“The Cost of Following Jesus” by Benjamin Sealey.
©2017 Benjamin Sealey
All Bible verses taken from the NIV ©1973 unless otherwise stated.
About the Author
Benjamin is pastor and worship leader based in the UK. His desire is to see God’s people know Jesus and walk closer to Him, bringing the glory of His kingdom onto the earth.
He is a regular speaker at conferences, churches and house groups across the world, anywhere there are people hungry for God, no matter how big or small. If you would like to contact him, or have any further questions, feel free to email him at or connect on Facebook at
Benjamin’s books, “Restoring the Heart of Worship” and “The Kingdom Church” are also available on Amazon.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matt 16:24-25.)
To know Jesus and to follow Him is the greatest privilege that any of us can have here upon the Earth. It is our very reason for living, the centre of the walk of any Christian and by extension, the purpose of our churches.
It is the calling of the people of God to be unlike anything found in this world. We are designed to be the craftsmanship of the Holy Spirit and vessels of His purity and His power. Those who walk with God produce a character distinct from all others. They are people of peace, joy, strength, authority, stability, humility and love. Surely there will be nothing as powerful on the Earth as a person who lives their life in submission to Jesus.
The goal of developing our relationship with Jesus is the focus of much of my teaching. This is more than simply becoming a Christian and inheriting Christianity’s values and culture, it is about following Jesus Himself and walking in all that He has for us. It is a harsh reality that many of us take on the name of Christ without ever learning to follow Him. Consequently, little of the church as we see it displays the brilliance of God in the way that it is called to. In truth, much of the church only reflects the works, opinions and flesh of man. The beauty that His church is called into will never be realised while it is built by man’s methods, it will only reflect Jesus when we learn to follow Him.
The gospel that Jesus taught is very different to the one which we often hear today. The grace of God is both beautiful and powerful, but there has been distortion of Jesus’ message of grace to the point that many of us do not understand what Jesus asks of us. We will never become the person God wants us to be, and nor will we live in the level of relationship that Jesus longs for unless we understand the true message of the gospel.
I want to stress at the outset that our salvation cannot be earned, it is solely an act of the grace of God. Neither can we gain God’s love through our works or obedience. There is however a depth and reality of our walk with Jesus that we will never see realised until we understand the whole of Jesus’ message. Salvation is a gift of God that comes only through the sacrifice of Jesus, but those who want to come after Him and go where He goes must learn to also pick up their cross and follow Him.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matt 16:24.)
It is my hope that this booklet addresses what it is to walk with God. The message contained within here is never going to be popular, and neither will it attract large crowds to our churches or make us successful in the eyes of man. However, for those who are willing to lay down their lives to follow Him, the reward will not be counted by the riches of the world, but will be the far greater treasure of simply knowing and loving Him.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” Matt 5:3
The message of Jesus
For years the Israelites had been waiting for a saviour who would be their king and to lead them to freedom from Roman occupation. When that man came there were few who recognised Him, even from within His chosen people. In fact, not only was He not recognised, it was the Israelites themselves who encouraged Jesus’ torture and death. This may seem amazing to us today, but if Jesus returned to us now in the same way, many Christians still would not recognise Him or His authority.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23.)
The religious leaders who were established in God’s name found Jesus to be an affront to them and a threat to their positions. They were looking for a messiah who would come and do what they desired, setting Israel up as an independent nation again that was free from Roman rule. Instead, when Jesus came He came to establish the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom built upon God’s will rather than man’s. Jesus’ message of becoming the least, of returning our hearts to God and of seeking Him offended the Israelite teachers of the time. They had neither the heart nor the humility to understand that what Jesus came to establish was not the earthly kingdom that they were anticipating. Far from being a king who would secure their positions of power, He was a man who threatened it.
Nobody was expecting the messiah to be born in the humble circumstances of a stable, and Jesus’ birth went quite unnoticed by the religious authorities. Only those who were actively seeking Him understood who it was being born that day amongst the livestock. Equally, today some of the most powerful movements of God are being birthed in similarly inauspicious places, unnoticed by much of the church, whereas many of the grandest and most professional ministries that have the attention of the church carry very little of Jesus Himself.
John the Baptist was a man who had consecrated his life to following God, even though it looked strange to the outside world, and he was one of those who recognised Jesus.
“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:26-34.)
Due to the relationship that John had with God, he recognised where many others did not whom the Spirit was upon, and knew that Jesus was the one that God was sending.
It is easy to make Jesus’ message reflect our own opinions. This explains why Jesus has so many different branches and denominations that follow Him. These movements all believe that they are following Jesus, and yet some have completely contrasting views on who He is. The danger is that If we do not learn to follow Jesus His way and on His terms, we will soon build a god in our own image, created out of our own ideas of what God should be to follow instead. We may call this god Jesus, and yet he will bear little resemblance to the truth of who Jesus really is.
The gospel (literally the “good news,”) that Jesus proclaimed was the message that we can be reconciled with God through the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus did not come to justify our behaviour in the world, but rather to call us out of it that we may follow Him.
“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19.)
The gospel sets us apart in order that our lives might instead be found in God. Our hope, joy and pleasure is to be found in the kingdom of God and in serving Jesus. Every Christian is called to reflect this living gospel. Whilst still living in the world, we are to be a separate and holy people, looking to and sustained by a holy God. No one who lives in the reality of the gospel and in that place of reconciliation with God lives amongst the world like others do. A person reconciled with Christ will reflect Him not just by using His name, but by demonstrating His heart, His character and His authority.
This reconciliation cannot happen without genuine repentance in our lives and an active turning away from our own ways towards God. The word “repentance” is a word that has sometimes been abused by the church, and as a reaction against this many churches are now reluctant to use it for fear of being associated with its negative connotations. However, repentance was central to the message of John the Baptist, the Apostles and of Jesus Himself. We cannot accurately represent the Gospel without laying the foundation of repentance in our lives.
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”” (Matt 4:17.)
Repentance is the bedrock of the life of any Christian. Repentance is true humility, an admission of our wrongfulness, from which place we can embrace God’s goodness. Far from being negative, I believe that “repentance” is a positive and life-changing word. When we repent, we change the direction of our lives from us and our ways, and instead we build it upon Jesus and His ways. If we neither teach nor live this change of direction, then we will never abide in the truth of the kingdom of God. If repentance is not a daily part of our lives we will merely take on the name of Jesus without producing the reality of who He is.
One of the biggest issues in the body of Christ is a lack of humility to realise that our ideas are not enough. Our heart is not enough, our works are not enough, and whatever we try to build, no matter how impressive it may look, it is not enough. An unrepentant church will only ever reflect the glory of man, but a person who lays repentance as a foundation of their life will allow Him to work through them. Such a person will produce a fruit that far outweighs any work of man.
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Matt 3:8.)
In its desire to attract people to its works, much of the church has ceased to live in, or even teach the message of the gospel. The message that Jesus spoke about us leaving our lives behind to follow Him has been distorted to one of Jesus coming to make us happier in our own lives without there being any cost to pay. We no longer humble ourselves before Him, but rather we “accept Him into our life,” as if Jesus should be grateful that we allow Him in. Jesus has been reduced to the role of a fairy godmother who exists merely to grant our wishes, to satisfy our desires and to make life comfortable for us. Most prayer requests are simply requests that we will have our will done or get what we want. Although Jesus does indeed come and give us real joy and peace, that does not come from His justifying our self-seeking lives, rather it comes from His calling us out of our lives and living our lives in Him. We find His life by leaving our own lives, picking up our cross and following Him.
We cannot simply add God or Christianity onto who we already are. Jesus did not come simply to give us tips on how to achieve our goals, He came with the message of the kingdom. He should not be reduced to the role of merely being an addition to our existing lives, instead He becomes our life.
“Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” (John 3:3.)
The phrase “born again” is used so much in church we have forgotten the meaning behind it. Being born again means that we give up everything of who we are before we meet God, every idea, every ambition and every desire and we fix our hearts and eyes upon Him alone. We become like little children, helpless in ourselves looking only towards our Father. As we see and learn to follow Jesus, we grow up into Him. Any earthly child when raised by a parent will take on the character and the values of that parent. When we are fathered by Jesus, we will mature into His heart and His character, but we will never experience His parenthood until we learn to come to Him in a state of humility and brokenness. Only when we realise and admit our sinfulness can we embrace His righteousness.
“Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:5-6.)
So many churches are focused upon pursing their own programme whilst giving lip service to Jesus, when instead He should be both our purpose and our programme. For those who merely take on the culture and teaching of Christianity, all He will ever be is an addition to our already established lives. For those who are born again, however, He becomes our life. It is undeniable that some of the church needs to become born again as much as the world does.
Without the gospel at its centre, the church no longer reflects Jesus and merely replicates the world, all be it in Jesus’ name. The church is called to represent God and His kingdom, and yet if we do not learn to follow Him, we lose that which makes us extraordinary. The beauty of the church will never be realised by living in our own abilities, it will only ever be seen by living in and reflecting Jesus. Far from calling people higher to God from out of the world, without the truth of Him, the church becomes reduced to the role of merely doing good works by its own strength and its own understanding.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” (Matt 5:13.)
In John 4, Jesus meets with a Samaritan woman. Jesus was happy to sit with people who nobody else would, such as prostitutes and tax collectors. However, His demonstration of love never ends with merely sympathising with people because of their circumstances. He does not just come into our situation, but calls us out of it that we would follow Him. Jesus spoke into the Samaritan woman’s life, confronting her adultery and calling her to a higher place. In John 8, Jesus rescues another woman from being stoned. Although Jesus refuses to condemn her, He does tell her to leave her life of sin, (John 8:11.) Jesus would eat and socialise with people that the religious authorities would never go near, but at the same time He did not become one of them. In His sitting with sinners, He was not trying to make himself acceptable to their standards. When He comes to us in our sin, it is not to justify our actions or to become one of us, it is always to call us higher into what God has for us.
Religious people may well refuse to go near sinners, condemning them out of a sense of self-righteousness. As a reaction against that un-Christ like attitude, other parts of the church have gone to the other extreme by not only sitting with sinners, but trying to be accepted by them on their terms, becoming like them in an attempt to prove how relevant they are. Jesus did neither of these things. From a place of holiness, He calls us out of our sin and into the kingdom of God. He is both salt and light to the world, demonstrating the goodness and righteousness of God to a sinful world. He came amongst us yet never became one of us, keeping Himself holy to His Father, and by doing so making a way for us to follow Him out of the darkness and into the light.
“Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19.)
His purpose becomes the purpose of all who would come after Him. To abide in His righteousness and represent His love, glory and power to a fallen world.
Counting the Cost
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:28-33.)
Jesus never cheapened the message of following Him, and He never tried to make it more acceptable to people in order to attract followers. He knew that the only life worth living was found in God, but He also understood that there was a price to pay to have that life. Jesus clearly stated that to be His disciple and to follow Him costs our entire lives.
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24.)
The church quite rightfully preaches that we cannot work for our salvation and that it is a gift from God. Nothing that we can do can earn what Jesus has paid for. It is only by His love and His grace that we are forgiven of our sins allowing us to be reconciled with Him. The revelation of His grace that has come to the church is a correction from a time when it taught that salvation can be bought or earned, and it is a vital correction to have. However, like all truths of God, without the balance of understanding the whole of Jesus’ message, His words have often been distorted to mean that there is no responsibility on our part, and that everything of God is free and without cost.
I have witnessed over many years how people do not value that which comes to them for free. A person will willingly pay and put themselves out for something that their hearts genuinely desire, but that which has no cost is not valued. The gospel that is sometimes preached today is a cheap one with no price to pay, and hence it is not valued by the people who receive it. Because it is sold to people cheaply, there is little faithfulness to the message or value attached to it. People tend to come to church or follow God if it suits their purposes and while there is something in it for them. As soon as something is said or done that is not on their terms they will leave and try something or somewhere else. We will do God while it suits us up to the point where it fits in with us and what we really want from life.
This cheap gospel preaches that we can accept Jesus without any change in our lives. It teaches that Jesus will meet us wherever we are, (which is true,) but crucially, and contrary to Jesus’ message, it does not require that we leave our circumstances to follow Him. This gospel states that we can live however we want and do whatever pleases us and Jesus will follow us around to bless us and justify us. The cheap gospel is easy to accept as we do not have to pay a price for it, but is equally easy to discard when it suits us.
This misrepresentation of what Jesus taught is the result of a world where everything is orientated around us. Western society as whole is becoming increasingly centred around the idea of “self” and of placing our own desires above all else. We reinforce that is our duty to put ourselves first, and anything that does not indulge our sense of self is a threat. If our marriage is not all about what we want we are encouraged to leave it. Our “me time” is always put first, even at the cost of our children. Conversely, whilst we are taught that it is all about us, our children are equally being taught that life is all about them, leading to generations that only understand what it is to be indulged by others but never to serve. Biblical concepts such as faithfulness, humility and serving are not only ignored in society, but are actually considered offensive. Anything that contradicts the idea of “us” is regarded as a heresy because the immediate desires of our own hearts is regarded as the most important value in our lives. People even rate the quality of a pastor by how much they indulge us. Self has become the new god, and this increasing worship of ourselves is a symptom of the increase of sin in the world as we move further away from God.
“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.” (2 Tim 3:1-5.)
At its core, sin is about us before God. The more sin increases the more we chase our own temporal desires and the more fragmented our society becomes. We have a world with a crisis of broken and dysfunctional families and lives all because we are taught to pursue our own desires rather than give up our desires to follow God.
“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” (Prov 14:12.)
A church which compromises Jesus’ message and embraces the world’s will reflect the culture of the world far more than it does the kingdom. The sense of entitlement that the world has is now equally strong in the church. The easiest way to build a church is to appeal to the desires of the people and to give them what they want, and many of our churches are built on the principal of keeping people happy rather than of serving God. The cheap gospel encourages this belief that we are more important than God.
As a consequence of this misrepresentation of the Gospel, we are left with a church with little of the reality of Jesus. It may use His name, but it does not carry His character, power or heart. By using Jesus’ name without actually following Him, the church merely becomes a counterfeit of what it should be. It has words about Him, but it doesn’t have Him. We can disguise the lack of the reality of God by a veneer of professionalism and man ordained works such the use of multimedia and performance driven worship. By using the methods of the world, we can attract people to our churches and build what appears to be a successful ministry. However, this attraction will merely be to the image of Christianity that is presented to us, not to Jesus. Only Jesus Himself represents the whole truth of who He is, and it is only by a direct and personal relationship that we will know all aspects of His character. The true church will always point directly to Him, and its shepherds will only lead the people to God, not to themselves or their own ministry. Such a church will teach that we must follow Him, and at its centre will be His gospel.
I believe that the church and the goodness that comes out of it should be the heart of our societies, and yet it is increasingly marginalised, disrespected and mocked by the world. The world recognises when the church is reflecting the real Jesus. It knows if we merely have empty words and powerless religion, but it will also recognise when we carry Jesus’ true authority. A church that follows Jesus may be hated by the world, (and even by other Christians,) but it will also be respected for the honour and the truth that it carries. That which it carries will bring life to those who will humble themselves before God but it will also bring a threat to the positions of the proud and to those who would seek to set themselves up against God. The true church will be both hated and loved, but one thing it will never be is an irrelevance.
The cost of following Jesus can be measured by the depth of our obedience to God.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15.)
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3.)
“Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 3;24.)
As these verses and many others make clear, it is not possible to love Jesus nor to claim to know Him without being obedient to His word. As we have rightfully taught that salvation is through faith alone and cannot be earned, we have neglected so much of the teaching of God that states that although we are saved by faith, true faith will always lead into obedience.
“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.
You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.”
We are not saved by works, but obedience to God and a love of His commandments will always flow out of our salvation if it is genuine.
“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (1 John 2:3-6.)
The Bible does not pull any punches when it states in 1 John 2 that whoever claims to know God and yet does not obey His commands is a liar. I have a rule that has grown out of witnessing the behaviour of people, and that is to never listen to the words that people tell you if you want to understand them, only look at what they do. There is a saying that talk is cheap, and there is a great deal of truth in this. To tell a person what they want to hear involves no cost at all. It is easy to gain favour or to please people or even ourselves by saying what we believe will please others. Most people are taken in by this, it costs us nothing to do and It is a great way of getting on somebody’s side without having to pay any personal cost. However, to really understand what someone believes, we must look at their behaviour, at what they dedicate their time to and at what they sacrifice for. The actions that a person takes will demonstrate what is really in their heart.
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:21.)
The words of many of us are devalued because there is not always the behaviour behind them to give them their value. Without actions, our words are empty and worthless. I believe that the words that come out of the mouths of Christians should be valuable as they contain the truth backed up by our deeds, but unfortunately this is not always the case. I remember a secular business man telling me that he would avoid doing work for churches because they were the ones from whom he had the most trouble getting payment at the end of a job. A cheap gospel in turn leads to a cheap and valueless church which neither lives in nor loves the truth.
As true as this is in our relationships with each other, it is even more true in our relationship with God. To tell God that we love Him or to put our hands up in a service to say that we want to be saved is something that requires no cost. Having Jesus “come into our lives,” is something that is sold to us as a deal where God will come and give us everything that we want on our terms and with no cost. This is not the gospel that Jesus preached. He said that it is our responsibility to follow Him on His terms whatever that may cost us, and it is upon this principal that our churches should be built. Words are all that the cheap gospel requires of us, whereas Jesus stated that He does not require words but our whole lives if we are to follow Him.
‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46.)
The Holy Spirit works through people who are genuinely working in unity and obedience with God. When such a person preaches or teaches, their words carry an authority behind them that comes from His Spirit. A person who is God’s vessel and who allows Him to talk through them has a power in what they say as the Spirit uses them. This leads to a transformation in people’s lives. Such a person is someone who follows and obeys God to the point where He can use them to do His work. Their words aren’t just information that they have learned intellectually, but they bring life. Those who merely learn about God and reiterate the information they have picked up may teach the truth, but it does not carry any life-changing power behind it, they are merely dry words. When our churches are full of people simply repeating information without that information coming out of experience and revelation of Him, the value of the word of God is decreased because it carries little authority. As a result, our churches may contain understanding of God but little of Him. Knowledge is good in itself, but the word of God is so much more powerful than mere instruction.
I remember watching a documentary about World War Two where it explained that the Germans flooded England with counterfeit money to try to crash England’s economy. The documentary explained that the notes that the Germans produced were identical in every way to the English ones. Whilst watching this, I wondered why, if the Germans produced identical notes to the British, that it wasn’t considered real currency as there was no difference between the two. As I was thinking on this, God spoke to me and said that although both currencies were exactly the same, they had different authorities behind them. The money that the English produced carried the authority of the English state, whereas the currency the Germans produced carried a counterfeit authority that pretended to be English, but in reality, it did not hold any real authority. This is how it is with the word of God. To state the words of God or to teach information about Him is easy. Anyone can spend time learning all there is to know about God and then reproduce that information. However, just because we have His words, it does not mean that we have His authority. God’s authority only comes when He is authorising the words, when they are in line with Him and what He is doing.
To give Him our lives means that we give ourselves over to obeying Him. This means that we obey His word as written in the Bible, but more than that, if we are to truly obey Him we must give ourselves over to seeking His heart. We cannot obey somebody who we do not know. If we are serious about following Him we must also be serious about seeking Him, His heart and His will. We need to become people who chase Him and what He desires. A person or a church that is genuinely interested in following Him will devote themselves to pursuing Him.
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Prov 8:17.)
Often our churches are so busy in their activity that very little, if any time is spent seeking God. The church programme is habitually established independently of Him. We cannot possibly do what He is doing if we do not know what that is. If our lives and the lives of our churches are not based upon searching His heart and His desire, the works that we do will not be His works but ours. A person who converts in name only may spend a lot of time doing impressive looking works, but these will simply be acts of religion. The person who genuinely turns to God in their heart and with their lives will give everything that they have to seek and to know Him. Out of this relationship, true works that are in unity with Him will follow. This is the obedience that God is looking for.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” (John 10:27.)
Jesus stated that one of the hallmarks of being His sheep is that we know His voice. Not only will we know His voice, but we will follow it. God’s sheep are not defined by the fact that they take on the label of being a Christian, but by whether they hear and follow His voice. To obey Him, we must first hear Him and learn what is His voice and what is not. The sheep will know Him over every other voice that fills our day, and the sheep will follow whatever that voice commands.
Neither words nor works mean anything if they are not the work of Him in our lives. We can talk about God and yet be separate from Him, and we can also do what we presume are the works of God without Him, but the person who is really committed to following Him will give everything not simply to do works, but to know and follow Him.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” (Matt 13:44.)
In the Bible, we read a few different accounts of people asking Jesus what will it take to follow Him. To one man He said to give all his wealth away (Matt 19:21,) to another He said to not bury his father, (Luke 9:60,) and to yet another he said to leave his family entirely, (Luke 9:62.) The cost that each of us will have to pay in order that we follow Him will be different according to the calling upon our lives and what Jesus wants of us. Without first learning to seek God and develop a relationship with Him we will never hear what He is asking of us. There are certain things God has asked of me that I would never teach as a rule to other people, because what He asks of me is specific to where I am and to where I need to go. To follow Him has cost me everything, my credibility, worldly success, financial stability, and areas of my life which people wouldn’t even begin to understand. To follow Him has quite cost me everything of the world. Every time He has told me to sacrifice, the reward that I have received back has not been in terms of money or other earthly compensation, but it has simply been to be closer to Him and to know Him more. This is the treasure of the kingdom of God which Jesus states people will sell everything to gain. The worldly sacrifices that God has asked me to make have resulted in nothing more than seeing Him more clearly and understanding His kingdom in a deeper way. Those who are going to follow Him are trading their lives on this earth for the sake of pursuing His kingdom.
Unfaithful Judah and Faithless Israel
“The LORD said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” (Jer 3:11.)
Throughout history, God has sent prophets to His people calling their hearts back to Him. One of these prophets was Jeremiah.
Towards the end of Solomon’s reign, because of his unfaithfulness to God’s command, God declared that He would split Israel into two separate nations, (1 Kings 11:11-13.) Sure enough, during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam there was a rebellion in Israel and it split into two separate nations. Israel in the north was made up of 10 of the tribes of Israel, and Judah in the south consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
There were important differences between Judah and Israel spiritually. Israel had 19 kings, all of them wicked. They set up thrones to Baal (1 Kings 12) They were weak, and idolatry was rampant. God sent them prophets, notably Elijah and Elisha, to warn them to repent, but they refused and hence they were taken into captivity by Assyria (721bc, II Kings 17.)
Judah on the other hand kept the religion of the Israelites. It was initially governed by Rehoboam, and as such was a continuation of the house of David. The kingdom of Judah contained Jerusalem where the temple still operated as it had in the days of Solomon. They still held to the Hebrew religion, and in theory they continued to worship God. Despite this “faith,” they had mainly bad kings (with the occasional exception,) and in 586bc they were captured by the Babylonians. Although they kept to their religious practices, they did not obey God with their heart and were every bit as sinful as the non-religious Israel. It was to Judah that both Jeremiah and Isaiah were sent as prophets.
Out of these two nations, one completely turned its back on God and the other kept up its religious activity by using God’s name and claiming to be His followers. Yet between them, God called the nation without faith, Israel, more righteous than the nation that still practiced the worship of God but was unfaithful in its heart, Judah.
God describes these two nations differently. Israel is pronounced as faithless. Israel had no faith, it did not pretend to know God and it had no care for His ways. The path that Israel was on led to her destruction. When a nation denies God there are always consequences, but God was not angry with the people, He simply wanted them to repent for their sake because He knew where their path would lead.
Judah on the other hand was the nation that still gave lip service to God. God called it unfaithful, and it was this unfaithful nation, rather than the faithless nation, that felt God’s anger. Although Judah still worshipped the true God, the kings of Judah, (with a couple of exceptions,) were just as bad as the rulers of Israel. The Judean people worshiped God in deed only. They claimed to know the living God, yet they were not faithful to Him and their hearts did not desire Him.
“The people worship me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is made up of rules made by man” (Is 29:13.)
These two nations still exist today. The world neither knows, nor pretends to know God. It is acting in the manner that a people who reject God is expected to. Contrary to what has sometimes been taught, God is not looking to bring wrath upon the world, but to save it (John 3:17.). God wants to see the world repent, not out of anger but out of love for it. When Jesus came, He did demonstrate God’s wrath, yet this was not against the world but against the religious hypocrisy of those who used His name and His temple incorrectly. The world will always be the world, but His people are called to circumcise their hearts for Him alone.
Out of the 10 commandments that God gave Moses in Exodus 20, the first three deal with our relationship with the holy God. The third of these commandments states, “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Ex 20:7.)
God’s name is holy, and it is important that we understand this if we are to serve Him correctly. Being sinful as part of the world is obviously wrong, but sinning by using His name is something that God will hold us to account for. We are called to represent His name and His authority as the powerful and beautiful thing that it is, but when we misuse His name it reflects upon how the world sees Him. This is why we saw Jesus reflect God’s anger against the religious authorities but not the world, and this explains why faithless Israel was more righteous than unfaithful Judah.
Seeking and Finding
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13.)
It is commonly asked by Christians, “what is God’s will for my life?” I believe that all Christians should be so rooted in Jesus that we know who we are and what He is calling us into, but the fact that there is so much uncertainty reveals a church with a lack depth of relationship with God and what He is saying to us. Jesus is The Rock, (Matt 21:44,) and a life that is built upon Him can never be shaken or blown off-course. As true as this is, there is little evidence of this being a reality in the lives of a lot of Christians. The reason for this lack of knowledge of God and of ourselves is our shortcoming in understanding the full message of the gospel and the impact that this gospel should have upon our churches.
Because we have been sold a cheap version of the gospel where we do not have to follow Jesus and He only comes to bless us where we are, many people try to make God or Christianity an addition onto their own lives. Consequently, the prayers of the people are to make their own will happen in some area, usually involving getting what they want for their lives. These prayers are often unanswered because it is not what God is doing, and discouragement soon sets into the Christian’s life.
To seek God is not to ask for an addition to our existing life, but to abandon our lives to find Him. To seek God, we must come to Him with no agenda. He Himself is the agenda, and He is the answer. I have based my life upon seeking His heart, and as I come to Him with no agenda in worship and submission, He begins to tell me His agenda. He gives me revelation and shows me what He is doing. I have literally had to leave my life in order to pursue Him and go where He is going. The decisions that I have made seem like utter foolishness even to most of the church, and yet it Is in those decisions that I have found Him and grown closer to Him. These decisions they have come at great cost to what I have in the world, but the things I ask Him for are not the things of the flesh, but the things of Him. I appeal to know Him more, to see Him, to understand Him, and He has never refused these prayers.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?” (Luke 11:11.)
In Him is the fullness of the kingdom, and it is our job to pursue that. All my physical needs have been met without my asking. Wherever He tells me to go there has been provision without my begging God or having to manipulate people. He naturally provides in what He is doing, and yet we spend so much effort trying to get God to provide for what we are doing. Anything that we do that is of Him will naturally be sustained by Him, but that which we build ourselves can only be sustained by our own methods.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matt 6:33.)
The understanding of what it is to seek God is missing from the lives of so many Christians and their churches. A church that is not built on Him will not need to seek Him, it will merely ask God to bless what they are doing. It will give lip service to God and make prayers to Him, but never really seek Him. The life of the person or church that genuinely wants to follow God, though, will be consumed with a passion and a desire to know and to follow Him wherever He is going. This is what it is to follow Jesus.
This is a lesson that the Israelites had to learn in Exodus. As they were led into the wilderness, God led them by a pillar of fire at night and a cloud of smoke during the day.
“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” (Ex 13:21-22.)
Once the Israelites had left Egypt, they had no direction and no purpose except for the presence of God. As they sought Him and established a tabernacle to sacrifice to Him and honour Him, He led the way with His presence. His presence guides His followers today in the same way. He is the direction. Again, we do not ask Him His will for our lives so much as we abandon our lives to follow Him, following His presence and seeking His face. When He stops, we stop, when He moves, we move. All this is impossible and alien to us if we do not cultivate an intimate relationship with God. Following Him must become the purpose of every Christian’s life.
The Narrow Path
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:13-14.)
It is a sobering thought that few find the narrow path and the small gate that leads to life. In Luke 6:46, Jesus addresses His people, saying that many will come to Him calling Him “Lord,” and yet He will not even know who they are. Although not explicitly stated, I believe that the above verse in Matthew 7 is also directly addressing Christians rather than the world.
Many people wonder why it is that God makes it so hard to find Him and why He doesn’t just reveal Himself to us all. In truth, God wants to make it hard to find Him. He is looking for those who will sacrifice everything of the world to chase after Him. There will be a time when every eye will see Him and all will bow down to Him, yet that time is not yet here. Now is a time for those who would give all from within the world to find Him.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13.)
The narrow path is purposely obscured from our view, and the only way that we will be able to stay on it is by looking directly at Jesus and following Him. It is so easy to get distracted not only by the cares of the world but also by the things that God is doing. Everything that Jesus does and produces is good, yet it cannot be our focus at the expense of our vision of Him. If we are to walk on His path we must keep our eyes upon Him even as He gives us His work or His gifts. It is by chasing the things of Him that people are deceived into thinking that they are following Him, when in fact He does not even know who they are.
One example of this is politics. I believe that it is correct that we speak truth into the worldly authorities about what is good and what is wrong, but we must do that from being in a position of unity with Jesus. As soon as we step out of Jesus to fight political battles, even if what we are fighting for is right, we are walking away from Him. Just as every soldier must be connected to the chain of command, all true ministers learn to live in and to remain in God, concerned only about His will. Even Jesus said that He only ever did what he saw His father doing, (John 5:19.) From that position of being seated with Christ, we can walk in His authority and speak to both the world and the church with His words.
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4.)
If we are to produce His fruit, we must learn to abide in Him. When we attempt to do His works without remaining in Him we fall into religious activity and off the path of life. The ministries of the church; the pastors, prophets, apostles, teachers and shepherds all exist to point people directly to Jesus and to teach them to abide in Him. Jesus must be the sole focus of our churches if what we produce is going to be good fruit.
We must also understand how to minister to God. It is not enough that we learn, talk or sing about God, the body must connect directly with the Head. We must worship him directly, giving Him the sacrifice of our lives and hearts.
It is only by directly connecting directly to Him in worship and learning to abide in Him that we will find the narrow path and the small gate that is missed by so many. Jesus alone is the way, the truth and the life, (John 14:6,) and the path of life is found only in Him. His kingdom is rooted in the King and it is only by embracing His authority that we will walk with the King himself.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Romans 12:1.)
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Ps 51:16-17.)
Wrestling with God
“That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” The man asked him, “What is your name?” “Jacob,” he answered. Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there” (Gen 32:22-29.)
The story of Jacob is an interesting one. The man who would later be called Israel and father of God’s people did not start his walk with God as a righteous man, but as a liar and a cheater. In fact, many of our Biblical heroes begin their calling as people with flawed characters. Esau, Jacob’s older twin brother, was a “a skilful hunter, a man of the open country,” (Gen 25:27,) whereas Jacob was content to stay at home in the tents. Esau was the alpha male, the strong, capable and reliable son. For that, he had his father Isaac’s love. We would expect the older and stronger sibling to be the person whom God would choose to lead his nation, but God does not select people according to their strength or even their morality, but according to their heart.
“But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 6:7.)
Jacob tricked Isaac into giving him his inheritance over Esau. It may seem amazing to us that God would allow His blessing to fall upon somebody who lied to get it, and yet there was a significant difference between Jacob and Esau. What separated them was not their morality or strength, but their desire for God.
Esau gave his inheritance away for a bowl of food (Gen 25.) He was more occupied with satisfying himself than with his inheritance. He spent his days hunting for flesh in the fields, only concerned with his own pleasure. Jacob on the other hand did not care about hunting or eating, but for the inheritance and blessing that his father had. Although he obtained it by deception, he was prepared to pay any cost to attain it.
In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God for his blessing. He was prepared to struggle with God until he received that which God had. Jacob’s hunger was not for the food of this world, but for God. God recognises the desire in Jacob to overcome the world that he might gain Him, and in turn God blesses Jacob and renames him Israel (Literally meaning “triumphant with God.”)
“for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4.)
God does not look for the most perfect amongst us in terms of our external behaviour, but He examines our heart. The hallmark of every true person of God is that they will hunger after Him, abandoning everything they have to get hold of God. These are the people that God chooses to do His work. God chose David for the same reason, saying, “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13:22.)
Jacob did not come away from his struggle with God unharmed. In the fight he damaged his hip, and the reality is that anybody who desires God will pick up spiritual scars from where they have had to overcome. We will never achieve everything that we are called to if we live in our own safety and security, we will only gain Jesus when we leave our lives behind to chase Him.
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt 4:1.)
Many of the people in the Bible with a heart to follow God and a calling in their lives were led into wildernesses. In Exodus, the Israelites had their own wilderness experience, as did Moses, Paul and most importantly, Jesus.
The wilderness experience is a part of the cost of following Jesus. The wilderness is designed to shape and mould us into true followers of Christ. Contrary to popular belief, wilderness times are not necessarily when things are going wrong or are hard from us. The struggles we have in our lives sometimes come from our obedience to God as he pushes us, but they are equally likely to be a result of our disobedience towards God. Neither of these things automatically mean that we are in a wilderness.
Wildernesses are defined by the fact that they are places of isolation. In a wilderness, there is nobody but you and God, and there is no one to rely upon but Him. They are a place where we have nothing of ourselves or others, and can only learn from God and receive what He has for us. Wildernesses are special times in our walk with God, and yet few people experience real wildernesses because they are something that the Spirit leads us into, and we must choose whether we are going to follow.
We can see in Matthew 4 that the wilderness did not just happen to Jesus, it was a place that He was actively led to by following the Holy Spirit. The reality of following God is that He sometimes leads us to places where nobody else is going. Most people in the church are driven towards what they see as success and to where they think they will gain the most for themselves, but those following the Spirit will at some point be led to places where there is no one and nothing to rely upon but Him, away from the crowds or from those who have the appearance of success. To follow Jesus to these places must be a choice, and those who are hungry for Him will embrace that opportunity at the cost of all else. People who are driven by the flesh will always miss the call into the wilderness as wildernesses look like foolishness to man and will never satisfy any part of our flesh. However, those who seek Jesus will not chase after the comfort of man but the call of the Spirit.
Whenever Jesus has called me to follow Him into wildernesses, I have often had to leave success in the world and the church behind. Several years ago, I ran a successful business and ministry school. One day while praying in the office, God showed me a vision of where He wanted me to go and worship. To do so meant leaving everything behind. I closed the business and ministry school, and my wife and I went to the place where God showed us to worship Him. In my naivety, I assumed that others would join me, but I soon realised that that place had been set aside for us to worship, pray and seek His face. God led us out of a comfortable life of ministry and financial stability to be only a minister to God alone. In the years that we have been worshiping there, God has changed us both beyond measure. Every week we travel across the country to the very centre of England to worship Him, and without fail we hear from Him and are changed by Him. There have been many times when I have wanted to stop going and get back into “proper” ministry with a steady income and people to minister to, and yet God talks to me so clearly whenever I am tempted by a return to professional ministry. His Spirit in me convicts me whenever I try to cease worshiping in that place to do something else that I must always give into Him. I am sure that from the outside what we do looks ridiculous or a failure to the church, and yet the spiritual blessings, the reality of Jesus, the fruit in the lives of our family is so strong there is nowhere else I would rather be despite my times of complaining to God about my situation. My wife and I still worship and pray there with a few others, and it may be the case that that is all we will do for the rest of our lives.
In these years, I have been tempted by ministry jobs, drawn by the offers of man and the comfort of steady employment and easy success, yet the Spirit always draws me back to being a nothing in the empty hall where we worship Him.
Temptation is also a part of the wilderness experience. As we are called by the Spirit to leave the world behind, the temptation to stop following God and to accept the ease of the world is very real. When you have nothing because you have chosen to leave it behind, the temptation to go back into the world can be very hard to resist. Indeed, most of the church would consider you a fool for not accepting the easy path, because they assume that if something is easy and successful then it must be God’s blessing. It is true that sometimes God does bless us with success, but at other times success is not a blessing but a snare that does not come from God. Only those who know and follow His Spirit will discern the difference.
“But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matt 7:14.)
Jesus was sent into the wilderness specifically to be tempted by Satan. It was Jesus’ destiny to be the lord of the whole world, and yet the path to achieving that was a path that meant being hated by man and suffering to the point of death. His path to victory meant being detested by God’s chosen people, and even being abandoned by most of His followers.
“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”” (Matt 4: 8-9.)
At this time, Satan was the prince of the earth, (John 12:31,) and had the authority to give Jesus everything that he was destined to inherit from His father. To be given the kingdoms of the world in this manner would have involved no cost and no sacrifice. Everything that God wanted Him to have He could have, and yet it would not be gained God’s way but Satan’s, and under his authority. This was the biggest temptation that Jesus faced. Satan’s offer made so much more sense in the flesh. Here was a way that Jesus could still attain everything, and we all know that if something comes easily it must be God, right? Yet Jesus knew that it was not about the obtaining of His inheritance, but about his obedience, humility and submission to His Father. There is no one with more honour, glory and authority in the kingdom of Heaven than Jesus, and yet whilst upon the earth He achieved very little in the eyes of the world, so little that most people would have considered Him a failure.
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt 20:16.)
Jesus achieved all that He achieved because He was following the will of His Father alone. He followed His Father into the wilderness, into crowds and also away from crowds in the right season. Ultimately, Jesus followed God to His torture and death. The humanity in Jesus battled against what He knew he had to do on the cross, and yet His perfect submission to the Father’s will was demonstrated in His obedience even to the point of death.
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:6-11.)
“Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2Cor 7:1.)
The concept of holiness, as with many other aspects of what God commands, is sometimes misused within the church to try to force religion upon people legalistically. Just like the teaching of repentance and sin, still other parts of the church have moved away from teaching about holiness because of the damage that it has been seen to do. Some may no longer teach holiness because of the unpopularity of the message; preaching about setting ourselves aside for God is never going to attract large numbers of people to a ministry. However, I believe that a return to genuine holiness will be at the centre of a coming move of God which will see the church transformed from what it is now.
True holiness is a decision of the heart to set ourselves aside from the world that we might chase the glory of God. It is a determination to follow and obey Him no matter the cost, and it is an intrinsic part of the life of those who choose to follow Him.
The desire for holiness comes from God Himself. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and gives us that passion to follow Jesus, (John 16:8.) To want to follow God at personal cost is completely contrary to the heart of man and can only come from that which He does within us. Genuine conviction may come through hearing an anointed sermon or reading a book written by person who has been used by the Spirit, but man cannot use his own force of will to manufacture holiness in somebody else or to make them to follow God by religious rules. It is too easy for the preaching of holiness to become method where man tries to build the church by his own flesh. Using such methodology soon becomes very damaging for people.
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matt 23:25.)
The movement of holiness that is coming upon the church will not come about by man trying to make the outside of the cup clean by imposing rules, but by men and women of God circumcising their hearts before God and dedicating themselves to following Him regardless of the cost. It is from the heart that a true desire to follow Him and to serve Him must come from. This movement will see a transformation in what the church is. The church will become centred around seeking, knowing and following Jesus. People who come from such churches will carry real love and power as they walk the world clothed in His holiness and in submission to His will. Such a church will never be seen as an irrelevance by the world, but it will be both loved and feared as something that carries the authority of God.
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chon 7:14.)
This move of God is not a new or a radical idea, it was ordained by God to be the foundation of how His people met when He established His temple though Solomon. In 2 Chronicles 7:14, God consecrates His temple making it clear that it is to be a place where His people call on His name, humble themselves, repent and seek His face. The promises of the Old Testament are not replaced by Jesus, but they are fulfilled by Him, (Matt 5:17,). God no longer lives in a house made by human hands, (Acts 7:48,) but He dwells inside His people, and we make up His temple, (1 Cor 6:19.) The same challenge and promise is upon us to seek his face, repent and pray if we are to see Him heal our land.
Fear of the Lord.
“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1.)
2 Corinthians 7:1 states that being in fear of God brings our holiness to completion. Fear of the Lord is something that is regularly talked about in the Bible, and yet is missing from many of our lives and churches. There is a wrong way to fear God, which perhaps is why this aspect of how we relate to God is rarely talked about, but there is also a right way to fear Him. Fear of the lord is not living our lives in, or trying to create in other people’s lives, fear of punishment or damnation. Correct fear of the lord is more positive than we may initially envisage.
The Hebrew verb for fear in this context is “yare,” which means to fear in a reverential context. It is to be in awe of God, to exalt who He is and His will. Such fear of God is the completion of holiness, because when we understand who He is, our hearts and our desires will only ever be to serve Him however we can. When we come face to face with Him in true worship, we can have no thought for ourselves or our own desires, we will only care about Him and His will.
When we are in awe of who He is and His goodness, we will understand the cost of disobedience and we will desire to follow Him more perfectly. Our fear is the fear of being outside of His will, knowing His ways to be perfect. Without a reverential wonder of who He is we will have an irreverent attitude towards Him and towards serving Him. If we do not fear Him, we will be happy to operate outside of Him and outside of His will, chasing our own desires and schemes. If we do not fear who He is we will happily attach His name to what we are doing as we will not respect His name for what it is. Fearing Him in its truest sense means that we will always be looking to put Him first and to serve Him above everything.
“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc 12:13.)
There are so many aspects to Jesus’ character that it takes a lifetime of seeking to even begin to understand them all, especially when they seemingly contradict each other on the surface. When we are young in Christ we generally understand one aspect of His character over other aspects, and there is a danger that if we are not discipled properly we in turn will minister to others only representing one part of who Jesus is. This in turn leads to a church that is unbalanced and unrepresentative of the real Jesus. Jesus is the God whom we should fear, but He is also our friend, He is the lion and the lamb, a warrior as well as the Prince of Peace.
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (john 15:15.)
We can only understand, and in turn represent all these aspects of His character by walking with Him and spending time with Him. As we follow Him His way, he moulds us into His image. This is the discipleship process.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:19-20.)
Before Jesus was taken up into heaven, He left His disciples with His final instructions known as the “great commission.” The instructions He left were clear, to make disciples and to teach them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded. This commission is often taken as meaning to make converts to Christianity, and although that is part of the commission, there is so much more to it than simply having people take on the name of Christ. The commission commands us to not merely make converts, but disciples.
A disciple is a follower. To make disciples is to shape people in order that they may be able to follow Jesus, and as Jesus said, the only way that we can follow Him is to lay our lives down. A convert to Christianity may take on the name and the culture of Christianity, they might go to church or even be involved in ministry, but becoming a follower of Him is something far deeper. A convert simply picks up the culture and methodology of the church, whereas a disciple learns to give everything to follow Jesus wherever He is going and whatever the cost. It is easy to learn the language of Christianity, to learn its theology and take on its methods, and there is nothing wrong with this as such, but none of these things are a substitute for knowing and following Him. We can do the works of Jesus without our heart being changed at all. In doing so, we remain as unchanged as we ever were but with the façade of Christianity covering our lives. Discipleship in the church is essential, yet we are not to merely disciple people into church culture, but into Jesus Himself.
The desire to be a disciple must be a desire that comes from our own hearts. We cannot force people to follow Him or to sacrifice before Him. Jesus calls us, but the choice to follow is ours alone. God is not looking for slaves, but servants. Forced, manipulated or coerced obedience, even when done with the right intentions, will only lead to damage in people’s lives and to the church. We must each decide for ourselves to what extent we want to follow Him. The more that we exchange the world for the kingdom, the greater we will experience Him and live in Him, but that decision must come from the heart of the individual.
One of the reasons for the lack of true disciples within the church is a shortage of spiritual parents. If the great commission is to make disciples, then we need people of maturity in Christ given over to the work of raising spiritual children. We can only teach people what we know, and if we only know religious works and church culture, that is all that we can teach. A real spiritual father will not raise people up into the church, but into Christ. Just like when we raise our physical children, this can sometimes be a messy process, and it is certainly a costly one. Such a work may not come with appreciation, and may even come with betrayal and rebellion, yet we cannot let this cloud our hearts or stop us from seeking to do good. Jesus Himself had only 12 disciples, one of whom betrayed Him and the others questioned or denied Him on occasion. Jesus had given his life for the work of the kingdom though, and stayed true to the path of doing good regardless.
I have witnessed many children who have grown up without correct parenting, and the results are disastrous. I once worked as a teacher in a school that was part of a children’s home. The children in that school had all been raised with poor, abusive or absentee parents. By the time they had reached their early teens they had no concept of boundaries. Due to the lack of parenting, they only understood how to do whatever they wanted when they felt like it with no consequences. The resulting behaviour is hard to describe, but it was a level of dysfunction most people would struggle to believe. Having never been guided as they were growing up, and almost always never having known a father or correct and loving discipline, they lived their life acting on whatever thought or emotion came into their head at that time. By the time they came to live in the children’s home they were completely out of control and unable to function positively on any level unless everything was geared up to their desires at all time. Almost without exception, when these children became 16 and had to leave the care of the government their lives became a complete mess, and often ended in death or prison.
There are probably many children who think it must be great to grow up in a world without boundaries, and unfortunately there are also some adults who believe that children should not have them, but the consequences in a person’s life of not being able to control oneself is devastating. Although I have been talking about an extreme example with a care home, there are many people in mainstream society who have also been poorly raised, or lacked good father and mother figures who are unable to function beyond satisfying their own desires.
The family is an essential model, because when done correctly it produces people of both character and love. I have witnessed government schemes that attempt to replace the family at an astronomical financial cost, (20 years ago, to keep one child at the care home that I worked at cost around £250,000 – £500,0000 a year,) and yet none of them come close to replicating the job that the family provides in raising, loving and straightening people. It is true that there are many examples of bad families that have done a great deal of damage, but that does mean that the model of the family is wrong and needs to be abandoned, it merely means that we need to remain close to God’s love. No system that God gives will remain effective if we do not remain in His love, but that does not make the system itself incorrect.
The model of the family is also the model that the church is called to use too. One of God’s titles is “Father,” and Jesus is “Son.” The church is called to be a representation of the order and ways of the kingdom. When Jesus taught us to pray, He told us to pray “your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt 6:10.) The role of the family is being attacked in our society like never before, especially the role of fathers, and this attack is designed to replace God’s order on the earth with man’s ideas of what is correct. No matter how hard man tries, and no matter how much money is spent, we can never even come close to replacing the perfect system that God ordained.
A family is built upon love and mutual care, but we cannot have true love without being a disciple too, because as we have seen, love without boundaries and correction is not love at all. A good parent teaches and straightens because of their love for children and because they understand the responsibility that comes with having children.
In a physical family, children usually have little choice but to be raised by the parents that they were born to, good or bad, and the consequences of that parenting will bear out in their lives. In the church, everyone has a choice as to whether they want to be discipled or not. I have already stated how important this freedom of choice is and that people should never be compelled to obey God, but this freedom means that it is easy to simply walk away when we are not getting our own way. Most children do not have the option of leaving a family when they are not getting what they want, but spiritual children always have this option. It is very rare in this day and age to find people who are willing to allow themselves to have their hearts changed when that begins to cost their comfort. It is far easier to walk away and to attend a church where we are told that God justifies everything that we do and that we need never change.
We cannot become a true spiritual parent until we have been through this process. We cannot lead until we have learned to serve. Spiritual children who have never subjected themselves to boundaries or to being changed, develop into proud spiritual adults, unteachable and unguidable by God. Such a person will only know their own self-righteousness, and will never be able to follow Jesus. A true disciple however will not care about their own lives or their own feelings, their only desire will be to know and to follow Jesus.
“Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” (Is 64:8.)
Discipleship is a key part of following Him. It is impossible to go after Jesus and not be changed by Him. God will use spiritual parents in this process, but a real spiritual parent will help us to grow in God for ourselves, where the work of being changed will continue. Discipleship is different from simply learning about Him. When we learn about Him, we take in information, and this can be useful. However, when we are discipled we are changed and moulded into the person God wants us to be, representing all aspects of His character. We cannot be a disciple without following Him, and we cannot follow Him without becoming a disciple.
The Cost of Love
“Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matt 22:34-40.)
Love is one of the most fundamental parts of our calling. Our love for God and our desire to follow Him must always be our first goal, but second to this Jesus commands us to love other people. God works in unity with His people, through those who are willing to obey Him and His commands, and it is through us that He will demonstrate His love for the world. Real love comes at a personal cost. As we love others, we lay ourselves down for the sake of other people, preferring others over ourselves, much like Jesus did for us. The cost of this is real and tangible.
Love for other people, like our love for God, must also involve action to support it. I have already discussed how we can use cheap words to say that we are loving God, and the same is true when it comes to loving others. People claim to love others for all sorts of different reasons such as appearing to be nice or even to manipulate them, but the person who carries God’s love is not so interested in being seen to be loving before others, but will quietly sacrifice on behalf of other people without drawing attention to themselves.
“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-6.)
In this age of social media, it is so easy to draw attention to ourselves and our good deeds towards God and other people, but a person with a pure heart will not care about getting attention for their works, they will only care about the good they are doing. We can use God’s word to draw attention to ourselves as the messenger, and we can also use good deeds to do the same. An impure heart will always look at what they can gain from other people and how they can use others to increase themselves. I have met pastors and ministers who view people as an opportunity to increase their own ministry and try to gather people for their own sake. A minister with God’s heart though, will consider themselves the least and will only look at how they increase Jesus in the lives of others, not use them. A real shepherd will view each person who God gives them to look after with God’s heart. Equally a good church will not look at how it can make itself bigger but at how it can love more effectively. A big church may be the result of us being faithful in God towards other people, but it must never be our focus.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.” (Rom 12:9.)
When we learn to pay the cost of love in deed and not just empty words, our churches will become places of beauty beyond all others. The believers in Acts modelled this perfectly as they became one in heart and mind and shared everything. These believers renounced everything they owned and put the needs of others before themselves in a demonstration of Jesus’ love that has rarely been seen on this earth.
“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35.)
Indeed, we will be recognised by others by our love:
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35.)
The world perceives what is true and what is false in the church better than we do ourselves. One of the reasons that the church is so distained by the world is because they see little of the reality of Jesus in the church, and scant demonstration of His love. Religion will talk of love and may allude to it, but ultimately it will be unwilling to pay the cost that love demands.
If we are to love effectively it is vital that we understand what love is and what it isn’t. God is the very definition of love, (1 John 4:8.) and we cannot correctly understand what is and what isn’t love outside of knowing Him and what He is doing. Pure love flows from God though to His people, it is led by God, not us. No matter what man’s opinion is, if something is not rooted in the truth of God then it is not love.
Love has been twisted by sinful man to mean that getting our own will done is love. In a self-centred church that is based upon the cheap gospel, the people will be concerned about having their will catered to. A Christian who has never learned to follow Jesus will only care about their own place, ministry, position or comfort. To submit to the will of the people is not love, and many ministers have been burned out chasing the demands of their congregations under the pretext of being loving.
Nor is agreeing with the sin of the world to appease man love. When we step out of God in order to justify the world’s corrupt view of what is good and what is evil, we are walking out of love and into darkness. As we saw earlier, it is the job of a follower of Christ to help people out of the darkness of the world with God’s vision of what is good and evil, not become like the world.
If we walk in love that is rooted in God’s agenda alone, this will inevitably lead to hatred from the people as we refuse to act as they act. Despite this hatred, we love regardless, laying down our own lives to see that which is right done in the lives of others.
“And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt 10:22 NLT.)
Jesus stated that it is the false prophets who will be loved by the world, and the true prophets who will be hated. It is easy to abandon the truth of God and to be loved by people, yet this will not be love.
“Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26.)
“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.” (Luke 6 22-23.)
Rejection by both the church and the world is a part of the cost of following Jesus. The degree to which we walk like Jesus walked is the degree to which we will share in both His victory and suffering. God’s uncompromising message of truth will always clash against the hearts and reasoning of man. One of the biggest mistakes we can then make as a church is to compromise Jesus’ message in an attempt to please man. By doing so, we abandon His truth, walk out of His will and lose what it is that makes us be that goodness to the world. True love will sacrifice for the sake of others. True love carries a cost.
The Financial Cost
There is a message that is currently being taught in parts of church which bears little to no resemblance to what Jesus taught. This is the message of financial prosperity. In some churches, the goals of the “American dream” and the church have become intertwined and indistinguishable from one another. I have spoken at churches all over the world, in many different countries and cultures, and I have repeatedly heard the promise that being a Christian will bring you worldly success and wealth. This is not only true in Western churches. There are churches across Africa, and to a lesser extent Asia that solely revolve around this principal. The message that Jesus taught of laying our lives down for the sake of Him is completely alien to some of these churches, and it is a message that is actively rejected because it does not bring with it a promise of wealth, success and increased status that the people are looking for and expect.
I mentioned earlier how I believe in, and how I experience daily the reality of God’s provision for my physical needs as well as my spiritual needs. Humans have fleshly requirements; we need to eat, we need housing, transport and so on, and God does meet our needs and even our wants when they are in line with Him. There is nothing wrong with money in itself, and I am not speaking against it as it can certainly be a blessing. The issue here is not about how much earthly wealth we do or do not have, but our pursuit of it and what our hearts are focusing on. There are those who out of their following Jesus may end up in positions of power or wealth, and that may be good. God may also put us in places of influence where we will be honoured by others. However, this must never be our goal, and neither should it be the purpose of our churches. A true servant of Christ seeks to take the lowest place. Our lives should be rooted in seeking Him and His kingdom, and everything else will be given to us, (Matt 6:33.) Our concern ought not to be how much status or power we have but, how much good we can do for others.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter5:6.)
I have already discussed how I have met ministers who actively prey upon the people looking for those who will support their ministry. Ministry is a tough, lonely and often financially poor place, but as I said earlier, God always provides for that which He is doing without us having to resort to exploiting people. It is only our own schemes that will have to be supported through manipulation as they will not be sustained by God. The unchanged heart will look at others as an opportunity to gain something, but the person who knows the love of Christ will view others as an opportunity to give of ourselves for their sake.
To help us to understand how God works in blessing us, it is important to appreciate the difference between the New and the Old Testament. In the Old Testament God raised many who went onto become people of status and wealth, people such as Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Joseph, Daniel and many others. These people all had hard times and challenges to overcome, but each of them became respected, rich or influential. Even the prophets had the ears of kings. In contrast, In the New Testament all the apostles and even Jesus Himself were despised by the world’s authorities and died a martyr’s death.
Despite these apparent differences between the two testaments, Jesus did not come to replace the Old Testament, and its message is still vital for us today. He came to fulfil the Old Testament by establishing His kingdom.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.” (Matt 5:17.)
In the Old Testament, the Israelites are representative of God’s people, and the nation of Israel of the kingdom of God. God used what happened to them literally to help us to understand the kingdom of God that Jesus spoke of. Their wars were against people, their release from captivity happened literally, and their blessings were demonstrated in the physical blessings of the world.
“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.” (Heb 10:1.)
Jesus did not come to make a worldly kingdom here upon the earth as many were expecting Him to do, He came to establish the kingdom of God. This is a kingdom made not by human hands, but it is a kingdom in the heavenlies, visible only to those who seek Him. Our release from captivity is not literal as Israel’s was, but spiritual. We no longer fight flesh and blood in physical battles, our battles are now against spiritual enemies, (Eph 6:12,) and our blessings are not so much counted in the riches of the world but in the blessings and treasures of Heaven.
It is vital that we understand the message of the kingdom of God. This was the message that Jesus came with, He taught on it continually, pointing the people towards it.
“After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1: 14-15.)
The kingdom of God is established wherever Jesus has authority. Anywhere that God’s servants are doing His will, there is His kingdom. His kingdom exists alongside the world, which belongs to Satan, (2 Cor 4:4.) It cannot be shaken by earthly means. It does not matter if we live under the most evil or oppressive government (as Jesus did,) His kingdom still advances through love, humility and service to Jesus. We can see in the world today how His kingdom is more real in countries that openly oppress Christians in places such as China. The kingdom cannot be destroyed by violence and repression, no matter how hard man may try, but neither can it be advanced by our force.
We must understand Jesus’ message of the kingdom if we are to understand our purpose here upon the earth. I have already talked about how it is impossible to do the king’s will if we do not know the king, and so the kingdom will not advance by those who are the most powerful or political here upon the earth, but by the poor in spirit, the humble, who have given their lives to seeking and following Him.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3.)
As we move our eyes and our hearts away from the world and towards the kingdom, we realise that the true blessings and rewards are spiritual. They are in our knowing Jesus more, having more of His character and His heart and even His authority. Those who are least in the world are greatest in the kingdom.
Every financial and personal sacrifice I have made on the earth has not resulted in my becoming ten times richer as is sometimes promised by preachers, but has led to my being closer to Him and knowing Him more. This is the work of the kingdom, that we sacrifice our lives for the love of God and the love of others.
We must also understand that we cannot advance His kingdom through money. Money is a currency of the world, and as I have said we do need money to live in the world. We should give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar (Mark 12:17,) meaning that we must give to the world what belongs to the world, but give to God what belongs to Him. Money is not a tool to advance the kingdom. With money we can build great works with money that look impressive to man, and yet all Jesus requires to do His works are hearts and lives that are submitted to Him. To do the work of the kingdom, we must pay the price that God asks, not the price that the world asks.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5: 3-10.)
The Heart of Worship
In my book, “Restoring the Heart of Worship,” I deal extensively with the subject of worship and its importance in our lives. It is necessary, with apologies to those who have read that book, that I also address the issue here that we may better understand how to follow Jesus.
Worship is the act of surrendering before God. It is the process by which we lay our lives upon God’s altar and offer ourselves to Him. This is where we decide to pay the cost to follow Jesus, and it is the beginning of our journey of follow Him. We cannot follow Jesus without understanding and basing our lives upon the act of worship.
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Rom 12:1.)
In authentic worship, we do not simply sing about Jesus, but we minister to Him. As we exalt Him, we surrender our lives before Him and submit ourselves to His will. True worship must be the centre of the life of every Christian, minister and church. Crucially, for worship to be genuine, it must involve a sacrifice before God.
“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” (Heb 13:15-16.)
“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.” (Ps 51:16-17.)
The sacrifice that we bring Jesus is the sacrifice of our hearts and our lives. We place everything that we have upon His altar that we might come after Him. Counterfeit worship talks of Jesus but never encounters Him because no sacrifice is made before Him. It is easy to religiously sing Christian choruses or hymns without having that reality of surrendering ourselves before Him. Although we may have the right words or sing the right song, it means nothing if our hearts are not laid out before God.
“These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matt 15:8.)
God inhabits real praise and worship (Ps 22:3,) He does not just hear it, He lives in it. True worship is in His Spirit, (John 4:24) it is in unity with Him and what he is doing. A person or church that understands the cost of following Jesus will be rooted in a lifestyle of worship. The result of this will be that they will not just talk about God but will actual be in Him. They will represent His glory and His character. More than anything else, we need to have an understanding and an outworking of real worship in our churches if we are to see them become places that honestly represent the reality of God in our nations.
The Threshing Floor
“On that day Gad went to David and said to him, “Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” So David went up, as the Lord had commanded through Gad. When Araunah looked and saw the king and his officials coming toward him, he went out and bowed down before the king with his face to the ground. Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
“To buy your threshing floor,” David answered, “so I can build an altar to the Lord, that the plague on the people may be stopped.”
Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.”
But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. David built an altar to the Lord there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.” (2 Sam 24:18-25.)
After rebelling against God by walking in his own ways and taking a census of Israel, God’s anger burned against the Israelites. In order to restore his relationship with God, David was instructed to build an altar upon a threshing floor. In the Bible, what seems like the most inconsequential of actions or decisions often holds the greatest spiritual truths behind it, and the message of the threshing floor is a powerful one to understand for God’s plan for His people.
A threshing floor is place where the grain was separated from the chaff, where the good and the bad in a harvest were divided. As the chaff was removed, only the goodness of the grain was left. It was a vital part of processing the harvest, as the grain was useless while mixed in with the chaff. True worship always leads to a refining in our lives, separating that which is of God and that which is not. As we live our day to day lives, what is God in us coexists with that which is not God. The negative within us never gets disturbed or challenged. This changes with worship. In a real place of worship, that which is not of God cannot stand as He cleanses us and refines us.
“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.” (Mal 3:3.)
An altar is a place of sacrifice, and as we have seen, true worship is worship that is a sacrifice. It was upon this threshing floor that God commanded David to build the altar. This may seem like a strange choice of place for an altar to be built, but this was also the very spot where Solomon established the temple. The temple was not established upon a majestic or clean place, but upon a place of separation and refinement.
As God commanded David to build an altar upon the threshing floor, David understood that he had to pay a cost for it. It was not right simply to be given the threshing floor without paying the price, David knew that he must sacrifice for it himself. Earlier, I mentioned how people do not value that which is given to them for free. I believe that David understood this, and he demonstrates his heart by wanting to pay a price in order that he could sacrifice before God. David was a man who, despite his faults, was willing to pay the cost to obey God.
“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” (John 12:1-3.)
One of my favourite passages of the Bible demonstrates what it is to worship beautifully. In John 12, Mary takes an expensive flask of perfume, (worth around two years wages,) and pours it on Jesus’ feet. She takes something of such great financial value and has no other purpose than to minister directly to Jesus. Later in this passage Judas complains about her act, demanding that this perfume is used to help the poor instead. However, Mary’s heart desired to minister to Jesus above everything else, regardless of the cost. Mary of Bethany is a perfect example of someone with a heart for worship, a person who has no regard for the cost but only desire to sit at Jesus’ feet and minister to Him.
“One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:1-4.)
In Ruth 3, Ruth meets her husband Boaz at the threshing floor. The story of Ruth and Boaz is symbolic of the church and Jesus. They are brought together and made one at that place of threshing and refining. The threshing floor is that place of reconciliation, and it is in worship that we will be reconciled with God and with each other.
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” (2 Cor 5:18.)
To be united with Jesus and to be completely one with Him is the goal of every Christian. This reconciliation takes place as we are stripped away of ourselves and embrace Him in worship. It is God’s desire to create unity between us and Him, which is why He sent His son to die for us. From that place of harmony with God we will come into unity with each other, held together by the common cause of His will and His love.
Such oneness can never be achieved outside of Him. We can look at any movement or group in the world and they may hold together for a while united by a common purpose, but beneath that goal you will find discord on every level. Satan is all about division, be that in the church, the family or society in general. The world is increasingly organising itself into factions of beliefs, each hating the other, rarely seeing people as individuals but only “one of them.” The reality is that many within each ideology are in disunity with each other as well as those whom they would consider the enemy. The church must never align with any ideology from man, but must only agree with God Himself if we are not to fall into the trap of simply becoming another group that brings separation. God does not take sides, but rather He is the side. He is the very definition of truth and does not come down to side with man. Instead, he is looking for people who will align with Him.
“Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, who is on the Lord’s side? let him come unto me.” (Ex 32:26)
We will not overcome divisions by submitting to the doctrines of men, but only by submitting to the truth of Jesus. We will be divided to the extent that we harbour selfish desires in our hearts.
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1.)
“These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favouritism to gain advantage. But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit.” (1 Jude: 16-19.)
As our hearts are changed in worship our selfish desires are turned into a pure love for Him and for others. Upon the threshing floor, as the impurities in our hearts are stripped away, we are led into a place of reconciliation with God.
That place of reconciliation with Jesus results in a people who are full of His life and His Spirit. This is what God has always intended us to be, a nation of people who live in unity with Him.
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13.)
In Jeremiah 2, God rebukes the Judeans for having dug their own cisterns. A cistern is a tank that stores water. Not only did the people build their own cisterns, but these cisterns were broken and could not effectively hold any water. This may seem to us like a strange thing for God to be concerned about, but again God is revealing spiritual truths to us through a literal situation in the Old Testament.
God Himself is to be the source of all water. He has purposed His Spirit to flow continually from Him though to His followers, providing all the life that we need. His rebuke in Jeremiah 2 is that the people stopped seeking God for that fresh life every day, and instead tried to hold onto past revelation and old works of Him. Ironically, as they tried to store the old life of God they could not even do this as their storage tanks were broken and useless.
“But whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14.)
“On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” (John 7:37-39.)
When His people and His church attempt to store Him, we lose the life that only He gives. Without the living water, we become dry and spiritually dead. Such a body cannot even save itself, never mind be a place of life for others. When we reconcile with Him though, living water will flow in everything that we do. We will be a people of life, revelation and truth, not just for ourselves but for others too.
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:22.)
He will not pour the new wine or the living water into old wineskins, because like the cisterns the Judeans built, they will leak and break. Old wineskins are inflexible and are not able to cope with anything new, they split when new wine is poured into them. So it is with the move of God’s Spirit. If we are unbending and hold onto how we have always done things, remaining unbroken by God, we will not be able to carry His life. We will simply be cisterns that are cracked and leaking. If we are to be able to live in the new wine and the flow of living water that He has for us, we must become like new wineskins, dead to how we have always operated and lived, and born again to how God wants us to be. An inflexible people will never allow a move of the Spirit in their lives or churches, no matter how much they talk of it. If we are not prepared to follow Him His way, we will soon become places of dry religion that may talk of God, but will not experience the flow of His living water. It is not enough to say that we want revival or even to ask for revival. If we truly want revival we must become new creations who are open to living in the flow of His life, completely led by the will of His Spirit. For true revival, we must pay a cost.
There is a price attached to abiding in His living water. We will have to let go of the old and broken cisterns or routines that we have built by our own hands by which we have tried and failed to contain the life of God. We must admit where our self-made methods only reflect the works of man rather than the brilliance of God, and above everything we must return to seeking His living water and His life. This is going to mean leaving what we have found comfortable and perhaps that which we have trusted for provision. It may also mean that we upset those people who are not willing to change and have no desire for the life of God, but the person who is truly hungry to follow Him will pay any cost that he asks of us.
It is impossible to see God’s kingdom established without being in union with Jesus. Out of the sinfulness and arrogance of our hearts, we attempt to create works in our own strength and then we offer up these works up to God in a display of our goodness and righteousness. Fallen man is always attracted to doing God’s work without Him. We assume that our achievements are good enough, that our teaching is wise enough and that our own love is powerful enough. We offer up to God in prayer what we have built by our own hands and then expect God to get behind those things we have initiated independently of Him.
The only sacrifice that is acceptable to God is that which comes through Jesus Himself. There is no work that we can establish that is adequate before Him, no scheme or clever idea for ministry that will impress Him. Man has spent the last two thousand years trying to organise God’s church for Him in a way that means that we do not have to give our lives to following Him or rely upon Him every day. We establish churches that have clear and defined routines of what we do and how we do it, and consequently there is little need to seek Him because we have already determined what we are going to do and what the outcome will be. Within our fixed boundaries we may allow His Spirit to work and invite Him into our service, but this is very much allowing Him to add upon what we have already begun. We try to make the work of the Spirit fit in with the religious framework that we have planned.
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8.)
A life truly dedicated to following Him will not have any preconditions laid out to God of how we will behave or what we will do. The person born of the Spirit understands that they are a follower first and foremost, a servant of the Most High who exists only to do the will of Jesus. From this point, He can mould and shape us into the person who He wants us to be, and we literally become “born of the Spirit.” Though we will do works, they will not be driven by our flesh, but rather they will be Jesus working through us. These will be the works of God rather than the works of man.
“Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:19.)
I have a genuine passion and a love for God’s church. How God envisions His church is as a place like no other, birthed by His Spirit and abiding in and following Him. The church that God calls us to be is a place of overwhelming love, truth and restoration. It is impossible for man to attain this vision of the church while our hearts are focused upon our own methods and motives. A church that is not seeking Him is a place dominated by division that comes out of our selfish desires, (James 4:1.) Unless our hearts are transformed by Him, we will only reflect the flaws of man rather than the power of God. Not only that, but we will claim that this man-made structure is God, and the world will judge God by the character that we represent.
“Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Eph 2:2-22.)
A people who are His holy temple will not reflect the weakness of man but the power of God. This is the church that the world is looking for, not a church that will agree with the sin of the world and sympathise with it, but a church that can pull the people from the darkness into the light.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matt 5:14.)
The degree to which we will follow Jesus is always our choice. Many people choose to completely reject Him and live in the world chasing the desires of world. The reward for those who chase the world will be the riches of the world, as temporal as they are.
The person who chooses to pursue God may not necessarily be rewarded by earthly wealth or success. It is a mistake to believe that our status in the kingdom will be reflected in our status in the world. In fact, Jesus stated that our earthly status is inversely related to our place in the kingdom. The world works at the expense of the kingdom, and the kingdom operates at the cost of the world. We must understand the difference between our place in the world and our place in the kingdom, deciding which to sow into and dedicate our lives to, always remembering that Jesus came specifically with the message of the kingdom of God, (Mark 1:14-15.)
The concern of the person whose heart is for Jesus is only ever to serve and to do good wherever they can, regardless of the personal cost. They are not looking to increase themselves but increase Him. This undoubtedly costs us, but Jesus makes it clear that our reward is in Him and of Him.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24.)
There is not one of us who follows God perfectly. Only Jesus, who knew no sin, (2 Cor 5:21,) has ever achieved that. When Jesus walked the earth there were few people who followed Him all the way to the end, and even they ultimately betrayed Him, (Luke 22:54-62.) Most of the people were happy to receive healing or provision from Him, and they did acknowledge His anointing, but only a handful left their lives to follow Him.
“At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (Matt 18:1-5.)
There are those who will know the call of God upon them to leave everything to follow Him. These people will become completely born again and raised in Him that they may represent Him. They will perform deeds upon this earth like no other, though it will cost them their very lives. They will carry with them a responsibility to represent the heart of God to those who do not know Him as well, both in the world and the church, and in doing so will demonstrate a love and a power that come directly from Him.
These people will be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. They may never be famous or have large ministries. Many of them will not even be recognised in a ministry capacity. They may simply be nursing mothers, caregivers or teachers. They will though, share this in common; they will give of themselves for the sake of other people, and above all they will love and follow Jesus with no regard for themselves, paying any cost to follow Him.
To know Jesus and to follow Him is the greatest privilege that any of us can have here upon the Earth. It is our very reason for living, the centre of the walk of any Christian and by extension, the purpose of our churches. It is the calling of the people of God to be unlike anything found in this world. We are designed to be the craftsmanship of the Holy Spirit and vessels of His purity and His power. Those who walk with God produce a character unlike anything found in the world. They are people of peace, joy, strength, authority, stability, humility and love. Surely there will be nothing as powerful on the Earth as a person who follows Jesus, and those willing to pay the cost to follow Him will gain the greatest prize of all, Jesus Himself.