I have started a lot of things in my life that eventually fell by the wayside. I have begun and ended diets, running or walking for exercise, sticking to a strict time-management system and a few other things. I was excited about the ideas in the beginning and wanted to do those things. I had good intentions, but they were clearly not a priority in my life. Other things took precedence, and they were abandoned.
There is one thing I never want to let go by the wayside, and that is my relationship with Jesus Christ. He has been my priority since I was eleven years old, and He still is. All healthy, growing relationships require time, loving and giving. If we do not make our relationship with Christ top priority, it will fall by the wayside.
The apostle Paul was determined that his relationship with Christ would be foremost in his life. In 1 Corinthians 9:26-27, he said, “Therefore I do not run without a definite goal; I do not flail around like one beating the air [just shadow boxing]. But [like a boxer] I strictly discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached [the gospel] to others, I myself will not somehow be disqualified [as unfit for service].” (Amplified Bible) The King James Version says, “lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” Paul wasn’t talking about training to become a great athlete. But he knew if he allowed his body and mind to dictate his life, he would lose out in his relationship with Jesus. So, he determined to make his body serve his spirit instead of the other way around.
That is easier said than done. There are times we know we need to draw aside and be with Jesus, but the busyness of life says we don’t have time, not right now. Or when God speaks to us to do a certain thing and we put it off because we are afraid. Doing what we know is right will cost us physically, financially, and emotionally. Sometimes it is difficult. Those are the times we need to tell our bodies and our minds that they will serve the Spirit. They cannot have their own way.
It’s easy to give ourselves a break and rationalize how the demands of this life keep us from fulfilling the things of the Spirit. Paul was ruthless in keeping his spirit strong, and he was always ready for whatever lay ahead. He knew how easy it could be to get soft on himself and lose his spiritual strength. We need to be careful, too, not to relax our guard and become unfit for the kingdom of God. It doesn’t happen all at once. It is a gradual decline when we let our relationship with Christ take second place.
Paul knew the temptations and faced them head-on. And he knew the time to prepare for service in the kingdom of God was not fifteen minutes before a “ministry opportunity”. Sometimes he didn’t know fifteen minutes in advance where he would be or what he would be doing. He seldom knew just when an opportunity would present itself, so he had to stay spiritually fit. That means “working out” during private times. Prayer, worship, reading and meditating on the Word of God to keep spiritually strong and in tune with God. Without becoming one with Jesus, we cannot follow His directions. Paul also knew “ministry” took on many different manifestations. One day it may mean preaching to a small, obscure group of women who were meeting at the river bank. Another opportunity could bring him before a king to plead His case and share the gospel. Yet again, he could find himself in jail. Whatever occasion presented itself, Paul had to be ready. And the only way to be spiritually fit is to deprive the body and soul so the spirit can be strengthened.
Paul faced much opposition in his life, but his earthly life wasn’t his priority, so he could call them “light afflictions”. His connection to Jesus and obedience to Him was top priority. His body had no choice in the matter, but to follow Christ. Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13) He went on to list some of his afflictions. “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
Paul did not set out to become a well-known, celebrated person in the kingdom of God. Those who do will seldom be selfless and commit themselves to the conditions Paul often found himself in for the sake of Christ. Paul was not trying to impress people with all his knowledge of Scripture, his pedigree or the numbers who came to hear him preach. He had already gone down that road and found it empty and leading him in the wrong direction. He considered it all garbage once he came face to face with Jesus Christ.
Serving in the kingdom of God is full-time, regardless of who we are. We either serve Christ or we don’t. It’s not enough to obey Him only when it’s convenient. A true disciple gives their life to follow Jesus. You may have a secular job, but as a Christian you are called to be serving in God’s kingdom on that job. Every minute of every day, we are ambassadors. Our lifestyles, our words, our attitudes, all reflect the One we are representing, Jesus Christ. We have to be ready at a moment’s notice to share our faith. That requires a relationship with Jesus that transcends all other priorities in our lives.
Many times God chooses someone for a particular work. He sets them aside for that work and places His Spirit in them in a distinctive way. They may begin to operate in that work with joy and humility, following the leading of the Holy Spirit. But the humility and eagerness to serve can be tainted if the focus turns from the glory of God, to the glory of self. Paul knew that. That’s why he was so determined to keep himself spiritually fit and close to Jesus.
Just as Paul gives us a strong example of one who gave himself up to serve God in complete obedience, King Saul is an example of failing to remain humble, obedient and true in his service to God. He was chosen to be king of Israel, the very first king. He ruled well for a time. But when he placed his position and prestige before the glory of God, the prophet Samuel reminded him of the time he was not full of pride, but of humility before God. He said, “Is it not true that even though you were small (insignificant) in your own eyes, you were made the head of the tribes of Israel? And the Lord anointed you king over Israel?” (1 Samuel 15:17, Amplified Bible) Now Saul had turned to a pattern of rejecting God’s Word. He listened to the Lord’s voice through Samuel, but then took matters in his own hands, what he thought was best.
After yet another act of disobedience by taking part of the spoils of battle, Saul tried to cover for himself by rationalizing the reason he disobeyed. He placed his human reasoning above God’s instructions, and when he was faced with his disobedience and rebellion, he treated it as nothing. He was more concerned how he looked before the people than the fact that he had defied God. He had disobeyed before, but this time Saul learned the drastic consequences of his rebellion. Samuel said, “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:28)
God may choose to use us greatly at some point, but we must be watchful that we don’t allow it to cause us to place ourselves on a pedestal and rob God of His glory. When the Holy Spirit works through us, we cannot take credit. We are only earthen vessels. He is the Treasure. The vessel is disposable. The Treasure inside is eternal. Saul discovered when the Spirit of God left him, he was helpless and hopeless. It had not been his wisdom, valor and strength that brought him success. He had seen success because God was with him. Now he was destitute. He had no one to give him directions. Yet he still tried to keep up his image as king of Israel. He even went so far as to go to a witch for help.
If we feel as though we have to keep up our image, we may resort to means outside the leading of the Spirit. If we are purely following Jesus, we will do whatever He says regardless of how it affects us. God knows better than we do. We don’t have to warn Him about the pitfalls that may lie before us. He already knows. Our part is to trust and obey, to be one with Him and His purpose.
Oswald Chambers said, “It cannot be stated definitely what the call of God is to, because His call is to be in comradeship with Himself for His own purposes, and the test is to believe that God knows what He is after. If we are in communion with God and recognize He is taking us into His purposes, we shall no longer try to find out what His purposes are. If we have a purpose of our own, it destroys the simplicity and the leisureliness which ought to characterize the children of God.” Oh, may we trust the wisdom of God!
“…lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”