Whom Do You (Really) Serve?
There are many writers who have tried to tell the story of Good versus Evil. For me, the one who managed it in a way that appealed to me the most was JRR Tolkien with his trilogy ‘The Lord of the Rings’. Of course, Peter Jackson transliterated it from page to screen with a fine cast and a good script. In order to illustrate what I have been learning about over the past few days, I am going to draw from a small section of this wonderful tale.
In the film of the first instalment of the trilogy, ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, the White Wizard, Saruman, raises up an army of a diabolical nature. This fighting force is the result of taking some good elves and making them bad. At the part in the film that I quote from, Saruman is talking to one of these ‘Urak-hai’.
Saruman says ‘Do you know how the Orcs first came into being? They were elves once, taken by the dark powers. Tortured and mutilated…a ruined and terrible form of life. And now…perfected: my fighting Urak-hai’. Then he says to the Urak-hai – ‘Whom do you serve?’, to which the creature replies in a deep growl, ‘Saruman’.
The Urak clearly knew exactly whom he served. There was no doubt. And this is what I have been thinking about.
In my last post, ‘A Declaration of War’, I discussed the warning Jesus issued in Matthew 6:24 concerning the impossibility of serving two masters. I had looked at it in the particular context of Cornerstone, and the choices that we are all confronted with. But since writing it, God has taken me to a deeper place and revealed just how subtle Mammon can be, so much so, that it is almost impossible to detect his influence upon our lives…without God’s help.
Those of you familiar with the books or films of The Lord of the Rings will know that the Elves were a good race of creature, and were vital in the fight against evil. And yet, some were corrupted and eventually became first Orcs, then Urak-hai, and were ultimately the main force of Saruman’s army on the side of evil. But one thing was abundantly clear throughout the entire story; everyone knew whom they served.
And that is my question today – whom do you really serve? Of course, if I put it in the context of Good or Evil, no one reading this is going to say Evil. Why? Because even if you were fighting on the side of Evil, it would have been sold to you that your side is Good and the Good side is Evil. We could, at this point, diverge into a debate about how do we know that God is good, but I am going to take a risk and assume that you all believe that the very nature of God is actually love, and that is good. With that premise established, let me tell you what we have learned over the past few days.
For a good amount of time we had been trying everything with God to get what we wanted. You know, the stuff that churches teach people without questioning why they do. With us it often included a fair amount of God-wrestling; binding; loosing; shouting; screaming; yelling; praying; demanding; arguing and a whole heap of other stuff. But until we tried just yielding, nothing happened or changed. Why? Because He is our Father. He wants us to trust Him completely and utterly, so that He can show us how a Father should be. Forget whatever your experience of a father or father figure might be. Forget it all. I can guarantee that even if you are a child of Billy Graham, God is an infinitely better Father. And so, we had asked God to teach us His ways. Be careful if you do this, because He will. You might not see it at first and it will make you wonder what is going on when you prayers don’t get answered. That’s what happened to us. We asked Him to teach us His ways. And He is.
Through someone else, God had told us to ‘yield‘. Although we were both clear about the definition and the context, we had no idea what it meant in a practical way. We are finally starting to get it. Let me explain. In the last post I told of the wonderful provision of the work surfaces and a fridge and a freezer. On Monday I started to fit it into the large room that we have always planned to be the kitchen and food bank. The plans have changed a number of times when we didn’t have the provision as we expected. We would start clutching at straws thinking that ‘perhaps God wants this…or that’. But in everything we have found ourselves back at the original plan. Why? Because at that point the only influence in the project was God. Before people, before Mammon, before all the other influences that come along to distract you once you set out to fulfil God’s plan. Full circle.
So, I clear the space that has been knee deep in odds and ends, tools, paint and general rubbish. I stack up the off-cuts of wood and am left with a near-empty room, a lack of good tools and a serious lack of experience. But I just knew that God wanted to show me what a Father is really like. Of course carpentry is a family business for God. I have watched my earthly father in the past, who is excellent with wood; I have assisted a truly great carpenter at his work at the Cornerstone when we still had money to pay people. But I have never done anything like this completely solo. ‘No tools, no skills’, I thought. Then I asked God to help me. And from nowhere I had understanding of what was required. It felt as if He were there guiding me. Every time I came up against an obstacle, the solution appeared in my mind. The two fridges, and the two freezers fitted perfectly. All the work surfaces were as if they have been cut for the gaps we had. On Monday I spent around four hours and yesterday around five. It is not anywhere near finished yet but you can see what has been achieved so far. And all those scraps of wood were almost all used. Every off-cut that I felt we should keep were all used. You can see some photos below.
Everything you can see (besides the tools which we already owned) has been donated. Given freely, without us approaching anyone. We only asked God. Some things just turned up without us even asking Him. And what did this teach us? Two things really. Firstly, that by yielding to God after you have prayed He will supply all of your needs – let go and let God is true. Really true. Try it. Just don’t pick up that which you let go of. Once you pray just simply believe that He will take care of it. He’s got it. And, incredibly you will discover over and over again how He has gone before you, how the provision has already been in place before you even ask. The second thing? Well, that’s the most beautiful revelation of all. That God wants us to show people what you can achieve without any money whatsoever, and just simple, child-like faith in a Father who knows exactly what we need before we even ask Him. What’s this got to do with whom we serve?
I’m getting there; stay with me. I can give you many examples of how God has provided and you will either be impressed or not. It will make no difference to me whatsoever. The examples I give are just to try and illustrate what we are encountering on this journey. But, what I can’t explain to you is the sensation of closeness to the Father; the joy we experience in the face of overwhelming adversity; what it is like to really not worry about tomorrow; to just know He will provide what we need, when we need it. All of these things are now very real to us. We consider it pure joy when we face trouble; We rejoice in tribulation; We trust in God in every situation. We are just learning this now. This is what every new Christian should be taught. It’s what Jesus taught. Simple faith in God, our Father. But you have to work at it. You have to break the old habits. You have to stop thinking as the world does. Why? Because if you think like the world does then you can’t serve God. If you think like God does then you can’t serve the world. It’s that simple. Try it. It is exactly the same as what Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 – You cannot serve two masters. It is impossible. The world (the realm that Satan currently and temporarily has as his domain) rejects God’s purposes. We are told to live in the world but not be of it. We are told to not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of you mind. You see, in our situation, the world would say ‘sell the house’ or ‘borrow to get the job finished’…and not just the world…the church too, because the church of today, in part, is smitten with the world. But God says, ‘I am your Father, trust Me, I’ve got it covered’. God wants to teach us how to trust Him. We asked Him too. And because we yielded and let Him get on with it He has taken us and led us. The moment we ‘unyield’ and start thinking like the world does, He lets us get on with it, just as I would if my own daughter said ‘Thanks for the advice Dad, but I want to do it my way’, I can’t force her will. And nor will God ever force yours or mine.
In my last post we declared war on the money-god, Mammon. This is a continuation of that war. We are not going to be fooled by the subtleties of Mammon. It is the money-god’s way to persuade us to stop trusting in God. When we do God has to step back. But we can both testify that when you blindly trust in God for all your needs, He will always provide. The Bible says those who put their trust in God will never be put to shame. It is true. Just believe it. Accept everything that God says without any hesitation. He will rarely provide for you in the way you expect…here’s the solution we find helps…don’t have any expectation. When you ask for some provision of any kind, don’t imagine it coming in such and such a way or by certain people. Just accept that He will provide. He will. He has to. His word says so. Throw off all of the worldly thinking – that is just Satan and his minions trying to stop you trusting God, because Satan knows the moment you do, that God will take a step back and let you learn the lesson for yourself. Once you break through breaking the old habits (just like giving up smoking or drinking or drugs or shopping), it becomes easier. Satan and his minions have to back off – they will try to come back at you with other thoughts and ideas, (did God really say that?) just like in the Garden. But if you stick with God, He will stick with you.
I’m not usually one for sudden outburst of joy, but recently I have been doing just that! So simple, so, so simple. I can hardly believe how complicated we have made it.
Three reasons to be sure of whom you really serve:
The last chapter of the book of Joshua has something of an interesting example of choosing to simply, and faithfully serving God. He explains all that God has done for the Israelites from Abraham right up until Joshua’s conquests. And then in verse 14 he says this:
“Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD! And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you shall serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” [Joshua 24:14-15 NKJV]
On Sunday, we heard a sermon (we don’t usually go to church but we decided to check one out) on The Parable of the Sower. The thorny ground particularly caught my attention:
“Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word and he becomes unfruitful.” [Matthew 13:22 NKJV]
It is as if the soil is fertile enough to ‘get’ the word but he starts listening to the world and chasing money. The roots will also grow in the good soil. Pull out the roots! Choose to serve God instead!
Finally, in Matthew 19 we have the account of Jesus counselling a rich, young man:
“Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man enquired.
Jesus replied, “‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother’, and ‘love your neighbour as yourself.'”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. [Matthew 19:16-22 NIV]
Once you have done this, then you can follow the Way. This got me thinking. Try this little quiz:
1. If you were wealthy (not necessarily rich) and you had an expensive personalised number plate, could you sell it and give the money to the poor, without telling anyone?
2. If you knew your neighbour, friend or relative was in debt and your had enough to clear their debt, could you do it secretly without telling anyone?
3. If you had an earthly treasure, such as an heirloom or anything of value, could you sell it and bless some anonymously with the proceeds?
4. If you had more good quality clothes than you need, could you clothe someone who has little?
5. If you saw a poor stranger walking alone the street, could you invite him in to your house to eat with you?
If you can answer yes to all of these honestly then the kingdom is already yours, if you can’t answer yes to all of these then you may need to pull up some thorns.
The Way is narrow.