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Doing Kingdom Work with Character and Commitment

As I write this, I'm sitting in a hotel room overlooking Kansas City. I'll be heading into the Kansas City Convention Center soon for the start of ICOM (International Conference on Missions). There will be church leaders, pastors, directors of large missions’ agencies, missionaries serving in challenging places around the world, and your "average" church goers who have come to this conference to deepen their faith and understanding of missions.

I've been to a lot of conventions through the years, and I mean a lot, and I've reached a point in my life where I'm no longer interested in trying to "network," gain influence, or impress people. Yes, I used to do that, partially because of my own insecurities and wanting to gain approval from others. I cloaked these emotions by saying I was doing these things to have a greater Kingdom impact or wanting to maximize my gifts and potential for the glory of Jesus Christ. You know, the religious answers we church leaders give to disguise our own deficiencies.

So, if doing Kingdom work--that is serving our Lord Jesus Christ and being on His mission--is not about networking, gaining influence, or trying to impress people, then what is it? Glad you asked. I woke up this morning with this question on my mind, and then I read Psalm 112. Being a person in alignment with God's mission and His Kingdom work goes much deeper than what I used to think. The psalmist describes this in two parts which are applicable to all of us, whether we're church leaders, missionaries, or those living out our faith daily in the marketplace.

First, we are to have character. "Blessed is the one who fears the Lord" (v. 1). "His righteousness endures forever" (v. 3). "Even in darkness light dawns for the upright" (v. 4). "His heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord" (v. 7). To whom or what do you turn as the source of your identity? Your job? Money? Power? Appearance? Gifts/talents? All of these leave us in the midst of insecurity, because we can never be assured we have enough money, power, looks, talents, etc. Those attributes are frail at best, although the world promises they deliver us satisfaction. But, as Mick Jagger use to sing, "I can't get no satisfaction." Those who fear the Lord are placing their trust in the Lord and will possess a heart that is secure (v. 7). This person fears no bad news (v. 7), because the source of contentment, peace, joy and fulfillment comes from "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).

Second, we are to have commitment. The person on mission for Jesus Christ who is doing Kingdom work "finds great delight in [God's] commands" (v. 1). "Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice" (v. 5). "He will never be shaken" (v. 6). "He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor" (v. 9). It's one thing to say you are a person of character. It's another thing to prove it. Commitment is character in action. If you don't follow through, you are demonstrating a lack of commitment and shallow character. If you honor your commitments to serve, be generous, and just, you are demonstrating Christ-like character, and you will never be shaken.

I just finished the book, The Great Evangelical Recession by John S. Dickerson. His thesis is that the American Evangelical Church is spiraling downward because we are viewed as being hate mongers who are divided, who are losing the next generations, and who are spiritually bankrupt. How do we turn this around? By being people of character who are committed to love God and our neighbor by humbly serving them. How should we conduct ourselves in the hostile host culture in which we live today? The Apostle Peter answers this best when he wrote, "Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God. . . . For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men" (1 Peter 2:12, 15). Let's be people of character who are committed to doing good which will in turn provide a greater Kingdom impact than networking ever could.

Hoping vs. Wishing

In Dr. Henry Cloud's excellent book, Necessary Endings, he includes a chapter entitled, "Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What's Worth Fixing and What Should End." How do we determine what things in our lives are worth fixing and what should end? When do we cling to hope and when should we give up?

I've always believed that I should never give up. Even when I played basketball--which was a long time ago--if my team was down by twenty points with two minutes left in the game, I always believed there could be a miraculous turnaround, and we could come out on top. To me giving up was a sign of weakness and hopelessness, and it even seemed contrary to the way of Christ. The Bible does say, after all, "The one who . . . perseveres . . . will be blessed in his doing" (James 1:25).

On October 29, 1941, at the Harrow School commencement ceremony, Winston Churchill addressed the student body and said, "Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up. Never give up. Never give up. Never give up." I think he meant it. But even Churchill recognized that there are times when you need to close a door, end a chapter, or bring things to end, because later in the same speech, he said, "Never give in . . . except to convictions of honor and good sense."

The challenge is knowing when it makes good sense to shut the business down, go ahead and retire, change jobs, or even end a relationship. As Dr. Cloud puts it, "To hold on to `hope' when what you really have is merely a wish is to fail to grasp reality." In hard decisions where we are attempting to discern the difference between hope and a wish, we need to get to the "hopeless moment," where we acknowledge that more of the same does not bring change. When you hit rock bottom, whether it be in a dead-end job, an addiction, or a relationship, it's typically only at that moment that you realize you are utterly hopeless in your own strength and circumstances to turn things around. You can wish your spouse would change or your addictions would go away, but you finally come to the realization that YOU have to change and move forward in your life either in a new environment, business, or direction.

It's often the case that a spouse married to an alcoholic who continues to drink will never see her marriage change until she reaches that "hopeless moment" and makes the decision to move out. If she hopes her spouse will overcome his addiction, most of the time it won't happen until he faces dire consequences, and she begins to see actions of his life change. She can't base her hope on past behavior. The alcoholic husband has to chart a new course. This is also the case in a job that is quickly going nowhere. You can wish it were better, but it's not until you reach that "hopeless moment" that you will ever be forced to set a new course of improving your current situation or moving on.

Life decisions are tough. If they were easy, everybody would be moving forward with great enthusiasm in their careers and marriages. Fortunately, for us, we don't have to make those decisions alone. We have the Spirit who guides us into all truth (John 16:13). We have a community of Christ followers who will encourage and build us up (1 Thessalonians 5:11), even when it means listening to hard truth delivered in love (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 4:15). And we also have the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), which implies that we're willing to read it and apply it to our lives.

The next time you're faced with a hard decision of whether to keep something going or give it a nice burial, be sure that you're looking at the foundation for your hope. Is it wishful thinking, or have you reached that "hopeless moment," where you know you can't do it on your own? When you reach that point, and I pray you will, then you're in the best possible position, because whether the decision is to turn things around or bring them to a close, you are doing so through the leading of the Holy Spirit and the living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

"For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).


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