A Properly Focused Desire

Are you focused this morning? Have you had your coffee and has it had a chance to begin working? Good.

Focused ambition and desire are powerful. Notice how focused the Apostle Paul was in these words: 

Philippians 3:13–14 NASB95

13 Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The focused man or woman pushes out all other thoughts, all other competing desires, all other weights or obstacles to achieving what he or she desires. This focus is part of life for everyone, although we all admit that some things in life don’t always capture our heart in the same ways. 

In Proverbs 18:1-2, Solomon writes, “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, He quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.” (NASB). Solomon speaks about the fool who is lead so strongly by his desire that he isolates himself from any sound counsel and only wants to talk about his own thoughts.

Sometimes we have to wonder what sparked these proverbs—what situation in life made them come to life in the words of the old man as he spoke them to his sons. Perhaps Solomon recalled the story of how David sinned with his mother Bathsheba,  and how badly that had turned out as God’s hand was heavy upon him. David had been so focused on his desire that he put everything outside of his mind until he had sinned against the Lord.

Or maybe Solomon was thinking of his brother Amnon, who desired his sister Tamar, and shamed her because his desire was so strong that he wouldn’t let anything stop him. Desire is a powerful thing, and our proverb reminds us that a strong desire accompanied with some poor choices can end in disaster.

Let’s learn from the fool and what he did that was wrong so that we can avoid making the same mistakes that might lead to our own destruction.

1. Separation From Wise Counsel (v. 1)

Here is the first major mistake that the foolish person makes in regard to their desire.  They pull away from wise counselors and those that might be a good influence and speak truth into their life. Notice two things about this intentional withdrawal from friends and counselors:  

His Separation Is Self Imposed (v. 1)

This isn’t speaking about forced separation over long distances, or from circumstances. And it is’t speaking about counselors abandoning him. Rather it says that the foolish person has isolated himself on purpose! Why would he do that? Read on!

His Separation Is Self-Focused (v. 1)

The foolish person separates himself from wise counsel because he doesn’t want to hear what he is being told that would get in the way of his desire. Desire isn’t  necessarily a bad thing, but the fool has taken his desire and promoted it to the level of an idol. So many good gifts given to us by the Lord for us to enjoy in life are in danger of being elevated to an idol in our heart.

We aren’t told what the desire is in our proverb, which is best, because it allows us to watch out for these desires that take over our heart and begin to control us, even to the point that we begin to do nothing but seek after them. 

“Quarrels Against All Sound Wisdom”

The word in the NASB translated “quarrels” means to expose or lay bare, and is probably speaking of what a dog does when it snarls.  The NKJV says he “rages against” all wise judgment. And what is so offensive? Sound or Effective wisdom—a word that is often used in reference of God’s Word. The desire has grown into a monster in the heart of the foolish person. So much so that they are raging against good, sound counsel! They won’t hear it because “the heart wants what it wants”-which poet Emily Dickinson wrote in 1862. The heart may want what it wants, but it is foolishness to let the heart have everything it want. But when idolatrous desire has gripped a heart, all sense and logic and biblical wisdom is chucked out in favor of pursuing this thing lusted after.

What sorts of things could grip someone’s heart like this? Well I’ve already mentioned David and his son Amnon. So, relationships, and particularly sexual immorality can be included. But people make idols out of almost anything. Marriage, a good job, education, material possessions, fame, even ministry aspirations can all become so large in our heart that they take over and drive us so much that we stop listening to anyone that doesn’t agree with our plan, and we snarl and become angry at anyone who wants to counsel against what we want. 

Added to the poor choice of separation can be…

2. Talking When We Should Be Listening (v. 2)

For the foolish person, there is no talking sense to him. He is certain that his path is the right one and no one can persuade him otherwise. This is evidenced in this verse.

Not Interested in Learning

The fool finds no pleasure in learning to discern. Have you ever noticed that some people’s pendulum swings in wide extremes when they want something badly? It’s either all or nothing! Discernment in the Bible often speaks of an appreciation for the appropriate application of wisdom for the circumstance. The old fashioned word “prudence” meant to exercise caution-not rushing madly into a situation with passions out of control. But we live in an age where prudence is prudish, and having a life filled with drama is seen as normal.

The fool doesn’t want a wise counselor to come alongside to help them consider the reality of their desires and where the desire has become inordinate and dangerous. I have counseled couples not to get married because of some major spiritual and moral issues they needed to deal with, but they often do not listen. My wife has counselled young women who are more interested in being married than who they marry—having made marriage–a beautiful thing, by the way when kept in its proper place—into an idol.

Instead he is…

Only Interested in Giving His Opinion

Jonathan Akin says, “The fool has a closed mind but an open mouth, a small mind and a big mouth. He does not listen, but he is quick to tell others what he thinks. Pride is alive and well in his soul. He is convinced that what he thinks is what everyone else ought to think. He is too clever and cute for his own good.” [Jonathan Akin, Exalting Jesus in Proverbs, ed. David Platt, Daniel L. Akin, and Tony Merida, Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2017), Pr 18:2.]

I find that there is a sin that is most difficult to overcome by its nature—and that is the sin of being unteachable, a form of the sin of pride. The unteachable person is what the fool in vv. 1-2 has become. They have shut out the only possible help they have in favor of their own sinful counsel and the idol they are chasing after. Nothing can be said to them or done to them that will convince them unless they can come to see the way of their sin—and often times this only comes after they have been ruined by their sin and pride.

When David learned his lesson regarding his adultery with Bathsheba, he wrote two psalms. In Psalm 32:8-10 he wrote:

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you. 9 Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding, Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check, Otherwise they will not come near to you. 10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, But he who trusts in the Lord, lovingkindness shall surround him.

So how can we combat this danger and have properly focused desires that aren’t in danger of taking over and bringing us to ruin? Well, I think there is much to be considered in avoiding the separation referred to in v. 1.

God has given us a community of Christ called the Church. He has surrounded us with believers—some more mature whom we need, and some less mature, who need us. Listen as Paul describes this wonderful reality in Eph 4:11-16:

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

So much can be said from this passage, but for now, understand this: we need one another. We need each other to help us. We need the Word, we need the Spirit, we need Jesus and the Father, but we can never forget that there is no such thing as lone ranger Christians. We need one another.

And as we help guard one another, we will find that our desires will more easily find that they are properly focused for the glory of God and the blessing of one another.

The Pastor and His Schedule

No matter where you serve the Lord, whether in a city or rural setting, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the many responsibilities that are required of a minister. For 12 of my 17 years as the pastor of a small church in an urban inner-city area of Los Angeles, I juggled two sets of responsibilites—leading our church in many of the main teaching responsibilities, which consisted of preaching for about 45 minutes three times a week from three different books of the Bible, along with men’s discipleship, and counseling. There were, of course, many other responsibilities which we could sprinkle in along with those, but those took up major chunks of my time.

Additionally, I taught pastoral ministry courses at a nearby seminary twice a week during the regular semesters. Because of Los Angeles traffic and the distance to the seminary, I would spend about 4 hours each day on congested freeways as I travelled to and from the school. That meant that on the days that I taught, I would spend most of my days either commuting to and from the seminary as well as teaching. When I returned I would most often drive straight to my office at church and pick up my duties there.

These two worlds, church pastor and seminary professor, required that I have a very good grasp of time management and discipline or else I knew that all those involved—my wife and children, my church, and my students—would suffer and I would not be able to faithfully discharge my duties.

Because of this, I understand the time constraints that are placed upon any servant of God as they seek to make the best use of their time to bring glory to God. To help those that might be working at doing this very thing, I’d like to share with you how I did this, even thought it was imperfect, in hopes that you might benefit from the lessons I learned.

I remember reading several years ago in a book by the famous productiviy guru Stephen Covey, the illustration of the big rocks and little rocks. It helped me to see the importance of prioritizing the big responsibilities in my life and ministries, and was a help in looking at the big picture.

In this illustration, Covey says he invited a seminar attendee to the front of the room to a table with a glass jar and several bowls with rocks, pea gravel, sand, and a glass of water. He asked the woman if she thought she could fit everything on the table into the jar. She said she’d try and made a few attempts, trying to put the sand and gravel in first. By doing this she found that the larger rocks wouldn’t fit. After a few more attempts she said that she didn’t think it was possible. Covey thanked her and then proceeded to take an empty jar and added in each element one at a time. He started with the larger rocks, then added the pea gravel, shaking the jar to settle in the gravel as much as possible. Then he added the sand. At each step he asked the women who had failed if she thought the jar was full. At first she said it was, then as she caught on, she answered that somehow she knew more would fit in. After the gravel and the sand, Covey once again shook the jar so the sand filled in all the spaces between the large rocks and the gravel. Finally, Covey added the water, which filled the microscopic spaces between the grains of sand, assuring his audience that the jar was now truly full.

Covey used this illustration to show that unless the large rocks, which represent the important things in our lives, are put into place first, we will never accomplish what matters most. And when what matters most is our families and our ministry to the Lord, we want to make sure that these things are placed in the most important place of priority in our life and limited time. The other stuff, the small stuff, can be added afterwards if we so desire.

So, for me, I set up a general day by day schedule that looked like this:

Mondays—Family Day. This was time that unless absolutely necessary due to a real emergency, I did not work or neglect the family. These focused days were filled with great joy and helped me to relax and spend time with my wife and children. I understood that if I lost my family, I lost my ministry.

Tuesdays—Seminary teaching in the day, church administration and counseling appointments in afternoons and the evenings.

Wednesday-Study and sermon preparation for Wednesday night, and teaching in the evenings.

Thursday– Seminary teaching in the day, study and sermon preparation for Sunday mornings.

Friday-Continue study and sermon prep for Sunday morning if not finished, study and sermon prep for Sunday evenings.

Saturday-Men’s Bible study and/or evangelism; finish sermon prep for Sunday nights if not done.

Sunday-Worship in the morning and evening, monthly leadership training and board meetings in between services.

This was my regular “big picture” schedule for most of my 17 years as pastor of my church. When the seminary had a break, then usually my involvement at church increased and I was able to divert my attention to other necessary needs at church.

And although I can’t say that I never struggled with being exhausted at times, or having too much on my plate, my schedule helped me to fit the big things into my days, and then the smaller “pebbles, and sand,” like phone calls, visitation to homes and hospitals, and pop-in-visits, fit in without losing sight of the important responsibilities that needed to happen.

Most people within your church will never have any idea how many hours and how much time you put into serving them—and that’s as it should be. We are servants after all. But the Lord knows, and we will all have to give an account for how we spent our time as ministers of the gospel. So, if you are a pastor of a church, take that seriously. The pastorate is no place for lazy men.

The Glory of God in a Season of Pain

“So when Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, but Mary remained seated in the house. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” John 11:20–27

The glory of God and the love of God are not in conflict with one another. Some theologians try to pit one against the other saying that the sovereignty of God (intimately tied to His glory) cannot override His love for humanity., and therefore the love of God willingly overrides His sovereignty so that God actually submits to the will of His creatures.

John 11 is an interesting test of this idea. In verses 4-6 it says, “But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.”]

In these verses we have the glory of God shown in His sovereign decision to allow the life of Lazarus to be overcome by death, with the divine purpose of God being glorified through His resurrection of Lazarus. To some Christians and many unbelievers, this is unthinkable—even monstrous. But this is because the unregenerate mind and the immature Christian mind attribute all discomfort, pain, trial, and even death, as only evil and that the only good that comes is from the avoidance of these things.

But the pain and suffering that occurs in this world is only a small part of the much bigger picture. And not only this, but the pain and suffering as well as the joy unspeakable that are available to humanity either through grace or denial of the offer of salvation are infinite. The present world and its pains and joys are only a small sampling of a greater reality that all of humanity shall experience personally one day.

Jesus, looking beyond the suffering and eventual death of His friend Lazarus knows that a greater lesson needs to be grasped and through the truth He will bring glory to His Father.

So, instead of rushing to the scene to be at His friend’s side, Jesus stayed two days longer to assure His disciples that Lazarus was dead and buried by the time they reached Bethany.

This means that when we are tempted to cry out “Why?” In our trials, we must not push aside the glory of God and begin to question the love of God. The Lord’s mind is vast and His plans are more infinitely complex that we can know or imagine; therefore we must never doubt His love.

Mary and Martha were correct in placing all of their hope in Jesus’ power to heal their brother. The issue was simply timing. Jesus could have healed Lazarus while he was sick (Jn 11:21-27, 32); or immediately after he had died; or long after he died in the future Day of resurrection (v. 24).

The sisters had hoped that the healing would be before his death, but after he had died, they found some comfort in the future resurrection when he would be raised from the dead.

But Jesus gave them immediate resurrection while also pointing them to the reality of the greater day of resurrection that they would still need to look forward to and hope in. We too must cling to this very same hope even without our own personal experience with an immediate healing or resurrection. Jesus proved to Mary and Martha, and by extension to us as well, that He is able to raise the dead—because He raised Lazarus from the dead, and He rose from the grave by His own power.

So the next time you find yourself doubting God’s love or not understanding how such pain could bring God glory, remember Lazarus. You might never understand God’s reasoning, but you must know this—God desires to be glorified and His love for us is infinite. Both are true and both are never super versed by His perfect plans.

Practical Humility

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

(John 13:12–17, ESV)

Pride is an insidious thing, and it is easy to recognize in others while being blind to it in ourselves. A proud Christian leader is an exceptionally ugly thing.

The former slave-trader John Newton recognized that pride can even be manifest in holy things. He wrote with scathing accuracy what could have been written for the keyboard crusaders of our day:

I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to give all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of. Whatever it be that makes us trust in ourselves that we are comparatively wise or good, so as to treat those with contempt who do not subscribe to our doctrines, or follow our party, is a proof and fruit of a self-righteous spirit. Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.

John Newton

Fighting pride is something all of us will need to do until the day we are made new. We might have correct doctrine and yet, be filled with such pride that we denigrate the God we wish to please. May the Scriptures that we prize have a deep impact upon our speech, our attitudes, and our lives so that whatever we do would bring glory to God.

Christ: No Less in the Storm as in the Sunshine

“I think it is a great lesson to learn in spiritual things, to believe in Christ and His finished salvation, quite as much as when you are down as when you are up, for Christ is not more Christ on the top of the mountain than He is in the bottom of the valley. And He is no less Christ in the storm at midnight than He is in the sunshine of the day. Do not begin to measure your safety by your comfort—but measure it by the eternal Word of God which you have believed and which you know to be true—and on which you rest, for still here, within the little world of our bosom, ‘He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap’ ” (Ecc 11:4).”

Charles H. Spurgeon (1892, Sermon 2264)