He was a religious zealot. His heritage was his legacy. His heritage was his confidence. It was his security. It was his way to God.
That is, until God revealed himself and Saul became Paul. Paul saw that all that he was staking his life on was actually nothing. He might have been the best of the Jews, but he was as far away from God as anyone. In knowing this, believing this, Paul was ready to count all of that, that heritage, that identity, that security and safety, the popularity, the power, the position, the reputation…as nothing. He gave it all up for the sake of Christ.
So what is it that you and I need to give up?
What do you need to count as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus your Lord?
What do you need to let go of or hold onto more loosely in order to be able to say with Paul that you count EVERYTHING as loss?
What things do you need to see as rubbish?
This is NOT an exercise in guilt or shame. I am not here to try to make you feel guilty or less than. I certainly don’t want anyone to leave this morning focused on all of the ways we fall short as a Christian.
I did that for years. I used to love the Epistles because I saw them as a formula or a checklist of all of the things that I should be doing. A description of what a good follower of Jesus looked like. Then I could measure myself and see what I was doing well or not.
I was usually struck by how short I was falling. Maybe here or there I would be able to pat myself on the back and check something off of the list. There were moments in my life that I would feel a great sense of pride in my accomplishments. Either way, what was I doing? I was putting confidence in the flesh. I was trying to work my way into favor with God. Sure, I recognized that my initial salvation was a gift of grace. But I was determined to prove myself worthy of the gift.
It was both painful and a huge relief to begin to realize that I couldn’t do it. As I understood Scripture better, as I understood sin and salvation and grace better, as I understood myself better, and more important, as I understood God better, I finally believed that I cannot do it. We can’t do it, ladies
Have you heard the familiar saying “There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less.”?
I remember reading that for the first time, I believe it was in Philip Yancy’s book “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” I cried at the beauty and the truth of those words. Its just so not about me!
However, though we cannot do anything to make God love us more or less, what we can do is do things to cause ourselves to love GOD more or less. Every single thing we hold onto too tightly, everything we don’t trust God in, everything we value more than we value God – that’s causing us to love God less.
Lots of times these are even good things! It’s not bad to love our families, friends, church, our health, home, talents, etc. But do we, really and honestly, love those things more than we love God? What would you do if these things were taken from you? Would you be able to rejoice in God? Would you be able to continue to worship Him?
We must also ask ourselves what things distract us from God? What things do you choose to do even though you know they are not a good use of your time?
I recently joined the ranks and got a smartphone. I cannot believe how tempting it is to just fiddle on that thing. How tempting it is to pick up when I’m supposed to be playing with my kids. How tempting it is to put technology ahead of my pursuit of God.
Or reading. I love to read, and I’ve been known to rush through my quiet time a bit so that I have more time to read.
So, what’s first in my heart?
It was hard to answer questions 13 and 14 in day 3 this week. I was ready to admit that its easy for me to value my family too much. It seems like an almost noble thing to want to protect my kids and love my family, though they certainly should not come before God. But it was really hard to come face to face with some of the petty things that I value more than God. I sure don’t want to have to look at it that way, but my life gives testimony to it.
What’s first in my heart?
I want it to be God. I want to say with Paul that all else is loss, rubbish. I want to be able to testify with Paul that whatever I have, I count as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. I want my life to testify that what matters most to me is gaining Christ and being found in him. I want to release those loves that clutter up my heart and keep me from loving Christ fully, with abandon.
So, as we think about the application of the verses from this week, it isn’t about guilt or shame or how we fall short. It is about love. Is Christ our gain? Are we growing in love for him and trust in him? As we know him more, are we valuing those other things less and valuing him more?
Ladies, let’s pray these verses for one another today in our prayer time. Let’s ask that we will count everything as loss that we might know the surpassing worth of Christ Jesus. That we will count the things of this life as rubbish in order to gain Christ.
So, as we move to our prayer time, let’s pray this and let’s also pray as question 10 on Day 4 asks us to – for those who have never heard the good news. Perhaps we can pray specifically for Keri Folmar, the author of this study, and for Mack and Leann Stiles, all of whom are ministering in Dubai, and for others who are in ministry in Dubai and other Muslim nations.