Fruit of Faithfulness

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

Romans 5:3-4

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

James 1:2-4

Both James and Paul experienced the same process in the Christian life–they saw the same pattern emerge–and then wrote about it. Life brings us trials and suffering. If we let them, they produce in us a kind of perseverance, a relentlessness, an endurance. And, over time, this establishes maturity in our character. Those who are mature in their character never seem to run out of hope.

What is happening when we have been long-suffering in our faithfulness and still aren’t seeing fruit from it?

When ongoing faithfulness doesn’t produce outward fruit, it is producing inner formation

If you aren’t seeing the fruit of your faithfulness outwardly, it might be because it is growing on the inside. Babies develop on the inside first before they are introduced to the world. Maybe what God is birthing in you has to start on the inside first.

Write to Remember

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
    we have done wrong and acted wickedly.
When our ancestors were in Egypt,
    they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
    and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Psalm 106:6-7

The other day I went back a few months and read through my Facebook posts, this blog, and my journal where I record dreams and prophetic words. I was stunned by all the things God had told me that I had forgotten. There were so many things that God did and said that have slipped my mind. I had complete forgotten. Over and over again, one of the main issues that led to Israel’s moments of rebellion was not remembering what God had done. They forgot God’s miracles. They forgot His “kindnesses.” And we do too!

When God speaks to you, write it down. Keep a journal of your thoughts that are inspired by the Lord. Keep a journal of dreams that feel like the Lord speaking. Keep a record of prophetic words that you receive from other people. Write it all down as soon as you can. And then make it a regular practice to go back and review what you’ve written. (This is the part that I tend to forget to do.)

The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows,
    turned back on the day of battle;
they did not keep God’s covenant
    and refused to live by his law.
They forgot what he had done,
    the wonders he had shown them.
He did miracles in the sight of their ancestors
    in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan.

Psalm 78:9-12

This is also why testimonies are so important. We need to record the amazing things that God is doing and has done in people’s lives. Keeping a record of testimonies helps us to remember the wonders, the miracles, the breakthroughs, the moments of God’s faithfulness that are so powerful. Remembering what God has done give us courage to face the battles ahead. When we don’t remember–just like the men of Ephraim in Psalm 78–we lose heart when we face the giant in front of us. Faith and trust in the Lord rise up in the present when we remember what God has done in the past.

Go back and remember. What has God said and done in the last few months in your own life?

At my church we’ve decided to try to do a better job of recording testimonies of God moving powerfully in our community. We’ve dedicated a section of our website to it. If God moves powerfully in someone’s life, we are starting to ask them to write it down and submit it to the testimony page of our website. If you need to read a fresh dose of powerful testimonies, here are some good ones: Horizon Church Testimony Page.

Future Generations

In the third year of Hoshea son of Elah king of Israel, Hezekiah son of Ahaz king of Judah began to reign…He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles…
Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not stop following him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses.

2 Kings 18:1-6

King Hezekiah was a bright spot in an otherwise dark season for the people of God. Most of the kings had turned away from the Lord until Hezekiah, and Israel had already been conquered by Assyria. Only the kingdom of Judah was left.

Hezekiah’s faithfulness is contrasted sharply with his son Manasseh’s and his grandson Amon’s. Here is what scripture says of Amon:

He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, as his father Manasseh had done. He followed completely the ways of his father, worshiping the idols his father had worshiped, and bowing down to them. He forsook the Lord, the God of his ancestors, and did not walk in obedience to him.

2 Kings 21:20-22

So while Hezekiah was completely faithful to the Lord, Manasseh and Amon were worse than the former kings of Israel in their disobedience and infidelity. Yet, when Josiah–Amon’s son and Hezekiah’s great-grandson–became king of Judah, he made a hard turn back to the Lord. Scripture says, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and followed completely the ways of his father David, not turning aside to the right or to the left” (2 Kings 22:2).

King Josiah is the one who rediscovered the Book of the Law in the Temple of the Lord. Josiah is the one who re-established the covenant of God and enacted massive reforms throughout the land leading the people back to the worship of God alone.

This is a good reminder that the faithfulness of one generation can impact future generations. Though fidelity to the Lord may skip a generation or two, though there may be some prodigals in the family line, God has a way of honoring the faithfulness of former generations by causing a flourishing of faithfulness in future generations.

I sense this in my own life. I had two faithful grandmothers who I know often prayed for their grandchildren. I can’t help but sense that my own experiences in ministry are a result, not only of faithful parents, but of faithful grandparents. And I’ve also learned that even further back in my family line were some pastors and evangelists. It makes me wonder about how spiritual inheritance works in the Kingdom of God.

Our God is a God of the generations. When God sent Moses to set His people free, God told Moses to refer to Him as “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob“(Exodus 3:16). He’s a multigenerational God who often keeps His promises to one generation by fulfilling it in the next generation.

Peter reminds us that God thinks in long-term plans and doesn’t rush to accomplish His purposes. What we often perceive as “slowness” is really just God’s patience with us.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you…

2 Peter 3:8-9

What if the things happening between you and God right now are God answering the prayer that one of your ancestors prayed centuries ago? What if the spiritual gifts and open doors that you’ve experienced are, in part, a result of the faithfulness of past generations?

We must also wrestle with these questions: What are we doing now that will have ripple effects in the Kingdom of God down through our family line? What prayer are we praying now that our great-grandchildren will receive the answer for? What seeds are we planting now in the Kingdom of God that will bear fruit a century from now?

Where You go I will go

But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” 

Ruth 1:16

These are the profound and powerful words from Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi. Naomi had lost everything. Her husband and two sons died. She was too old to remarry but she wanted to give her two daughters-in-law a chance for a new life. So Naomi released both of them to return to their homeland to find a new husband and a new life.

Ruth refused. She was going to faithfully stay by Naomi’s side to the very end.

God draws near to those who have this same attitude about Him. When we are willing to say to God, “Where You go, I’ll go” and “where You stay, I will stay,” God can use us powerfully.

For some, saying that we’ll go wherever God wants us to go is the more difficult challenge. It could mean uprooting one’s family, work, friends, home and life in general. For others, saying that we’ll stay wherever God wants us to stay is the more difficult challenge. Sometimes, being the one to stay and faithfully invest in one place while you watch others leave can be really painful.

Whether we are going or staying, in the end, it’s not really about us. It is about staying connected to the One who is asking us to go or asking us to stay. For Ruth, it wasn’t about where Naomi went, it was about staying connected to Naomi. We see Moses say the same thing to God.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’…But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” 

Exodus 33:1-2, 15

Moses didn’t want to go if God wasn’t with him. For Moses, it was more about connection and intimacy with God than it was about the fulfillment of the Promised Land.

Is that true of us and God? Are we willing to say, “God, where you go I’ll go, and where you stay I’ll stay.” And also, “If your Presence does not go with me, do not send me away from here.”

Here is a worship song that expresses this same theme:

All Faithfulness

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua 24:14-15

Joshua was nearing the end of his life and so he challenged the people of God one last time. He wanted them to know that God was giving them land they previously didn’t own, cities that they did not build, and farms that they did not cultivate. All of this was God’s inheritance for them, but He expected them to be a covenant people. God expected them to be faithful to Him and worship Him only.

Joshua warned them against worshiping the gods of their ancestors. He then warns them about worshiping the gods of the land they now possess. The gods of their ancestors were originally the Sumerian gods worshiped in Mesopotamia and then the Egyptian gods worshiped in slavery. The local religion was a little different as it included the gods of the Canaanites (Amorites, Perizzites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, etc). Joshua was warning them that all of it was a trap and that they should worship Yahweh alone.

In America, the god of our ancestors is a civil religion, a nominal Christianity that amounts to a powerless moral deism. It is more about being a good boy or girl and being a true American than it is about a relationship with Jesus.

In America, the local gods of “this land” and this culture are gods of humanism, doubt, fear, sexual immorality, comfort, pride, and self-absorption. Freedom is defined as lack of boundaries, standards, and norms. Worshiping this sort of pantheon creates a perpetual identity crisis and a life of permissive morality.

As followers of Jesus, we are called to complete devotion to our Lord. We must reject the gods of this culture and the gods of our ancestors in favor of complete surrender to Jesus. Our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being imprisoned, beaten, and killed for their faith. Meanwhile the American church sits around echoing the words of enemy in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say that was wrong?”

We, as the Church, have to return to a complete abandonment to Christ. We must declare with our words, our life, and our faith the words of Joshua, “…as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord!”

God is Love

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.

1 John 4:7-12, 15-16

Here John teaches us about love. This is what we learn:

  1. God is love.
  2. Love comes from God.
  3. Loving others is a sign that we know God.
  4. God showed His love for us by sending His Son Jesus, that we might live through Him.
  5. Our love for God is a response to His love for us. He loved us first.
  6. Out of response to God’s love for us, we should love one another.
  7. God’s definition of love is this: Jesus came and died for us.
  8. The fullness of love is displayed in Jesus’s death and resurrection. Without this at the center, love becomes defined by our own preferences and selfishness.
  9. It is our acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God that allows God to come and live in us and allows us to live in God’s love.
  10. Our identity is rooted in God’s love for us (not our performance for Him).

What is clear from this passage is that there is no separation between God’s love and Jesus. We can’t somehow abstractly talk about the fact that “God is love” without also mentioning that “Jesus is Lord” and that Jesus is the “Son of God.” All of this is intricately woven together. Any attempts to separate talk of God’s love from talk of Jesus immediately depart from the biblical definition of love.

There is also this tendency, especially in progressive circles, to remove “God is love” from the context of this whole passage. Likewise, there is a tendency to remove “God is love” from the other New Testament descriptions of God. For example:

  1. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16)
  2. God is holy (1 Peter 1:16; Psalm 99:5,9; Rev 4:8)
  3. God is light (1 John 1:15; John 1:4-5)
  4. God is good (Mark 10:18; Psalm 34:8)
  5. God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Thess 3:3)
  6. God is just (1 John 1:9; Hebrews 6:10; Isaiah 61:8)

This list could continue but I think we get the point. In God, these attributes never conflict. Does God bring love to the unloved? Yes. He also brings holiness to the impure parts of our lives. He brings light to the darkness of our lives. He brings goodness to the evil parts of our lives. He is faithful when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2:13). He brings justice to the injustices of our lives.

If we want God to love us but we don’t want His holiness, goodness, and light to purify us, then we want some of God but not all of God. It is partial surrender. It is half-hearted faith. He absolutely loves us. God is love. And He loves us enough to want us to get free from our sinful lifestyles that damage our soul. God is holy. God is light. God is just. God is love.