grace

What Does God Want Us to Do?

A question about God asked over and over in one form or another boils down to—What does God want us to do? It may get asked in different ways and with other words but it’s the same question.

This is reflected in the way many people describe what they think God expects of us what asked about their religious beliefs, God, or Christianity in general—be good and do good to others.

When I was a young believer in an introductory theology class, we looked into the meaning of the word religion. It’s generally used to describe the nature of engagement or relationship between people and God.

Different meanings can be found but the origin of the word religion is based on two words—relegere and relegare. The first means—go through again, as in reading or in thought. Relegare means, to bind fast, with the idea of an obligation on or a bond between humans and gods.

I came to realize religion could mean many things to different people but it spoke of humanity’s efforts to engage with God in some way. The emphasis being on humanity’s view of how to relate to God. And this is reflected by how many different religions exist in the world.

Scripture

When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into these boats and went to the city of Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus replied to them, “I can guarantee this truth: You’re not looking for me because you saw miracles. You are looking for me because you ate as much of those loaves as you wanted. Don’t work for food that spoils. Instead, work for the food that lasts into eternal life. This is the food the Son of Man will give you. After all, the Father has placed his seal of approval on him.”

The people asked Jesus, “What does God want us to do?” Jesus replied to them, “God wants to do something for you so that you believe in the one whom he has sent.” [vss 24-29]

The people asked him, “What miracle are you going to perform so that we can see it and believe in you? What are you going to do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the desert. Scripture says, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ ”

Jesus said to them, “I can guarantee this truth: Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the man who comes from heaven and gives life to the world.”

They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time.”

Jesus told them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never become hungry, and whoever believes in me will never become thirsty. [vss 30-35]

(John 6:24-35 GW)

Key phrase—

God wants…you (to) believe in the one whom he has sent

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Who goes to find Jesus and His disciples? Where do they go and how do they get there?

  • What do these people ask Jesus and what is His response to them?

  • What does Jesus say they should and should not work for? What do you think He means by this?

  • What kind of bread are the people asking for and how does Jesus answer them?

Reflection...

Stories are observations of a slice of time in life. Something can be learned from any and every incident but it requires good observation skills and an discerning understanding of what’s observed.

The dialog between the people who searched for Jesus and His responses to them reveal a lot about humanity in general. In general, we are more concerned with the immediate than what’s eternal. And, we’re more focused on the physical than the spiritual.

Perhaps this seems obvious in this story but I’ve found it to be true for myself as well—even though most of my life has been centered around ministry and spiritual things. It’s easier to see spiritual dullness and ignorance in others than ourselves.

I’ve met thousands of Christian believers in many places and cultures. I’ve realized the majority of them—even those with much Bible knowledge—still tend to wonder—What does God expect of or want of me?

The answer isn’t difficult nor deeply spiritual. This is what God wants—

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29 NLT)

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Does it seem like the people and Jesus are talking about two different things? If so, why do you think this is?

  • How does Jesus try to explain the difference between the bread people are seeking and what they should seek?

  • How does Jesus describe Himself? In what way does He answer the people’s questions?

  • Do you understand what Jesus means about coming to Him and never hungering again? How is this true in a spiritual sense?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— If you still wonder what God wants from you, try seeing it from His point of view. Consider what Jesus says in response to questions people ask Him. The Lord desires for us to have a personal relationship with Him not gain anything from us.

Prayer Focus— When you find yourself desiring or hungering more of what this world has to offer, ask the Lord to help you see things from His perspective. Ask Him to give you His gracious and merciful vision to see you as He sees you and to see others with His eyes.

©2019—Word-Strong

A Story About Water

It's important to read a story from the author's point of view—including their time and culture. If we don't see it from their point of view, we'll miss both essential and more subtle details.

Here, Jesus and His followers are traveling from Jerusalem in Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. This causes them to go through the region of Samaria. The Samaritans were considered a mixed breed of people with a false religion by the Jews.

The Jews were prejudiced against the Samaritans who responded with antagonism towards the Jews. Prejudice and mistrust between people groups have existed since ancient times.

Jesus and the disciples stop in Sychar near Shechem at Jacob's Well. Jesus stays there while His followers go to town to buy food. When a Samaritan woman comes to draw water in the heat of the day, Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. This in itself would be unusual, as revealed in the story (below), but their conversation takes an even more unexpected turn.

Scripture

Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John. (Actually, Jesus was not baptizing people. His disciples were.) So he left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.

Jesus had to go through Samaria. He arrived at a city in Samaria called Sychar. Sychar was near the piece of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s Well was there. Jesus sat down by the well because he was tired from traveling. The time was about six o’clock in the evening. [vss 1-6]

A Samaritan woman went to get some water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into the city to buy some food.) The Samaritan woman asked him, “How can a Jewish man like you ask a Samaritan woman like me for a drink of water?” (Jews, of course, don’t associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus replied to her, “If you only knew what God’s gift is and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink. He would have given you living water.” [vss 7-10]

The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have anything to use to get water, and the well is deep. So where are you going to get this living water? You’re not more important than our ancestor Jacob, are you? He gave us this well. He and his sons and his animals drank water from it.”

Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again. But those who drink the water that I will give them will never become thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life.” [vss 11-14]

(John 4:1-14 GW)

Key phrase—

The water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What are the specific details we're told about the situation in this story?

  • What seems to be the turning point in the conversation between Jesus and the woman?

  • How does the woman respond to the statements Jesus makes?

  • What kind of water does Jesus offer and what do you think He means by this?

Reflection...

Jacob's Well was hundreds of years old even in the time of Jesus and was quite deep. The region of Samaria was disputed land then as it is now. This is evident in the story by the woman's contentious responses to Jesus.

But Jesus immediately flips the conversation by telling her she should be asking Him for a drink of living water.

The woman doesn't back down. As Jesus so often did, He turns what seems like a typical conversation into an opportunity to reveal spiritual truth.

He offers her living water—water that continues to flow like an artesian spring—giving eternal life. This conversation and the story continue, but we'll stop here to consider how Jesus turns a contentious situation into an opportunity to share spiritual truth.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How do you typically handle or respond to contentious people and situations?

  • We are not Jesus, but what can we learn from how He responded to the woman?

  • How does Jesus describe what He has to offer her, and us, by shifting the conversation from a focus on the physical to the spiritual?

  • Have you personally experienced what Jesus says about the living water He offers?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— When we focus on the true need of a person, we can choose to see them through the lens of God's love. We can trust God's Spirit to lead us in how to turn mundane conversations into opportunities to consider eternal concerns.

Prayer Focus— Ask the Lord each day to help you see the people you encounter as He sees them—who they are, their needs and life situations. Pray for wisdom and grace to turn everyday conversations into opportunities to share your faith.

©2018—Word-Strong

A Self Diet

Dieting and weight loss have become a stand-alone industry. I'm amazed by the onslaught of ads and commercials everywhere I look—TV, social media, billboards. Physical fitness programs are often linked with specialized diets.

I don't know why I'm amazed by all the focus on diet and fitness. It all lines up with our cultural obsession with self and appearance. Of course, even selling "healthy" junk food and trendy cars appeal to this obsessive focus.

It's a paradox of sorts. Culturally, we honor self-sacrifice and service to others by first responders and military personnel, while we elevate the value of whatever promotes ourselves for our highest satisfaction. We're values-conflicted. Self-sacrifice and self-exaltation are two opposite values.

I use to hear people say, "America is a Christian nation" or that we have a Christian heritage. Not so much anymore. Perhaps one reason is our values conflict. As a Christian—a follower of Jesus—exalting our self isn't just a paradox, it's the exact opposite of Jesus' call to follow Him (Matt 16:24). Concerned about your diet? How about a self-diet? It's the diet John the Baptizer was on, along with Jesus.

Scripture

Later, Jesus and his disciples went to the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them and baptized people. John was baptizing in Aenon, near Salim. Water was plentiful there. (People came to John to be baptized, since John had not yet been put in prison.)

Some of John’s disciples had an argument with a Jew about purification ceremonies. So they went to John and asked him, “Rabbi, do you remember the man you spoke so favorably about when he was with you on the other side of the Jordan River? Well, he’s baptizing, and everyone is going to him!”  [vss 22-26]

John answered, “People can’t receive anything unless it has been given to them from heaven. You are witnesses that I said, ‘I’m not the Messiah, but I’ve been sent ahead of him.’

“The groom is the person to whom the bride belongs. The best man, who stands and listens to him, is overjoyed when the groom speaks. This is the joy that I feel. He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance. [vss 21-30]

“The person who comes from above is superior to everyone. I, a person from the earth, know nothing but what is on earth, and that’s all I can talk about. The person who comes from heaven is superior to everyone and tells what he has seen and heard. Yet, no one accepts what he says. I have accepted what that person said, and I have affirmed that God is truthful.  [vss 31-33]

The man whom God has sent speaks God’s message. After all, God gives him the Spirit without limit. The Father loves his Son and has put everything in his power. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life. Instead, he will see God’s constant [continuing] anger.” [vss 34-36]

(John 3:22-36 GW)

Key phrase—

He must increase in importance, while I must decrease in importance

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What prompts John the Baptizer's disciples to question him about Jesus?

  • What seems to be bothering John's disciples about Jesus?

  • How does John answer the concerns of his disciples? What does he tell them?

  • In what way does John say he needs to decrease while Jesus increases?

Reflection...

John the Baptizer's final testimony about Jesus is consistent with what he said at the beginning of his ministry. He knew his role as the "the best man" to the groom—that is, Jesus (verses 27-28). John's own disciples were jealous of Jesus but John set the record straight for them— He must increase... I must decrease

John's testimony is what every follower of Jesus ought to hold true in their heart. A true encounter with Jesus and His grace is a humbling experience. We realize who He is and our place as a believer. As John said, "(He) is from above... I (am) from the earth (verse 31).

John's testimony at the end of this chapter (3) ties into the conversation of Jesus and Nicodemus at the beginning. Jesus told Nicodemus of his (and our) need to be born from above. It's an invitation to enter into a personal trust relationship with the Lord.

But there's a caveat. Whoever rejects trusting in Jesus will not receive eternal life. Rejecting a relationship with the Lord means continuing in a self-focused life. There is no upside to this choice. It brings exclusion from God's kingdom—His domain of gracious love and eternal life. This is a choice we all make at some point in life. If we're unwilling to go on a "self-diet," this choice is made by default.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How is John's statement about decreasing in importance just as relevant for us now as it was for him then?

  • How is it possible for us to decrease in importance so Jesus can increase in importance?

  • In what way can this take place in your own life? How can John's example guide you?

  • Since this idea of decreasing our self importance is so opposite of what's common in our culture, what are specific steps that anyone can begin to take to do this?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This—  A personal relationship with the Lord Jesus only comes through a personal encounter with God's grace. When we truly experience God's grace, it will bring a humility and desire for the Lord's nature to increase in us and our selfish nature to decrease.

Prayer Focus—  Does your heart desire and cry out for the Lord's nature to increase within you at the cost of your own selfish nature? If not, ask the Lord to work in your heart in a fresh way by His grace.

©2018—Word-Strong

Water Into Wine

People throughout the world are intrigued by illusions, magic tricks, and sleight-of-hand artists. It's not just because they're clever and entertaining but something inside us wants to see something supernatural.

When Jesus did miracles in the Bible, they weren't illusions or magic nor were they for entertainment. His miracles were bonafide supernatural events with a purpose.

They affirmed the supernatural and divine nature of Jesus as God's Son (John 1:114) and as the Savior of the world (John 3:16). Jesus' miracles also confirmed His message and mission.

When God Became Human

Generally, we all tend to not believe in what we can't see. Of course, this carries over to believing in God and the miraculous. Many will say it's not logical or rational to do so. And yet, we believe many things exist that are invisible to the naked eye and miraculous in nature—thoughts, atoms, and even feelings of love.

The reason it's not logical to believe in God is that it doesn't fit what we know in the natural world. This is our human dilemma. God is supernatural—He's above and beyond the natural realm. He will never fit within our limited logic. God's existence exceeds our capacity to know Him in a purely natural way.