”’Not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Armies.” – Zechariah 4:6
“Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; and you without money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost! Why do you spend money on what is not food, and your wages on what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and you will enjoy the choicest of foods. Pay attention and come to Me; listen, so that you will live…” Isaiah 55:1-2
Future/Past by John Mark McMillan
Keeping in step with the spirit is so much about constantly practicing His presence, strengthening our awareness of Him and what He is doing, and asking the Holy Spirit to give us a heart that desires Him. In our homework this week we are encouraged to start and end our day with time with our Father. This song talks about God being our first, our last, our everything. Our testimony belongs to Him and should begin and end with Him. Our days belong to Him and should begin and end with Him.
God, help us begin and end with You. Our thoughts, feelings and circumstances, let them begin and end with You.
Lesson: Keep in Step with the Spirit
I heard the LORD speak to me recently: “All that you want is found INSIDE of me. I contain what you think you are looking for, but I am so much more. I am not making it hard for you to find the answers. The answers are inside of Me. I am big enough to hold all that you desire, which means I am bigger than you can imagine.” As God told Aaron, “I am your portion and your inheritance” (Numbers 18:20). All that we desire and long for is found IN Him. We have a standing invitation to go deeper into Him with honesty and reverence (John 14:20, 23). When we resolve to choose Him as He has chosen us, to choose to feast on His goodness over lesser comforts, He really is enough to satiate our gaping need. No one else can comfort us like He can (Isaiah 51:12). No one else is as faithful to understand us (Psalm 139:2-3). He always thinks good thoughts towards us. Everything He does to us is fully out of His love. He is the Giver (not the Requirer!) (Romans 8:32). In every situation, we can look to what He is giving. It is His giving that has always enabled us to obey (John 3:16). One moment with Him may not cause you to fall deeply and madly in love. It can take time for His love to erode our self-protection and the lies we’ve believed about His nature. But it His great joy and desire to live in intimacy with His children, to be known and to know them. He can show you treasures that you’ve never dreamed of (Isaiah 45:3). He is capable of drawing you to Himself and showing you His abundance. He invites us to play a part—He invites us to keep in step with Him.
The only way we are going to keep in step with Him is to love Him, deeply and intimately. It is not enough to need Him. We have to want Him, to want to know Him. In Audacious, Beth Moore puts it this way:
“If we lived in a world where people actually did what they need to do, nobody with any money would run out of gas, nobody would get a speeding ticket, nobody would miss jury duty, nobody would be excessive, nobody would get a root canal, nobody would get grounded, nobody would take fiber supplements, and nobody but nobody would drink Dr. Pepper. Drug rehabs would be dinosaurs…Eve would’ve never reached for that tree and the serpent would’ve lacked a target to deceive… The fact is, we don’t always do what we need to do. And here is the primary reason: because we don’t want to. Generally speaking, when it comes to humankind, want trumps need except in matters of survival.”
We have to be satisfied in the Lord, to find pleasure in Him, or else we will always look for pleasure in other things, we will always be distracted by lesser comforts. We will be with the Spirit only until we are tired or disappointed. It is good news that we have a need to enjoy something—God meets our every need (Philippians 4:19). He wants us to need Him. He invites us to feast on His goodness (Isaiah 55:1-2). When we settle for lesser food, He sees how it makes our hearts sick. If we don’t receive His abundance, we will be so distracted trying to meet our own needs that we won’t have time to keep up with Him.
So how can I grow my love and desire for the Lord? How can I feast on His goodness? By getting to know Him. If we really knew Him, we would really love Him. There is no quick fix to getting to know Him. It is built slowly, organically, over time. It is built from within. It doesn’t start with me. It starts with Him.
In his book Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson says,
“Somewhere along the way, most of us pick up bad habits of extracting from the Bible what we pretentiously call ‘spiritual principles,’ or ‘moral guidelines,’ or ‘theological truths,’ and then corseting ourselves in them in order to force a godly shape on our lives. That’s a mighty uncomfortable way to go about improving our condition. And it’s not the gospel way…. the recurrent error of our technologically conditioned age is to look for what’s wrong in our lives so that we can fix it, or what needs doing so that we can have something worthwhile to do. There are things wrong that need fixing; and there are jobs that need doing. But the Christian life starts at the other end—not with us but with God: What is God doing that I can respond to? How is God expressing his love and grace so that I can live appreciatively and in obedience?”
There are times in my own life where I hear these words, believe these concepts, and yet I am so frustrated by it. I see the lack in my own heart and don’t know how to move forward. I have a true desire to know Him. I look at the gospel and I look at my own life, and I see where it doesn’t line up. I DON’T have an easy time forgiving other people. I am NOT loving those around me better than I love myself. I DON’T feel satisfied. I am NOT experiencing His peace and joy. I get desperate. I try and extract from the Lord the answers to all of my issues in my behavior, my heart, and my circumstances. I want to apply His truth to my brokenness, sin, pain, and confusion. But I don’t end up bettering myself. I feel trapped and left behind. This is one of Satan’s key strategies. Out of my confusion and frustration, I often give into Satan’s lies about God’s heart towards me, and therefore I continue to languish in my own deficiency. I completely miss the point. God’s love is FOR me. Instead of believing that His desire for me is ever-present and can lift me out of the mire EVERY TIME, I believe that because God loves me, I SHOULD be able to lift myself out of the mire (or should have never fallen into it in the first place). Ultimately, this leads to my disbelieving that God loves me at all and keeping my pain from Him, doubting whether He can really satisfy me. I settle for lesser idols- anesthetics. Do you ever feel anywhere close to this? Do you ever feel frustrated because you are trying to do what He wants you to do, trying to live out His truth, trying to learn about Him, trying to behave better…trying to fix yourself?
As Eugene Peterson says, “the Christian life starts at the other end…What is God doing that I can respond to?” God doesn’t need me as a middleman in our relationship. He wants to minister to me personally, uniquely in every circumstance, instead of giving me a method for life that I can use on my own. The Gospel is not meant to be applied to our brokenness by our own hand. The FATHER uses His good news to literally transform us. God, in His goodness, changes our very DNA. He’s not asking for corsets, He’s not relying on our own strength. “Not by strength or by might, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD of Armies” (Zechariah 4:6).
Eugene Peterson says,
“God’s way is growth… Organic is a key image. Nothing from our past is thrown out with the garbage; it’s all composted and assimilated into a growing life. And nothing—no “moral,” no “principle”—is tacked on from the outside…The gospel life isn’t something we learn about and then put together with instructions form the manufacturer; it’s something we become as God does his work of creation and salvation in us and as we accustom ourselves to a life of belief and obedience in prayer.”
The metaphor of tacking something on from the outside sparked something in me. I have a few plants in my house. I do better with some than others. I’ve had some that have taken a turn for the worse—as they are dropping all of their leaves and slowly dying, I do all that I can to save them. But it would be pretty pointless for me to start duct taping those leaves back on the plant, acting as if they are still alive. The leaves are brown! That growth is fake. It doesn’t count. And it doesn’t make my plant healthier. The plant is rotting at the root. Nothing I put on the outside of it is going to matter. My own growth in the Lord needs to start at my very core. If I am not living my life interacting with Him, if I am not responding to Him and what He is doing, if I am not hearing His voice, then no matter what “spiritual principles” I try to implement, my roots will rot. The Spirit isn’t only interested in my behavior changing. He cares for us holistically – body, soul, and spirit. He sees our hearts, not just our output.
In order to walk with Him, we have to love Him. In order to love Him, we have to know Him. In order to know Him, we have to interact with Him. But it starts with Him. It is good news that we need to do these things! It means there is a better way to live. We are not condemned to faking a relationship with Him and never really knowing how wonderful He is. We are invited to seek Him, and we are promised that He really will transform and fill us.
The very concept of keeping in step with the Spirit implies that He is moving! Therefore, if we are not looking for Him and moving with Him, we are moving away from Him as He travels onward. We won’t stay in step with Him every day perfectly apart from Him. But God has given us many tools and boundaries to live within. These include worship, repentance, and prayer (communication). These are not harsh rules, but gifts from the Giver to lighten our load (Matthew 11:30).
We are invited into a life lived fully before God, with God. In every circumstance and relationship and detail, God is working. When we do choose Him over lesser idols, He really is more than enough for our aching and weary souls! We respond to Him. He responds to us. By using all the tools, by being honest and vulnerable with Him, by focusing on Him over our process, we stay in tune with Him. We stay in step with Him.
Word study, Resources, Tools:
Recommended Reading: Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Née. Don’t worry! It is a shorter read—about 70 pages.
Psalm 92:2 says “It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening.” Try starting your day with a short time of prayer for the next week. Many of you already have a prayer practice. I invite you to try the steps below either in addition to or instead of your normal routine. I prefer to journal through these steps. It helps me to stay focused, and I like to look back on my journey with the Lord and what He has revealed to me. I encourage you to try this out as well.
In addition to spending your morning with him, try ending each day this week recognizing where God was faithful to you. Talk to Him about any events or relationships that were encouraging or painful. Share with Him any areas where you feel that you were far from Him or close to Him. Listen to Him. Receive His perspective on your day.
At the end of the week, look back on your journaling or reflect on your prayer time. Listen to “House on a Hill” by Amanda Cook. If approaching the Lord in this posture has helped you in any way, I encourage you to keep going with it for a season.