God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things.—1 Corinthians 1:27-28
God is known for taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Throughout Scripture God used ordinary men to affect his kingdom in extraordinary ways.
One thing, however, set them apart. If we look carefully, we can see something they had in common. Each man God used had a responsive heart ready to hear God and a life that was available to obey God. Each also possessed the integrity to honor God.
Talent and ability are not prerequisites to being used by God. Accomplishments, awards, and recognition will not ensure kingdom usefulness; a "broken and contrite heart" does (Ps. 51:17). The Lord looks at the condition of a man's heart.
"I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind." (Jer. 17:10)
Two things are involved in taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary: a man and Almighty God in a covenant relationship. We are the ordinary. The extraordinary comes from God's nature. Whatever God touches becomes special because the Creator has interacted with the creation.
Each party has a role to fulfill in a relationship. But, unlike a human contract which becomes void if one party defaults, God never fails. God is faithful regardless of our faithfulness. However, some conditions must be met before God will use us.
Availability—the state of being ready for use.
Because God is everywhere, any situation has the potential for becoming extraordinary. His presence dramatically changes the circumstances. There is no limit to what will happen. From man's perspective this process is unexplainable. From a kingdom perspective it is the normal way God accomplishes his will through us.
"'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.'" (1 Cor. 2:9)
When I go to a doctor for a physical examination, he checks my blood pressure and heart rate, takes blood samples, and asks about any aches and pains. He checks for warning signs of heart disease, stroke, or any hidden ailments. Although physical checkups are common to men my age, spiritual checkups are less common.
If we fail to heed the warning signs, spiritual sickness will grow just like a physical disease. Our spiritual hearts will weaken and fail us. A weakening heart, whether physical or spiritual, puts us in crisis and makes us a possible candidate for surgery.
The Holy Spirit may point to symptoms that indicate a larger problem. God's Spirit may ask you to stop and deal with a particular issue in your character or behavior.
The Bible is full of spiritual checkups to help us stay on track and in good spiritual health. Psalm 15 is a great example of one of these spiritual checkups. Take a moment to read it now, slowly and thoughtfully.
This whole chapter deals with the heart. Consider it a heart "checkup" with the Great Physician, our Heavenly Father. If you sense the Holy Spirit dealing with you, stop immediately and listen carefully to him. Our prayer is that this book, with the leading of the Holy Spirit, will guide you into a healthy relationship with God.
"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (Ps. 139:23-24)
Just as a doctor points out signs of your health and sickness during a physical checkup, the Holy Spirit will show you the condition of your heart. He can use Scripture and circumstances, among other things, to do it. And when he does, as when we receive our report from the doctor, along with signs of health, we may receive some bad news.
The good news is that God changes the hearts of men.
At age nineteen, miserable, tired of the gang culture he lived in, Fernando Hernandez gave his life to Christ. Since then, he has shared Christ through a gang-prevention ministry to youth.
"I tell them that it is easy to do the wrong thing," said Hernandez. "Anyone can pick up a rock and chuck it through a window. But only a man could go to the lady, and say, 'I broke your window,' and offer to pay for it and make it right." Fifteen years earlier, Fernando was a gang member. Today, Jesus lives through him, and his life is a testimony to the power of God to change lives.
God is interested most of all in the condition of your heart. In Acts 13:22, God testifies that in David he found a man after his own heart, one whom he could count on to "do everything I want him to do." Would God find you to be such a man?
The development of a strong Christian character is the development of a man after God's own heart. Your character is who you are when no one is looking and what you are willing to stand for when someone is looking. Character is who you are striving to be and what you can be trusted with.
Integrity of character occurs when there is consistency between actions and inner convictions over time. Strong Christian character results from both human effort and divine intervention. It is the work of God as you relate to him in love. Strong Christian character is the result of your heart's desires to obey God.
First Corinthians 15:10 contains a great paradox. "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." Our character is developed fully by the power and grace of God which works within us. Yet, it is also a conscious decision we make to bring our mind, heart, and actions into line with God's will.
For instance, Al noticed a fellow employee taking home some items belonging to the company. When confronted, the fellow said that everyone did it; it was no big deal. Al replied that everyone did not do it. It was out of integrity that he did not do it. Noticing that the company items were fairly insignificant, Al asked, "Is your integrity only worth $2.50?" The employee said he had never thought of it that way and put the items back. Our character is a priceless possession that ought to be protected at all costs. It should never be for sale.
Hebrews 4:13 says, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account." God knows you inside and out. He knows your secret thoughts and feelings, your dreams and aspirations. God knows where your loyalties are and where your weaknesses cause you to stumble. He watches you interact with his people and react to circumstances. God looks to see if you are trustworthy and faithful. He can do much through you if your character is right.
If you are a man of little integrity or questionable character, do not expect God to reveal much of himself to you or to use you significantly for his kingdom. If you are a man of great character and integrity, you no doubt already have experienced God's activity in your life and serve him.
God is a mighty God who hears and saves us. But our sins separate us from God, and as a result, our relationship with him is not what it should be. All sins equally separate us from God—sins of doing wrong and sins of not doing right. Inaction and words can be as destructive as action and physical violence.
Consider the sins described in Isaiah 59:4:
"No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil."
When truth becomes victim to preserving our own safety and comfort, or when rationales take the place of facts, we will find ourselves involved in sin.
There are many different qualities of character. I want to introduce you to eight qualities of good character found in the man God uses.
The prophet Isaiah saw God seated on a throne, high and exalted with angels flying about, calling to one another
"'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.'" (Isa.6:3)
Immediately Isaiah cried out in despair because he recognized his sinfulness in the presence of a holy God. In the presence of God's holiness comes an awareness of our lack of holiness.
Qualities of Good Character
Holiness means "to be set apart and separate." We are to be separate from all that stains our world and dirties our lives—free of all sinful thoughts, destructive emotions, unclean images, impure motives, and questionable activities.
We cannot make ourselves holy. We can become holy only through the power of Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Through a pure and clean life, we reveal to our world the reality of holy God in our lives.
Isaiah 35:8 states that God is building a highway of holiness that the wicked cannot travel.
"And a highway will be there it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it."
God desires that your life and mine be that highway, the road over which others may be drawn to Christ, the road over which God may bring revival to our land. All the prayers, sacrifices, and pleadings with God will not bring revival until we take seriously our holiness.
An impure heart and mind that fail to acknowledge sin are barriers to effectively praying and seeking the Lord. If we choose to fill our minds with pornography, violence, immorality, hatred, promiscuity, and self-centeredness and call it entertainment, God will not hear our prayers.
No one can have a heart in one condition and produce fruit of an opposite condition. The condition of your heart will affect your actions, and your actions will reflect your heart.
Tom knew he wanted to propose to his girlfriend, but there was one problem. He didn't have a ring, and he didn't know anything about diamonds. Tom soon learned that a large diamond could cost the same as some small ones. The difference was quality. Some of the larger diamonds looked perfect, but to a trained eye, flaws appeared. Tom had to decide whether to impress others or pay as much for a smaller, unflawed stone. He chose the purer stone that reflected his feelings for his bride-to-be.
Pure means "to be singular in substance, without any imperfections or impurities." A pure heart is one solely committed to Christ first and foremost (Matt. 10:37-39).
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God" (Matt. 5:8). The word sincere is closely associated with purity. It comes from the Latin phrase sine cere meaning "without wax." Wax was often used to cover or fill in cracks in pottery so that it could then be sold as undamaged. Under the test of fire, the wax would melt and reveal the otherwise hidden cracks and impurities. If we want God to reveal himself to us so we can see him clearly, we must approach him with "clean hands and a pure heart" (Ps. 24:4).
"Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). The pure in heart are precious gems of great value to God.
Contrite means to be "humble and repentant before God," crushed by a sense of guilt and sin. In one way we are responsible for how we come before God. In another way, God will bring us to the edge of brokenness through our circumstances. Part of a covenant love relationship involves God's helping us to repent when we need to, but it still remains an act of our will. The prodigal son was not prevented from leaving the security of his father's house (Luke 15:11-32). His father allowed him the freedom to choose. But after the son came to the humiliating realization of where his decisions had led him, he repented and humbly returned to his father to ask forgiveness. His father ran to meet him, rejoicing in his return.
Psalm 34:18 says,
"The Lord is near to those who have a broken heart, And saves such as have a contrite spirit." (NKJV)
God can take a heart once hardened and rebellious and use circumstances to make it moldable and submissive. Without brokenness we become indifferent to God and to the needs of others. A proud heart exalts self and promotes independence from God. This is sin.
The result of a heart broken over sin is clear in Psalm 51:16-17:
"For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart. These, O God, You will not despise." (Ps. 51:16-17 NKJV)
The remedy for sin is clearly repentence. David's heart cry, found in Psalm 51, still describes what men today feel when they repent of their sin and ask God to revive and refresh their relationship with him.
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin....
Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." (Ps. 51:1-2, 10-12)
Fear brings a sense of awe and reverence toward God. Sometimes biblical fear can also refer to terror or dread when facing God's judgment. A lack of fear of God demonstrates a lack of understanding of who God is and what he is able to do.
Christians display a lack of fear when they
The apostle Paul knew God. The same man who wrote of the unfathomable depths of God's love in Ephesians 3 spoke of "the terror of the Lord" in 2 Corinthians 5:11 (NKJV). His certainty of God's judgment motivated him to persuade others of the truth. Fearing God is part of walking in his ways, loving him and serving him with all our hearts as we observe his commands. "And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord's commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?" (Deut. 10:12-13).
Too often we are more afraid of men than we are of God. Most men dread being ridiculed by others. Jesus warned, "'Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell'" (Matt. 10:28).
Similarly, binding Satan, casting him out, and rebuking him are common in the prayers of some Christians. Christ was never preoccupied with the satanic. Jesus knew that Satan had no power over him. Jesus declared, "'I saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven'" (Luke 10:18-20). Satan was rendered powerless as the disciples stepped forth in obedience to the task Christ had given them. We must be wise to Satan's methods, but fear is to be reserved for the one who has the rights to our lives.
The word faithful is linked to a promise: "Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life" (Rev. 2:10). Faithfulness is a lifelong goal. It is persevering to the end. Faithfulness is remaining true to the Lord and his Word through discouragement and difficulty as well as joy and success. Anything short of finishing the race is to be disqualified, and everyone who crosses the finish line is a winner.
Faithful—"steadfast, dedicated, dependable and worthy of trust"
Steve Eason was a Christian working in a country closed to Christianity. Yet, during his time there, he and his wife accepted opportunities to start Bible studies, share their testimonies, and bring the gospel to waiting hearts.
When government officials became suspicious of Steve, they searched his house for any sign that he was actively seeking to influence others with his faith. Miraculously, they overlooked all of his Christian materials—even those in plain sight. Eventually, Steve was deported—on the grounds that people around him were being changed!
God is searching for faithful men. He is searching for men he can trust to intercede on behalf of our nation. God is looking for men he can trust with God-sized tasks (Ezek. 22:30). Will you be that man? Will his eyes rest on you or pass over you?
You may have been unfaithful. You may have stumbled in the race and are limping along the sidelines. Forgiveness and restoration are available for those who recognize their failures and repent of them.
The eyes of Christ fell on his disciple Peter at a time of Peter's unfaithfulness. Peter ran out weeping bitterly because he recognized his own disloyalty (Luke 22:60-62). But Christ knew Peter's heart, and his eyes rested once again on Peter after the resurrection. Repentant Peter was forgiven, restored, and commissioned by his Lord (John 21:15-19).
A life of faithfulness begins with the first step of obedience and continues one step at a time. "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much" (Luke 16:10). Measure your faithfulness by applying this principle to your faithfulness to your family, friends, self, and employer. You will find it harder to be faithful to God if faithfulness is not a part of what you are in your other relationships.
"Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." (Rev. 2:10)
The apostle John wrote, "This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3). Many have rightly said that it is impossible for a man who loves God to say, "No, Lord," because if Christ is truly our Lord, we cannot refuse him.
Obedience is submission to the instructions of an authority. Our obedience to Christ's commands is proof to God and to everyone watching us that Christ indeed is Lord of our lives. The act of baptism for a new Christian is the first act of obedience in response to the commands of Jesus Christ.
"To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22). God doesn't want you just to give more money to the church. God isn't looking to see how many hours you spent witnessing. It doesn't really matter how much you feel you had to give up to follow Christ. God wants to see if you have truly heard him. He wants to see you obey.
Luke 6:46 contains Jesus' question, "Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Before we decide he was talking to someone else, we must think carefully over the past few weeks. Has God told us to do some things that we have not done? Is the obedience response a normal part of our lives? God loves obedience.
God's Word says, "Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God" (Exod. 34:14). God not only demands our complete loyalty, but he also deserves it. God desires to be found by those who are seeking him. God longs to reveal himself to his people and share the blessings he has waiting for us. Even more, God wants to commune with us in a reciprocating love relationship.
Another paradox in the Christian life is that we must seek God with our whole heart in order to find him, yet it is God who causes us to want to seek him in the first place. Jeremiah 29:11-12 describes the special relationship and promise God has provided for us. "'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.'"
God sets in motion his plans and his purposes for you, then you will find in your heart a desire to seek after him. "'No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him'" (John 6:44). It sounds so simple because it is, and yet all the complexity of God surrounds and enfolds that relationship. Love is the key. "We love [God] because he first loved us. If anyone says, 'I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar....Whoever loves God must also love his brother" (1 John 4:19-21). God's love leaves no room for hatred of anyone. God loves them, too, and we cannot love God and hate the very ones he loves.
It is easier for us to love those whom God loves if we allow God to love through us. However, if we are disobedient, if we are choosing to serve ourselves and our biases against others, then we are divided. "No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other" (Luke 16:13). Not only is it difficult, but resentment is bound to set in as the servant fails to serve either one adequately. Where does your devotion lie?
We must remember that our commander-in-chief is Christ Jesus our Lord. God has placed us in situations according to his will and his purposes. In other words, we don't wait to see how our employer treats us before deciding how hard to work. Rather, we work as if Christ were our overseer, and in reality he is. God places us where he wants us to make a difference as his servants. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving" (Col. 3:23-24).
Bob seemed ordinary enough. That is, until he began to speak. He shared how he had made his life available to God and the miraculous events with which God had involved him and the Christian men's organization he heads. Airlifts of blankets to refugees, semitrailers of supplies to tornado-ravaged locations, soup kitchens mobilized to flood disasters—on and on Bob shared how he had watched God match his people's resources with needs around the world.
Bob is a conduit through whom God's love flows to many nations. Bob's activities seem far removed from most people, but God found him faithful in small things and was able to trust him with more important tasks like the witness of lifesaving measures.
Whether we recognize it, God is involved in every aspect of our lives. He will take the ordinary circumstances we face and use them to develop our character. But our hearts have to be right first. If our hearts are sick or divided, we will view circumstances differently.
People commonly blame God for difficult situations or criticize him for his apparent lack of concern and involvement in our lives. However, God will use our circumstances for our benefit to promote greater dependence on him. God wants us to see how he works through challenging situations to overpower the evil one and to bring victory to those who love him.
Romans 8:28 is a promise of God. "We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." God works for the good of those who love him. Our role is to be obedient to God and faithful as each task or circumstance is placed before us.
The Bible offers guidelines to take us through life, like a plumb line builders use to see if a wall is perfectly straight (Amos 7:7-8). Look at the following examples from God's Word and line your life up against them to see if you have moved away from "plumb" or being perfectly straight. If a wall is no longer straight, the foundation, rather than the wall, may have shifted. The foundation of a Christian life is a love relationship with God.
"Set your heart" (2 Chron. 11:16) means to make following God your number-one priority. Nothing else can be more important to you than following God in every area of your life. Nothing else can take first place in your life. That position must be reserved for the one who can put everything in perspective. "'Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple'" (Luke 14:33).
Joseph had the responsibility of his young bride Mary and a newborn baby. It was crucial for him to have a heart that leaned toward God. God spoke to Joseph in a dream about the danger Herod had planned. At that point, Joseph's obedience determined whether his son would have a future. It is just as true today. Fathers, your obedience to God influences the future of your children.
"'Now then,' said Joshua, 'throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel'" (Josh. 24:23). Yield is translated in other versions as incline or be always leaning in God's direction. A friend who served as a campus student ministries director told his student council that there would be no excuse good enough for missing council meetings. Even in the case of death they had to be found pointing in the direction of the student building. In a humorous manner he made his expectations of loyalty and commitment clear. Our first and immediate inclination in any situation must be toward God and his standards.
The prophet Samuel instructed his people who were in great peril. "'If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods... and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you'" (1 Sam. 7:3-4).
To commit our hearts to God we must give up those things in our lives that have given us "heart trouble." Even a hint of these things remaining in our lives can lead to major heart trouble. When we see words like anything and everything and all in Philippians 4:6-7, we can begin to see how thorough God intends to be in cleansing us for his use. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).
From what do you think the peace of God should guard your heart? How much better off would you be spiritually? The list could include greed, impure thoughts, hatred, and sexual immorality. Do you see the contrast between those things and the peace of God? God will help us be cleansed when we turn loose of dissension, discord, rage, and envy, and instead make those things that are really getting us into requests we give to God. His peace will take the place of those anxieties while he responds to our prayers.
God calls these the "deeds of the flesh" or the "acts of the sinful nature." "Those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God....Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit" (Gal. 5:21, 24-25).
When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest or most important to keep, he said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind'" (Matt. 22:37). Your heart is the key to your relationship to God.
"Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life." (Prov.4:23)
You can determine to guard your heart against those things that would diminish your devotion to God. You can decide not to be put into compromising situations that would call into question your determination to serve God or cause your character to be suspect. You can place around you things to remind you of your love and commitment to God and ask fellow Christians to hold you accountable in your relationship to God (Job 1:10). You can refuse to give in to the temptations which follow closely behind you.
Guarding your heart means to put a hedge of protection around it because it is "the wellspring of life," the source of life-giving water.
"'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts'" (Heb. 3:8). Hardhearted people are often associated in the Bible with being "stiff-necked" (2 Chron. 36:13). These terms describe a people who will not bow their heads to God and who live in willful rebellion against him.
Hardening of the arteries results from a buildup of fatty material on the artery walls. It restricts blood flow from the heart, often leading to heart attack, stroke, or damaged organs. Just as hardened tissues can cause great peril to your body physically so a hardened heart can bring great harm to your spiritual life. Rebellion, pride, independence, anger, resentment, and bitterness can cause your heart to harden.
There is a cure. God alone has the cure to soften a hardened heart: repentance and release of our lives into God's hands. God says, "'I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God'" (Ezek. 11:19-20).
Let's stop at this point and take a breath. You may be asking, "Who possibly could meet up to this God-sized challenge?" I mean, if you ever met a man who met the entire criterion, you might not feel worthy to walk in his footsteps! That's the point. We really are not worthy, because the only one who truly matches this criterion is Jesus Christ. But Christ in us can make the impossible possible. The Bible commands us to put on Christ. "All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ" (Gal. 3:27). We are to clothe ourselves with Christ. "Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature" (Rom. 13:14). God has also provided for us to become like Christ. "For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Rom. 8:29). These are hefty commands!
These commands are God's strategy, his method to help us experience the full and abundant life Christ has to offer. "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose" (Phil. 2:13). God knows we are flawed creatures because of sin. In reality, most of the great men God used had major character flaws. From Adam to Abraham, from Moses to David, each one demonstrated how frail humanity is. With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, our will comes into line with Christ's will; our purposes begin to parallel his.
Our hands, feet, and mouths become God's tools to touch people we meet day after day. We begin to see God working in the lives of those we thought were hopelessly doomed. We begin to see people as Christ sees them, their needs, their spiritual hunger, their emptiness filled with worldly imitations of God's truth.
"Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations" (Eph. 3:20-21).
Each of us must begin where he is. We can't just jump into perfection or completion in Christ. God looks at our hearts and at the direction we are headed. If we set our hearts on God, he will set his heart on us. His role is to bring us to completion; our role is to let him and to cooperate with him.
Philippians 2:12-13 states this paradox: "Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling [your part], for it is God who works in you [his part] to will and to act according to his good purpose."
God is in the process of making the ordinary extraordinary. If you are willing to let him take your life as a potter takes clay, you are already underway in an exciting journey with Almighty God!
Take a moment to thank God right now for his love and his care for your life.