A leader once asked me a revealing question regarding caring for God’s people. He had just tried to help a long standing church member with some challenges he was having. “How can someone who has been around Jesus and the church so long almost never pray, spend time in worship, or read their Bible outside of corporate meetings.”
As I was reflecting on this later in prayer I felt the Spirit of God bring up a riddle to me that touched something important in situations like this. It came in the form of a riddle like Samson used. Jdg 14:12 Then Samson said to them, “Let me now propound a riddle to you…
Which of the following two people is in a better condition in their life with Jesus. The first is a very disciplined person. They take care of their household in an orderly fashion (clean, kept, and well furnished). They are good employees and have a great reputation at their workplace. They handle their finances well. They are generally seen as good church members and responsible members of their community. They even have a recognized “ministry” in both the church and into the community. They even talk to others outside the church about Jesus.
The second person seems to be almost the polar opposite. They struggle keeping their homes orderly; they have difficulty finding and keeping jobs; they struggle in the areas of handling finances; and overall their outward progress in living a better life is very up and down. When they do mess up they seem convicted by Jesus, sorrowful, and willing to attempt to do better but many question their sincerity.
It would be easy to say that the first person is in better condition but let me add one important ingredient to the riddle. The first person rarely spends time with God in prayer, worship, or Bible reading outside of corporate church services. The second however prays everyday and reads their Bible. When they falter they are quick to be convicted and repent. They are very thankful to Jesus for delivering them from the sinful life they lived in the past and praise very easily. They respond to almost every altar call at church, even though some see it as a weakness because, “they never seem to get it together in areas they need to change.”
The additional fact that one spend time daily in prayer, worship and Bible reading while the other does not is important Amazingly the second person, even with their glaring weaknesses is really in the better place. They are actually walking with the Lord daily. Their life, even as messed up as it seems, is flowing more from a walk with Jesus than the first person who seems to be an ideal Christian.
This gets at the heart of something that many of the people I walk together with have been emphasizing recently. We need to “go deeper in God so we can be broader in influence.” Jesus Himself said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” John 15. The first person is really not living that way even though they have an outward life that is more “Christian” than the second. Without a daily, personal relationship with Christ in prayer, worship, and the Word they are doing the impossible, living a Christian life without a vital connection to Jesus. Outwardly it seems that they are but spiritually they are not.
The second person, while living inferior outwardly to the first is really living “with Jesus” in a vital, everyday way. Any good thing they do outwardly comes from a real connection with Jesus. That is the kind of fruit Jesus speaks about as the best fruit in John 15.
I am not excusing the undisciplined life of the second person, nor the challenges and dysfunction they face but if we aren’t careful we can evaluate our lives based more on external things rather than essential things. There is outward “fruit” that we are known by (Luk 6:44 NASB “For each tree is known by its own fruit…) but that outward fruit is only good if it flows from a real, everyday connection with Jesus in prayer, worship, and the Word.
Quickest Route to Becoming a Pharisee
Living without a real connection to God everyday is a quick route to becoming a Pharisee, older brother, and Martha (to quote Biblical people who lived in a similar fashion). Then our evaluations (of ourselves and others) will be false like the Pharisee in the parable of two men praying. It is interesting that even in his prayer (with wrong evaluations) he was praying more “to himself” than God.
Luk 18:9-14 NASB And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 “I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
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