Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: motivation

The Bible: Reading vs. Experiencing

Sometimes, we forget.

We forget that the Bible wasn’t just written, it was lived.
We forget that the person we’re reading about didn’t know the next verse.
We forget the person had feelings/thoughts/worries/doubts in each moment.

The pages of Scripture describe the actions, thoughts, and desires of the individuals and groups who have uniquely interacted with our Creator, in order to demonstrate His love for us. 

But sometimes…we forget…and we just read on through the section, chapter, or book.

For example, we can open our Bibles and find:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

These are the words of an old man encouraging his protégé.  We have front row seats to a watershed moment in young Timothy’s life.  He has been raised and trained for this moment of service in God’s kingdom – and Paul wants Timothy to know the importance of the next steps he takes, ones without Paul’s direct supervision.  But it’s difficult to recognize the weight of Paul’s words, and their impact on Timothy, when we just read through a chapter.

However, when we are on the receiving end of a leader’s call to rise up, something deep inside resonates.  It could be a coach’s halftime speech, a father calling out to his son, or a leader inspiring a nation.  Those moments stir passions in us – even when we witness them in other’s lives, or in a movie.

So, I’m going to ask you to try a little exercise.  Follow the link below to a clip from the movie Miracle, and then read Paul’s words to Timothy again.

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Think about Timothy, before and after receiving Paul’s letter.

Why would Paul’s words resonate with Timothy?
Which words stand out?  Why?
How will these words impact Timothy’s motivation and focus?

If Paul said these words to you, how would they impact your motivation and focus?

Keep Pressing,

Praying for those in authority

Whom do you pray for?  When you petition God the Father, which person do you talk about the most?  Given that the average person prays about 8 minutes per day, that’s not a lot of time to discuss other people.

If I were to measure, from most to least, the time I spend on the people I talk to God about it, the list would look pretty close to – myself, my wife, my kids, my job, my extended family (sometimes), people in my church (occasionally), and then a rare ten seconds for people I don’t know who are dealing with circumstances that deep down I’m thankful I’m not personally going through.

Looking back on that list, I see a whole lot of me.  Myself, my wife, my kids, my life’s circumstances.  It’s low hanging fruit to bash myself for being so self-oriented toward God.  I’ve heard many preachers, when teaching about prayer, make the point that we’re too self-focused.

On the one hand, though, it’s hard to pray for people we don’t personally know.  We don’t know their issues and hang-ups.  We don’t know where they struggle, so it feels a little hollow to continually pray “God help them…with…their stuff”.  But just because it feels awkward or difficult seems like a flimsy reason to exclude those outside of my life’s circle from being brought up before the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

On the other hand, when I look back over my list and I look at the motivation behind the ‘me’ and the ‘my’, it comes down to the fact that I’m looking for peace in my life and the world around me that I know.  I desire for life’s events to go well.  I don’t mind the work involved, provided I can see that the outcome is beneficial.  Deep down, I long for the time when sin won’t derail what God made us to do, and I’m asking God for just a taste of that now.

So which approach is better?  Praying about my stuff (which I know all too well) or praying about other people’s stuff (which I don’t know hardly at all) ?  We could talk circles around these questions for quite a while and do nothing but increase our frustration level.

Perhaps instead of getting all twisted up about what we’re bringing to God in prayer, we should focus on what subjects God tells us He wants to hear about in our prayers.  Paul gave direction on what topics Timothy and the church in Ephesus should be bringing to God.  Remember, Ephesus wasn’t a ‘Christian’ city.  It didn’t have God-focused government.  Their history, laws, and business practices weren’t Biblically rooted.  It was a cosmopolitan metropolis with people from all over the known world passing through.  Their ideas of ‘higher powers’ in the world primarily came from Greek and Roman gods, Egyptian gods, pagan gods, and Jewish myths.

So, how does the one true God expect a Christian to pray in the midst of all that?

1 Timothy 2:1-2
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority

Paul tells Timothy that every subject we could possibly communicate to God – needs, discussions, interventions, and thankful acknowledgments – are all fair game when talking to God about our stuff and everyone else’s stuff.  But what I find interesting here is that Paul calls out a very specific group of people that the Ephesian believers shouldn’t forget to pray for – kings and all those who are in authority.

While I might pray that a certain candidate win an election, how long has it been since I petitioned God on behalf of President Obama?  Or prayerfully interceded on some issue between God and the President?  Or thanked God for something the President has done? 

But Paul didn’t just specify the top individual in a society as being the subject of our prayers, he said to pray for all those who are in authority.  Honestly, I don’t recall ever petitioning God on behalf of our town’s mayor or city council.  It’s very rare that I have asked God to send the gospel message to our county representatives or, for that matter, even the local school board.

Paul’s point is that those who have authority in our society need us to approach God on their behalf.  Paul is serious about this, too.  He’s urging believers to pray for leaders.

I think we’re going to need more than 8 minutes.

Keep Pressing,

Correcting bad teaching

When Paul sent his letter of instruction and encouragement to Timothy, the very first area he discussed had to do with Timothy’s authority in the church family.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.

Right away, we see that Timothy is in charge.  The Greek word Paul uses for command means to instruct, charge, or declare a message to others.  This word was often used by the gospel writers to describe Jesus’ teaching to both the crowds and to his disciples.  Paul wants Timothy to exercise his authority in the church at Ephesus, as evidenced by him using that particular Greek verb five different times in this letter.

Given the multicultural makeup of the city, its inhabitants, and their multitude of religious practices, the church would have been inundated with many competing ideas about who God is, what He is like, and how a relationship with Him is supposed to happen. 

Whenever Timothy would encounter these incorrect ideas about God, and the time came for him to command people not to teach these false ideas, it is easy to understand how tense of a situation that could be.  No one likes being wrong, and no one likes being called out for being incorrect – especially on something they are passionate about.

Oftentimes, when a person’s doctrine beliefs are discussed, there is a tendency for pride to creep in.  We fight in order to show that our understanding is right…rather than taking the humble route of wanting to make sure we are rightly aligned with God. 

That balance between humility and authority will be challenging for a leader, so Paul makes sure that Timothy understands where his motivation comes from:

1 Timothy 1:5
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Timothy is to give commands because he genuinely loves the people he will be shepherding in Ephesus.  While Timothy’s instructions will be authoritative, they will be given for the people’s benefit. 

We need to correctly understand who God is and what He is like if we’re going to have a strong, life-giving relationship with Him.  As such, correcting false doctrine and false teaching is of paramount importance within the church family.  However, to be effective, the goal of our instruction must be love.

Keep Pressing,

Generational mentoring

A proverb is a saying that is usually rather short and easy to remember, but contains a profound nugget of truth.  This type of memory device is not unique to any particular culture.  In fact, we use plenty of them today. 

For example, we say things like “A stitch in time saves nine.”  This little phrase reminds us that taking care of an issue early will prevent us from having to do additional work in the future.

There are many proverbs in the Scriptures, in addition to an entire book of Bible being a collection of them.  Most Christians know that the majority of the wisdom sayings in the book of Proverbs were written by King Solomon.  However, do you know why Solomon brought together the collection of proverbs?

Solomon’s proverb collection doesn’t actually begin until Chapter 10, so Chapters 1 through 9 form an introduction to the proverbs.  It’s in this introduction that Solomon repeatedly states why he considers wisdom to be so important.  However, it’s equally clear that he had a specific audience in mind.

Nineteen times in Chapters 1 through 9 Solomon addresses either “my son” or “my sons”.  Take a look at a small sampling:

2:1  My son, if you accept my words…
3:1  My son, don’t forget my teaching…
4:20 My son, pay attention to my words…
5:7  So now, my sons, listen to me…

We can definitely see that Solomon’s heart is to mentor and develop his sons.  However, in one portion of the introduction, Solomon reveals how he learned about the importance of wisdom:

Proverbs 4:1-9
Listen, my sons, to a father’s discipline,
and pay attention so that you may gain understanding,
for I am giving you good instruction.
Don’t abandon my teaching.

When I was a son with my father, tender and precious to my mother,
he taught me and said:

“Your heart must hold on to my words.
Keep my commands and live.  Get wisdom, get understanding;
don’t forget or turn away from the words of my mouth.
Don’t abandon wisdom, and she will watch over you;
love her, and she will guard you. 

Wisdom is supreme – so get wisdom.
And whatever else you get, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
if you embrace her, she will honor you.
She will place a garland of grace on your head;
she will give you a crown of beauty.”

Solomon knew the importance of wisdom because that is what he was taught.  King David instilled the lessons he learned into Solomon, who in turn passed these lessons down to his sons.  How each generation handled wisdom certainly varied, but they all knew of wisdom’s importance because its value was taught to them.

We don’t have to have the full wisdom of Solomon to be a mentor, either.  We just have to be willing to pass on what we have been taught.

Keep Pressing,

Practical application: work (part 2)

I’ve often wondered why work is just so difficult some times.  Despite the best intentions and efforts of the people around me, the work to be done always takes more effort than it should, is never produced as quickly as it could be, and the full potential of a given project never seems to be fully realized.  When I take a moment to consider these short-comings, it leaves me rather frustrated with thoughts of what could have been if certain issues had not gotten in the way.

The truth of the matter is that these constant issues in our work are part of the consequences for Adam’s sin against God:

Genesis 3:17-18
The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you

The biggest thorns and thistles we deal with at work typically fall into these categories: motivation, appropriate pay, politics, or management issues.  Any one of these thorns can cause major problems, but our daily experience usually combines several of them together. 

While Paul was instructing slaves on how they were to view and conduct their daily responsibilities, his directions are something that we can also apply as we deal with our own responsibilities:

Colossians 3:23-4:1
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.

Did you notice how Paul addressed each one of our major thorn categories?

Issues with our own motivation really comes down to who we believe we’re responsible to.  Are we working for our boss, our co-workers, or just trying to make some money to support our families?  If that’s the case, remember that at some point, our boss, co-workers, or family will let us down.  When that happens, our work will suffer because we’ll begin to believe that our efforts aren’t worthy of the person we’re working for.  Instead, we need to remember that our daily work is something done for the Lord and not for men.  We honor God and His reputation when we enthusiastically give our best in the task at hand.

Whether our earthly boss is fair or not, do we trust God to give good rewards?  If anyone is going to be cutting checks, wouldn’t you want God to do it?  Not only is he able to evaluate the finished product, but He knows all the details of how the project work was done…all the way down to the moment-by-moment motivation of the workers.  Even if we don’t receive an immediate payoff for our efforts, we must keep in mind that we will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord and the quality of this reward is based upon what we accomplish and how we accomplished it.

One of our major thorns has to do with injustice and favoritism in the workplace.  However, do we believe that the person who wrongs us will be held accountable by God?  Our desire for fairness is real and justified.  However, when office politics and favoritism muddies up a situation…do we trust God when He says He’ll take care of it?  Even if we have to wait for Him to do so?

Lastly, we have all experienced the pains of ineffective, or even incompetent, management.  Paul’s point here is that if we find ourselves in a position overseeing the work of others, it is imperative that we remain humble and do what is right by the people who work for us.  After all, isn’t that how our Master in heaven treats us?

Thorns and thistles and painful labor will continue to be part of our daily lives until Jesus returns.  Until then, whenever the issues are dragging us down, we just need to remember Who it is we’re truly working for.

Colossians 3:23-4:1
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men

Keep Pressing,

The motivation for everything

This might be a strange thought, but not every Christian will live out a Christ-focused life in the same way.  Even if we recognize this truth, we often have specific expectations (typically patterned after our own journey) of what “mature Christian behavior” should look like.  The truth of the matter is that it would be rather shallow of us to expect everyone to be “as spiritual” or be “as holy” in the identical manner that God is currently leading us in.  Maybe someone is behind us in development.  Maybe, just maybe…someone else could be ahead of us.

Think about our own families – our parents poured themselves into us and our siblings.  However, due to our varying ages and on-going development, the same efforts of our parents ended up producing very different adult people.  The expectations of behavior placed on the oldest child were often not even subjects that were being taught to the younger children.  Rarely was the same life lesson taught in the same manner to each child.  The specifics of these life-living lessons were tailored to where the child was at the particular moment.

However, the principles of the family were the same among the children.  Many of the stories and traditions of the family were the same as previous generations – stories of love, and loyalty, and bravery and the events of previous years.  You could see the family traits in the people around you, but they all exhibited them in different ways.

The same holds true for the family of God.  There is a common tie that binds us together – the incredible story of God leaving the glory and perfection of Heaven to rescue us from our selfish, sin-soaked mess.  However, as His story becomes part of our story…His character is revealed through us in a variety of ways.

As Paul continues to explain to the Colossian believers how God’s family works together and encourages one another with the message about the Messiah, take note of the guiding principle for how that message is to affect their lives and maturity:

Colossians 3:16-17
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Instead of laying out a 12 point plan for maturity, Paul wants the believers to recognize that everything is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Doing anything “in someone’s name” means that we are their representative or ambassador.  We know that our manners and conduct reflect back on Jesus, and we also know that we’ll eventually have to give an account for how well we represent Him.  Whatever you do in word or in deed – that phrase pretty much covers it all, doesn’t it?

Paul’s direction is broad enough that there’s no technicality for us to escape it.  The broad-ness also allows for a wide-variety of expressions.  Take, for example, that in these two verses Paul says we are to have gratitude and we are to give thanks.  While that is a specific direction, how exactly shall we give thanks?  We could give thanks through prayer, with tears, with spoken words, with silent reverence, with charitable actions, or many other ways. 

Too often we get hung up on measuring a Christian’s maturity by looking at the things he or she does.  However, God looks beyond those things and evaluates our maturity based upon our motivations.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Keep Pressing,

Suffering for outsiders

Pain is both a motivator and a deterrent.  Physical, mental, emotional pain…it doesn’t matter the type, because pain is, well, a pain to deal with.  Usually, it’s the desire to avoid pain that leads to us promptly finishing a given task or ensuring that we do not do a particular task.  We don’t like pain, and we’re willing to go to great lengths to make sure we don’t experience it.

There are very few things in life we willingly suffer for.  Since our default is to avoid pain, it is a significant decision when we are willing to endure pain and suffering.  Even then, the only people we may willingly suffer for would be a family member or an incredibly close friend.  However, most everyone understands our motivations when we do choose to endure pain for those close to us.

But that’s where the gospel turns things upside down.  When we accept the truth of the good news – that Jesus loved us enough to die in our place – we see others differently.  After Paul became a believer, Jesus gave him the task of spreading the gospel message.  As he describes his calling to the Colossians, Paul mentions that he suffers…but notice who it is he’s suffering for.

Colossians 1:23-27
This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I Paul, have become a minister of it.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church.  I have become its minister, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.

God wanted to make known to those among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Since the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection was a mystery hidden for ages and generations, no one fully understood it.  Even the disciples had to have Jesus explain it to them.  This means that everyone else would have trouble grasping this mystery, also.  As the gospel message was explained and spread throughout the world, some people “got it”; they understood and believed, and yet some people didn’t. 

It’s amazing to think that Paul was willing to suffer for something that the outsider Gentiles didn’t understand.  In fact, some of them would never understand.  They would fight against the message and the person delivering it.  On several occasions, they even attempted to “kill the messenger”.

However, because the message was so big and so important, Paul was willing to take the chance that he would suffer for it.  In fact, he did suffer a lot of pain.  But he also found joy in his pain – because he knew that he was doing the job God gave him to do.

Looking a Paul’s example, each of us should pause and ask the question –

Am I willing to suffer in order to do the job God gave me to do…even if everyone doesn’t understand the gospel message or my motivation to share it?

Keep Pressing,

What's next?

After we become convinced that Jesus is who He claims to be – the Son of God and God the Son…

After we believe Him when He claims that only He can give eternal life, and that He gives it to all who will receive it…

What’s next?
What do I do with this new life that Jesus has given me?

As we continue through the beginning of Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae, we find that Paul is dealing directly with these questions.  Throughout the rest of the letter, he will continue to discuss the practical outflowing of our relationship with Jesus; however, Paul mentions some specific ideas early on that are worth taking a closer look into.

Read these verses and look for what Paul sees as our motivation for the way believers should approach their day-to-day lives:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

While Paul does say he desires that the Colossians may walk worthy of the Lord, the believers’ aim in doing so is found in the next four words.  Once we are adopted into God’s family, our next step is to obtain Jesus’ approval.  Our aim is to be fully pleasing to Him.

If we balk at that idea, think back to your own childhood.  After becoming aware of our place in within our family, we begin to find ways to win the approval of our parents.  Not to keep our place in the family; no, that’s never in question.  Rather, we want to make them proud – by doing things like them, by doing things for them, or by doing things with them. 

It didn’t matter if we had good parents or bad parents – we still made every effort to “do good” in their eyes.  When we’re completely honest with ourselves, we are still driven by those same desires all the way through our adult lives.

Immediately after he states our aim as children of God – to be fully pleasing to Him – Paul also tells the Colossians how they are going to go about doing it.  The way we make Jesus proud of us, the way we get the “Good job!” from the King of Kings, is to be bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

Every good thing we do should bear fruit or provide evidence that we are believers in Jesus for eternal life; that we have become part of God’s family.  And just as a young child matures and learns more about his or her father, we also grow in the knowledge of God.  We learn who He is and what He is like, which then feeds back into how we represent Jesus in our daily actions.

And certainly, the Colossians would have noted that Paul had used the same phrases – bearing fruit and growing – just a few sentences earlier.  When Paul described how God’s good news, the gospel message about Jesus, was reaching the world, he said:

Colossians 1:6
It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and recognized God’s grace in the truth.

So the Colossians (and us) have a practical example from our Father in heaven.  When we live out the gospel message, we bear fruit and show the world who Jesus is.  When we help spread the good news, we will also grow in the knowledge of God.  

Ultimately, we are imitating our Father in heaven by participating in spreading the good news of Jesus…we’re doing these things like Him, we’re doing these things for Him, and we’re doing these things with Him…which is fully pleasing to Him.

Live the gospel, and fully please our Savior and Lord.

Keep Pressing,