Friends,Steve Shepherd shares this -- The most interesting thing about Tifton, GA is an abandoned Victorian house filled with thousands of bats. Tift County declared the once-elegant house in the town’s historic district off limits after a bat specialist said that maybe 20,000 bats had moved in, apparently for good. Now, teenagers call it the bat house. People talk about the smell, which is a mix of urine and decaying wood. I have no intention to visit that bat house. Vacant houses get infiltrated with all kinds of creatures and probably not just bats. And many of these creatures make a mess, create a big stink, and eventually ruin that dwelling. But it doesn’t just happen with vacant houses, it also happens with vacant lives! If a person doesn’t fill their life with good stuff, the bad stuff and sometimes, the evil stuff, will move in and take over. God wants us to stay clean in this world and this will only happen when we let Him move in, that is, when we fill our lives with worship, prayer and service. (From a sermon, Our Walk in This World, 4/4/2011) I believe that this is the encouragement that Jesus is sharing with his disciples in this next portion of His high priestly prayer in John 17 (vv.13-19). If we do not immerse ourselves in the presence of God, then the world is going to have a much easier time infesting our lives and making us miserable. Jesus knows that if His disciples are going to survive and thrive in taking His message to a lost world, that message must be inside of them first…helping them, guiding them, and empowering them to be in the world, and yet not have the world be in them.
The Word of God is God’s gift to us. It tells His story, the story of His Son, and it is empowered by the Holy Spirit to change lives. In the world that we live in today, it is easy to take the Word of God for granted. D.L. Moody wrote in the front of His Bible – “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” We live in a world where there is little joy. A lot of people, including some Christians, look and act as if they have been feasting on some sour grapes…and it is not a pretty sight. This is because sin or sinful attitudes regularly control their lives. Those who regularly spend time in the Word know that it is necessary to do so in order to be an overcomer. And how does the Word of God help us to overcome the world? One way is that it brings us joy (v.13), and this inward joy…the fruit of the Spirit…provides us strength to overcome. John has already shared that joy comes as the result of answered prayer (16:23-24). It also comes from struggling and overcoming as our Lord was able to do. Jesus experienced many struggles as He ministered among fallen men, but He also had a deep and abiding joy. Jesus’ joy was not affected by the fleeting mess of the sinful world, but the abiding enjoyment of relationship with His Father, the Holy Spirit and the Word. He did not depend upon, nor was He controlled by outward circumstances, but on inward spiritual resources. It is this kind of joy that Jesus want us, His followers, to experience.
The Word also assures us of God’s love. The world hates us…this becomes more evident with each passing day. The world hates us because we do not belong to its system…and often times, we take the world’s bait, and try to fight the world on its terms. This is never going to turn out well for Christians. But, we are able to confront this hatred with the love of God…a love, once again, that is imparted by the Holy Spirit through the Word. We must overcome the temptation to be as ugly as the world is in returning vile for vile…and allow the Holy Spirit to help us to be above the fray – we must love those who hate us and pray for those who persecute us, as Jesus shares in His Sermon on the Mount.
The Word not only brings us joy and love, but it also imparts God’s power for holy living (vv.15-17). Jesus prays for security for believers in this prayer, but He also asks for sanctity – holiness. We are indeed in the world, but not of this world…and we must not live like the world. Some people would like to be “outside of the world”…and some people really are “out of this world” J…but such spiritual isolation would not keep evil from us or us from evil. True sanctification takes place on the inside, through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. As we grow in faith, the more we experience this “cleansing”, and the less that we are willing to partake of the world’s offerings. This is spiritual growth! You and I love sin less and we love God more. You want to serve Him and be a blessing to others, rather than serve yourself, sin and the world. All of these matters help the truth of God to be worked out in our lives. Once again, if we seek to be holy and right as the Lord is holy, truth is present – it is as much something that we live as what we know. In fact, if we truly know the truth, then we will live the truth. And being made holy, sanctified, is not for the purpose of selfish enjoyment or boasting, it is so that we might represent Christ in the world and be an example to others of what it is to be Christ-like.
To consider these thoughts further, Mark Brunner shares this -- when we purchased Beech Springs years ago, we arrived in a valley that was filled by trees, trees and more trees. There was little lawn because the trees shaded it out. We would not need much in the way of landscaping, which was to my liking. There would be little need for a rototiller, a spade and a wheelbarrow here. I could focus on making wood and the necessary improvements that were needed on the inside of the house. Puttering with flower beds and the like was so tedious and, as opposed to making wood and other tasks like it, were slow in demonstrating any visible progress. That is, of course, until the elms in the immediate area began to succumb to disease. Suddenly spaces were opened…spaces that beckoned my wife to say, “Plant a sunflower here or nestle a poppy there!” It wasn’t long before a tiller and a wheelbarrow appeared on my gift list. I have often thought how much like those flower beds you and I are as we daily walk in grace. It takes work to get us ready for growth in grace. Sometimes, the results aren’t so immediately visible. But, over time, the work and effort pay off. The flowers bloom and fade and come back again the next year that much more brilliant and bountiful. Phillips Brooks was a very busy minister, yet he always seemed relaxed and unburdened, willing to take time for anyone in need. Shortly before he died, someone asked him the secret of his strength and serenity. In a heartfelt response, Brooks credited his still-growing relationship with Christ. He responded, “The more I have thought it over, the more certain it has seemed to me that these last years have had a peace and fullness which there did not used to be. It is a deeper knowledge and truer love of Christ. I cannot tell you how personal this grows to me. He is here. He knows me and I know Him. It is the most real thing in the world. And every day makes it more real. And one wonders with delight what it will grow to as the years go on.” (Our Daily Bread, October 14, 1994) God promises to “sanctify” us “by the truth” (John 17:17) in our daily walk with Him. That is, He will make us holy, set apart and cleansed through Christ Jesus. He doesn’t tell us that it is a work completed overnight, however. It is something that is ongoing like my wife tending those flower beds. As the faithful gardener He digs, weeds, tills and transplants in the gardens of our hearts. Then, when day is done, we are known to Him perfectly as we continue to grow in our knowledge of Him. It won’t happen overnight nor should it. Some of the best flower beds are those which are never completed.
We live in a very impatient world. We often expect spiritual education and growth to happen instantly…overnight…but, this typically is not going to be the case. It is much more like a marathon than it is a sprint. We must be patient concerning what the Lord is seeking to do with us. He isn’t done with you or me just yet. As Jesus reveals in the Revelation, "if we are able to be faithful until death, He will give us a crown of life." (2:10) In this, we are not talking about “mediocre” faith, or faith “until things are falling apart around me" -- it is genuine faith, like that of the Centurion or the Syro-Phoenician woman. When we are focused on what the Spirit of God is seeking to do with us though the Word, the world is not going be able to wreck us, but we will continue to grow to be more like Jesus, and being more like Him, day by day, is to be our goal.