Growing

Values part 1

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:1-6

There is a process of maturity that is outlined in Psalm 23. As a Christian its helpful to know where we are in God’s process, it can happen that we get stuck and feel like we’ve hit a ceiling. Things begin to become bland and we start asking the question, “I know there is more in God for me but what is that more?”

The Process of maturity (growth)

1. It’s all about me

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

When I first come to faith or join a church, it’s all about me. The Lord is my shepherd and I lack nothing. The church is viewed as a service provider that is there to fulfill my needs. Whilst this is a skewed perception, we cannot shy away from the truth that it is important that our needs are met. This is both the role of the lead couple and the other leaders in the church. Some churches are so “mission orientated” that people, especially new people die by the wayside and get left behind. It is a huge strength and positive to be church that is on mission with a vision but we have to answer the question, “Can we do this and effectively take people along on the journey with us?” Is our backdoor as a church as big as our front door? For every person who joins there are just as many leaving hurt and disappointed. Do we still consider love and care for people to be a high priority?

We also need to understand that people are at different places on the journey and so we when we first meet them; it is unhelpful to quiz them about their previous church, their marital status etc.

A good example of Jesus’ approach is found in John chapter 4 with the Samaritan woman who meets Jesus at the well.

And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

John 4:4-18

Jesus begins by asking her for a drink. Now He knows she isn’t married and that she has had 5 husbands but He doesn’t come out with it right away and offend her. He instead puts himself in a place of vulnerability and says, “Will you give me a drink?” He lets her know that He is human and He also has needs. This is the best way we can engage people upfront. Even if God has read us the persons mail and we know exactly what the power encounter is going to look like, it’s helpful just to be a bit approachable and vulnerable as an intro.

Jesus is waiting for the moment when she asks Him, for when she is looking for the answer and at that point He tells her to fetch her husband and come back. Jesus was prepared to banter about culture and her beliefs and allow her to hide behind her smokescreen but when she asked for help, He had the answer. The danger can be that we can become a people who become comfortable just talking culture and hiding behind our smoke screens and we never offer the truth when the door opens for it. The tragedy is when a new person reaches out with their need, there is nothing & no-one there for them.

Clever arguments from people can bring confusion but when we are operating under the power of the Holy Spirit, He brings instant clarity and power. Without Him, we are playing church and are no better than a club. Sometimes we are in conversation and it all seems to be going around in circles. That is the time to get before God and trust Him for the word that cuts to the heart. When Jesus brings the truth her response is, “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” All of a sudden she is attentive and listening and open to the truth.

2. It seems to be all about Him

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.

This is the second phase or step in our maturity. The psalmist writes; He makes me, he leads me, he refreshes me, he guides me – all for his name’s sake. It is a very difficult transition from all about me to it seems to be all about Jesus. Very few people make the transition from all about me to all about God. We are going along all about me and God allows a situation to happen that doesn’t fit with our plan. It’s suddenly hard and they come to us and tell us that they didn’t sign up for this. God seems to making me do this or do that, my rights, my space, it all has changed dramatically and I don’t know how I feel about it all.

The beauty of this place is that God both makes us and refreshes us. He gives enough for us to endure the change that the season & situation bring. If we help people focus on Jesus through this season, if we focus on Jesus through the season, we can marvel in the refreshing without mourning the making. This season, more than most, requires the utmost personal discipleship. Discipleship isn’t so important while it is all about me because we are finding our feet and deciding if we do or don’t like what is going on. What’s really helpful in the making season is when we are able to share our stories of how God has made us for the better.

3. Flip, it had better be all about Him

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

There is a very definite switch in language from the psalmist. Up to this point he has been referring to God as He but now there is a change and he begins to speak to God, calling Him You. At this next point of maturity, I’m starting to go through some real stuff in my life and I don’t need to know that God spoke to or is with someone else, I need to know that He is with me. I realise that someone else’s revelation and experiences aren’t enough to hold me in the tough times. When I go through the valley of the shadow of death, I don’t want you next to me, I want Jesus next to me. Discipleship has to lead people to Jesus because I live in my house and you live in yours but Jesus never leaves, He is the friend who sticks closer than a brother.

The psalmist writes that when I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil because you are with me. We have to be careful not to present a hope that excludes Jesus. We fear no evil because He is with us. The analogy of the sheep is very helpful. When lambs are first born they are not fed by shepherd but by sheep. And so for us, when someone first come to faith, we need to help them on their journey and not just fob them off and tell them Jesus will help them. In the beginning the lambs need sheep to help them and train them to know and follow the shepherd. But ultimately if you have an adult sheep trying to suckle on another adult, it’s just weird. There has to come the stage where all the sheep are led by the shepherd to green pastures. And so we to are looking to connect people to the great Shepherd and make sure they have their own living and vital relationship with Him.

The psalmist goes on to say’” Your rod and staff comfort me.” The rod speaks about discipline and the staff speaks about leadership and comfort. The staff had the crook on the end in case the sheep fell into a ravine or got stuck, the shepherd could rescue it. Both discipline and grace comfort us. If we let our disciplines slip and we allow sin in, our confidence goes and God’s rod and staff no longer comfort us but they drive fear into our hearts and we try to run and hide like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. There are so may people in our communities that feel as though they have messed up, let God and the church down and wouldn’t dream of darkening the entrance of a church. The largest church in your city or town is the church that is no longer connected to the church. They are Christians who are living in splendid isolation for whatever reason. Our job as the church is to show them the way back home. When we are walking with Him, when we hear about His discipline we are encouraged because we know He is committed to keeping us in the centre of His will.

Because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son

Hebrews 12:6

And so when people join us, we don’t want to point them to ourselves. We point them to Jesus. If Jesus is building His church (and He is) we best point people to Him and His will for them before we try shape them to fit our movement or conviction. However, this does not allow us to abdicate vision, conviction and building culture, it just means that people need to know that in this church it is Jesus first.

So here are two questions:

Are we prepared to be an honest open community?

If someone does well are we going to rave about it and encourage him or her? But by the same token if someone makes a mistake are we going to be honest with him or her instead of falsely encouraging him or her and actively stunting their growth. People know when we are being fake, there is nothing worse than someone telling you well done when you know it as absolute garbage. Its not being nasty, it’s speaking the truth in love so that we can grow up into Jesus. When we lie to people we don’t allow them to grow and when we don’t encourage people we also stunt their growth. An open honest community nurtures a robust faith and healthy growth.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

Ephesians 4:15

How do you keep to the truth and maintain a massive open front door?

When a church has a super tricky or weird front door, it’s hard to engage the community or become part and many churches use this as a kind of filter to keep out the people who will ruffle feathers and make things a bit messy. Complicated new members courses and stringent membership requirements keep the church “safe”. However the church exists for messed up people, we are all messed up, some are just better at hiding or have more resources available to hide the mess. The way we can have a massive open front door but not be swayed by the sin and issues of the world is by knowing whom we follow and what He has called us to do. We need an unswerving commitment to Jesus & His Word.

4. Hey, who invited them?

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is the first time in the psalm that other people are included in the narrative. Up to this point it has been just Jesus and I. The fourth stage of our maturing as seen in this psalm is where God is now leading me to interact with other people. We can so easily become puffed up and so educated in our relationship with Jesus but we have no desire or heart to interact or help others. And so in this place we feel lost when we are out in our jobs or social circles. We don’t know how to share our faith, we almost feel like we have a disease called Christianity, its necessary to get to heaven but we don’t want to tell anyone about it in case they misunderstand or we are not accepted.

However the beautiful truth is that there are two promises that are only given when we understand God’s heart for people. If we live a life separate without sharing with others, we will miss out on these promises because they are only given in the presence of our enemies.

1. The first promise is that God will anoint my head with oil

Anointing with oil speaks of “promotion”. This speaks of leadership and influence in every sphere of our lives. It may be an obvious statement but leaders love people. It amazes me how many people want be leaders but they just don’t love people. What on earth are you going to lead? And if we are not prepared to submit to God and begin loving and serving others, we again hit a ceiling and the life begins to dry up. The church is full of people who refuse to submit to this part of the process and as such never grow much beyond spiritual teenage-hood.

And so for those of us who God has opened doors with people, don’t be intimidated. Walk through the doors and allow God to anoint your head with oil as he lays the table for you in the presence of your enemies. Don’t push the jar away, allow Him to grant you unmerited favour and grace. Own the space He has given you and use the favour to love and lead others to Him.

2. The second promise is that my cup overflows

When we first get saved God will supply our needs: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. But this is not generous and spacious, its just needs. But when we begin to give out to others things change and its no longer just needs that are met but our cup begins to overflow. Its moving to a place of faith where God supplies more than enough according to His riches in glory.

His goodness and love are now chasing us. Its not me trying to pursue God’s goodness and convince Him to bless me. When we pursue Jesus and love people, His goodness and love are a given. But the moment we chase goodness and mercy, they will dry up.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33

At our churches we should be more committed to people living in the house of the Lord forever than becoming disciples of our particular brand of church. Church can be a compelling and wonderful place to hang out. Christians generally should be “nice” people who care and look out for one another. But the danger is that people get hooked on church without ever encountering Jesus. Its like a child in a single parent household, something is missing. A healthy family consists of both a mom and a dad and a healthy Christian has both a relationship with and loves the church and Jesus.

And so what do we talk about when we interact in the presence of our enemies?

  1. We talk about Jesus
  2. We talk about eternity
  3. We talk about Heaven
  4. We minister from a place of security
  5. We minister from a place of provision
  6. We minister from a place of longing (I want you to have what I have)

And so we have been talking about growing today. If today is your first time back in church after a long time and you have questions and things you would like to talk about, we would love to chat with you.

We have spoken about the move from its all about me to it seems to be all about Jesus. Perhaps you are in that place or know someone who is. Allow God to refresh you and keep your eyes on Him.

Perhaps you are in the place of it had better be about Him and you are going through some stuff and you feel like you are holding on for dear life. Understand that Jesus is with you. Perhaps the reason you feel like you are alone is because you have allowed sin to get a foothold and you are ashamed, we would love to pray for you.

And then lastly, you could be smack-bang in the middle of your enemies and other people and life is hectic. God today wants to prepare a table for you, to anoint your head with oil and make your cup run over.

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