The Difference Between Strive And Strife

strive, strife, Matthew 6:33It is interesting to me how one word can, over the course of time and through the interaction of diverse people groups, take on different meanings or connotations. Take the words “strive” and “strife”.  As near as I can tell they both derive from the Old French word “estriver” which originally meant simply to quarrel or dispute and the Old Norse word “stritha” which meant to fight.

From those words we now have two English words, one with a positive connotation (strive) and one with a negative connotation (strife).  In our modern vernacular, to strive for something is to work through adversity or to overcome obstacles on the way to a goal or in the process of betterment.  Strife, on the other hand, usually means actual conflict (which can be internal or external in nature) that causes anguish or suffering for the participants.

Why is this worth discussing?  And more importantly, does it have spiritual application for us?

It is important and it does have spiritual application and here’s why:  Anytime we set a goal for ourselves we have the choice of doing things God’s way or trying to do them our way and in our own human power.  It could be a promotion or a raise at work, a target healthy weight, a certain amount of money saved up, a test score or anything else that we could conceive.

Ideally, we would set our goal and then commit that goal in prayer to God and then set about achieving it in a Godly way.  We would do the best we could but ultimately we would be trusting in God’s provision (and implicit in that trust is not taking short-cuts along the way or trying to speed the process along by worldly means) and setting our hope on him.  We would have peace in our hearts and joy in our minds because we know that we would be choosing God’s best for us rather than just guessing what might be best or what might satisfy us for only a short while.

Going back to our title, we would be striving in the best way possible.

But what if, instead of committing our ways and thoughts to the Lord, we decided to go it alone?  What if, instead of acting like born-again believers we decided to act like those who do not acknowledge God?  Sooner or later, we would find ourselves in the midst of strife.  We would worry and anguish over what we wanted and we would not have the peace that comes from fully trusting in the Lord.  We would also, most likely, not achieve our goal in God’s timing or in God’s way and that would lead to dissatisfaction and a sense of emptiness and loss.

Internal strife would be our constant companion until we repented and turned back to God and we would know no peace until we made things right.

The exhortation is this: We must examine where we are and where we want to be.  We must make sure that we are committing our ways and thoughts to the Lord and then repent and turn away from those places where we are not.  Only God can do what needs to be done and it is only through His power that we can achieve all that He has for us.  Working towards a goal is good so long as we are doing it in a way that pleases the Lord.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.  Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

 

 

The First Step Towards God Meeting Your Needs

provision, Matthew 6:33I would like to focus on a thought the Holy Spirit shared with me this week and examine it in closer detail.  God is so good and faithful to His children and as I was praying for wisdom and direction for this week’s blog entry, this is what was impressed upon me:  In order for God to fully provide for us, we must fully provide ourselves to Him.

Immediately following this thought I recalled a verse of scripture, Matthew 6:33, which says:

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to (provided for) you. (NASB)

By the fact that this scripture immediately followed the thought I knew that it was from God and that I needed to share it.

On a basic level, all of us enjoy the blessings of life, whether we know God and acknowledge Him or not.  But according to our thought for today and the scripture verse that goes along with it, certain things will only be provided once we have begun to seek Him first, over and above all else.  Does that mean that God will withhold certain things from His children when they do not seek Him and do not put him first?  Yes, I believe that is exactly what it means and once again we can go to scripture to look for examples.

“But I gave you also cleanness of teeth in all your cities
And lack of bread in all your places,
Yet you have not returned to Me,” declares the Lord.
 “Furthermore, I withheld the rain from you
While there were still three months until harvest.
Then I would send rain on one city
And on another city I would not send rain;
One part would be rained on,
While the part not rained on would dry up.  (Amos 4:6-7) NASB

Notice, God withheld rain and there was a lack of food because His people were in rebellion and would not turn back to Him.  Rain is necessary for water to drink for all living things and without it food becomes scarce.  Rain and the water it brings can be thought of as the most basic and critical necessity for life and God alone is responsible for its abundance or lack thereof.

Our verse in Amos was in the past but what about in the future?  Does the Bible have anything to say that would indicate God could use this type of withholding again?  Yes, it does, in fact.

 Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.  And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. (Zechariah 14:16-17)

Zechariah chapter 14 is prophecy.  It speaks about a day that has not yet come to pass and verses 16 and 17 are thought to take place after the 2nd coming of Jesus.  So if God withheld provision in the form of rain and water from His people in the past and will do so in the future then it does not take any stretch of the imagination to believe that He is doing so now.  And if He will do it for an entire nation or body of people then He will certainly do it for us as individuals.  To turn around the thought we started with, if we are withholding ourselves from God and seeking after other things then we can expect God to begin withholding certain things from us and before too much time has passed we will begin to find ourselves in need.

As children of God, we should know that He is generous and desires to give abundantly.  It is never His desire to withhold from us and to see us in lack or in need.  We have a responsibility to stay in the place where God can bless us and He can only do so when we are actively seeking Him.  To find healing and renewal for ourselves, for our families and for our country we must turn our eyes and hearts towards Jesus our savior and cry out to Him.  Only He can provide what we so desperately need.

The New Year’s Resolution that Actually Works!

New Year's Resolution, Matthew 6:33, Psalm 127:1Traditionally I have not been fond of the idea of New Year’s resolutions.  In my mind, if you need to be doing something and aren’t already doing it then the simple changing of the calendar isn’t likely to have very much long term effect.  Sure, it’s a brand new year and the hopeful optimist in me wants to believe in limitless possibilities but the reality is, unless we change our behavior permanently then our New Year’s resolutions will never be more than good ideas.  I know that sounds terribly pessimistic but please, stay with me.

I don’t know about you, but I am the type of guy who likes things a certain way.  I tend to stick to a pretty close schedule and I tend to do the same actions in the same ways, day in and day out, unless I am forced out of that pattern by circumstances or other people.  This is fine, as long as my thoughts and actions line up with what God wants for my life according to what He tells me in His Word.  When it’s not fine is when I allow certain thoughts and actions to become a part of my daily existence to the point that they become harmful habits.  And let’s face it, harmful habits are why we have New Year’s Resolutions in the first place, right?

Whether it’s putting things in to our bodies that we shouldn’t or it’s watching and listening to things that darken our thoughts and don’t point us toward the truth, around the New Year we seem more open to the idea of new beginnings and trying to do and be better.  That impetus to change is a good thing and I’m not arguing that we should ignore it or give up without trying, although it may seem that way initially.  Sometimes, human effort alone leads to success.  Sometimes, we can stick with the plan and we actually do exercise more and eat a better diet and lose weight and become a  more healthy person in the process.  Sometimes.

Just as often (maybe even more often), however, we stray from the plan or end up dropping the plan altogether.  We have good intentions but for some reason we just don’t follow through.  Or perhaps we are able to stick to the plan but the results are not what we hoped.  We do everything in our power to be successful and to reach our goals but life and circumstances keep getting in the way and our human effort just isn’t getting it done.

I’ve said this to my Sunday School class many times but God did not create man so that he could follow a set of rules.  God created man for relationship (and isn’t that so much better!) and we are only ever going to find peace and fulfillment inside of that relationship to our Heavenly Father.  With that in mind, the answer to any improvement that we want to make in our lives must come from Godly inspiration and must be committed to Him.  Here are a couple of helpful verses:

But seek first (continually seek) His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33 (NASB)

Unless the Lord builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the Lord guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. Psalm 127:1 (NASB)

Looking at these two verses together I think the idea should be clear.  When we make it our goal to seek God’s kingdom first and to pursue our relationship to our Father above and beyond anything else then He is going to make sure that we are taken care of.  We will still struggle with certain sins and weaknesses of the flesh as long as the Lord leaves us on this earth but rest assured that if God is our goal then His goal is going to be to make us like Him and He is not going to leave us in our error and sin forever.  Put simply, God is going to fix us and I pray every day for a little more “fixing” from the Lord!

We also need to remember that it’s ok for us to have plans and dreams but those plans and dreams must be in God’s timing and in God’s way.  Any resolution that we make that is inspired by God in this way will always, 100% of the time come to pass.  As we begin this new year, why not seek Him ever more earnestly and learn what kinds of plans and resolutions would please Him most?

 

Why Taking Care Of God’s Business Is Good For Us

Matthew 6:33, Kingdom of God, SpiritPutting the Lord’s business in front of our own is a real challenge.  We live in a fallen world and we are fallen creatures of flesh.  Our physical senses limit us to perceiving only temporary things and the completely natural thing to do is to react to the circumstances and environment around us and try to take care of our needs first and foremost.

But this is not God’s way.  If we profess to be His children then He asks us to seek to do His work first.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

Because God is good, His instruction also comes with a promise.  If we seek His kingdom and His righteousness first then everything else that we need will be provided for us.  In other words, our God will never leave us stranded or without help.  As we work for Him and carry out His business He will be working right alongside us for our benefit and His glory.  This is a great blessing in and of itself.

But there’s more!

What God has been teaching me lately is that if I will put Him first and do the work that He has asked me to do then while I am doing it, I won’t fall into sin and temptation and am much less prone to human error.   Put another way, doing God’s will is the perfect defense against sinning against Him.  It sounds obvious when you really think about it but is still an amazing truth to discover.

When I am doing my own thing and not being especially attentive to the Lord I make a lot of mistakes and tend to exercise poor judgement.  When I am listening for the Lord and putting His work first then I perform at a level that is higher than “me”.  And that is completely awesome to the point that afterwards I will sometimes look around and go “what just happened?  Did I do that?”

And the answer is no, God did it.  I was just the man who was willing and ready to be used.

God will do the same for you also.  If you are willing to believe on Him, walk with Him in Spirit and truth and then put His kingdom and His righteousness first God will perform miracles through you.  You will do things that will leave you joyful and amazed as His Spirit flows through you.  And through it all, God will be glorified and you will see just how God our God can be.

He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:38)