My Utmost for His Highest: Day 39

8 Feb

Day 39 with Oswald is wonderfully titled, The Cost of Sanctification. In a way, this is such an easy passage to read and think, right – that was easy enough to grasp. Sanctification is a rather long word bandied around a fair bit; but Oswald has chosen for the purposes of today’s writing to say that to be sanctified is to secure and keep all the strength of our body, soul and spirit for God’s purpose alone. We make ourselves available to God to perform in us everything for which He has separated us; and when His work in us is done, we make ourselves available to be separated to Him alone, in the same way that Jesus did. The cost of sanctification is therefore to relinquish everything in us that is not of God – for when we are entirely set apart for Him and to Him, there can be nothing left in us that is not of Him.

Oswald’s real challenge is, are you prepared for the cost of sanctification? On this note, I am so grateful that the devotional for today ends with this question: “Are we prepared to set ourselves apart for the Holy Spirit’s work in us?” I am just so grateful that there is this final reminder that as we are sanctified, it is not simply a matter of us doing the work to set ourselves apart for God. It is God’s work in us, that sets us apart for and to Himself.

I keep seeing how awful Christianity would seem, if we overlook the work of Jesus at the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit in us. It would not even be just a difficult moral code to abide by, or an inconvenient set of rules to follow. It would be a downright impossible standard. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If the goal of sanctification is to be perfect as God is perfect, and if the way to get about to it is to work harder and muster up a bit more something, then I might as well not bother from the outset.

But it is wonderful that the Bible does not set us such a task. Even today, I have salvation only because of what Jesus has done at the cross, in perfect obedience to the Father; and even today, I press on to be sanctified only because of the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Oswald is right in suggesting that there is a great cost of sanctification – but we certainly have a great Helper who’s carrying us through such a cost. I am hopeful that there will come a day where this “great cost” will not seem so very great at all. In fact, I am hopeful that it will not seem a cost at all. That day will come when I have so great a desire to be one with Jesus and the Father, that I will be quite happy to be rid of all things in my life that are not of God. Unfortunately that wasn’t today – but who knows about each day to come?

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My Utmost for His Highest: Day 19

19 Jan

Day 19 with Oswald, at the end of a week that’s been chock-full of Law-related assignments. Genesis 15:12 is the quoted verse, but I think it is less relevant than the other verses discussed below, so on to it!

Oswald stresses the importance of waiting on God and trusting in Him. There will be times in our lives where God gives us a vision, but darkness follows. By “darkness” I believe Oswald to mean the times where God seems unresponsive, or times where we receive disappointment instead of the gift or blessing that we had expected.

Oswald writes that we need to trust in God Himself, not in His blessings. We need to understand the reason for His discipline. We need to stop ourselves from trying to help God fulfill His word – He will do it, in His own timing, and we must trust Him based on who we know Him to be.

By way of example, Oswald draws on the story of Abram (who later will be called Abraham) and Hagar in Genesis 16. Oswald points to this as an example of why we ought to wait upon the Lord, rather than try and take things into our own hands. Abram’s story runs briefly as such: Abram was a preeeetty old guy, as was his wife Sarai (who later will be called Sarah). Sarai had borne Abram no children, despite their age. One day, Sarai gets a bright idea to give her slave Hagar to Abram, hoping that Hagar could bear children that Sarai would be able to raise and build Abram’s family. This backfires because Hagar does get pregnant, but ends up hating Sarai, so there is enmity between them. Sarai mistreats Hagar, who runs away (still pregnant). But the angel of the Lord meets Sarai and sends her back. She then bears the child Ishmael to Abram.

Some 13 years later (in Genesis 17), the Lord appears to Abram (from here on Abraham). Among other things, He tells Abraham that Sarai (from here on Sarah) would bear him a child, Isaac. Abraham is in disbelief (he was 99 years old at the time, can you blame the man for being doubtful?) and in Genesis 18:10-15 we see that Sarah too, disbelieved. But lo and behold, Genesis 21 begins with the birth of Isaac, just as the Lord had said.

I take it that Oswald’s point here is that Abraham and Sarah should have waited for the Lord to bless them with a child, rather than take matters into their own hands and cause great misery with the Hagar situation.

Oswald also quotes Isaiah 50:10, by way of reminder that in our darkness, we need not pretend to be filled with joy and confidence. It is quite alright if we will just wait upon the Lord and be grounded in Him.

Oswald also continues to say that through His discipline, we will come to know that He is real. And when we see that He is real, then we will see that everything and everyone else pales in comparison. “Nothing […] can ever upset the one who is built on God.”

This is another cheat day for me to refer back to Day 4‘s devotional and the corresponding struggles with waiting, rather than doing. Service really is a great competitor for my loyalty.

My Utmost for His Highest: Day 18

19 Jan

Day 18 with Oswald and a strangely short devotional. Verses from John 20:28 and John 4:7 are quoted, but actually work out to be more by-the-by than the crux of this day’s devotional. The message of the devotional draws upon themes similar to those in previous days: we as Christians are called to devote our lives to God, not to service.

Oswald mainly points out two things. The first is that we are called to be devoted to God, looking to satisfy Him daily rather than looking for Him to satisfy us daily. (Though no doubt, if pressed to elaborate, he would say that in our desire to satisfy Him, we will surely find that He more than satisfies us daily.) The second is that the greatest competitor to our loyalties to God is service. We can be so easily swayed into pouring out our lives for service, rather than for God. We will be gravely misled from devoting our lives to Him, if we believe that God wants us to just do things for Him (for the sake of doing them), rather than love and desire Him.

There isn’t much else to say beyond that. It ties in a lot with Day 4 and evokes similar thoughts and responses from me. Doing a bit of a cheat today and referring back to that!

My Utmost for His Highest: Days 14, 16 and 17

18 Jan

Days 14, 16 and 17 with Oswald and many mugs of honey and lemon, nursing a sore throat.  The theme running through all three devotionals is God’s calling to us, so I figured I could get away with writing about all three at a go! Days 14 and 16 begin with Isaiah 6:8, which tells of Isaiah’s commission. He sees the Lord with his own eyes and believes that he will perish from that experience, for he is too unclean to survive from seeing the Lord who is the utmost holy. Instead, he is made clean and forgiven; following which he receives his commission from the Lord to be a prophet to the people. Day 17 begins with Galatians 1:15-17, where the apostle Paul writes about his past and how he was called by the grace of God, so that he might preach the gospel among the Gentiles (those who were not Jews).

Oswald writes a lot of things about God’s calling, not all of which I fully agree with, on the face of the devotional text. But there were a few key things that were helpful take-aways:

Day 14: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) This comes at the end of a parable that Jesus tells and Oswald appears to quote it from a more literal version that translates the verse to “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (KJV) I am progressively discovering that there is a lot of theology and linguistics behind the word “call” in its Greek origin, and it would be just a danger for me to mishandle it in an attempt to make sense of it. Suffice to say that Oswald notes that God’s call is for everyone, not just particular individuals. Whether or not we respond to His call depends on our spiritual state. Those who prove themselves to be chosen by God will hear His call, but others will not. Oswald draws on Isaiah as an example of one who heard and responded to God’s call.

I’m not sure I entirely agree or understand, on the basis of Romans 8:30 – those that God called, he also justified. The ESV Study Bible puts it usefully: “Because not all who are invited to believe are actually justified, the ‘calling’ here cannot refer to merely a general invitation but must refer to an effective call that creates the faith necessary for justification.”

Day 16: God’s call is an expression of His nature, not ours. By this, I understand Oswald to mean that when God calls us, it is not a reflection of my nature – my personal desires and temperament. It is all about Him and what He wills, not about me and what I want. What’s unclear to me is what he means by – and what his authority is for – saying that God’s call is an “expression of His nature”.

But for now the more important take away is that for as long as I am focused on my nature, I will not be brought into His nature, so I will not hear His call. “The majority of us cannot hear anything but ourselves. And we cannot hear anything God says.” This is unlike Isaiah, whom Oswald uses as an example of one who was humbled before God in his great crisis and subsequently was “attuned” to God’s call.

Day 17: Call and service. Here, Oswald draws a distinction between the call of God and service. The former is an “expression of God’s nature” while the latter is “an expression of my nature”, the “overflow which pours from a life filled with love and devotion”. I think he is saying that God calls us not into a particular act or ministry or vocation, but rather He calls us into a relationship with Himself. When we are called into that relationship, His nature becomes our nature. As a result of our changed nature, we respond (out of our own, new nature) with acts of service. It is not God who forces us to perform acts of service, but it is a natural response that comes from within ourselves.

All of that makes sense and sits with the many, many instances in the Bible where the root word “call” is used to describe how God has called many into a relationship with Him, e.g. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14. But there also seem to be instances where the same word is used in a context that clearly means a calling to a particular ministry, e.g. in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. There are instances where both types of callings are mentioned together, as in Paul’s explanations of how he began his ministry (Acts 26:13-18; Galatians 1:15-16).

So possibly, either or both could happen in the life of a Christian? That we may be called into a relationship with Him, but equally we may be called to live out our Christian lives in a particular way, in a particular ministry. I often wonder if there will come a day where the latter will happen to me.

My Utmost for His Highest: Day 12 and 13

14 Jan

Days 12 and 13, at the end of a tumultuous day and the start of a wintry week. The devotionals from Days 12 and 13 revolve around the same theme of being “alone” with God, so it made sense to read them together. The quoted verses are from Mark 4:10 and Mark 4:36 – situations where Jesus has spoken parables to a crowd of people, but only when He is alone with his 12 disciples, He explains the meaning of His teachings.

Oswald draws out two things: our solitude with God and His solitude with us. As to the former, he writes of the danger of ever thinking that we understand our inner selves, because it is really only God who sees the depths of our souls and understands what is in us. Our human pride leads us to think more of ourselves than we really are. This stops us from ever really being “alone” with God – and by “alone”, I think Oswald means that we invite our pride and ego and other sins are jarring third wheels in our relationship with God. If we want to truly learn from God, we must be alone with Him. Leave aside our pride and such things.

Oswald also writes that often, God will bring circumstances in our lives that will be less than pleasant, but He must do so to bring us to be alone with Him. I’m guessing he means that for as long our lives are going jolly well and we’re getting everything in the world that we want (including our sinful desires), then we will never really be able to leave aside our pride. But through disappointments, hardships, unexpected changes in our lives, etc. we are lovingly disciplined and humbled, to be able to come before Him, truly ready to learn.

Day 13 goes on to say that when God does get us alone, then He teaches us. But His teaching to us is not impersonal. We may often think that we understand what others are going through, but when we find ourselves in similar straits, then we see that it is really quite different from what we thought. God relates to us personally; our lessons are not learnt vicariously through the experiences of others, but our own.

I appreciate all of this and as always, it’s a very timely lesson seeing that this has been a humbling week in particular ways. While the message holds true experientially, I’m just not sure that I see it linked to the quoted verses that start of the devotionals. I would have thought that Jesus being alone with His disciples and teaching them in that context, was less about a pastoral implication of us needing to be alone with Him to learn from Him, but more about the purposeful way in which He was carrying out his mission at the time. Anyway, I may just be reading too shallowly, or I may need to just wrap my head around a more thematic devotional than I am used to.

My Utmost for His Highest: Day 11

13 Jan

Day 11 (delayed again!) with Oswald, which came at the end of a week that saw a lot of change in my daily routine. The main verse quoted is Luke 23:26 and the theme here is that my obedience to God will cost other people.

Essentially he notes that there are two ways we can choose to live: in obedience to God, or not in obedience to God. The former is (or at least, should be) a delight to us and so it does not come at a cost. But it will come at a cost to others around us, because our obedience to God will mean that the plans of other people will be upset. Yet this suffering that we face from the pain of others, is something we must trust God with – trust that He will care for those who are affected.

The latter option involves our independence and human pride – our refusal to allow others to bear the cost, our insistence that we will be the ones to deal with the situation and bear whatever cost that may need to be borne. This might bring immediate relief to the situation, but it will not please God for we will not be obedient to Him.

There is a lot to say on how this relates to my personal life, but this maybe isn’t the appropriate place for it. Oswald is always hitting close to home these days.

My Utmost for His Highest: Day 10

10 Jan

Day 10 with Oswald – and I haven’t lost my ability to count, just my capacity to make time for blogging (but fortunately, not reading) these days. Catch-up posts over the weekend for Days 8 and 9! The passage from today is from Acts 26:17-18. It’s part of a wonderful passage in Acts 26, where Paul testifies to his amazing conversion story. He tells of his Jewish background and how he used to persecute Christians zealously, until one fateful day when the Lord met with him. The Lord rescued him and called him to go out to all people, to turn their eyes from darkness to light, so that they may receive forgiveness from the Lord and be sanctified by Him.

Oswald talks about these two mighty works of grace that God has done for us: to bring us to receive forgiveness; and to sanctify us. By sanctification, he refers to a Christian who has been born again in the Spirit, and now submits himself to Christ and identifies himself with the ministry of Christ.

As for receiving forgiveness, Oswald’s position is that there is a difference between conversion and regeneration. Conversion to him, is much like a person who has opened his eyes to the light of Christ, but has not necessarily received anything. Regeneration happens when we accept God’s forgiveness and are born again. He writes, “Salvation means that we are brought to the place where we are able to receive something from God on the authority of Jesus Christ, namely, forgiveness of sins.”

This is such a heavy theological point for me to digest! Oswald feels that this is something that is too often neglected in preaching “today”. (And by “today”, he means in his generation – but I must concur that it still applies in today proper.) But he certainly isn’t alone in his writings on this matter, so I reckon it’s worth a think through.

Stepping back a bit from that, I think the important thing for me is not to be overly focused and worried about whether or not I can still consider myself a Christian; or trying to pinpoint some particular moment in time or definable act by which I can affirm that I have seen regeneration and salvation in my life, not just conversion. It’s perhaps more important instead to turn my mind to Christ each day; to ask and receive the Lord’s forgiveness each day; and to affirm my identity and purpose in Him each day. That is a big enough challenge as it is… but I’m thankful that Oswald also slips in a reminder that salvation is when we are brought to that place – not that we bring ourselves there by mustering up some determination and will.