At the time Paul was still known as Saul, he was on his way to Damascus with a small army to take Christians captive, bring them back to Jerusalem, imprison and torture them. But on the way, Jesus appeared to him and he fell to the ground (see Acts 9:3). Trembling and astonished, this proud, misguided zealot asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Jesus directed him to go to the city, where “he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (9:9).
In those three days’ time, Saul’s mind was renewed as he spent the entire time in intense prayer, reconsidering his past life and renouncing his evil ways. That’s when Saul became Paul. He “spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (9:19-20).
Paul was a man who could say, “I was a man of influence; all my peers, including my fellow Pharisees, looked up to me. I was a powerful teacher of the Law, considered a holy man, climbing the ladder. But when Christ apprehended me, everything changed. The striving, the competing, everything that I thought gave my life meaning, was surrendered. I saw that I had missed the Lord completely.”
Paul had once thought his religious ambitions, his works, his competitiveness, his busyness, were all righteousness. He had thought it was all for God’s glory. Now Christ revealed to him that it was all flesh, all for self. Therefore, Paul stated, “I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more” (1 Corinthians 9:19). He was saying, in essence, “I laid aside all desire for success and recognition and I determined to be a servant.”
Paul believed that the mind of Christ changes a person’s affections for all time. When Christ became his total satisfaction, he set his affection on heavenly things: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).
Our prayer should be, “Lord, I don’t want to focus only on myself in a world that’s spinning out of control. I know you hold my path in your hands. Please, Lord, give me your mind, your thinking, your concerns.”
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16).
I am convinced by Scripture there is only one core purpose for all believers. Our specific callings are gathered up in this single purpose, and every gift springs from it. If we miss this purpose, all our desires and pursuits will be in vain. This purpose is simply this: we are all called and chosen to bear fruit.
Bearing fruit means something much larger than even soul-winning. The fruit Jesus is talking about is Christlikeness, reflecting the likeness of Jesus. And the phrase “much fruit” means “the ever-increasing likeness of Christ.”
Growing more and more into Jesus’ likeness has to be central to all our activities, lifestyle and relationships. Indeed, all our gifts and callings — our work, ministry and witness — must flow out of this core purpose.
God’s purpose for us cannot be fulfilled by what we do for Christ, it can only be fulfilled by what we are becoming in him. We are becoming transformed into his likeness each day as we seek him.
“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). Paul’s message here is simple: “All things ought to be working out for good in the lives of those who love God and walk in his ways.”
The most useful people in the church of Jesus Christ are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Yes, some people are doing great things that are seen and heard by many, but some of those same people don’t have eyes to see the needs of hurting people. They are project-oriented rather than need-oriented.
Jesus sees all the needs and hurts around us and we need his eyes to see the same things. This is the love of Christ: to have “eyes to see and ears to hear.”
May you have ears to hear what God is saying to you and may you love others in deed and in truth.
“When [Jesus] saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest’” (Matthew 9:36-38).
Do Jesus’ words about a ripe harvest apply today? Where do we see evidence that fields are white and ready to be harvested? Is there a cry for holiness in this generation? With few exceptions, these things aren’t happening. Yet, none of these things moved Jesus in his time. Rather, he was moved by the sad conditions he saw on every side. Everywhere he looked, people were overwhelmed with distress. In fact, when he gazed out over Jerusalem, he wept over the hardness and spiritual blindness he saw (see Luke 19:41). Here were people headed for judgment, with no peace, only fear and depression.
Jesus actually gives us a picture of what the last days will look like. “There will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity … men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth” (Luke 21:25-26). In short, Jesus is describing here the most anxious, depressed, stressed-out generation of all time.
Are his prophecies happening even now, before our eyes? This generation is full of anxiety and worry. I hear Jesus’s words: “The fields are white. The harvest is plentiful.” He is telling his church, “People are ready to hear. This is the time to believe for a harvest, a time for you to start reaping!”
Christ is the Lord of the harvest and he is saying to us, “Stop focusing on the difficulties around you and, instead, raise your eyes and see that the harvest is ready.” As laborers, we are the instruments of harvest in the Lord’s hand. God is looking for those who will stand before the world and proclaim, “God is with me! Satan can’t stop me. Just look at my life. I am more than a conqueror through Christ, who lives in me!”
Everyone knows about the biblical concept of a promised land; the arrival place for people who seek freedom, relief from bondage, and the joy of a blessed life. The original Promised Land was a gift that God gave to ancient Israel — a literal place called Canaan, a fertile land bursting with oversized fruit and flowing rivers. It was the stuff of dreams for the Israelites, a people who had been beaten down and exiled for generations.
When the children of Israel arrived at Canaan’s border, God made an unusual statement to Moses: “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you … for you are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:3).
This may sound harsh, but in context, it is anything but harsh. God had freed Israel from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt. Now, on the cusp of their entry into the Promised Land, God made the surprising declaration that he would not go with them. Even after all the miraculous things God did for the Israelites, they complained every time they faced a new hardship — the miracles God performed for them never translated into faith. Every time Moses turned around the people were threatening to reject God and abandon his leading.
But Moses’ faith was different. He knew the goodness of God, as demonstrated in all his supernatural works for Israel. In fact, the Lord’s favor toward his people seemed bottomless, never ending, unlimited. No matter what obstacle they faced or how impossible it seemed, God brought them through every time. Moses marveled at the character of God who mercifully performed all these things on their behalf and he said, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here” (Exodus 33:15).
Moses had discovered a valuable truth; he knew that even though God had provided manna from heaven and water from a rock, these vital blessings were not the point of these experiences. Rather, trusting God’s compassionate love — knowing him intimately — was what really mattered.
“Please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight” (33:13).
What does your heart long for? Is your main dream for material things? Or is it the hope of God’s glory? Don’t let anything — even good things — blind you to the glory of his presence.
Sitting in my office at home one summer day, the blinds were open and the bright morning sun shone through the slats. I was talking to someone on the phone, and I remember a direct beam of sunshine, an incredibly bright ray of light, was focused on my knee. When the caller said something funny, I laughed and slapped my knee. As soon as I hit my pants, a cloud of something — dust, perhaps — wafted upward and filled the air. I was wearing a pair of freshly laundered Dockers, yet a battalion of microparticles had been camping out in my pants! I had slapped my leg many times before, and there probably was a cloud every time I did it, but until that day, I had never seen it. Only through the intense light could I see the microscopic dust particles on my apparently clean pants.
The Holy Spirit is like that light. We may think we are doing just fine, but when that Light shines on us, we see lots of things we never saw before. As the Holy Spirit gains more control of our lives, we gain a new perspective on sin. Things that didn’t used to bother us suddenly do. We become convicted about things that seemed fine earlier in our Christian walk.
If a person doesn’t have a growing sensitivity toward sin and lacks a desire to become more like Christ, it’s questionable whether that person ever had an authentic conversion. False conversions do take place. It’s possible to have mental affirmation that there is a God and that Jesus is his Son. According to James: “Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19). But in a true spiritual conversion, we will always see tenderness of heart, a new reliance on Christ, and a desire to be more like him. That has been the pattern for more than two thousand years. Recognizing our sin isn’t enough. Grieving over it proves God is at work.
The Spirit’s work in us is accomplished through our yielding to his prompting and movement. He wants to work in the deepest level of our being — the place where our thoughts, desires, and plans are formed. That is why Paul wrote, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fufill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.