Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister and Lazarus. “So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” John 11:5-6 (John 11:1-43)
In a previous story, God taught me to live life “Fully Alive”. It seems contrary now to write about being “good and dead”. Lately, I have been in a stretch of “nothing like it used to be”. Actually, it seems like I’m going nowhere fast! I have prayed about and signed up for service trying to ‘make stuff happen’ thinking I wasn’t doing enough; not doing my part. However, just when I thought, it was happening (whatever “it” is); it would fizzle out. I would call out to God to show me what He wanted from me but…nothing! No sense of wait, or go, or sit, or stay! I’m not sure what I was hoping would happen. Well, that’s not true; I was hoping for a message like Moses received at the burning bush; very clear, detailed directions of what God expected from him. Unlike Moses, who received all these clear, detailed commands from God, yet stammered and questioned God’s decision to send him, I’m sitting here waiting on God’s clear, detailed directions knowing I’m the girl for the job, send me! He’s taught me all these wonderful lessons through my true-life experiences. They can’t go to waste! Let’s get crack’n!
Recently, I opened His Word, and read, for the umpteenth time, the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. When I got to the verse; “Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.” It jumped out at me as if the Lord’s hands had come out of the pages, embraced my face and said, “This verse is for you, Denise”! Let it sink in and hear what I’m saying! I cried instantly! Not just because I recognized that He might be asking me to wait two more days, two more months or two more years (or here’s a scary thought, never!), but I wept knowing that He’s still so active in my life and strives to teach me what I need to learn in order to be more like Him. It is an awesome thing to be in the hands of the loving, merciful, forgiving God of grace and instruction! He told me, in no uncertain terms, that He would not use me until I was not just dead; but good and dead! When reading the NIV footnotes of this passage it was believed that the spirit of a person hung around for three days in case it returned to the body. A fourth day meant the spirit had left, and no longer any hope of life returning to the body. As far as the people were concerned, Lazarus was “good and dead!” Now Jesus could really do the Father’s work! He was not only going to cut through the power of very real and final physical death but He was going to cut through people’s belief systems and wives tales or folk lore! God never just deals with one part of a person; He deals with the whole person and it’s never just for that one person’s benefit. It ends up serving all who witness or share in that person’s life or in this case death.
Where do I go from here! I need to wrap my head around knowing that this old girl is going to die, one way or the other! Yes, I could die physically, as we all will, and I trust I will go straight to be with my Lord. Then, maybe He will use my physical death to His glory and this lesson will have been lived out. Was that an oxymoron? However, if I continue on this soil, I must make up my mind that I need to die to self. John the Baptist said in John 3:30 that, “Christ must become greater and I must become less.” I’m being honest here, but it seems strange to sit here knowing that I must decrease, and to the world I certainly have, but I have to wrap this attitude around my heart. It’s hard enough to be a spoiled rotten child! It’s even harder to be a spoiled rotten adult! One who knows better but still hangs on to conditional love so tightly that she wants to earn love by “recognized” works. God has allowed her to serve Him with fun and exciting works in her fresh, new love for Him but over the years, her head has been turned by accolades instead of her first love. This is my sin that I now confess. It is so hard to serve the Lord and have folks give praise and appreciation to a woman who, as a girl, only ever received conditional affirmation after she had performed a chore or task perfectly, as ordered. A form of “spoiled rotten” that I have not understood until now. I have always thought of a spoiled rotten child as one given everything she ever wanted without having to do anything to earn it. Now, I recognize my spoiled rottenness as doing anything and everything to gain other’s approval and then clamoring to make sure, it was noticed. I have worked for years on this ministry that I know and trust the Lord has purposed for me. He has allowed me to go through storms and turmoil and then I’ve watched Him turn them into character building blessings. I wouldn’t change any part of the experience because I have sensed His presence with me the whole time and He has always revealed its purpose in short order. No matter what’s happening in my life, I know it will turn out for my good because I love God. (Romans 8:28) and He so loves me. It’s no longer just a promise it’s a reality.
What does “dead to myself” look like? I think most of us visualize what our works will look like as we’re preparing them. Is this prideful and self-seeking? I don’t believe a minister only visualizes how he will present his message but also how people in the congregation will respond to that message. “Miss Jones is going to hate this but she will just have to learn what God has for her” or “I know there are two couples contemplating divorce but just maybe they’ll tell me how these words spoke to their heart and they’ve reconsidered.” Have you ever noticed in the Bible that Christ makes the most of every opportunity with people and then in many cases you never hear about that person again? He doesn’t speak of them and their new life is not shared in additional pages of the Bible. If you think about it, you know their encounter with Christ had to affect their life in such a way it eventually influenced those around them. It must have because their story is still affecting lives 2,000 years later! Jesus Christ does now what He did then; exactly what the Father purposed for Him and then leaves the rest up to the Father, the Holy Spirit and the lives He’s touched.
One of my favorite professional photographers is Dewitt Jones. Once a photographer for National Geographic he is now a motivational speaker through his photography. He is blessed with such a marvelous gift of capturing an event on film and then sharing it in such a way that you not only see a magnificent picture but you receive a thought provoking message and, if received and understood, you become a better person for having viewed it. Throughout his motivational DVD’s he repeatedly shares that he’s not motivated by praise or accolades. His only motivation in all his work is purely for the joy of sharing the blessing he receives through his camera lens and how the world, God’s creation, touches him so. He states in his motivational film; Celebrate What’s Right With the World2 his attitude about doing what you know you were meant to do without dependence on recognition. He says it this way; “A balance to take it all in until I was full to overflowing and then with gratitude and grace to give it all back. To put it all out there the very best that I had to offer without any regard to whether it was received or not. I know that when I can do this, wonderful things happen.”
Wow! What a beautiful way to encourage me to only do that which the Lord has laid on my heart and then, I would add; let all the glory return to Him. My glory is the privilege and joy in doing that which He put on my heart in the first place! He will never give his glory to another, but He does allow peace and joy to rule in an obedient heart.
If I am to be truly and completely dead, this desire for recognition needs to stop, no more clamoring for ‘recognition rituals’ in order to receive the praise of others. They may be sincere for the moment but they’re short lived and it doesn’t take long before you no longer measure up. I’m only to do that which God has purposed for me; trust that He is in the plans and will guide me through them and then, if He chooses, will reward me in His own special way, here and now or later with Him. With grace and mercy, I just need to ‘put it all out there, the very best I have to offer’ because I love Him and am already convinced that while yet a sinner H e loves me. But, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 I don’t have to d o anything to earn it. I couldn’t if I tried.
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. Colossians 3:2 3-24
2Used by permission Dewitt Jones, Celebrate What’s Right With the World
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