people

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

More Than Enough

Jesus did many miraculous signs while on earth—healing people, bringing back the dead, and a few unusual things. Only one of His miraculous signs is recorded in all four gospels—the feeding of 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

As with all the miraculous signs in John (John 20:30-31), this one has a lesson and illustrates an important aspect of the Lord’s ministry. Each sign is temporary and situational. They’re not eternal and their purposes are specific not an end in themselves.

John helps us see this miracle as a teaching opportunity with the dialog between Jesus and Philip. Jesus wanted His closest followers to learn something about Himself and the Kingdom of God. It was a lesson for His disciples not for the 5,000 people who were fed.

The miraculous sign was not about food. Everyone, including Jesus and His disciples—especially the crowd of 5,000—needed to eat again the next day. Several lessons can be gleaned from this event. One thing is certain—the crowd missed the point completely—as many people still do now.

Scripture

Jesus later crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberias). A large crowd followed him because they saw the miracles that he performed for the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat with his disciples. The time for the Jewish Passover festival was near. [vss 1-4]

As Jesus saw a large crowd coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked this question to test him. He already knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered, “We would need about a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each of them to have a piece.” One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, who was Simon Peter’s brother, told him, “A boy who has five loaves of barley bread and two small fish is here. But they won’t go very far for so many people.” [vss 5-9]

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” The people had plenty of grass to sit on. (There were about 5,000 men in the crowd.) Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to the people who were sitting there. He did the same thing with the fish. All the people ate as much as they wanted.

When the people were full, Jesus told his disciples, “Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted.” The disciples gathered the leftover pieces of bread and filled twelve baskets. [vss 10-13]

When the people saw the miracle Jesus performed, they said, “This man is certainly the prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus realized that the people intended to take him by force and make him king. So he returned to the mountain by himself. [vss 14-15]

(John 6:1-15 GW)

Key phrase—

Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Where does Jesus go with His disciples and what time of the year does this happen?

  • Who follows Jesus and the disciples and what is their reason for following?

  • What does Jesus ask Philip and what is Philip’s response? Who else tries to help with the situation?

  • What does Jesus do with the available food and what happens as a result?

Reflection...

The feeding of the 5,000 is an amazing miracle but what is even more amazing is what’s gathered up after all the people ate and were full—12 baskets full of leftover bread and fish!

Jesus used this situation as an opportunity to train His disciples. Here are just a few of the lessons He wanted them to learn—

  • Have compassion and care for the needs of the people

  • Utilize what you have rather than focus on what you don’t have

  • Look to God as a first option rather than a last resort

  • Practical guidance on delegation, organization, distribution, and follow-up

There’s much more to be learned from this miraculous sign but this list is a good start. Later in this chapter (Chap 6), Jesus will explain how this sign relates to Him in a metaphorical sense and His purpose for coming to earth.

So, why would Jesus have the disciples gather up what is leftover? Yes, so nothing will be wasted. But why would this be important? Two quick thoughts. First, it reinforced the miraculous nature of this feeding of 5,000 people. It also showed the Lord’s concern for what we might call follow up or follow through.

He’s always our example of faith and trust in God. Jesus saw beyond the immediate to what was next—the two events and teaching following this story.

Taking it to heart...

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

  • Why do you think Jesus tested Philip when He knew what He would do?

  • What did the crowd of people say among themselves and what did they want to do after this miracle?

  • How do you think Jesus knew what the people wanted to do and what was His response?

  • What are the many specific and practical things Jesus does in feeding the people and what specific insight or lesson did you gain from this story?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Understanding why Jesus did what He did requires discernment and guidance from God’s Spirit. We also need to carefully observe what is said and done, and dig deeper by imagining ourselves in the story and asking ourselves relevant questions.

Prayer Focus— When you are faced with what seem to be impossible or overwhelming situations, look to the Lord first for wisdom and guidance. Trust Him to help you see beyond the circumstances, to see people with His eyes, and to know how to move forward by faith.

©2019—Word-Strong

A Pitiful Man

The gospel of John is different than the other three gospels. It only has 8 miraculous signs while the others recount many. Each miracle in John is a sign illustrating the Lord’s ministry—why God became human (John 20:30-31). Each one is part of a larger story and context.

As with many stories of Jesus’ interaction with people, some deeper insight is needed to understand all that takes place. The Mosaic Law and religious cultural restrictions are a major part of this story, along with Israel’s history. It revolves around a sick man laying beside the pool of Bethesda who encounters Jesus.

This man was part of a crowd gathered around the pool to receive healing. These people believed the first person to enter the pool when an angel came from heaven and stirred up the waters would be healed. Their hope was in a legend.

Jesus saw this man who’d been sick for 38 years and approached him with a simple question—Would you like to get well? But the man doesn’t answer Jesus directly. Instead, he gives Jesus an excuse for why he can’t be healed. His response is the first indicator of how pitiful this man is, which becomes more clear as you read the whole story.

Scripture

Later, Jesus went to Jerusalem for a Jewish festival. Near Sheep Gate in Jerusalem was a pool called Bethesda in Hebrew. It had five porches. Under these porches a large number of sick people—people who were blind, lame, or paralyzed—used to lie. 

One man, who had been sick for 38 years, was lying there. [vss 1-5]

Jesus saw the man lying there and knew that he had been sick for a long time. So Jesus asked the man, “Would you like to get well?”

The sick man answered Jesus, “Sir, I don’t have anyone to put me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I’m trying to get there, someone else steps into the pool ahead of me.”

Jesus told the man, “Get up, pick up your cot, and walk.” The man immediately became well, picked up his cot, and walked. That happened on a day of worship. [vss 6-9]

So the Jews told the man who had been healed, “This is a day of worship. You’re not allowed to carry your cot today.” The man replied, “The man who made me well told me to pick up my cot and walk.”

The Jews asked him, “Who is the man who told you to pick it up and walk?” But the man who had been healed didn’t know who Jesus was. (Jesus had withdrawn from the crowd.)

Later, Jesus met the man in the temple courtyard and told him, “You’re well now. Stop sinning so that something worse doesn’t happen to you.”

The man went back to the Jews and told them that Jesus was the man who had made him well. [vss 10-15]

(John 5:1-15 GW)

Key phrase—

“Would you like to get well?”

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What stands out to you about the beginning of this story?

  • Who is gathered at this pool? Who does Jesus approach and what does he ask this man?

  • How does the man respond to Jesus’ question and why do you think he says this?

  • What does Jesus say to the man and how does He say it? What takes place immediately?

Reflection...

Over the years, Jewish rabbis reinterpreted the fourth of the ten primary commandments of the Mosaic Law, as they did many other laws. Successive interpretations added restrictions to what a person could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. These added laws distorted God’s original purpose for the Sabbath.

When Jesus spoke healing to this pitiful man, it came in the form of a command to do three things—get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Not long after his healing, the pitiful man is rebuked for carrying his mat as Jesus directed him to do.

Imagine you’re this man—what would you do? Whose command would you follow? Here we see the pitiful state of this man and his weakness. His response and actions illustrate the weakness and futility of following religious laws.

Religion itself has no power to transform a person compared to God and His power. It comes down to where a person puts their trust. Do we trust in our own efforts to transform ourself through religion? Or…do we trust in God Himself and His transforming power?

Taking it to heart...

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

  • Do you understand all the dilemmas this man faced?

  • Can you see how and why this man is so pitiful?

  • Have you found yourself in paradoxical situations where you don’t know what to do?

  • Do you get caught up with what others expect of you? Do you struggle with trusting God with the dilemmas of your life?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Our confidence needs to be in God rather than our own efforts or religious regulations. The Lord calls us into a personal relationship of trust rather than following a rigid set of rules. God intended the Sabbath to be a restful blessing not a restricted religious day.

Prayer Focus— As you consider present or previous dilemmas you’ve faced, ask God to give you insight and direction for how to move beyond these struggles by trusting in Him. Be honest and specific in your prayer and spend time listening and waiting for His guidance.

©2019—Word-Strong

Harvest Time

In America, we prize our individualism, as if it were sacred. But our commitment to individualistic expression is at odds with the call of Jesus and the faith and life of the believers in the early church.

If we claim to be followers of Jesus who calls us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23), then our attempt to cling to individualism as a Christian believer becomes a non sequitur—it’s illogical.

When Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at an ancient well, she returns to her village to share this good news. As the story unfolds, we see their response to hearing Jesus for themselves. This was not something the disciples could see as possible.

The apostles—Jesus’ closest followers—see their relationship with Him as somewhat exclusive. What Jesus tells them and what the Samaritan villagers declare later reveals the opposite. God’s heart is not exclusive but inclusive to others.

Scripture

“Don’t you say, ‘In four more months the harvest will be here’? I’m telling you to look and see that the fields are ready to be harvested. The person who harvests the crop is already getting paid. He is gathering grain for eternal life. So the person who plants the grain and the person who harvests it are happy together. 

In this respect the saying is true: ‘One person plants, and another person harvests.’ I have sent you to harvest a crop you have not worked for. Other people have done the hard work, and you have followed them in their work.” [vss 35-38]

Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman who said, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” So when the Samaritans went to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them. He stayed in Samaria for two days. 

Many more Samaritans believed because of what Jesus said. They told the woman, “Our faith is no longer based on what you’ve said. We have heard him ourselves, and we know that he really is the savior of the world.” [vss 39-42]

(John 4:35-42 GW)

Key phrase—

“One person plants, and another person harvests”

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What does Jesus tell His disciples about the time of harvest?

  • How is this at odds with what they say and think?

  • What type of harvest is Jesus speaking of and how is this made clear?

  • What does Jesus tell the disciples about their involvement with this harvest?

Reflection...

Individualism does not have a place in God’s kingdom and the work of service Jesus calls His followers to do. Jesus tells His disciples plainly that working with Him is a partnership not an individual assignment.

Jesus says His disciples have the easy part of gathering the harvest that others have sown. Who was Jesus referring to? Most likely, the Old Testament prophets, including John the Baptizer. It would also include the faithful remnant such as Simeon the prophet and Anna the prophetess mentioned in Luke (Luke 2:25-38).

Even the Samaritan woman at the well gives us an example of this. She leaves her water jar at the well to tell those in her village about Jesus. They respond by coming out to Jesus themselves (verse 40), which He refers to in verse 35. The Samaritans prevail upon Jesus to stay with them and He does for two days.

Many of them believed because of the woman’s testimony but many others believed when they heard Jesus for themselves. Our responsibility as believers is to introduce people to Jesus, as partners with Him and others who are called to this eternal harvest.

Taking it to heart...

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

  • Who has spoken to you about Jesus and shared the gospel with you?

  • As a believer, who have you and are you speaking to about the Lord and His love?

  • Was Jesus speaking of this eternal harvest just for those disciples or for us too?

  • Do you personally know Jesus—the Savior of the world? If so, who have you told about Him? If not, why not and what holds you back from believing?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Jesus calls those who choose to follow Him into a partnership with Him and others to sow and gather in an eternal harvest. This requires each believer to choose Him and His Kingdom’s work above their own personal interests. God is the great Includer—inviting us to partner with Him as we invite others into His family of believers.

Prayer Focus— Pray for God’s vision to see the harvest He sees. Ask Him to open the eyes of your heart to see people as He sees them. Ask Him to open your heart to those He wants to gather into His family, His kingdom.

©2018—Word-Strong

Drawn to the Light

Light attracts insects at night. Living in the tropical climate of the Philippines for many years, it seemed like zillions of insects came out at night. They would gather at porch lights and our security lights around the property. So would the geckos and other creatures who fed on them.

Light is powerful. Daily activity dramatically increases with the dawn of a new day. Many people are drawn to seashores as the sun breaks through the night and floods the sky and sea with its powerful beams of light.

When encouraging people in the midst of their personal darkness, we speak of light at the end of the tunnel as an expression of hope to come. But when a person's soul is crushed with anguish and hopelessness, they tend to draw back into the darkness and shadows around them. And too often, many dark deeds seem more likely to occur at night than during the day.

The first act of creation is God speaking light into existence (Gen 1:3) and God is—by nature—Light (1 John 1:5). John declares at the beginning of his gospel that, Jesus is the light of life for all humanity and His light is never conquered or extinguished.

Scripture

No one has gone to heaven except the Son of Man, who came from heaven. “As Moses lifted up the snake ⌊on a pole⌋ in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up. Then everyone who believes in him will have eternal life.” [vss 13-15]

God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to save the world. Those who believe in him won’t be condemned. But those who don’t believe are already condemned because they don’t believe in God’s only Son. [vss 16-19]

This is why people are condemned: The light came into the world. Yet, people loved the dark rather than the light because their actions were evil. People who do what is wrong hate the light and don’t come to the light. They don’t want their actions to be exposed. But people who do what is true come to the light so that the things they do for God may be clearly seen. [vss 19-21]

(John 13-21 GW)

Key phrase—

God loved the world this way: He gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him will not die but will have eternal life.

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Who alone has gone to heaven and come from there? What illustration is given that is connected to this?

  • How does this statement about the Son of Man and this illustration relate to the famous Bible verse—John 3:16?

  • What great assurances and promises are given in this familiar Scripture?

  • What are the contrasting statements given in this text and how are they not in opposition or contradiction to each other?

Reflection...

Probably the most quoted Bible verse is found in this chapter—John 3:16. But to understand the greatness of God's love and His promise of eternal life, we need to understand its context.

John speaks of the Lord's death on the cross as a point of restoration and likens it to when Moses erected a bronze snake in the sand as a visual connection to God's healing power for those bitten by poisonous snakes in the wilderness (Numbers 21:5-9).

John then points out the purpose of Jesus coming to earth—when God became human—to bring redemption for all humanity—to heal and restore humanity. God personally intervened in human history to provide a cure for the poisonous effect of sin.

But, receiving this promise of restoration and eternal life is a choice. Sadly, many people can't or won't let go of the darkness in their lives to embrace the light and receive this promise of abundant and eternal life Jesus offers. But those who are drawn to His Light and receive this promise are healed and restored by the great love of God.

Taking it to heart...

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

  • What condemns a person—their sin or their unbelief? How is this known from this text?

  • What is the important choice a person needs to make between light and darkness and why do you think it's difficult to make?  

  • Why do you think many non-believers see Christians as judgmental when Jesus did not come into the world to judge it?

  • How would you tell others these truths in your own words (IYOW) so they understood them?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— God so loved the world but the world did not love Him back. God proved His love by giving His Son as a Mediator and Savior for all those who choose to trust in Him—turning their backs on the darkness of sin to embrace the powerful light of His love.

Prayer Focus— If you haven't experienced God's healing restoration by believing and trusting in Him, don't wait any longer—simply ask Him to be Lord of your life in your own words. If you've trusted in God's Son, ask the Lord for opportunities and simple, clear words to share this great promise.

©2018—Word-Strong