Daily Devotions

TRAVELING LIGHT

Most modern-day Christians have lost the spiritual art of traveling light. In Mark 6:7-9, Jesus calls His disciples to Him in order to send them out for Him. His instructions are quite simple; He tells them to “take nothing for the journey,” except “a staff only.” They are to take “no scrip, no bread, no money in their purse,” but only to be “shod with sandals” and clothed with one coat. In other words, they were to travel light.

Christ’s disciples can neither get to where they’ve been commissioned to go nor carryout what they’ve been commissioned to do if they are weighed down with excessive baggage.

Self always lugs around loads of luggage wherever it goes. It goes nowhere without a grip of gripes and grudges, an attache case of carnal appetites, bags filled with bellicose, suitcases filled with sanctimoniousness and a big steamer trunk filled with self-infatuation. Toting around such a tremendous load prohibits us from getting anywhere for Christ. We simply can’t afford to take self along as a traveling companion on our spiritual pilgrimage in this world, lest we be bogged down and unable to get anywhere.

In order to run the Christian race, the Book of Hebrews instructs us to “lay aside every weight” and to live our lives “looking to Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). In other words, we are to rid ourselves of self’s encumbering baggage by turning our attention away from ourselves and focusing it on Christ alone. Only by doing so can we hope to cross the finish line someday for the glory of God.

Apart from Christ, who once said, “Foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath no where to lay his head,” the Apostle Paul is probably the best scriptural example of one who traveled light. In Philippians 4:11-12 (NIV), Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

When you’re willing, like Paul, to forfeit self’s cosmetic case (vanity), it’s garment bag filled with fashionable apparel (worldliness) and its picnic basket filled with craved cuisine (carnal appetites), there is no chance of your spiritual trek being slowed down or spoiled by self’s leaden or lost luggage. You can travel light, unimpeded by self’s cumbersome carryalls. Your God-given tasks will become paramount in your life rather than self’s trappings and trivialities. Consequently, you’ll be enabled to get to wherever Christ wants you to go and to do whatever Christ wants you to do.

THE EXCHANGED LIFE

As long as we live in dead center of ourselves, there is little hope of life becoming full-scale. It all implodes; pulled down around us by unattainable expectations. We desire to be everyone’s center of attraction; consequently, we imprison ourselves to everyone’s expectations. We can’t say no to anyone, lest they think less of us or say something bad about us.

The Bible teaches that “the fear of man is a snare” (Proverbs 29:25). It is, however, a snaring of ourselves. It happens when we can’t stand for the attention of others to turn away from ourselves. It reminds me of the talent agent who was asked what all great movie stars have in common. He answered, “The glazed look in their eyes when the conversation turns to something besides themselves.”

Making yourself so pliable that you can fit into the mode of everyone’s expectations results in you becoming nothing more than a “Rorschach Test”; that is, an inkblot that people can imagine to be whatever they want it to be. Such an undefined self will be squeezed and shoved around all of its days, until it finally disappears, without leaving a trace of its existence. After all, it never was anything more than a figment of people’s imagination in the first place. 

Rather than living our lives to win the crumbs of other people’s recognition, why not live our lives to win “the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14)? Those living to fulfill the call of God upon their lives are focused on pleasing God alone. They’re not pushovers to public opinion polls nor people who can be elbowed around by the expectations of others. Instead, their focus is diverted from themselves and centered on Him who loved them and died for them (Galatians 2:20).

This cure for nearsightedness—“I” trouble—found in Galatians 2:20 was championed as “the exchanged life” by the great missionary Hudson Taylor. Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission, taught that the Christian life wasn’t a changed life, but an exchanged life. We have exchanged our life—“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I…”—for Christ’s life—“…but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

To Hudson Taylor, our fixation on ourselves and failure to have faith in God was the explanation for the church’s futile impact upon a lost and dying world. He once wrote, “How many estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt! All God’s giants have been weak men, who did great things for God because they reckoned on His being with them.” In other words, they all looked beyond themselves to God and His high call upon their lives!

THE MASTERPIECE OF HUMILITY

The Apostle John begins the incredible story of Jesus washing his disciples feet with these words: “Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.”

In spite of the fact that He knew full well His power and position, Jesus took the place of the lowliest of servants by submitting Himself to the humiliation of washing His disciples’ dirty feet. How unlike the powerful and prestigious personages of our world today, all of whom would undoubtedly frown upon such demeaning service as being far beneath their dignity. To them, soiling their high-handedness with such humiliating service would be simply inconceivable.

Foot washing requires a rock solid sense of one’s own identity. Those who are insecure in themselves need not apply. A small person cannot survive on their knees before others. Their sense of self will shrivel plumb up once girded with a towel and handed a basin. On the other hand, those who are sure of their identity in Christ need not jockey for worldly position to prove their significance. They are as assured of it on their knees as they would be on a throne.

Christ’s identity was not the least bit altered by His washing of His disciples’ feet. Neither is our identity in Christ altered in the least by our posture before others or others’ posture before us. Since our identity in Christ is based solely upon our relation to Him, it is not in the least decreased by our kneeling before others or increased by others kneeling before us. Once we stop looking to be comfortable in our own skin and start looking for contentment in Christ, we’ll find ourselves free to wash feet without fear of being diminished.

In the Kingdom of God, unlike in the kingdoms of this world, the truly great are those who serve, not those who are served (Mark 10:44-45). True greatness never struts up to you and demands that you bow. Instead, it’s always girded in humility and worn by a servant. You may even find it kneeling at your feet.

Peter initially failed to recognize greatness when it kneeled before him (John 13:6-9). However, after being enlightened to it, he desired to bask and bath in it. So should we. By doing so we are cleansed of self and consecrated for Christ’s humble service.

“COZY COVER-UP HUMILITY”

A final form of false humility often encountered in the world today is the cozy cover-up kind. This form of false humility is used to cover-up vices under the guise of a virtue. It is cowardice masquerading as meekness. It’s found in those who refuse to stand up for the truth under the pretense of their high regard for the feelings of others and their pursuit of peace with all men. These mice masquerading as the meek of the earth argue that we must be willing to compromise and avoid conflict at all cost, even at the expense of the truth, if we are to win converts rather than arguments.

This cozy cover-up humility can also be found in those who put themselves down in order to avoid putting themselves out. It’s the person who says, “I’d love to serve the Lord, but I’m just not good enough.” By saying such things they excuse themselves from the Lord’s service, as well as solicit the high esteem of others over their lowly opinion of themselves.

This kind of cozy cover-up humility is really slothfulness in search of sympathy. It’s the person who says, “I’m good for nothing” or “I can’t do anything.” It’s like a license for laziness; it can be whipped out at anytime to justify one’s idleness. “I’m not doing anything, because I’m incapable of doing anything. But at least I’m humble enough to admit it.”

The spineless and shiftless are found among both plebeians and aristocrats. Thus, many times there are extenuating circumstances in their lives. Yet, extenuating circumstances should never be confused with humility. Just because someone comes from humble beginnings or lives in humble circumstances doesn’t mean that they are humble. Though it may not be over their surroundings and substance, the down-and-out can be just as pride-filled as the high and mighty. There is no lack of “I” trouble in any strata of society.

“MINI-ME HUMILITY”

A second kind of common tainted humility is what we’ll call “Mini-Me.” This is the pathological putting down of oneself found in people who are incapable of receiving a compliment. When complimented, they always feel required to put themselves down, lest they become puffed up with pride. A good example of this is the successful author who was once introduced to Thomas Mann. Humbled in the presence of the famous novelist, the lesser know writer called himself nothing more than a hack. Afterward, Mann remarked, “That man has no right to make himself that small. He is not that big.”

The Bible not only admonishes us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought, but it also teaches us how we ought to think of ourselves (Romans 12:3). According to the Apostle Paul, we are to think of ourselves according to God’s gifting of us. There is nothing wrong with evaluating ourselves on the basis of our God-given abilities, nor of graciously and gratefully receiving compliments from those who recognize and appreciate the abilities with which God has entrusted us.

Every time we fail to receive the compliments of others, we are actually missing out on a great opportunity to point others away from ourselves to God. While we should always be receptive of the compliments of others, we should never claim any credit for the abilities we have. Instead, we should always take the opportunity to give God the glory for having so graciously bestowed upon us such unmerited favor. There is certainly nothing prideful in that. What greater example of true humility is there than one’s diverting of praise from himself to God?

“PANHANDLING HUMILITY”

True humility is completely sanitized of self. It contains neither a smidgen of self or a pinch of pride. Just as crystal clear water is made impure by a single drop of poison, the least little leaven of pride leavens the whole lump of humility.

Untainted humility is a rare find in our day. Most of what passes for it is found to be thinly veneered upon closer examination. For instance, consider what we might call “panhandling humility.”

This popular practice is performed to manipulate others into singing our praises, while providing us with the perfect alibi to prove our non-participation in their rousing chorus. Here’s how it works. Someone so eschews himself as to embarrass others into coming to his rescue. For example, they publicly profess themselves to be “pond scum” in hopes of making others so uncomfortable that they will come to their defense with a compliment or two. Thus, their self-flagellation is actually their way of panhandling for flattery. The hand that they accusingly point to themselves is immediately thereafter stuck out for some accolades.

HUMILITY, THE ELUSIVE VIRTUE

One of the most brilliant “colors” on the Christian palette is the virtue of humility. To clad ourselves in so colorful a garment is a most unfashionable thing in this fallen world. In a day when the whole world marches in self’s parade, it is a rare thing indeed to refuse to join the band so that you can prance in the parade and toot your own horn. It is so rare in fact that this precious virtue is fast becoming an artifact absent from our present-day world and only found in the museum of bygone days.

In addition to its modern-day scarcity, there is the additional problem of humility’s elusiveness. It has been astutely observed that humility is the hardest virtue to acquire, since you lose it the moment you think you’ve got it. For instance, a friend of mine once absurdly boasted, “I’m so humble, I’m proud of myself!”

Any attempt on our part to disparage self only serves to make it the center of our attention. Whether we are codling it or choking it, we still can’t keep our hands off of it. In the end, all attempts on our part to deliver ourselves from being wrapped up in ourselves only serve to entangle us in the folds of the very garment that we’re attempting to toss out.

What we need is an escape from ourselves. Whereas pride is the vice of those who go through life looking down—looking for things inferior to themselves—humility is the virtue of those who go through life looking up—looking for something superior to themselves. When our focus is on things inferior, pride is the natural consequence. We are puffed up by our superiority. However, when our focus is on something superior, humility is the natural consequence. We lose ourselves in the sublime and become unconsciously self-forgetful.

To clad ourselves in the comely robe of humility simply requires diverting our attention from self to the Savior. To behold the glory of God in the face of Christ blinds us to ourselves and leaves us enthralled in Him. There will be no strutting by us in His presence, but lowly bowing in a self-consuming adoration!

Humility is not discovered with our hands around self’s throat. Instead, it is found when we kneel at Christ’s feet. There is no pride to be found in the presence of Christ, only humility. That which is so plentiful on earth (pride), is nonexistent in Heaven. And that which is so scarce and elusive on earth (humility), is everywhere and commonplace in Heaven.

HE KEEPS ME SINGING

In raising us above ourselves, God had to deal with our sin. To deal with our sin required more than leniency, it required liberation. God’s salvation in Christ not only provides us with pardon, but also with power. It provides forgiveness for sin, as well as power over it and freedom from it.

It is, according to the Apostle Paul, “the law of the Spirit” that sets us free from “the law of sin” (Romans 8:2). The Holy Spirit works in us to enable us to overcome temptation. By no longer walking “after the flesh”—yielding to sin’s control—but walking “after the Spirit”—yielding to the Spirit’s control—we are delivered from temptation and condemnation (Romans 8:1).

Our miraculous salvation from sin is not just something to be enjoyed in the presence of God in the hereafter, but also something to be expressed for the glory of God in the here and now. This explains why Paul speaks of being filled with the Spirit within the same breath that he speaks of being drunk with wine (Ephesians 5:18). Just as strong “spirits” are bound to express themselves through those who are filled with them, even to the point of causing them to act unnaturally, the Holy Spirit is also bound to express Himself through those He fills, even to the point of enabling them to act supernaturally.

The Spirit-filled Christian can’t help but breakout in love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23). Just as grapes are naturally produced on a healthy vine, these fruits of the Spirit are naturally produced on the spiritually healthy branches of the true Vine. As Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” If we abide in Christ and He abides in us, in the person of the Holy Spirit, our bearing of spiritual fruit is inevitable. On the other hand, the absence of it is a sure sign of either a life devoid of the Spirit or the carnality of a Christian.    

I’ve always found it interesting that following Paul’s admonition of us to be filled with or controlled by the Holy Spirit he adds these additional instructions: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19). It is as though the Spirit-filled cannot help but break out in song because of the Spirit-inspired melody in their hearts. It is a melody that is impossible to suppress. We must give voice to it and set it to music.

“There’s within my heart a melody
Jesus whispers sweet and low,
Fear not, I am with thee, peace, be still,
In all of life’s ebb and flow.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus,
Sweetest Name I know,
Fills my every longing,
Keeps me singing as I go.” (Luther B. Bridgers)

THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN

In the world’s eyes, it is the black and white statutes of God that stifle. They hem us in and prevent us from free expression and the pursuit of unbridled passion. They drain life of all of its color by putting a governor on the acceleration of our affections. On the other hand, in God’s eyes, it is our sin, not His statutes that stifle, since sin enslaves us to the bases of appetites.

The acceptance and application of God’s Word in our lives, both His written Word (the Scripture) and His living Word (His Son), enables us to see beyond ourselves and to be freed from the fetters of self-absorption. It creates a God-consciousness and other-consciousness that releases us from the small circle of self-centeredness. Conversely, the spurning of God’s Son and statutes results in the shrinkage of ourselves into ourselves. Rather than growing to become all that God has created us to be, we remain diminutive, due to the fact that we are so tightly wrap up in ourselves.

The story was told in ancient mythology of a magic vest that granted whoever donned it their every wish. The only catch was, the vest tightened every time a wish was made. According to the story, all who donned it were eventually squeezed to death by it. It is not God’s statutes, but our sin that squeezes the life out of us. It is not selflessly living our lives to fulfill God’s Word and will, but selfishly living our lives to fulfill our every wish.

When life is boiled down, you come to the realization that there are only two choices on the shelf. You can live for God or you can live for self. The former is most noble and fulfilling; the latter is ignoble and very vain.

“And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” (2 Corinthians 5:15)

THE REDISCOVERY OF GOD’S LAW

The greatest revival to ever occur in ancient Judah is arguably the one spawned by the rediscovery of the Law of God in the days of King Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:14-33). Ironically, the Word of God was found in the house of God. What a strange place for it to have been lost. God’s Law was gratefully found in the process of repairing the run-down temple, a task impossible to accomplish without the Word of God.

The run-down reputation of the church—the temple of God in the world today—is precipitated by the fact that the Word of God is lost within it. The contemporary church’s only hope of repairing its run-down reputation is its rediscovery of God’s Word.

Contrary to popular opinion, the absolute truth of God’s Word is not something to be hidden in the church from the world’s view in these relativistic times. Though many a church growth guru espouses such a philosophy, arguing that it is necessary in order to avoid offending the sensibilities of today’s politically correct world, such an approach actually boards up the church by reducing it to irrelevance.

As the sole stewards of God’s Word in the world today, what else do we have to offer apart from the life saving message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? What hope do we have of relevance or success if we hold back and hide from view the one thing we’ve been divinely commissioned to share with everyone in the world? Rather than concealing it, we need to bring it out in the open, publicly profess it and unashamedly proclaim it to others.

When called as a leader in the restoration of Israel following the Babylonian Exile, Ezra went up to Jerusalem with nothing but the Law of God in his heart and hand (Ezra 7:6-10). Whereas today’s church mistakenly believes that it needs a million and one trinkets and trappings to pull off the hard work of spiritual restoration, Ezra understood that all it took was the Word of God in his heart and in his hand.

If the saints are to be revived and sinners are to be redeemed, it will require the rediscovery of the Word of God in today’s church. Furthermore, if we are to be successful in the hard work of spiritual restoration, something more desperately needed in our day than in Ezra’s, then, we too must realize the one thing needed; namely the Word of God in both our hearts and hands!