Listening to Wisdom

…the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 

1 Kings 12:3-8

King Solomon had just died and his son, Rehoboam, was appointed to take the throne. Before he did, the people called on Rehoboam to lighten the heavy work load that had existed since the time of Solomon. Rehoboam decides to seek wise counsel from his elders.

The elders advise Rehoboam to become a servant leader. They advise him to listen and be in submission to the elders. They encourage him to lean into humility and compassion rather than pride and hard-heartedness. But Rehoboam arrogantly rejects their advice and seeks out the advice of his best friends and buddies that he grew up with.

He goes to his entourage, his friends from high school and college, and asks them what they think. They, of course, tell Rehoboam he was right to reject the wisdom of the elders. Instead of encouraging servant leadership, humility, and compassion, his buddies tell him that he needs to become even harder on the people. They tell him that to get these people in line he needs to become a tyrant. This advice aligns with Rehoboam’s arrogant view of himself and further puffs up the pride that was already swelling inside the soon-to-be king.

When Rehoboam announces that not only will he not lighten the load of the people but will make it heavier, he loses all but one tribe of Israel. Eleven tribes break away from Rehoboam’s rule and make Jeroboam their king. Only the tribe of Judah remained under Rehoboam’s rule. The kingdom of Israel was divided in half from this point on.

Rehoboam’s friends told him what he wanted to hear. They told him what soothed his own self-image and pride. Only the elders, the one’s with more experience and wisdom, were willing to tell him the truth. Only they were able to see clearly a way forward. Rehoboam’s inability to humble himself and submit to those with more wisdom was his ultimate downfall.

This is an important story for anyone leading an organization, business or church. Listening to the elders, the decision-making body, or the one’s with more experience is absolutely essential to leading well. Taking the posture of a servant leader–in humility and compassion–is essential to being an effective leader.

As leaders we must be grateful for our friends and their support, but we must also have the wisdom to see that they are often biased in their desire to advocate for us. It’s okay to go to our buddies from high school and college when we need encouragement but not necessarily when we need wisdom. In moments when we are in need of wisdom, we must seek out those with more experience, those who are older and have seen more than we have. Youthfulness has its advantages but wisdom isn’t often one of them.

Rehoboam could have ruled the whole kingdom of Israel. He was one act of humility away from keeping the kingdom united and ruling for generations. His own pride got in the way. His unwillingness to listen to the wisdom of the elders was his downfall. As leaders in our various spheres of influence, let’s not let this become our story. King David and King Jesus are two great examples of leading with humility and compassion. Let’s imitate their life of leadership.

Strength in Weakness

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians describing himself in the third person as a man who was caught up to heaven and saw inexpressible visions and revelations from the Lord. Paul’s ministry was marked by great signs, wonders, miracles, incredible revelations, and encounters with the Lord. Then Paul follows this up with a really important lesson about weakness. He writes:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:6-10

Paul received and experienced “surpassingly great revelations” from the Lord. Yet, as a way of keeping Paul from getting conceited and puffed up, the Lord allowed “a messenger of Satan” to come against him. I’ve explained before in a previous post that this “thorn” in Paul’s flesh was not a physical illness or a sin issue. It was the so-called “super-apostles”(2 Cor 11:5 & 12:11) who had been opposing Paul’s ministry and sending his churches into confusion about the nature of the gospel.

What we learn from this is that God chose to perfect (bring to fullness) the incredible power that Paul was operating in (signs, wonders, miracles, and surpassingly great revelations – 2 Cor 12:7 & 12) by allowing men to oppose his ministry. And when Paul asked that God deal with these men and get rid of them, God didn’t. Instead He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

I used to apply this verse to sin in my life. I used to think this passage was God saying that He could use me even in the midst of my sin, my weakness. And while there is some truth in that statement, that is not what God was saying to Paul here. What God was telling Paul was that, in order to bring the operational power of God in Paul into its fullness, Paul needed to be perfected/refined by humility.

While Paul could boast in all the amazing things God was doing through him, God didn’t want Paul to give his spiritual resume as a way to prove the credibility of his apostleship. Instead, God wanted Paul to take a posture of humility, talking about the hardships he faced.

So when Pauls says, “when I am weak, then I am strong” he’s not saying, “even when I sin, God can use me.” What he’s saying is essentially, “The operational power of God that flows through me is brought to its fullness when I resist the urge to defend myself with my resume, and instead I lean into humility and take the low place.” This is exactly what we see in the life of Jesus. The humility of Jesus is what perfected the power of the Spirit that flowed through Him. And Jesus’s most powerful act was also His most humble act–His death on the cross.

This discussion Paul is having about strength in weakness carries the same themes as the teaching of Jesus when Jesus told His disciples:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 

Matthew 5:38-41

Strength in weakness–power perfected in humility–is a completely counterintuitive message. When people come against our work, our ministry, or us personally, we want to defend ourselves. We want to stand against the injustice of it all and give our resume of all that God is doing in and through us. We want people to know the truth about us and not believe the lies that are coming against us.

But Jesus says to turn the other cheek. Paul says to boast in weakness. I believe when we do this we will see a side of God we’ve never seen before. When we stop trying to defend ourselves and allow Him to defend us, we will discover God as our Defender. But if we are always coming to our own defense, we’ll never get to see that side of our Heavenly Father.

If we want the power in us to be perfected, we must make room for humility. We must take a position of weakness as we learn, in Christ, to delight in hardships, insults, and resistance.

Deep Recesses of the Heart

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Philippians 2:5-8

We are called, in our relationships with one another, to have the mindset of Jesus. The main mindsets that get stressed in this scripture passage are humility, lowliness, and servanthood. And if you’ve lived any length of time as an adult, you’ve likely discovered that there are layers to this.

What I mean is that there seem to be layers to our hearts. When my wife and I do premarital counseling with young couples, we tell them that marriage isn’t about what you’re like when you are at 100% or even 90% but what you are really like when you’re at 30%. When we are single and without kids, it is easier to get a full night of rest, carve out time for rejuvenation, and do things that bring our emotional tank back up to 100%.

So in early marriage, when everyone is rested and rejuvenated, there can be a honeymoon phase where people have a lot of grace and understanding for each other. But as life comes at us with work stress, illness, and bills, our tank can get sapped. Then add kids into the mix, the lack of sleep, the constant caring for others, and usually married couples are at about 30% when they interact with each other.

The question is, “Who are you at 30%?” That is often when the real person comes out. That is often when there is less grace, less patience, more anger, and more hurt. The question is not, “Can you humble yourself?” but instead, “When you are at 30% capacity, hungry, and running on little sleep, can you humble yourself?” This is why marriage and parenting has the unique ability to shape us into the image of Christ.

These are the top two layers of our heart. There is the layer when we are at our best, and then the next layer under is who we are at 30%. But I am discovering a layer under that. This is the layer that Jesus reached down into. This is the deep recesses of the heart, and this can only be explored in the midst of betrayal and failure.

When Jesus became fully human in the incarnation and decided not to use His divinity to His advantage, He began to experience that second layer of the heart (what He was like tired and hungry). But it wasn’t until He was betrayed by His own people and by His best friends that the deepest layer was revealed. The question of this third layer of the heart is not, “Who are you at 30%?” but rather, “When people closest to you hurt you, fail you, and, ultimately, betray you, what comes spewing out of the deep recesses of your heart?”

This is what is meant by the phrase above that Jesus “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death–even death on a cross!” When Jesus was betrayed at the deepest level by people closest to Him, what came pouring out of His heart was not bitterness or rage, defensiveness or victim mentality. What came pouring out of the deepest recesses of His heart was humility, obedience, compassion, grace, and love. That is who Jesus really was when pressed to His human limits.

Many of us who have been married and have been parents for a while have had that second layer of our heart transformed over time. We’ve learned to be loving, humble, and gracious–more than we ever thought we could be–even while operating at 30%. But where few Christians have been transformed is in the third layer. Where few of us have allowed the Holy Spirit to do His work is in the deep recesses of our heart in moments of betrayal, rejection, or failure.

What comes out of your heart (and mouth) when you are hurt? What comes up from the deep recesses of your heart when those closest to you have betrayed you?

If you’re anything like me, that is an area of the heart that doesn’t see much sunlight and so what comes bubbling up is ugly. It’s the sinful sediment that I’ve allowed to find a home in the deepest trench of my soul. I believe God sometimes uses betrayal and hurt as a strategic surgical tool to show us the ugliness down there so that He can begin His cleansing work.

What if hurt, betrayal, and rejection are unique tools–gifts really–with the awesome capability of shaping us into the image of Christ if we let them?

Different Strategy

Now the Philistines had come and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hands?”

The Lord answered him, “Go, for I will surely deliver the Philistines into your hands.”

So David went to Baal Perazim, and there he defeated them…

Once more the Philistines came up and spread out in the Valley of Rephaim; so David inquired of the Lord, and he answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the Lord has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” So David did as the Lord commanded him, and he struck down the Philistines all the way from Gibeon to Gezer.

1 Samuel 5:18-25

David had become King of Israel and the Philistines didn’t like it. So the Philistines came to the Valley of Rephaim to attack the army of Israel. David does what he had always done–inquire of the Lord. David was always checking in to see what the Lord wanted him to do.

What is so unusual and amazing about this time is that David checks in a second time. The Philistines were defeated in the first battle in the Valley of Rephaim, yet they amassed their army there a second time. They tried the attack King David and his army in the same place and in the same way.

Most of us, when faced with the same exact situation as last time, would just do what we did last time. What David did last time worked! Why not do it again? After all, the Philistines are in the same exact valley and are attacking in the same exact way. Let’s just do what we did last time and God will once again give us the victory, right?

But instead of just assuming that he knows the mind of the Lord, David decides to ask the Lord again what he should do. And to our surprise, the Lord gives a different response. God basically says, “Don’t do what you did last time. Instead, use this new battle strategy I am giving you.” So even though the situation looked identical to the last battle, God knew it would require a brand new strategy to get the victory.

This is a great model for those of us living the Christian life. While it is good to know biblical principles, if we think those principles are a substitute for interactive intimacy with the Lord, we’ll slide into the trap of living by the law. Instead, we need to continually check in with the Lord, even when current situations look identical to past situation. God can see things we can’t see.

This is why the apostle Paul encouraged the Galatians not to live by the flesh OR by the law. Both of those are ditches on either side of the road of faithfulness. He wanted them, instead, to walk in step with the Holy Spirit. Here’s how Paul said it:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:13-18

In order to walk by the Spirit and live in a way that is led by the Spirit we must be in continual communication with the Spirit. Paul’s exhortation to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) isn’t about petitioning God with our requests all day long. That’s what a toddler does to their parents. No, praying continually is about interacting with God all day long. And much of that interaction needs to be listening. It needs to be us “inquiring of the Lord” and giving Him the time and space to answer.

We need to do this even when we come upon a situation that we think we can handle on our own. We need to do this even when we encounter something we’ve encountered before. It’s easy to pridefully think we know what to do without checking in with the Lord. But His ideas are much better than ours, and what He can see is much greater that what we see. Like an iceberg in the ocean, sometimes there is way more to a situation than we can possibly know.

Proven Faith

Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel… “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

“Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 

David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

1 Samuel 17:8, 10-11, 26, 28-29, 32

Faith in the Living God and courage to do what He’s called you to do often looks like arrogance and conceit to those who live consumed with fear and doubt. David did not have faith in his own abilities; he had faith in the God of Israel and God’s ability to use David. People with this kind of faith come across as arrogant to those who struggle to trust God and don’t believe God can use them for great things.

But David had more than faith in God and confidence that God could use him. He had experience in trusting the Lord and seeing the Lord use him.

Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

1 Samuel 17:33-37

It wasn’t just that Eliab struggled to trust God. It wasn’t just that Eliab doubted how God could use him (In other words, he didn’t have an identity grounded in the Lord). But it was also that Eliab didn’t have experience trusting in the Lord in difficult situations and seeing the Lord come through for him. David did.

For David, this wasn’t blind faith. This was proven faith. God had proven Himself faithful time and time again as David stepped out in faith. Goliath simply represented the next step of faith, not a “giant” leap.

The problem with many of us is not that we don’t possess “giant level” faith. The problem is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith behind-the-scenes when no one else was around. We haven’t been taking the smaller risks to trust in the Lord and see Him come through. This is what prepares us for the day of battle–the day where giant faith is needed.

In other words, the real issue isn’t that we don’t have the faith to face a Goliath. The real issue is that we haven’t been taking the smaller steps of faith to go after a lion or a bear. We haven’t been willing to take those risks when we were in charge of sheep, and we wonder why we can’t take charge of an army and face a Goliath.

David was full of faith and confident in how God could use him because of all the risks he took leading up to this moment. Goliath was simply the next logical step. What seemed impossible to the rest of the army just seemed reasonable to David.

It’s not blind faith that makes the impossible seem reasonable; it’s proven faith. Tested and proven faith–faith that’s been seasoned with real experience–is what is able to face down impossible situations. Proven faith is something that grows in the life of a person willing to continually take risks that require trust in the Lord. It’s a lifestyle, not something that is mustered up in a crisis.

Stepping up and stepping out with proven faith will often look arrogant to those who have confused doubt with humility. For too many Christians, humility looks like uncertain timidity, waffling doubt, and the fear of what other people will say. But is that the humility we see Jesus live out? Is that how we would describe Jesus? Timid? Waffling in doubt? Afraid of what people will say? No way! And yet Jesus walked in absolute perfect humility.

What David did to face down Goliath took tremendous humility because it required him to trust not in his own strength and ability but in the Lord. So what looked like an act of arrogant conceit to his brother was actually radical humility on display. This teaches us that radical humility may, at times, look like meekness, yet at other times it will look like bold courage. David’s action was radical humility in bold courage form. David had to trust that the Lord would come through for him. He also had to trust what the Lord said about him. He had to trust that God could use him powerfully. David risked his life based on that trust. That’s true humility.

I’ve seen this same accusation of arrogance and conceit in the Christian community launched against people stepping out in proven faith and bold courage for the name of Jesus. We have whole churches, and sometimes whole denominations, full of Eliabs. Timid uncertainty–waffling doubt–is not humility. Most of the time it’s a symptom of unbelief.

Eliabs mask their fear and unbelief by calling it prudent wisdom. They only want to do what seems reasonable, measured, safe. Is that how the New Testament describes the life of following Jesus? Safe? Reasonable? Measured? Not even close.

I don’t want to be an Eliab. I want to be a David, don’t you? I want to walk in bold, proven faith. I want to step out and take risks for the name of Jesus regardless of the whispers and gossip it creates around me. I want to lay my life down and trust the Lord. I want to believe what He says about me in His word, and I want to trust Him for big things. Don’t you?

It doesn’t start with Goliaths. It starts with sheep. It starts with lions and bears. What risk is God asking you to take? What steps of radical faith is He requiring of you in 2020?

Humble Yourself

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:1-4

They ask Jesus about being the greatest in the Kingdom of God. But Jesus answers that just to enter the Kingdom we must become like children. And in order for adults to become like children we must change. The key to becoming like a child is to humble yourself.

It’s as if the doorway into the Kingdom of God is designed only for children. And if a regular-sized adult wants to get through the door, they are going to have to duck their head, drop to their knees, and bow low. Humility is the key–humbling oneself to engage in child-like faith, child-like trust, and child-like joy.

Love, forgiveness, faith and joy seem to flow easily for children. They are not hampered by skepticism, cynicism, bitterness or prideful self-consciousness. For adults to enter the Kingdom, we must return to this child-like heart posture toward God and toward others.

Later, Jesus reiterates this point when He tells His disciples:

The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12

Both Peter and James must have heard this message so much from Jesus that they repeated it in their own writings.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:10

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.” [Proverbs 3:34]

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1 Peter 5:5-6

The message is clear. Humble yourself. Don’t wait for circumstances, other people, or God Himself to humble you. Humble yourself. Become child-like. Let go of pride. Fast. Pray. Serve. Humble yourself.

It’s as if spiritual attacks are launched at us from a certain angle. And we’ll get hit right between the eyes unless we duck our heads, bend our knees, and bow low. Yet, when we bow low, humbling ourselves, we will find that we are tucked neatly behind the shield of faith and protected from the flaming arrows of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).

How is God calling you to humble yourself?

Rewards

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:3-4, 6, 17-18

In Matthew 6, Jesus continues His Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus lays out what life is like as a citizen of the Kingdom of God on earth. Specifically, He describes some spiritual disciplines that should be a part of the normal Christian life.

The pattern here is: 1) assumption, 2) command, and 3) promise. Jesus assumes His followers will give to the needy. He doesn’t command that it be done because He assumes it is a natural part of life with Christ (“…when you give to the needy...” verse 2). So the command is to do it in secret. The command is to give to the needy in a way that doesn’t flaunt your gift. It’s not a call to secrecy but to humility. And finally, Jesus gives a promise that Father God will reward us for doing this.

Then Jesus does this again with prayer. Jesus assumes we will pray (“…when you pray…” verse 5), commands us to do it in secret/private (in a way that is humble), and then promises us that Father God will reward us for it.

Finally, Jesus repeats this pattern with fasting. Jesus assumes we will fast (“…when you fast…” verse 16), commands us to do it in secret/private (in a way that is humble), and then promises us that Father God will reward us for it.

One of the hardest parts of this for American Christians to accept–besides the need to actually do these spiritual disciplines for a healthy spiritual life–is the fact that Jesus promises us that the Father will give us a reward. In our culture, we always suspect people’s motives to be impure if they do something for a reward. We treat it like it is bribery. We assume that if the person was more altruistic in their motivation, they wouldn’t need or want a reward.

Part of this is false humility (which is really pride in sheep’s clothing). Everything we do in life comes with some kind of reward, we just don’t label it that. Our own bodies were designed to release “feel good” chemicals in our brain any time we exercise or eat food or have sex. The whole world was designed this way. Of course it can get abused and become an addiction or selfishness, but that is only evidence of the human ability to allow our sin to corrupt good things. The reward system in itself is a good thing, created by God for our good.

The other part of being skeptical of God’s rewards is not realizing that God’s reward is actually more of Himself. He can give us more of Himself in a variety of ways. It can look like experiencing more of His provision, more of His revelation, more of His Presence, more of His gifting, more of His love, but ultimately, God rewards us with more of Himself.

In human terms, God’s reward isn’t like a father telling his son he’ll given him $20 if he cleans his room. God’s rewards are more like the father saying, “After you clean your room, we’ll go the park, throw the ball around, and practice your hitting.” The reward, ultimately, isn’t baseball but the father giving of himself to his son.

Our God is a God who rewards. Over and over again we see this in scripture. False humility struggles to receive rewards (because it is really just pride). But true humility can gracefully and gratefully receive rewards that are given to us. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

In other words, part of living a life of faith in Jesus is believing the truth that God the Father is a rewarder–specifically a rewarder of those who earnestly seek Him. And three of the ways that we earnestly seek Him in the Kingdom of God is through prayer, fasting and sacrificial giving.

Do you tithe and give to worthy nonprofits?

Do you pray? How consistent is your prayer life?

Do you fast? Weekly? Monthly?

God the Father can’t wait to reward you!