Pursuits

Coming off an election that cost nearly $14 billion, I was thinking of the general message underlying the ads and platforms. Many candidates promised variations on the rights promised in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And while these are good things, are they the most important things for us to pursue? Do they truly bring us far more life?

It is easy to focus on our own life, our own liberty, and our own happiness. Our natural human tendency is to pursue things that increase our individual freedoms and personal benefit. But compare that focus to the overarching message of the life we are called to pursue in Christ:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NIV)

Freely you have received; freely give. (Matthew 10:8, NIV)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. (Acts 4:32, NIV)

 So when you give to the needy… (Matthew 6:2, NIV)

Our Creator and Savior wants us to be happy, but that happiness is not found in self-serving pursuits. Pursuing and fulfilling God’s purpose for us is what truly makes us happy. The verses above remind us that His desire, His purpose for us, is to love Him and love others through our choices and actions. By doing this, we bring God glory and make Him visible to people who do not have a personal relationship with Him, attend church, or read the Bible. We do this, in part, by pursuing personal growth so that we become more like Him. As we are filled with His character qualities (love, joy, peace, and more), those we interact with can see Him reflected in our words and actions. But we see even greater results and are even happier when we intentionally reveal God through our giving, sharing, living, and words.

God blesses us, so that all the ends of the earth may fear Him. (Psalm 67:7, NASB)

generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Proverbs 11:25, NIV)

God has blessed us richly! Many of us put extra effort into reflecting on and acknowledging those blessings at this time of year. But God does not intend for us to hoard our blessings. Sharing our blessings with others honors God and brings far more life! The parable of the talents (money) in Matthew 25 illustrates this. The master gave some of his servants money to hold for him while he went away. When the master returned, the servants who pursued opportunities to increase their holdings were praised by their master:

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21 & 33, NIV)

Whatever “talents” God has entrusted to us, He wants us to invest in building His kingdom. Our “talents” could be money, leadership or organizational skills, influence, compassion, health, time, education, wisdom, or simply a willingness to do good wherever we see a need. We may pursue investments that benefit those for whom we feel special concern, whether that be those who are poor, abandoned, ill, mistreated, abused, neglected, or overlooked. We also have freedom to use our talents to pursue personal gain. But we will find far more life by using what God has given us to bless others, especially when we are sharing His love, grace, and truth with them.

The Apostle Paul writes it this way:

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. (I Corinthians 3:11-15, NIV)

Accepting Jesus’ death and resurrection as payment for our sins and entering into an eternal relationship with God is the foundation of far more life. That foundation is secure, no matter what we do with the rest of our lives. But we choose what we add to that foundation: will we pursue personal life, liberty and happiness? Or will we pursue God’s purposes and plans?

Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. (Matthew 6:33, NCV)

Pursuing God is the guaranteed path to irrevocable life, inalienable liberty, and eternal happiness — far more life!

Sisters,
What do you desire most in this life?
Think of times when you have hoarded your blessings and times you have shared them: which made you happier?
What “talents” has God entrusted to you? How are you investing them in His kingdom?
How have you found far more life pursuing God’s purposes?
Thank Him for richly blessing you and offering you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Gold!

 …Now for a short time different kinds of troubles may make you sad. These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. This purity of faith is worth more than gold. Gold can be proved to be pure by fire, but gold can be destroyed. But the purity of your faith will bring you praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ comes again. (I Peter 1:6-7, ICB)

Throughout history, gold has been viewed as valuable. It contains an array of unique and beautiful colors. It absorbs light, which makes it appear to shine. It is rare enough to be special, but still possible to find. It is hard to locate and extract from the earth in large quantities. It does not corrode. It is malleable and can be formed into different shapes. When melted, it can be poured into forms and stamped for practical uses, like money, or admired in jewelry and decor. It does not react with other elements, allowing it to retain its beauty over time. The purer a piece of gold is, the more valuable it is.

God compares our faith to gold. Faith is beautiful. It shines. It is relatively rare. It is hard to find on the earth in large quantities. It does not corrode. It is malleable. Faith is practical but also admirable. It retains its beauty over time. The purer faith is, the more valuable it is.

Gold can be proved to be pure by fire. Raw gold has other elements mixed in with it. It is purified by being heated by fire or electricity, then introducing a chemical that pulls out the impurities (non-gold components).

These troubles come to prove that your faith is pure. God compares the process of refining our faith to refining gold. Trials are the heat that is applied to our faith. They bring ungodly beliefs, thoughts, and actions to the surface so they can be removed from our lives. The result in God’s children is far more life — a purer faith that is a better reflection of God.

The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart. (Proverbs 17:3, NIV)

This purity of faith is worth more than gold. This seems like a strange comparison, comparing seemingly-intangible faith with tangible gold. But our faith results in actions. It shapes our decisions. It permeates every aspect of our lives. That makes it tangible. Our faith is real to God, too. It is valuable to Him. He will use one of earth’s most valuable elements — gold — to make the streets in Heaven (Revelation 21:21). Those streets will be beautiful, but our faith is infinitely more beautiful and valuable in God’s economy!

Gold can be destroyed. Humans do not know how to destroy gold. We can dilute its purity, but it still exists. We can dissolve it with chemicals, but that only causes it to disperse further. Perhaps God can destroy gold by some power or force that is not available to us. The Greek word that was translated “destroyed”, apollymenou, can mean “to no longer serve the use for which they were designed”, so perhaps that is a better interpretation. Using either meaning — destroy or make unusable — these verses contrast gold’s destructibility with our faith. There is no trial that can destroy genuine faith. Nothing can cause it to stop serving its purpose in our lives. In fact, our faith leads to eternal life:

For you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:9, NIV)

Here are other Bible verses that use gold to illustrate a spiritual lesson:

The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. (Psalm 119:72, NIV)

Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 8:10-11, NIV)

God’s guidelines for life are more precious than gold! They offer value for both this life and the next one.

Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. (Acts 3:6-7, NIV)

The lame man did not recognize Peter possessed something more valuable than gold. Peter looked beyond the man’s obvious need and met his deepest need. God’s work in our lives is also precious and priceless!

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. (I Corinthians 3:11-13, NIV)

The writer uses physical building materials as an analogy for the components of our lives. Some, like gold, are valuable investments of our time and energy that God will reward when we reach Heaven. Others are not deemed valuable by God and will not gain us anything in Heaven. Far more life builds with gold!

Sisters,
What aspect of gold is most appealing to you? How do you see that aspect in your faith?
How have trials refined your faith? What impurities have they exposed and removed?
What is your reaction to the claim that faith is valuable? Do you value it more than gold?
Are there areas of your life where your faith seems unusable? Ask God to help you see how faith can add value in those areas.
Where are you using gold to build your life? What is not gold that could be?
Thank God for the richness of faith and far more life that accompanies it!
-Shari

Copyright 2020, Shari Damaso

Persevering in Faith

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.  (James 1:2-3, NIV)

These are familiar verses to me — and maybe to you as well — but it is easy to skim over them. They can be hard to digest if we read them in the middle of a trial (also translated temptation, test, trouble, difficulty, challenge, and hardship). Joy often seems impossible at those times. But if we read them when life is pleasant, we are tempted to dismiss them as idealistic thinking. But I recently realized how powerful and life-changing this instruction can be if applied literally.

The testing of your faith produces perseverance. In the past, I have thought of perseverance as grinding through a hard time, not giving up, not turning away, digging in our heels. But that response to a test of faith leaves out God and increases our reliance on ourselves and our abilities. That is not what God intends! And that is definitely not far more life.

Looking into the original Greek, the word translated as perseverance (or endurance in some Bible versions) is hypomonḗ, which means “to remain under” or “be unswerving in deliberate purpose and loyalty to God”. God wants us to remain under Him, unswerving and loyal, through our trials. That is actually the best place we can be during hardship: under the care, power, and purpose of our loving Father. That is where we find far more life.

We are tempted to think difficulties mean God is displeased with us and good circumstances indicate His approval. If this is our view, it is impossible for us to remain under Him when trouble arises. Fear tempts us to hide from Him. But God has a glorious plan for the faith-stretching struggles He allows in our lives.

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:4, NIV)

…Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials…so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold…may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (I Peter 1:6-7, NIV)

We want to experience good circumstances for remaining under Him; while God sometimes blesses us in that way, we can always count on Him to increase our faith and grow our character. What does that mean? Is it worth the pain we suffer?

Mature. Complete. Not lacking anything. Paul describes the same idea three ways to make sure we catch it. We will become like Christ, perfect in character, with perfect beliefs, thoughts, actions, and understanding. Every trial has the potential to make us more like Him if we allow it. Trials offer us far more life.

Keeping this big picture perspective enables us to obey the beginning of the passage: consider it pure joy whenever you face trials. Knowing we can use each trial to make us more Christ-like is a reason to face it with joy. I have a friend who embraces this. He consistently responds to trials with the exclamation, “Oh, good. God has allowed a trial!” His response is authentic and automatic; he relishes the chance to see God work in and through his life. My friend has faced some very difficult trials yet remained under God; and God has faithfully shaped his character to be more like Jesus.

How do we face trials with joy?

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5, NIV)

If you do not know, ask God! He will not criticize, berate, or belittle you. He will generously and graciously provide the wisdom you need to walk in far more life. But Paul does share this caution:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6, NIV)

You must ask God for wisdom with genuine faith. This is not the time for testing: “God, if you are real, give me wisdom.” It is not the time for bargaining, “God, if you give me wisdom now, I promise to never doubt you again.” It is good to admit that we lack faith; that is the first step in growing it! Use your doubt to uncover your core beliefs about God by asking yourself how you feel about trusting God and why you feel that way. As you alternate between these questions, digging deeper into your beliefs, you will encounter a core belief about God’s or your identity that does not line up with His Word. Turning to His Word for truth replaces that false belief, removes doubt, and allows genuine faith to flourish. And far more life!

I think this translation makes this passage relatable:

Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4, VOICE)

Do not run away from hardship. Instead run to far more life as you remain under God in your difficulties this week.

Sisters,
What is your first thought or feeling when a test, hardship, trial, or difficulty arises?
Can you think of a time when you relied on God through a trial and your faith in Him grew? Can you also think of times where you relied on yourself instead? What impact did those have on your faith?
How has your character grown more Christ-like through hardship?
Where do you turn for wisdom? What barriers keep you from turning wholeheartedly to God?
Thank God for His faithfulness and commitment to keep growing you. And for revealing far more life to you each step of the way.
-Shari