Today our walk in the word explores new life in Christ. Join me as we look at Ephesians 2:1-10 for our devotional study.
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Psalm 63:1 – O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
I think I know what it means to thirst for God, to long for him, to hunger for him.
I believe there are two different circumstances in which I experience this longing. One is when I have been walking closely with the Lord. I feel it when I am spending much time with him in his Word, in prayer and meditation, in worship, in the reading of books by godly authors, and so on. The more I am with him, the richer my time with him, the more I discover I want to be with him, the deeper I desire to go in my relationship with him. There is a true sense of longing during such times.
And yet, as strange as it sounds, during those times in my life of spiritual draught and depression, I also long for him. However, there’s something qualitatively different about the feeling. When things are going well in my walk with the Lord, it seems my deeper longing for him will yield great fruit. I almost expect a rich encounter with him. Yet, when I feel distant from him, though I still long for him, I wonder if I’ll ever have again with God what I once had. It’s almost a “longing of despair.” Have you ever experienced that?
My experience is a good example of why it’s often unsafe to put too much stock in our feelings. Our feelings are fickle and they have the capacity to lead us astray. Not only that, but there are many things that can affect our feelings, such as our health, our sleeping patterns, our diet, the time of day, and our relationships. I often treasure my feelings, but I am very aware of how unreliable they can be.
It’s when we gauge our spiritual life based on our feelings we can get ourselves into trouble. For example, one day with the Lord may be a wonderful blessing and you may be tempted to think you should be canonized as a saint. Yet, another day might yield the opposite experience and you may begin wondering if you’re even a Christian at all.
Instead of living on that sort of spiritual roller-coaster, wisdom calls us to trust in the Lord always and continue plodding along with him every day, regardless of our circumstances and feelings.
God Himself is Our Reward
Hebrews 11:6 says God rewards those who earnestly seek him. Deuteronomy 4:29 tells us if we look for the Lord with all of our heart and soul, we will find him. In these verses, and others throughout Scripture, we are encouraged by the Lord himself, to seek him. His promise is we will be rewarded by finding him. You see, God is the reward!
Feelings are great. God gave us feelings. But they too are affected by sin which often makes them unreliable. Therefore, don’t put all your trust in your feelings but in the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He alone is the One we are called to seek, thirst for, and long after and desire. He alone is worthy of such a grand pursuit.
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This lesson focuses on the first part of Acts 2, in which God pours out his Spirit upon the early church at Pentecost.
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I once served a church that had a sweet group of widows who regularly sat in the same section of the sanctuary each week during worship. These women were a source of encouragement and fellowship to one another. Very often, after worship, they would enjoy having lunch together. They were inseparable. As their pastor, I was profoundly grateful that they had one another.
I was, however, shocked when I eventually learned that each one of these women was married. They weren’t widows at all. The truth was that their husbands would have nothing to do with the church. God used that revelation to set an important course in my ministry.
Over the last two-and-a-half decades of my ministry, I have seen the need for the church’s ministry to men. I’ve witnessed a variety of well-intentioned efforts that fall under the category of “men’s ministry” to meet those needs. Among the more popular are activities such as,
To be sure, there is a place for pancakes, spaghetti, service projects, campouts, going to sporting events, and the rest. Yet none of those can or should take the place of gathering together each week for the purpose of intentional discipleship.
Some of you will remember a secular men’s movement in the late 1980s called Iron John. It was all about men finding their “inner warrior” and letting him out. Men would camp out in the woods, beat drums, get in touch with their inner something-or-other, and cry around a campfire.
There are a lot of men’s ministries doing a baptized version of that today. It sounds cool. It’s edgy. It’s probably fun. But every time I read about another Christianized version of Iron John, I can’t help but think of the words of Saint Paul,
1 Corinthians 13:11 - When I was a child, I talked like a child; I thought like a child; I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Gimmicks, fads and entertainment in men’s ministry appeal to some men’s desire to remain in adolescence, but they will not produce mature disciples of Jesus Christ.
The process of becoming a genuine and faithful disciple of Jesus Christ is tough. It takes hard work. It doesn’t happen overnight. It can’t be manipulated over the course of a weekend. It doesn’t materialize from a neatly wrapped program. It’s a day-in and day-out pursuit of Christ, through his Word and prayer, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and in a relational context.
While I am all for Bible studies and small groups for both genders, I think there must be a place for men to gather with other men, to study God’s Word and pray, in a context of accountability and encouragement. How many men do you know who would want to talk about lust in the presence of their wives? Or how many men would want to share how they struggle with pornography with other women in the room?
The Final Goal
The goal of ministry to men is not primarily about producing morally improved men. It’s not primarily about warm-fuzzy experiences; it’s not even about emotional or psychological cathartic breakthroughs.
We may want each of those things to happen, but that should not be the primary target of men’s ministry. Instead, the purpose of ministry to men is to introduce men to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is God’s plan for transforming sinful men into redeemed sons of their heavenly Father. This transformation will produce men who passionately desire to become like Christ. They will want to know him better, love him more, and follow him more faithfully.
Such men will still battle sin, but as the Spirit works through the study of God’s Word, prayer, and accountable and encouraging fellowship, these men will become the men God has created, redeemed, and called them to be. And perhaps such men will turn the world upside down for God’s glory and the advancement of God’s Kingdom (Acts 17:6). But at the least, they will serve as “salt and light ambassadors” for Christ in their little corners of the world – their homes, workplaces, neighborhoods, and cities.
May God bless you toward that end.
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Listen, my son, and be wise, and set your heart on the right path: (Proverbs 23:19)
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.