Friday, 9 January 2015

Discovering our Calling

As Christians, we are a people of faith, right? So, is your faith where you feel it should be? Are you confused and full of doubt?
Do you have a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are in your life?
Do you find yourself getting frustrated or angry with people around you, with your circumstances, with yourself or with God?
Do you find yourself thinking: “If only I had different parents... if only I lived somewhere else... if only I had more money... if only I had married someone else, then my life would be better and I would be happy”?

If this is how you are thinking, let me suggest that you have completely missed the point.
The bible tells us that we are where we are by God’s design. God has determined the exact time and place we are to be born, the family we are raised in, our personal circumstances, and the country where we will live. Within that set of circumstances, he has a plan for our lives that fits in with his greater plan for the world. God has programmed each one of us, so that we are able to find fulfillment only as we fit into his plan for our lives. Anything less than that and there is a nagging sense of something not being quite right with our lives.

So your sense of fulfillment today as well as your reward in heaven for eternity depends on your finding your place in God’s scheme of things. How will you find out what is your calling?
God has created us with specific natures and talents and put us in specific places, which include our families. Our lives are woven together along with the lives of other people around us. All of us, depending on our circumstances, have certain specific roles in our lives. First and foremost, a person is an individual. Then he or she is someone’s son or daughter and often someone’s brother or sister. As we grow, we discovers other roles: as a student, a friend, a relation, a spouse, a parent, an employer or employee, a teacher, mentor or guide, etc. 

Each role carries with it a set of God-given responsibilities. Some roles are to our liking and we readily fulfill them, but others we don’t like so much and we tend to ignore or neglect them. Sometimes we are so focused on one role, that we forget that the others exist and that we have a responsibility towards them. For example, men, who are working often get so absorbed in their professional careers, that they forget they also have certain responsibilities as husbands and fathers. Women often get so absorbed in their roles as mothers, that they forget they have to be supportive of their husbands. And many completely forget that they have a responsibility towards themselves as individuals too. Young people often get so involved with their friends that they forget that they have certain responsibilities as students as well as towards parents and siblings. And then there are our social responsibilities too, which many of us tend to forget about.

Neglect of any role and over-concentration on any, unbalances our life. These neglected roles and responsibilities affect our lives in different ways: in deteriorated relationships, in financial problems, in wrong choices of job or life partner and in various emergency situations. People who are neglecting some important role in their lives or not fulfilling some role effectively are subconsciously aware of a vague sense of dissatisfaction with themselves. They try to cover this up in many ways. Some people take to shifting the blame on others for their troubles. Whatever situation they are in is someone else’s fault. Others try to mask this sense of disquiet by having fun, buying things, indulging in some excess or trying to find satisfaction in some worldly way.

I believe that the key to true fulfillment is to get out of this negative pattern and find your true place in life. How do we do this? We ask God for wisdom to help us find his purpose for our life. And then we just do our best in the roles God presently has for us NOW, trusting that as we obey him in everything as far as we are able, God will unfold his purposes for our lives. 

James 1:5-8 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all he does.”

Most people ask for wisdom and keep looking for an answer. They see everything that is happening as God’s guidance and then are disappointed when things don’t turn out right. This leads to a lot of doubt and confusion and they begin to wonder whether they are getting any guidance at all! This is exactly what James is saying; asking for wisdom and doubting makes you double-minded and unstable, and with this kind of attitude, you cannot expect to receive anything from the Lord. 

So how do we receive? I believe, the answer is to just do the next thing that needs to be done and do it the best way you can and trust God to do his part in his time. Fulfill the roles God has given you as best as you can. God is not suddenly going to call you to something big without preparation. And the way he prepares us is by giving us small responsibilities. As we read in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), he will give us some responsibility according to our ability. Then he will leave us to it. If we neglect our responsibility, even what we have will be taken from us and we will be left unhappy and frustrated. But if we are faithful in little things, he will commend us and give us greater and more significant things to do. As we go through our days faithfully discharging the various roles he has entrusted to us, he will open doors of opportunity to greater things.

Jesus told many parables to illustrate his messages. When he spoke, people were amazed at his wisdom. How do you think he acquired all this wisdom? The Bible does not say anything about Jesus’ education. We only know a little bit about his birth, the visit of the shepherds and of the magi and the first time his parents presented him in the temple as a baby. Then there was the incident when he was 12, when he stayed back at the temple instead of going home with his parents and discoursed with the elders there. After that there is total silence about him until he comes to John to be baptized at the age of 30. The last thing we read about Jesus before he started his ministry is in Luke chapter 2 verses 51 and 52: “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Which means that whatever was expected from him, he did, and did well. Not only was God pleased with him, people were also pleased with him.

We can try and make some educated guesses about Jesus’s life during those hidden years. As a child, he must have been a good natured, cheerful and obedient boy. If he was to be a sinless offering on behalf of all mankind, he had to be sinless as a child too. Which means, he was an excellent son. He was obedient, courteous, helpful and kind. He loved and honored his parents and showed respect and deference to his elders. His father Joseph must have taken him to the synagogue regularly and he would have learnt and memorized the scriptures diligently – so he was also a very good student. 

Where do you think Jesus learned to love little children? After Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary had other children. So Jesus was an elder brother. I’m sure his siblings would have been normal children and made their share of mischief. He must have had to gently correct them and teach them by example. He would have protected and defended them, played with them and taught them. He would have perfectly played his role as an elder brother.

Joseph was a carpenter and would have taught the skill to Jesus. Jesus must have learnt diligently and become very skilled at the trade. Whatever Jesus did, he would have done it to the best of his ability and so would have been a very good and skilled carpenter. So as a professional, he discharged his role well too.

Sometime after the age of 12, Jesus lost his father. Perhaps he may have been 15 or 16, but probably not much older. Now, he had to take on the role of head of the family, as he was the eldest male child. He would have had to work hard to provide for his mother and his brothers and sisters at an early age. He had to take on the role of a father and provider and he discharged that too. We see that he didn’t enter public life till he was 30 years of age. Why? Probably because until his brothers were old enough, skilled enough and responsible enough to take over the financial and moral responsibility for the household, he could not leave his family without support. Jesus took his role as provider of the family very seriously. 

He also must have had to teach his brothers the trade in the absence of his father. He would have discharged his role as teacher and mentor also very well. Because of the excellent quality of their work, the family business would have flourished. He would have been a good businessman and very responsible with money. He may have even had hired servants, so he may have been a good and considerate employer too. Finally, when his responsibilities to his family were over and he could leave them in charge of his younger brothers, Jesus only then entered into his ministry of teaching and healing. 

Jesus was also a good friend, to his 12 disciples and to Lazarus, Mary and Martha. We can see how perfectly Jesus discharged every single role God entrusted him with, including his role as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! And don’t forget, even on the cross, he made arrangements to have his mother looked after and gave her to his beloved disciple to comfort him as well.

Did Jesus have a smooth life? Most certainly not. He had to learn many lessons the hard way. He lost his father early and had to take on the heavy responsibility for his large family. He must surely have had a few difficult customers. Perhaps some people tried to cheat him too. Everything Jesus taught to his disciples and to the public must have been from his personal experiences, which means that he must have faced many trials and temptations. He could talk of forgiveness, because he must have experienced hurt and injustice and had to forgive. He spoke of loving your enemies, so he must have had enemies and learnt to show them love. Everything he taught others, he must have practiced himself again and again until it was second nature to him. Remember, that though he was Son of God, he was also son of man, and restricted himself to all the limitations of men, so that he could identify himself with us fully.

My guess is that his own brothers probably resented him. At some point they must have got tired of having this goody-goody brother who could do no wrong. We get a hint of what their feelings were for him in John 7:1-5. The Jewish leaders were looking for a way to kill Jesus, so he did not go to Judea, but went about preaching in Galilee. But his brothers taunted him and told him to go to Judea and do his miracles there openly for the world to see. Can you imagine that his own brothers actually tried to send him where his life would be in danger? Did you ever wonder where his brothers were when Jesus was being crucified? None of them was anywhere near the cross. Leave alone any love for Jesus, not even concern for their distressed and grieving mother brought them there.  Jesus saw that and, rather than leave her in their care, he entrusted her to John, who would honor and cherish her and take care of her.

The point I want to make here is that God trains us the same way he trained Jesus for his calling. Jesus was trained the hard way; why should we expect it to be different for us? Every experience in Jesus’ life, both good and bad served to prepare him for the work God called him to do. The same is true for us too. Jesus submitted to God’s training and discipline. Hebrews 2:10 says that Jesus was made perfect through what he suffered. God prepared him for his ministry for 30 years. Do you think he is going to call you for any work without preparing you for it?

God is not arbitrary in calling us. He works many things together: our nature and specific talents, our circumstances, our desires and interests, the needs of the people around us, our collective experiences, our contacts. Some people discover their calling early, others quite late in life. Others are doing something that they do not find fulfilling and are just plodding on, with a vague sense of having missed something. I believe this is because they have short-circuited God’s plan for them by going their own way and neglecting God’s commands. 

If this is the case with you, let me suggest something I do myself from time to time. Sit down and think about every role you have in your life and evaluate how well you are fulfilling it. Work out how to correct the imbalances, because only then you will find fulfillment or satisfaction. Finding out God’s plan for your life may take time, as it will take some redefining of some of the roles in your life. But it will be well worth it, as there is no way else you can find true fulfillment. The center of God’s will is the best and safest place to be, because that is where you have God’s favor and his help is available to you. 

As you faithfully fulfill each role God has given you, you will be equipped for your calling, because every role and the experiences you accumulate as you fulfill them prepares you for it. Your calling may be big or it may seem small. It may be for ministry or it may be for some secular work. It may even seem unimportant, but in God’s economy, the janitor who turns up regularly and on time and arranges chairs faithfully out of love for God is as important as the evangelist whose preaching causes many souls to be saved. The old lady confined to her bed, who prays fervently, is as important as the missionary who leaves his home and goes to a dangerous mission field. A mother diligently bringing up her children in the fear of the Lord is as important as a surgeon performing a heart operation, sometimes much more. God sees a devoted heart and uses anyone he chooses to fulfill his greater purposes.

God’s Word contains guidance on how to fulfill every role we play in life. As we seek to please him in obeying his commands, we begin to find our relationships improving and our lives turning out to be much better than before. We become more successful in whatever we do, whether it be studying, parenting, our work, our hobbies, our health or our ministries. As we submit to his training, we find doors opening in some area of our lives, and as we prayerfully go through these doors, we find before long that we are finding fulfillment and our calling becomes more and more clear. God is training us for the role he has for us in his greater plan.

Ultimately, our calling is to love God, trust him, follow him and obey him in everything as far as we are able. He knows our weaknesses and he is a merciful God, who weaves our circumstances to accommodate them and still makes something beautiful out of our lives. When we fail because of our weaknesses or because our strength runs out, God is able to pick us up and tie us back into the pattern he is weaving with our lives into the vast and beautiful tapestry of his greater purpose. He molds us like a potter and each of us fulfills a special purpose in his greater plan. We may never know it till we reach his kingdom, and then it will be revealed to us. Until then we only have to trust him and fulfill faithfully whatever roles he has given us for now.

For those of you who feel that there are roles in your lives to which you have not done justice, I would suggest that you take a day or two to do a serious and prayerful evaluation of your life. Identify all the various roles you have, especially those that God has given you and write them down on a sheet of paper. Then look at what occupies your time and attention every day and how it is contributing towards fulfilling your various roles. You will probably find, as I did, that because of a lack of clarity, you have been spending a great portion of your time and energy on things that are not contributing to any of the important roles in your life. But just becoming aware of these roles will help you to identify things you need to do on a day-to-day basis to move forward in each of these areas.

Remember that your first and most important role is as a child of God. Neglecting this role will guarantee that you will never fit into the purpose God has for your life. What are you doing to fulfill that role? Are you nurturing your relationship with God? Are you spending enough time in studying his word and in prayer? Are you looking to him for day-to-day guidance? Are you obeying his commands? Are you holding on to his promises for the future? Your relationship with God will determine how you fulfill the other roles in your life. This is because all the guidance you need on how to fulfill the other important roles in your life is available in his Word, the Bible. As you read and pray, God will guide you step by step in how to fulfill your responsibilities towards your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children, your employer, your employees, your church, your domestic helpers, even your pets! As you focus on making one small improvement at a time, you will find your life gradually changing for the better and opportunities opening up that you had never thought possible. And, as you walk faithfully in small things, he will gradually give you charge of bigger things. 


Monday, 15 July 2013

The Purpose of Trials

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
- Romans 8:35-37(NIV)
A few days ago our Pastor's son got married. Our thoughts and prayers were with the family, as we have seen them go through many severe trials of many kinds. The church looked beautiful and was overflowing with congregation members, family and friends. The service was lovely, the choir sang beautifully, the songs were well chosen and everything flowed smoothly. Of all things, I felt the highlight of the whole service was the sermon, which was perfect and everything a wedding sermon should be. A truly memorable wedding service, followed by a reception that was well organized and planned in a tasteful manner. As I looked around me, I was rejoicing in my heart and praising God for how things were going. It was truly a testimony that glorified God. I later heard that it was raining in different parts of Chennai and in neighbouring areas, but not a drop of rain fell over the open area where the reception was being held. Everything spoke of God's blessing and favour.

Perhaps for many it was just another wedding, a nice one, but not unique in any way. For me and my husband and many others who know them well, it was a time of rejoicing and praising God, because we so much wanted everything to go right. Having seen the family go through all kinds of trials in recent months, our prayer was that all should go smoothly, so that they could rejoice in this important occasion.

Sometimes we wonder why people who serve God sincerely suffer so many trials. It seems that they get double trouble for their faithfulness. You can almost see the fierce spiritual forces arrayed against them, waiting to attack at every opportunity. They are always in need of fervent prayer in order to overcome all that comes against them in various forms.

As I thought about these things, the verse came to my mind: "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." 

It was an eye-opener.  Yes, it is true that trials make us strong in the faith and teach us perseverance. Through them we are fired in the crucible until all that is impure is turned to ashes and what is left behind is precious gold. Through suffering and obedience we are transformed into the image of Christ. 


It is not all about us alone. It is about the larger purposes of God. 

Consider this: 

How can a person preach effectively about Jehovah Jireh, our Provider, if he has not been through difficult circumstances and seen God come to his aid?

How can he convince us about God our Healer, unless he has been seriously ill and experienced God's wonderful healing touch?

Can a person who has not gone through severe testing times and seen God's deliverance powerfully preach about God our Deliverer? That when we pass through the waters, they will not sweep over us, and when we pass through the fire, he will not let us be burned?

The testing of our Pastor and his family brings blessings on the congregation who witness the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit in his life and give glory to God. It brings blessing, because the sheep are fed real food that nourishes them and causes them to grow. The fearless preaching comes from true experience and a closer walk with God and has a ring of truth in it.

Does this mean that we are to leave them to it and rejoice that their sufferings are bringing blessing to us? Not at all. The sufferings and trials of a pastor also are a test of his congregation, whether they support him and his family through prayer and practical help. As the congregation members show love and support for their Shepherd, he is strengthened and comforted and his commitment to his loving congregation grows. In the process, both are edified and God's purposes are fulfilled. 

Because after all, it's not about us, is it? It's about God and his glory.


Monday, 29 April 2013

The Fall and the Curse

 14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring[a] and hers;
he will crush[b] your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”
16 To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”
17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”   - Genesis 3:14-19 (N.I.V.)

When God confronted the Man and the Woman after the Fall (and one can see that the serpent was also present there), he cursed them for their disobedience. But his curse for each of the three involved in the act was very different. Being a woman myself, I want particularly to understand the part that primarily concerns me, i.e., the curse on Eve. But first, it is necessary to look for the principle behind the curse, so that will be the focus of this blog post. Eve and her predicament will have to be the subject of a subsequent write-up.

First of all, what is a curse?  Especially where God is concerned, I'm inclined to believe that a curse is not so much a punishment as an outworking of cause and effect. Because elsewhere in the bible it is written: “Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, so a curse without cause shall not alight.” (Proverbs 26:2, New King James Version). God respects the laws he himself has put in place.

In the physical world, things must happen according to the laws of nature – whether we know them and believe them or not. Knowledge of the laws makes the outcome predictable, such as: if you drop a stone it will hit the ground; if you drop it in water, it will sink; if you touch a burning coal, it will burn your fingers; and so on. All scientific discoveries and inventions are based on known laws, which do not change and can be relied on to bring forth a predictable outcome if the calculations based on the principles are correct. 

In the same way, God has set in place certain spiritual laws, which also follow the principle of cause and effect. When God told Adam and Eve not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil, he was warning them of the consequences of breaking the spiritual law that he had put in place: that evil is harmless if you don't know it, come in contact with it or practice it. But as soon as you know evil by experience, it exerts such power that it takes over your life and progresses until it destroys you. Adam and Eve only had God's word on this. They had no experience of evil, because so far, everything around them and about them was good and they did not know any different.

But the moment they yielded to the suggestions of the serpent, doubted the goodness of God and took matters into their own hands, they experienced the evil of disobedience. This broke their spiritual connection to God and removed them from his preserving and sustaining presence. In one instant, they stepped over from the camp of God into the camp of the devil, who then quickly introduced them to guilt, cover-up, humiliation, anger and blame that further tightened his grasp and mastery over them. Bereft of the Spirit of God, Adam and Eve were helplessly drawn by the devil in a downward spiral of one sin after another, that progressively corrupted their souls and bodies until their ultimate physical death.

This was Cause and Effect in action in the spiritual plane. Adam and Eve painfully discovered that God was right and the devil was a Liar and had tricked them into sinning. But they were responsible for their own actions and had to bear the consequences. And the consequences were unfortunately not limited to mankind alone; the earth itself was cursed and suffered the effects of the introduction of evil in its atmosphere.

But embedded in the curse against the serpent, who started it all, God mercifully wove in a ray of hope. One day, the devil, the initiator of evil, would be crushed by the offspring of the very woman he had used to begin the whole story. The last word would not be his, but God’s.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. - Isaiah 7:14


Friday, 26 April 2013

God's Original Design for Marriage

"The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” – Proverbs 9:10

As I reflected on this verse, I realized that only as I hold God in reverence and make efforts to know Him and his ways more and more, will I gain true understanding. Keeping this in mind, I decided to study the book of Genesis once again, asking God at the beginning of every day’s study to open up his word to me, help me to absorb and assimilate what I learn into my being and to give me understanding.

As I studied the account of the creation of the Universe, the creation of Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man in Genesis chapters 1, 2 and 3, one thing struck me. Especially in relation to what the New Testament says about marriage (Love God, love one another), it is evident that originally marriage was supposed to be a reflection of the love between the three persons of the Godhead. The unity of purpose ("Let us make Man in our image" - Gen 1:26), the seamlessly complementing one another to complete the work and the harmony in accomplishment that the Godhead demonstrates helps us to discern the "us" within the "I". Just as the three persons of the Godhead communicate, cooperate and act as One with one accord, so the trinity of Man, Woman and God is to function in unison as a harmonious whole. 

However, we see in the 3rd chapter of Genesis, as we read about the Temptation of Eve and the Fall of Man, that when God is pushed out of the equation and disregarded, everything changes in the relationship between the man and the woman. Harmony is replaced by conflict; cooperation by competition; love by blame and fulfillment by discontent. And the man-woman relationships in the world today reflect this fact painfully.

After God lovingly prepared the perfect environment for the crowning glory of his Creation, "the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7). In the Bible, often the Spirit is symbolized by 'breath' or 'wind'. After creating Adam, God breathed his Spirit into him and it was God's Spirit that gave him life. The Spirit of God was essential to Adam's very existence.

Initially there was just God and Adam in the Garden of Eden. But then God did something to enhance even more Adam’s experience on Earth. He made a companion for him - Eve.

Genesis 2:21-22  - "So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man."

God created Eve out of Adam; she had been a part of him all along since his creation, but now God separated her from Adam and gave her to him as an individual distinct from him. When Adam woke up, he recognized her immediately as a complementary part of himself and joyfully received her. 

Genesis 2:23-24 - "The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh." 

Both Adam and Eve realized that they were made for each other and only in their union would they find complete fulfillment. The sum of the parts was greater and even more wonderful than the original whole! The three: God, Man and Woman interacted together in a way that was more meaningful than God and Man (who included in himself Woman) alone.

But the inclusion of the original Creator in the whole was absolutely essential. When he was pushed aside as ‘unnecessary’ for making decisions (when Eve and Adam decided to eat the forbidden fruit), the resultant split wrenched   Adam and Eve away from their triune relationship with God and caused humanity to fall with such a crash, that the cry of pain and distress from that fall resounded through generations and is still heard centuries later in the spiritual realm. Only by bringing God back into this equation can the damaged humanity be repaired and restored.

But sinful man is so far away from God that this is impossible, as God and sin cannot exist together. However, the love of God and the wisdom of God manifested in a wonderful plan of God. God sent the second person of the great, vast and eternal Trinity into the world; the infinite God finitely condensed and severely limited in the form of an infant born to a woman, who could exist with sinful man, because he was himself Man. Jesus demonstrated the love and saving power of God by taking upon himself the punishment of the sins of the entire human race, so that men and women who put their trust in him could have their sins cleansed, exchange them for the righteousness of Jesus Christ and be reunited with God.

Through the miracle of the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, the broken equation now can be completed and we become united with God again through Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Again in the Christian marriage is man, woman and God (the Holy Spirit existing in both the man and the woman) who cements the relationship, and thus the two become complete and can harmonize with one another as God intended from the beginning.