Are You Just Getting BY?
“This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; ‘I am the Lord y our God, why teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.’” Isaiah 48:17
There is a great many people who do not understand. As a young pastor, 25 years old, I was invited to play on a church league basketball team where one of my best friends was the pastor. I loved the game although not very good at shooting, I was a very good rebounder. So I signed on. One evening we were playing a team and the officiating was not very good. I was getting a little upset as everyone on our team was being manhandled with no whistle. Yet when one of our guys pushed back he was instantly whistled. Finally the straw that broke the preverbal camel’s back happened. As I was going up for a rebound, a player on the opposite team grabbed me from behind and pulled me down as he got the rebound. As I sat on the floor I lost a little of my composure. (I know y’all find that hard to believe but I was 25 and didn’t like to lose even if it was church league.) No whistle for a foul and I screamed at the referee. I got up and got in his face a little. It wasn’t my finest moment. He gave me a technical foul. I was furious. I kept mouthing off at how unfair this game had been. We went on to lose our first game at the other teams home gym by 3 points. At the end of the game I went up to the referee and apologized for my behavior and he had the gall to tell me it was just a game and I took it too serious. That’s when I began my next statement. I asked him just how much Christians were supposed to just play the game and not play the game giving it our best. Should we just participate for participation sake and not give it everything we have got to win. I began to tell him that was what was wrong with the church. We had too many just participating and not enough doing their best to see people come to know Jesus. I then went and told him that I believed that if Jesus would have been on the floor playing that He would do His best to win and then love on the other players. Jesus didn’t come to give just a little He came and gave His best. Are we not expected to do the same?
Well that was a long time ago and I have matured a little. I know my outburst wasn’t good, but my feelings are the same today. We have too many wanting trophies for participating and not enough giving it their best where serving Jesus and His church are concerned. Someone emailed me last week and suggested I do some Bible Studies on “Doing Our Best!” I thought it was a great suggestion so here goes. Here is what we will look at over the next 4 weeks:
1. How do we know what is best?
2. An example of Jesus’ best.
3. How to prepare to be our best.
4. How to know what is best.
How do we know what is best?
Let’s make one thing certain, the world’s decisions are not always best for the Believer in Jesus Christ. We have propagated the idea that best means being successful and making loads of money in life. I cannot tell you how often when I ask someone about their children or grandchildren they tell me they have good paying jobs and are doing well. What about the person who has a low paying job and is perfectly content helping others and they know they will never get ahead in life. How about a teacher or minister or nurse. These people give their best every day and yet they are not always seen as successful.
I know a young man that told his parents that he wanted to work as a minister and the parents were disappointed. He had done well in school and they believed he would go far in the world. Now they believe he is a failure because he devoted his life to helping others.
We cannot and must not make our decisions on what is best with worldly standards. We must seek better advice than the worlds to decide if we are doing our best or not.
Take a moment and read Isaiah 48:12-22. Israel has been in captivity in Babylon for 70 years and now Isaiah is prophesying that they will be freed. It is by their own hand and the fact that they didn’t do their best that has gotten them into this mess in the first place. Because they failed to follow God and worship Him and Him only God had the Babylonians come in and not only conquer Israel, but exile them away from their homeland. Now finally things are coming to an end and Isaiah reminds them what freedom is.
1. The God who created Best v. 12-16
As you begin reading in verse 12 we learn right off who it is that is doing the talking. Verse 12 says, “I am He!” The “I am” of Moses is reaffirming His reign over the world. The “I am” of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is affirming His position. The “I am” of King David is taking over the throne to begin ruling in the lives of His people. He calls on them to listen. He reminds them who He is. The creator of the earth. V13. He calls them to hear Him and to be assured that the one He has called to bring about Babylon’s destruction will follow and preform its duties. V14&15. In verse 16, Isaiah reminds the people of his best. He is speaking for the Sovereign Lord endowed by His Spirit.
God is reminding His people that He is still in control and that they are about to witness His best. He has not changed and He is still using others to bring about His plans. They are getting ready to see the best there is in God’s arsenal.
I believe there are times when we forget how mighty and powerful God really is. We often pray for God to do things, but I’m not sure that when we pray we really believe He will do anything. Often when we have answered prayers we seemed to be surprised and amazed that God has acted. I pray we never forget that every day we get God’s best. God never is slack concerning our lives. He never wakes you up one day and says, “Today you are on your own.” Yet we often wake up and try to live on our own. We serve a God who cares about our every need. 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you.” The God who created best is giving His best for each of us every day. We should praise God for that fact and not bemoan and complain. God does not seek ways to punish us, but He seeks ways to enrich our lives with His Spirit every day.
2. Learn the Best from the Best v. 17-19
I was privileged to have known and studies under Dr. Carl Bates. Dr. Bates was one of the greatest preachers in the 50s – 80s. He was pastor of two churches for the last almost 50 years of his ministry. His last pastorate was First Baptist Church of Charlotte, NC, where he stayed for 21 & ½ years. I began my seminary training in 1982 the year Dr. Bates retired from the pastorate. Some individuals at Charlotte endowed a preaching/teaching chair at Southern Seminary in his name. He was the first teacher of that preaching class. I was fortunate to take his class. I became good friend with Dr. Bates. Peggy and I were privileged to have him speak in our first church and he dedicated Joshua to the Lord. He was one of the smoothest preachers I have ever heard and I learned a great deal from his tutelage. He not only taught me in the classroom, but outside the classroom with stories and great advice. He helped me grow in ways I would have never imagined. He helped to ground me in my early preaching style. I am ever indebted to him.
They say if you want to learn something learn from the best. I learned to work on my cars from my Dad. I learned to cook from my Mom. I learned to love from Jesus. The question all of us need to be asking ourselves is who are we learning about life from? Are we taking our clues from the media? Are we listening to the world about what we should do and how we should live? Do we have a good friend that we confide in and they give us advice about what we should do and how we should behave? If we are Believers in Jesus Christ then we have to take all of our cues from God. Sure we need fellow Believes to support us, encourage us, and help us with advice, but we need to be seeking our life’s leading to God.
The words of Isaiah are so important for our lives. In verse 17 he says, “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” Are we listening? Are we seeking? Are we asking for direction? The God of Isaiah and Israel is the same God that you and I acknowledge today. He is waiting for us to want what is best. We can only be the best as Believers if we seek our life’s direction from the best.
Yes, you can listen to good preachers. Yes, you can read good Godly books. Yes, you can study good Bible studies. Yet in good sermons, good books and good Bible studies you must allow God to intervene in the teaching and lead you into what to believe and what to enact. If we leave God out of the mix we have only spent time taking in knowledge that will do us no good unless we activate God in the living out the knowledge.
Isaiah reminds us in verses 18-19 what we miss out on. Peace like a river, well-being like the waves of the sea. Do you get the picture? Have you walked by a stream that is ambling along running over rocks and making that beautiful sound as it runs down the mountain? That is peace at its best. Have you watched the waves roll in one right after another? That is the well-being of your life just rolling along with joy and contentment. God is ready to teach us all of this if we will listen.
And look at all we have missed because we do not listen. We miss out on the continuation of our good name. We miss out on a family that is entrenched in God and His statutes. God is ready to give us the best and teach us how to live lives of peace and contentment with a life well lived, but we fail to learn from the best. Listen to your pastors, hear the words of your Sunday School teachers, read your good Godly books, absorb God’s word, but don’t do it without the leading of God’s Spirit in your tasks. If you do you will miss out on the best.
3. Doing Your Best v.19-22
It is sad that the Olympics have been postponed for a year. I enjoy watching the competition and seeing the athletes compete. Yet did you know that of all the athletes that compete only 3 are awarded medals. Right, the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals. And of those three there is only one winner. No athlete competes and doesn’t expect to win, but not all win. Yet every one of those athletes give their very best. There is not one athlete that doesn’t start by saying, “It doesn’t matter where I end up.” They all want to win. That is why it is called a competition. Yet how often (as Americans) when we see that the American came in 23rd do we think that they are a failure. We think they should have done better. We are embarrassed or we say things like, “We’ve never done well in that sport.” Yet believe me the person who finished 23rd was trying their best to win.
The reason I tell youth is that not everyone who does their best always win at the competition that the world highlights. But everyone who does their best in the Kingdom of God is a winner. There is not 23rd place in God’s Kingdom. We are all winners.
Therefore Isaiah states, “Leave Babylon…Announce this with shouts of joy and proclaim it.” We are to announce with joy what God has done in our lives. We are to shout for joy that we have been awarded “life more abundantly.” John 10:10. Listen as Isaiah continues, “Send it out to the ends of the earth.” We are not to shy away from telling others about our Savior. At our best we should never stop living our best.
Paul uses the sports illustration of training. In 1 Corinthians 9:25 he says, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.” Everyone gets the prize that has worked and done their best for God. So I encourage you that whatever you are doing do it the best you can. Don’t ever slack off when it comes to growing and learning about what God has for you in this life. Shout for joy and announce to the world that your life is invested with the God who teaches what is best. And remember what Isaiah says in verse 22, “There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked.” Don’t allow yourselves to be convinced that you can’t do more. Give it your best and watch God teach you more and more
Everyone does their best differently. Be careful to never compare your best with the best of someone else. In my personal case there will always be better preachers. Better pastors. Better teachers. And that is okay. Because God doesn’t rate me with the other ministers. He looks at me and wonders if I am doing my best for Him in the place where He has placed me. So just do you best and know that God will reward you for it and give you peace and contentment.
1. What has God created best in you? What are you good at that God has shown you that you can improve on?
2. Are you allowing God to teach you? What is something new that God has taught you recently? Has it helped you in your peace and contentment in life?
3. Are you doing your best? Often when we are not we have a spirit of gripping and complaining about everything. What do you need to do to start doing your best? Is there something in your life standing between you and God and therefore it is hard for Him to teach you? Take the time right now to get it straight between you and Him. If there is someone you need to make amends with do it today. Don’t allow another minute to go by without knowing the peace and contentment that God wants to give you for doing your best.