Nicodemus would probably be welcome at any church today. He seems an ideal member—principled, knowledgeable, morally upstanding, courteous, and humble. However, Nicodemus had two big problems despite all of that outward religious appeal. He was blind to the truth and spiritually dead.
The man was lost. That is, he did not have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus adhered to strict Jewish codes and laws, so he was certainly religious. But the problem of the lost person is not attitudes, conduct, or even character. We can change and control those through sheer determination, and many folks do. What people really need is a change of condition. We come into this world with a sinful nature that is bent away from God.
Jesus explained to the observant rabbi that all his outward goodness couldn’t erase, replace, or change his nature. Instead, every person who desires to serve God must be born again. The Lord promised that if Nicodemus received Him as Savior, then he would enter into a brand-new life. His old sinful nature would be transformed so that he could have a real relationship with God. Instead of appearing to be a religious man, Nicodemus would be a true believer.
No one gets into heaven on the strength of good works and kind behavior. When we stand before God, only our condition will matter. In place of our old, dead “flesh” nature, we want to show Him the living spirit we received when Jesus Christ came into our life.
One noteworthy trait of the apostle Paul was his determination to advance through adversity. There are many people who get stuck in life’s hard spots. They are either too scared or too bitter to move through the hardship.
Instead, these folks wait for the Lord to remove the trial, but He doesn’t always work that way.
How a person responds to hardship reveals his or her true character. Hard times are when God’s people most need to match actions to words. It’s easy to say, “I trust God” or “My Lord is faithful,” particularly when life is good. But unless we recognize that He is sovereign even in adversity, the same lips will complain and seek pity. Believers who trust in the Lord’s faithfulness and supremacy will steadfastly focus on Him and thereby keep their anxiety and doubt subdued.
In order to conquer adversity, we must begin moving through it. It is essential for a suffering believer to surrender to God’s will. We may not know what His purpose is. We certainly won’t like the pain, and we’ll definitely want the situation to change—fast. But giving the Lord free rein allows Him to mature our faith, conform us to the likeness of His Son, and fulfill His unique plan for our lives.
Surrendering does not seem like a way to advance anywhere. But in reality, we’re just handing over the controls to God and saying, “You guide me where You want me to go.” Doing so requires a lot of trust. We serve a Lord who is worthy of our faith and confidence.
The tumultuous times in which we live challenge our sense of security and well-being. In a world filled with violence, injustice, financial instability, and natural disasters, how can we live in undisturbed safety? Jesus’ words to His disciples seem contradictory—peace and tribulation just don’t go together.
This makes no sense unless we realize that Christ’s peace is not the same as the world’s (John 14:27). The average person thinks tranquility will come with an outward change in their circumstances: When I have a better job or more money, then I will be content. Or, If a particular person in my life changes, then I will feel at ease. But Christ offers a relationship with the Father that fills our hearts with satisfied contentment, no matter what the external conditions may be.
We need to understand that Christ’s offer of peace came, not when everything was going well, but just hours before His disciples’ world fell apart. All their hopes and dreams were dashed when the Messiah hung on the cross. Although they didn’t realize it, Jesus offered them exactly what they would need to cope with the trouble that lay ahead. In the same way, He gives us quiet confidence which anchors our souls in stressful times.
We can never arrange all circumstances so that we feel safe and secure. The way to overcome the world isn’t by removing difficulties from one’s life. Instead, victory comes from walking through troubles with quiet confidence in God’s sovereignty and divine purpose for everything He allows.
The Philistine army was ready to fight. Merely a boy, David traveled from his home to the battlefront in order to check on his brothers and supply them with food. There, he heard the notorious Goliath threaten Israel. The young Israelite was outraged: Who was this giant to challenge the Lord’s army?
David sensed God’s direction and obeyed.
A battle ensued between a giant and a boy, but the almighty God stood with the youth. Goliath, along with the entire Philistine army, was defeated.
This is truly an amazing story—we rarely hear of anything this miraculous in our world today. But we, like David, can live triumphantly, even in the midst of terrifying and “impossible” circumstances. First, we need to understand success from the Lord’s perspective: Goals should align with scripture; then our heavenly Father directs us, and we follow with confidence.
Second, we—like David—ought to have a clear picture of what needs to be accomplished. Good goals should be clear enough to write in a sentence or two. For example, David’s aim was to free God’s people from their enemies. Our goals may be huge and lifelong, like modeling dependence on Jesus for our children. Others, such as creating a weekly family night, are simpler to achieve.
Whether facing a daunting challenge like David’s or an easier undertaking, you should live intentionally. Ask the Lord for direction and purpose as you write down goals, both big and small. The same God who led David in victory desires to lead you today.
Anyone who studies God’s ways soon realizes they are quite different from man’s. Worldly wisdom says that extraordinary people and abundant resources are needed for great tasks, yet the Lord often chooses the small and insignificant to achieve His purposes on earth.
For example, Christ selected a rather unimpressive group of men as disciples, yet after being filled with the Spirit, they “turned the world upside down.” During His ministry on earth, Jesus fed thousands with a child’s meager lunch, and He viewed the widow’s two small coins as a greater offering than all the other generous donations (John 6:5-12; Luke 21:2-3).
God specializes in using people who aren’t naturally qualified to accomplish His tasks. Moses was a verbally impaired 80-year-old shepherd who liberated a nation. After Gideon hid from the enemy, God made him a valiant warrior. David was the overlooked youngest son who killed a giant with a small stone and became Israel’s greatest king.
God isn’t looking for impressive people; He wants willing ones who will bow the knee in humble submission. Being weak and ordinary doesn’t make you useless. Rather, it positions you for a demonstration of divine power in your life. He takes insignificant ones and delights in making them great.
Have you ever considered that your lack of ability, talent, or skill is the ideal setting for a great display of Christ’s power and glory? If you are willing to submit to His leading and venture into the scary yet rewarding territory of faith and obedience, He will do great things in and through you.
Our heavenly Father is looking for men and women who will dedicate themselves to His kingdom work. He seeks people willing to accept responsibility and carry out His “assignments” to completion.
The Lord commended Moses because he persevered in faith to fulfill the divine calling on his life. Chosen to lead the Hebrew slaves out of Egyptian bondage, Moses initially reacted by questioning, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?” (Ex. 3:11). But God assured him, “Certainly I will be with you” (v. 12). His presence was a key part of Moses’ equipping as a leader. And the Lord’s response to us is the same. We can confidently accept the responsibility God gives us—whether it’s for leadership or some other role—because He has promised to be with us always (Matt. 28:20).
However, Moses wondered whether the Hebrew people would listen to him. He had been away from Egypt for a long time, and his last interaction with the Israelites had been a negative one (Ex. 2:11-14). What kind of influence could he have? God revealed that the only credential Moses needed to give them was that he was sent by God—the I AM (Ex. 3:14). When the Lord gives us a task, He will bestow the spiritual authority we need to carry it out. In addition, God gave Moses a helper—his brother Aaron. Our heavenly Father will also provide us with the people necessary to fulfill His plan.
God has promised to equip us for His work. What is your response when asked to serve?
Too often we let our circumstances determine our attitude. If life is going smoothly, then we feel good about ourselves; when it gets hard, our mood drops. But we don’t have to live this way. Like the apostle Paul, we can learn and practice the secret of being content.
Contentment means accepting things the way they are—in other words, not wanting anything more or different. This requires developing an “I can through Christ” attitude. It means learning to bring God’s power into our weakness so we can accept and adapt to changing circumstances.
When we respond to life with that kind of thinking, we move beyond our feelings to living by faith (2 Cor. 5:7).
Submission and trust are needed for such a lifestyle. First, we must surrender our will to God’s: in every situation, we are to yield what we want and accept whatever He allows. Our desire to control events is replaced by reliance on Him. This option becomes more appealing when we realize that the alternative—fighting against our circumstances—brings anxiety and distress. The second step is to trust God to oversee our specific situation. If we believe He is working out His perfect plan for us, then we will experience the joy that comes from trusting Him. Contentment will be ours.
Paul submitted his life to God and trusted Him. He faced insults, rejection, and many difficult trials but was still content. When we surrender control to the Lord and believe He has our best interest at heart, we will experience contentment too. Who is in charge of your life?
After his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had much to learn about salvation and following Christ. Throughout his life, the apostle shared what he was discovering. In his letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote about a very important life lesson—the secret of being content.
What kind of life do you think brings contentment? You might assume it is one with few troubles or great success. You may want good health, financial security, and a loving family. Paul’s life was not
at all like this. He was in danger from both his own countryman and the opposition (2 Cor. 11:23-26). Sometimes the people listened, but more often, they were hostile to his message. He also had a “thorn in the flesh” which God refused to remove (2 Cor. 12:7-9). And Paul even spent considerable time in prison, chained to a guard. Yet he boldly wrote, “ I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation” (Phil. 4:12 niv).
The secret he discovered was to live on the basis of his position in the Lord, not his feelings. As God’s child, Paul knew he was spiritually rich—“blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3) because he had a loving Father and the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Contentment in our media-driven age is hard to find and harder to keep. There’s always something newer, bigger, or better to buy and someone else who has what you want. When you feel unsatisfied, try basing your response on your position as a co-heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17) rather than feelings.