A Shepherd's Heart

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True, God-honoring faith bears blessed fruit.
by GBC Ministry

When I awoke this morning, my thoughts turned to my parents and their deaths.  The Lord took each one differently.  He took my father's memory, but left him with his health until the last few days of his life on earth.  He ultimately took my mother's health (after a long, fruitful and very healthy life to His praise), but left her with her memory and the capacity to fellowship with both Him and those around her to the very end.  I find comfort in remembering the great faith the Lord gifted to them.  Each was an example of personal faithfulness for me.  They were faithful during their life.  They were faithful in their deaths.  Most importantly, God was faithful to them always in all circumstances.
 
In reflecting on this and associated things, I was drawn to the passage in Philippians to which we have been brought so often recently, 2:5-18.  Last night I had come upon a personal exhortation regarding this passage that I had written in one of my study notes that said simply "Read This Regularly."  I heeded that exhortation this morning and verses 12-16 really pricked at my heart.
 
"12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.  14 Do all things without murmurings and disputings: 15 That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; 16 Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."
 
The key thought in this passage is "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."  Paul was in prison.  He would soon be executed for his faith.  The Philippians were also under persecution.  He wanted to encourage them to persevere in the most holy faith unto the end, just as Christ did.  His encouragement was for them to "labor on" in holy reverence for the Lord and confidence in His ability to see them through any difficulty so that they might be the faithful servants His people needed them to be.  The secret to their victory would be faithfulness day by day, yea, even moment by moment, to do the "work" that the Lord would put before them to do.

It wasn't (and isn't) enough that we have words of faith on our lips, i.e., a mere form of religion.  True faith is more than mere words.  True faith convicts and motivates the true Believer to do the work of the Lord He has put before him, and to do it for the honor and glory of the Lord alone.
 
Christ became a servant by choice even though that servitude was not honored during His life and ultimately led to His death.  We are to have this same "mind," to make this same choice.  We are to be motivated into action by His example and love and be encouraged by His ultimate exaltation and eternal victory.  This was the thought behind a recent study we had on the gift of "helps," i.e., the ability to "relieve" others of their burdens, stresses, etc., so that we might fulfill the simple exhortation of the Lord that "[Ye] then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please [yourself]." (Romans 15:1)
 
Every Christian has the ability to relieve the burdens, stresses, needs of their brethren to some significant degree.  Further, most know it "For it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."  When you become aware of some need within the brotherhood, the stirrings of your heart to respond are the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is God working in you to provoke you to "move, to "act," to work on His behalf.  All true Believers are so touched.  However, not all respond and "do of his good pleasure."  Most, if not all, sincerely "want" to do what the Lord would desire, i.e., to provide the love, support, etc. that others need, but too few actually make the willful choice to die to Self and be "doers of the word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22).
 
Now here's the difficult part of this meditation.  The remembrance that has sobered me today for each and all of us is that at the end of the Lord's life, all the disciples abandoned Him.  At the end of Paul's life, "all they which [were] in Asia [were] turned away from [him]" (2 Timothy 1:15).  So it was with my parents.  When they reached the end of their lives, despite their life-long faithfulness and dedication to the church and their friends, virtually all of their own generation had already abandoned them, and only a blessed few non-family members visited or ministered to them directly and regularly to the end of their lives.
 
It is in the times of the greatest needs of the saints' lives that the opportunities for their fellow saints to show their love, personal faithfulness, and obedience to the exhortation of this Philippian passage is the greatest.  It is then that the truly faithful set aside their own personal cares and "busy-ness" to provide the "helps," the relief, the comfort needed "without murmurings and disputings."  Then (now) is the child of God's opportunity to honor the Lord and His ministry and prove that His servants have "not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."  Then (now) is the great test of our love for God, and our love for one another.
 
Please don't allow yourself to be deceived into thinking you'll "get around to it," or "I'll never abandon my friend(s)."  Remember Peter?  Time is very fleeting.  For some it ends very abruptly and all opportunities to serve in love and to show our love for others are gone.  Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the day of service because today is the day of need and the day of grace.  "Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof."

Look around you.  The Lord has placed you where you are for a purpose: to serve those among whom He has placed you.  Turn you eyes off of yourself and onto others.  It is there that you will find Christ.
 
"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.  Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?  And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."  Matthew 25:35-40
 
Prayerfully "take inventory" of the needs that exist "around" you?  Have you looked beyond  the "obvious" needs?  Ask the Lord to give you spiritual eyes to see the deeper needs that can sometimes be hidden even to the one in whom they exist?  Some needs are material, some of physical, and some are emotional and/or spiritual.  As the Lord reveals these to you, don't hesitate to honestly and sincerely ask yourself "What can I do today to alleviate this right now," then do it.
 
We can all pray in our own prayer "closets."  "The fervent, effectual prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16).  But some may need the fellowship and comfort of one-on-one shared prayer.  Sometimes just sitting within the sound of those you love praying for you is a balm of inexpressible blessing.  And you who are young in the Lord, or think yourself "inexperienced" in ministering to others, let me encourage you.  It isn't the words you say, or the way you say them that counts.  What makes prayer or any other ministry effective and blessed is the love and faith that fuels it.  I truly covet and need the prayers and ministrations of all my friends.  There isn't a single person I know in the Lord who wouldn't bless me with their presence and their prayers.  Just to know that they love me enough to respond to my heartfelt requests for love and support is a great comfort to me.  I know others feel the same way.
 
How about a phone call to encourage someone, or a visit?  We probably all have some shared concept of who "needs" visits.  But I can tell you from personal experience that everyone needs to be visited.  Too often those who are considered "strong" are neglected because they don't appear to "need" as much attention as others who seem by all appearances to be "weaker."  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Don't judge things by appearance.  Seek for spiritual eyes and tender hearts and spirits.  We are all in need of friendship, fellowship, and personally manifested love.
 
Is there some work that needs to be done that you can so?  What skills has the Lord given you?  How can you use them to relieve the burdens and needs of the brethren and the church?
 
Friends, I don't speak from strength today, but from deep personal need.  I can't set myself before you as a good example, only as a fellow saint whose own needs are multiplying and, in that, is realizing his absolute dependence on the Lord as provided through the charity and grace of His children.  It is a sobering time for the flesh.
 
However, it is also a hopeful time in the Spirit.  For though abandoned, Christ rose victorious and is exalted above all forever.  And though forsaken by so many, Paul was never forsaken by the Lord.  He was empowered to persevere faithfully to the end and received a crown of righteousness which will forever glorify the Lord and bring honor to his personal service to his God and Savior.  And though my parents' final fellowship was small, it was blessed.  They were sustained by the Spirit, cared for by their family, and provided for by Christ's provisions through the church.  He never failed them.  He will never fail us.
 
My purpose today is simply to stir up all of us, to provoke us all to do the "good works" God has ordained that we accomplish for His glory (Ephesians 2:10).  The Lord has given us a full spectrum of experiences on which to reflect and in which to walk today.  There are many and great needs among us, but there is also an exceeding abundant supply.  There is much weakness in our midst, but there is also great and growing strength.  The spiritual vision of some may be impaired today, but there are those who have a clear view of eternity and a strong hold on God's grace.  Seek His will for your personal service to others today.  You may be the very one He wishes to use to strengthen someone who is fearful, to encourage someone who is discouraged, or to share a portion of His gospel of hope with someone who has been shaken by a great trial of their faith.  Walk in faith today, and wherever you may personally exist on this spectrum of Christian experience, "hope thou in God." (Psalm 42)
 
"Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God?  But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke 12:6-7)

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Grace Bible Church :-: (217) 384-7614 :-: 3900 N Willow Rd Urbana, P.O. Box 303, IL 61803 :-: pastor (at) gbcurbana.com