Only essentials

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‘You cannot overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.’ 
― John Maxwell

I recently read a book that my brother recommended called, ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less’ by Greg McKeown and it has been nothing short of life-changing.

It is not a spiritual book, but a practical one about rethinking our priorities and what we spend our time, energy and money on.  It is about making sure that we are focused on what is most important and allowing other demands to drop lower down our to-do list.  Or even to drop off the list altogether.

If there was ever a time in history when we need the ability to sift out the non-essential so we can focus on the essential, it is now with all the distractions that 2019 has to offer.

In Matthew chapter 22.37-40, Jesus is asked what is the most important commandment.  So, the Son of God takes the law, every commandment and detailed moral requirement in the Torah, and He distils it down to just two.

Love God.  Love people.

These are simple words but they are not easy ones.  Because, like the rich, young ruler found out, our time and resources are finite and it is so tempting to spend them on earthly trinkets, leaving no budget for eternal treasures.

Living a life of essentialism means believing that we have choices to make every single day if we are going to invest in what matters.  It means knowing that we cannot have everything.  It means resisting the urge to spread ourselves thinly so we can excel at a few important things instead.

I read the Sermon on the Mount today.  These verses are rich and challenging.  They paint a beautiful picture of following God, loving what He loves and putting value on what He values.  As I read the passage this afternoon, I felt the Holy Spirit recalibrate my heart; like a spiritual compass helping me to point north again.

Because, if we want to live life well, there really are priorities. 

Inspired by the passage in Matthew 5-7,  I have written a few things that I want to be intentional about over the coming months.  Maybe they will help you to think about your own life and what is essential to you.

The person that I am becoming greatly matters to God so I will let Him work on me.

I am here for a reason so I will be a light, somehow, every single day.

Unforgiveness comes between me and God so I will refuse to entertain it.

Some things matter in eternity but most do not.  I determine to live like I believe that.

I can only have one boss so I will make sure it is God.

There isn’t enough time in the day for both powerful prayer and compulsive worry so I will choose prayer, whether I feel like it or not.

It is the easiest thing in the world to know about what the Bible says but never obey it.  I have decided that won’t be my story.  

Not everyone who thinks that they know God actually does.  If I do nothing else, I will make sure I know God.

Take some time this week to think about what is really essential to you.  Write your values down and put them somewhere where you will see them.  Ask for grace to rearrange life so what really matters takes its rightful place in your schedule.  Be brave.  Let some things go.  Worship God with how you spend your time.

Dare to live like you believe everything that God has said is true and that nothing matters more than being part of what He is doing.

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(these pictures are from the place in Northern Israel where it is believed Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poured out, filled up

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I don’t know about you, but I have to remind myself regularly that God’s way of thinking and mine are quite often at odds with each other.

That’s why Jesus had to tell so many parables.  He was describing a culture that his disciples had never heard of and were struggling to understand.  Most of the time they still didn’t get it.

Quite often I miss it too.

Many years ago, I was sitting in bed with my young children, reading them the story of the Little Red Hen.  I assume you are familiar with this children’s fable, but if not, here is a summary.

The Little Red Hen, who lives in a farmyard, fancies some nice freshly baked bread.  So she asks her farmyard friends to help her go harvest some wheat for the flour.  One by one, the pig and the duck, the rat and the cat, all say no.  They are basically lazy and can’t be bothered.  So she goes and harvests the wheat herself.

Then she asks for help to thresh the wheat.  Again her short-sighted mates decline.  So, she does it herself.  The same thing happens with milling the flour and baking the bread.

Soon a beautifully baked loaf emerges from the oven all golden brown and the smell wafts its way around the farmyard.  Of course, her predictable friends all come running, hoping for a slice.  At this point, the Little Red Hen gets her moment.  ‘Oh no!’ she exclaims, ‘you didn’t help me harvest the wheat or thresh it or mill it or bake the bread so you don’t get to help me eat it’.  And she promptly tucks into the freshly baked treat to enjoy it all by herself.

I can still remember the pleasure that I felt as I was reading this to my kids, snuggled together in bed.  ‘Oh I love this story’ I thought to myself.  ‘ I love that clever, hard-working hen.  She’s so responsible, so independent, so gutsy. ‘

I guess I related to her.

I’m a first-born, responsible type of gal.  I play by the rules and I work hard.  As I sat there with my kids under the duvet, in the middle of a life that was too busy and church responsibility that felt unappreciated, I comforted myself with the thought of blessings that would compensate me.  I salivated at the thought of these golden baked rewards that I had earned, special rewards just for me.

But I had it a little twisted.

Because there is absolutely no place in God’s Kingdom for entitlement, only gratitude. 

And, the blessings that come from obedience are for sharing.

Every good thing I do or have comes only from Jesus.  I cannot even worship Him without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.  I can’t be a good wife or mom on my own.  I cannot serve Him, love Him or love others without His grace on my life.

And gratitude is so incredibly powerful.  It kills ego and it grows into selfless generosity.

If I really believe that every good thing I have is from God, I will be happy to share it.  I will never expect special treatment or privileges.  I won’t keep track of the things I have done for God, expecting my equally large slice of reward. 

I will be blessed and filled-up in order to pour out.

I will feel able to give out encouragement and love and acceptance because I know there are endless reserves of them all in Jesus when I am in need.  I will be open-handed with my time and my friendship, not waiting for proof that someone is worthy of them.

And there is such freedom in this kind of generosity.  I am free to stop thinking about myself and worrying about my needs.  I am free to love and give extravagantly and to let others shine. I am free to keep giving without any thought to stocktaking.

Because this Kingdom has a King and He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

He modelled this topsy-turvy Kingdom living when He left behind privilege and made Himself nothing.  He was rejected by His own creation and betrayed by friends.  He healed and performed miracles that were met with antagonism and unbelief.  He was alone when in obedience He went to the cross and was crucified.

And after all of this, He was raised to life and received His reward, the keys of life and death, which He freely shares with His beloved humanity, without reservation.

There is no place in this Kingdom for Little Red Hens.

It is a Kingdom of gratefulness and generosity where egos die and freshly baked gifts are sliced and shared and all blessings become worship.

Take time to be thankful today.  Find someone to share your blessings with.  Find someone to share yourself with.  Be generous with your words at every opportunity.  Joyfully live the upside-down, kingdom life.  Fill up and pour out.  Smile at a grumpy person.  Forgive someone who hasn’t even noticed they have hurt you.  Share something you earned with someone undeserving.

Let gratitude for God’s overwhelming, unmerited grace colour everything you do and say so that all who cross your path will know, without a doubt, what kingdom you belong to.