Contending for the faith | Making Disciples | Equipping the Saints for Ministry


Part 7



By Rayola Kelley

      One of the problems in Christianity is that when the way becomes hard, there is a real temptation to settle for less. When it came to the people of Judah returning to Jerusalem after their Babylonian captivity to establish, not only their presence in the land, but the witness of their God in it, they did so with high hopes.

      You have to realize over 48,000 exiled Jews returned home to build the temple and establish their presence in the land. Their excitement was probably over the top, their expectations swinging high, and the possibilities of once again establishing their glory as a nation were dancing giddily across their mind. After all, they were returning to their homeland, the inheritance they had been promised by Jehovah God.

      Within the first two years they laid the foundation to the temple, and then the test of great adversity came, causing them to settle for less. It was another 16 years before they actually started building the structure of the temple. For all those years they had left God’s temple in ruin while they established their own homes. The prophet Haggai came to them and instructed them to consider their ways and realize that nothing was being blessed because God’s house lay in ruin while they were building up their own homes and land. Since God was not in their midst, they were experiencing drought and all profits were falling to the wayside because God was not blessing their activities.

      These people had settled for the physical inheritance without establishing their spiritual legacy. Adversity had caused them to lose heart for their mission and they succumbed to a type of quasi survival that left them spiritually bankrupt. Granted, they were hindered by the powers to be from establishing their spiritual identity, but they failed to realize that without their spiritual identity, their national identity would remain in a heap of rubble and ashes.

      It was understandable why the Jewish people made the choices they did, but it became clear that each choice revealed that they were settling for less. The problem is that when you continue to settle for less, you will end up with nothing but the dust of the earth. You will miss the real blessings of God while failing to be prepared to make spiritual advancements towards realizing your calling and potential.

      The examples of settling for less can be found all through the Bible. When the leaders of one generation settles for less, the following generations do not see the need to press forward to hit the mark of excellence. We see this even today. The world has come into the church and what generation has this unholy alliance produced? Since maintaining the integrity of the spiritual legacy didn’t seem worth it to their parents to maintain by coming out and being separate from the world, this generation sees no need to inconvenience themselves with such radical, over-the-top details such as consecrating their lives, becoming true followers of Jesus Christ and totally selling out for His glory.

      I was saved in 1976. I remember being so excited about my conversion. I was on fire with a naïve zealousness. I was ready to win the whole world for Christ, but then I encountered the realistic aspect of those who were wiser. The “realistic” aspect of religion is that not all want to be saved and that I was, at best, a romantic novice that would be quickly shot down. I then encountered the stoic aspect of religion where we should work and serve among the religious to gain experience before trying to take the world on. I became experienced alright in emphasizing doctrine, judging others based on my interpretation and standards, debating different schools of thought, hiding behind a façade of self-righteousness, and acting as if I had it all together when in reality, I had become a hypocrite.  After that, I came face to face with a lifeless religion that reminded me of the Dead Sea. It is easy to emphasize some sacred cow, whether it is religious organizations, leaders, certain theological interpretations, platitudes, and practices, while lacking heart, feeling empty, tasting the fluff of leanness, and being miserable because the joy of your salvation is missing. The reason for this sourness of soul is because such religion is stagnant and unpleasant due to the fact it is about building religious kingdoms on faulty, worldly foundations and not establishing the unseen kingdom of God on Christ Jesus.

      Let me make it clear, I hit this disgusting place in my spiritual life because of choices. I preferred fitting in with my particular religious scene instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to do the work of fitting me into the Body according to my calling. I wanted acceptance from those around me more than pleasing God. I perceived that knowledge of the Word would keep me from deception rather than recognizing that only God can keep me as long as I remained in the center of His hand and will. It took a few years but I learned the more backwards your religion becomes, the more outside piety will give way to inner hypocrisy, often making you a court jester where you are tolerated, or ignored at best and at worst mocked behind your back.      

      I realized that as a hypocrite I stood outside of the gate of religion, preaching truth without authority. As the court jester, I may have been running around the court pointing to Christ but miserable within because of missing the abundance of the Christian life. Ultimately, I had to face the fact that I had become foolish in my Christianity. There were no indications of discernment that comes through godly disciplines and applications of discretion that comes from experience, and of sobriety that comes with brokenness and failure. I learned it is easy to settle for a quasi-environment of religion that lacks any real power to make an impact because many who are overseeing the system have gotten by nicely by maintaining such an outward façade.

      Many see Christianity as the hard way, but the way becomes hard because of one’s attitude towards letting go of that which always proves lesser in quality. As we fight for our independence to not let the hypocrite define us, we often lose our way because our Christian walk is not about being opposite of the hypocrite, but becoming genuine to our personal calling and life in Jesus. So many times, in our attempt to avoid becoming like those we are resisting, we are still allowing them to define us. It is only by coming back to Christ that we can allow our Creator to define us in order to bring out our potential and His glory.

      The giants stopped one generation of Jews from entering the Promised Land, but the hard way almost stopped the following generation. The giants represented opposition and possible death, and when the people of Israel chose to avoid confronting the opposition, they chose death.

      This is the way for some who call themselves Christians. They come to Christ for the benefits they are told they will receive and when they begin to meet the giants that will test their inner character, the level of their commitment, and the integrity of their faith, they deem that Christianity fails to benefit them; therefore, they have a right to justify turning back from seeing their spiritual journey through to the end. They do not realize that by choosing the base preference of self they have not only settled for far less, but they have chosen the broad path to destruction. In Christianity there is no turning back for those who have truly chosen the way of Christ because He is worthy of us losing this world in order to gain Him in all of His glory (Luke 9:23-26, 62). 

      When it came to the next generation in the wilderness, they faced adverse challenges causing the way to become hard to their resolve, but they had gone too far to turn back. The problem is they did not want to see the hard way through to the end, but they could not remain in limbo (Numbers 21). They had to go forward or die in the wilderness. They had the example of the older generation dying out in the wilderness, but apparently the graves did not serve as a good enough warning. Perhaps it became such a common occurrence that it was the way it was and the death of the older generation no longer served as a warning to the upstarts of the new generation.

      When the way became hard, they began to grumble and complain, not only against their leaders, but God. Grumbling simply opens up the cage of justification where the complainer begins to believe his own case about his right to rebel against leadership and the system, but the real truth of the matter is that the people of Israel were rebelling against their God and showing great displeasure towards His miraculous intervention.

      There is nothing that will make a person slide into the foul mode of grumbling as ingratitude. Discontented people never look at their attitude of ingratitude to realize that all grumbling is a matter of discontentment, dissatisfaction, and self-pity (Philippians 4:11-13; 1 Timothy 6:6-8). They are not looking at the promise, but at the temporary inconvenience. Sadly, this is why many of God’s people fail to finish the course and receive the prize because the hard way proves to be inconvenient to the flesh.

      Such a time calls for God’s people to deny self and mortify the flesh in order to keep their focus from falling on a dying, doomed world to look beyond to an unseen world. Keep in mind, Abraham never saw the promises fulfilled in his lifetime, but because his focus was on a city made by the hands God, he finished the course (Hebrews 11:10).

      One of the problems with the old man is he is always ready to sell the soul for temporary relief, while feeling sorry for self because the person wants the benefit that is waiting at the end of the course. Let me make it clear if a person fails to finish the course it is not because he or she could not finish it; rather, it is because he or she did not see the value of it. Therefore, the person settles for crying about it instead of getting up and starting to put one foot in front of the other.

      In order to cause them to cease grumbling before God and accusing Him, He chastised them by sending in fiery serpents. The state of being in limbo may make you cry and cause you to wallow in the insipid world of self-pity but it will never move you forward, nor will it change the reality of what is before you. Sadly, we adult children of God are like our biological children. We are selfish enough to want our way on our terms and we want our parent (God) to take away the hardness of life and make the way smooth and easy for us. We are spoiled enough to want to skate right through without experiencing the growing pains that come out of failure, while learning to take personal responsibility for our life and attitude and actually work for something that we prize enough to make the necessary sacrifices to gain it.

      I can tell you that through my years I wanted the Lord to make the path easy for me so that I could serve Him. The Bible tells us He will straighten out the crooked paths for us if need be, but there is nothing in Scripture where He states that He will make them easy for us. The way is hard because we must be prepared to walk through valleys of humiliation in preparation of service; long, dark canyons of uncertainty to gain the tools of service; walk through the enemy’s territory of great conflict to develop the character of service; the barren wildernesses of testing to fine-tune our service; difficult mountain paths to establish our testimony of service; and finally, to Calvary where all that remains is offered up for His glory. Each terrain we travel in this world is designed to make us a vessel fit for the Master’s use, a fine-tuned instrument in the hand of our Creator that is void of any inconsistencies in our Christian life and witness.

      I want you to know I have been at the place in my Christian life of resenting and grumbling about how hard the way was before me and as a result I had to face my own lack of character and commitment. I realized I could cry all I wanted, but the path remained hard and I needed to get over myself, stand up and face the hard way in order to gain the life Christ had for me. I can tell you from experience that I have never regretted choosing the hard way nor have I ever concluded that I got the short end of the deal because I never have been disappointed or disillusioned with the end results.

      Another person who settled for less was a man named Saul. Saul was content to work with his father tending the herds and taking care of the land, but he lived during the time when the people of Israel decided they wanted a king. They had their idea of what a king looked like, but they never thought about character. The reason they were surface in their ideas was because they were clearly settling for less due to the fact that they rejected Jehovah as their king over the warning and objections of their prophet, judge and priest Samuel (1 Samuel 8:4-22).

      Saul fit the idea of how a king would look in the minds of the people of Israel. He stood tall and from what Scripture implies he must have stood out in a crowd because of his looks. God knew what the people’s image of a king was and had the great prophet and judge, Samuel prophesy over him and instructed him, and then when the time was right, sought him out among the “stuff” in order to anoint him king (1 Samuel 9-10).

      You see, Saul was a reluctant king because he just did not have a heart to be king so God even enlarged his heart to embrace the idea of being king (1 Samuel 10:9). Once he was anointed, the people rejoiced and celebrated because now they had a king, but then they went home (1 Samuel 10:25-26).

      Sadly, this is what we do with the King of kings. People come forward to receive the King of glory, Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. They may have come forward on their own accord or in a crowd at some evangelistic meeting. In some cases, they are told that heaven now rejoices over their decision to come forward to receive what the Lord has for them, but once the initial “hype” is over some simply go back home (Luke 15:7, 10). Like the people of Israel, these individuals are not prepared to really have a king overseeing their lives or a Lord overseeing their activities. For some, they even set their new King or Lord among the “stuff” of daily activities and routines and sort of forget Him.

      There came a time that Israel was under threat from their enemies (1 Samuel 11). This required the new king to call for men to stand up and go into battle. When leadership changes, it is important to realize there is a call for new relationships, alliances, and sacrifices. God had touched the hearts of a few men to follow Saul as king, but there were the sons of Belial, (worthless fellows) who despised him because they could not see how he could save them (1 Samuel 10:26-27).

      There are those who have it within their heart to follow Jesus into a life of discipleship, but sadly, we have sons of Belial among us. These unbelieving individuals may be religious, but they question how Jesus Christ could save them on the basis of child-like faith and abounding grace. They are the people who are quick to cause discord through uncertainty, remain aloof or judgmental when it comes to true servants of God, and will always point out the hypocrisy of others.   

      Every time I read about Samuel, the children of Israel and Saul, I marvel at how God continued to show His faithfulness to His people. When presented with the challenge of being attacked by the enemy, the Spirit of God came upon Saul and the fear of the Lord fell on the people and as a result Saul was exalted in their eyes and God saved His people.

      We all know the results of Saul who, for the most part, seemed half-hearted when it came to the matters of God. God may have enlarged his heart, but it was up to Saul to develop character and he failed to do so. As a result, he proved to be a miserable failure as a king and the kingdom of Israel was ripped from him to the point that none of his sons would continue to sit on the throne of Israel. He abused his power, became an oppressor of the people and a murderer, and in desperation finally sought out a witch because the Spirit of God had departed from him (1 Samuel 16:14; 28:5-12).

      We need to be aware of what we ask the Lord for because He just might give it to us. At such times it will prove to be a judgment and not a blessing. Saul was the people’s choice, but not God’s choice. The people settled for less by choosing that which was inferior (man) over what was superior (God). They were willing to change their reliance on that which is eternal to the temporary arm of the flesh, and as Jeremiah 17:5-7 warns, “Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD. For he shall be like the heath in the desert, and shall not see when good cometh; but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land and not inhabited. Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.”

      When I think of the people of Israel settling for less, they not only put themselves in a bad place, but Saul as well Saul was a casualty of their foolishness. He did not have the integrity or temperament to be king, but once he tasted the power of his position, he became corrupted by it.

      In 1 Samuel 12 the people of Israel were rebuked for their attitude towards the Lord being their king, but given assurance that if they would obey the voice of the Lord and not rebel that He would bless them. This was clearly confirmed. Upon Samuel’s request the Lord sent thunder and rain causing the ungrateful, flippant people to fear Him. It was then that they admitted their request for a king was evil. Samuel agreed that it was wickedness on their part, but not to fear as long as they did not turn aside from following and serving the Lord with all of their heart (1 Samuel 12:17-20).

      There are many examples we can glean from these happenings. It is man’s tendency to look to man, whether it be government, religious leaders, etc., to make the way easy and safe for them, and to save them from any real adversity, but in doing so, they are not only settling for much less, but are coming under a curse that will not fare well for them in the end.

      Christian, in order to avoid settling for less, we need to realize that we must not accept less from ourselves. We possess less because we have failed to give our best by doing what is right before God and by others. We want the benefits of God’s promises without faithfully finishing the course. We want the prize without running the race with everything in us. We want the crown without applying the cross and we want the victory without fighting the good fight. We want our inheritance without possessing it and we want to be part of a spiritual legacy without becoming identified to it.

      In these dark times we will never be the light, fulfill our high calling, and reach the heights of excellence by settling for that which is not from, inspired by, or ordained by our Lord God.     †