Growing in the Grace of …
The Christian life is a journey. It has a clear start and a definite end. What goes on in between is a long bumpy road on which some will trip and fall while others will ride smoothly through. If we succeed in life, it is not because we are so good at it or that we are specially gifted but it is purely by the Grace of God. God’s purpose in our lives is that we may be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. That’s the ultimate goal. It is not to be rich or successful or recognized or adulated, our purpose in life is to ‘win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’
Php 3:14. I have assembled a few instances from my life that illustrate how God through His abundant grace, has been moulding me into the image of His son. May this article bless you and help you to follow in my footsteps
(1 Cor 11:1).
Growing in the Grace of Contentment (1 Tim 6:8)
The word ‘content’ appears 5 times in the NIV version of the bible. The contexts of these appearances are very familiar to all us. They all touch very sensitive areas. The first one is about salary and what one earns.
Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely--be content with your pay." (Luke 3:14)
We all think that we do not earn enough. We all want to be paid more. The verse from Luke, however, clearly teaches that we should be content with our pay. God knows all our needs
(Mat 6:32) before we even ask him (Mat 6:8). So why do we always fight for a pay raise? That’s our human nature to fear the future. To think that we cannot provide for ourselves and for our family is understandable in light of our limited knowledge. We however, have a God who knows everything. We cannot trust ourselves but we can trust God. This does not come easy. It takes time. We need to grow in that grace.
When I was younger, I read a book on the life of Hudson Taylor, the great British missionary who loved China so much. When he was a young man, Hudson apprenticed with a doctor who forgot to give him his pay at the end of the week. He did not have any savings or spare money, so he was in desperate need of that cash to survive not only the weekend but the week ahead. He however, wanted to experience the truth, power and reality of God’s word. He decided neither to ask for his pay nor to remind his boss that he had not yet been paid. Needless to say that young Hudson went through a nail-biting and agonizing few days. You can guess his joy and relief when the money was finally delivered to him at his home after he had almost given up all hope. He should have known better: God never fails. His promises are true all the time. Hudson Taylor experienced this first hand before he went on to found the “China Inland Mission” which had for the longest time the policy of not telling people what its monetary needs are. The mission, now called OMF (Overseas Missionary Fellowship), trusts that God will provide even if it does not broadcast its financial needs.
I was so impressed by this example that I have decided to implement it in my life. I have therefore not asked for salary raises from my employer. I have requested reviews and pointed out discrepancies or inequalities and even this rarely but never asked for a pay raise. I reckon that God knows my needs, not my boss. I have grown in the grace of contentment. I have learned it from Hudson Taylor and also from the apostle Paul, who in the book of Philippians tells us of his own personal experience. He taught me that one has to learn to be content. The operative verb here is ‘learn’, meaning that we are not born with the gift of contentment. We have to learn it and it is not an easy lesson to learn. Paul says that he has learned to be content in all circumstances, good or bad and he gives examples.
(Phi 4:11-12) I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
We are usually looking for more of everything. More room in our house, more gadgets, more toys, more money and more everything. And yet the secret of contentment is very basic: food and clothing.
(1 Tim 6:8) “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”
The last reference to contentment summarizes the reasons for God’s secret.
(Heb 13:5) Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." We can be content with what we have because God will always be with us. That confidence in God’s presence and provision allows us to grow in the grace of contentment. We can keep at bay both money and the desire to want more things.
It has been a long and hard road for me. My needs have now become very simple. Like all new immigrants, I dreamt of having a beautiful and large home in the suburbs but I had to start with a small house in a cheaper neighbourhood close to downtown because we all start from scratch. However, when the opportunity came to upgrade, I had to think through this carefully. I realized that if I moved to a larger house, I would have to move further away from the downtown core. This meant that I would have to commute longer. This meant more money for gas, for car wear and tear, time lost in travelling back and forth through traffic, etc. It was a no brainer that I needed to stay downtown because the two main spheres of my life, my work and my church, were both downtown. It also dawned on me that if I have to commute for longer, it would mean that I am more tired and thus become totally useless to the Lord. It was hard to accept the fact that I was only showing off if I had a bigger and more beautiful home in a posh neighbourhood. I was being selfish. I was being proud. I was not pleasing God. I had to decide where my priorities were. Was I going to honour God and be good steward of what he has given me or was I going to please myself and impress other people? The choice was clear but the final decision was not an easy one to arrive at.
One other thing that I have discovered is that when one has a higher and more expensive lifestyle, everything costs more. If I were to have a bigger house, I would have to buy more furniture to put in it. If I live in a higher class area, I cannot buy cheap fittings. I have to keep up with the Jones’. Then there are the increased property taxes, the higher utility bills, the higher insurance premium for the house, the alarm system that needs to be put in to protect my valuables, and the list goes on. You know where I am heading wit all this. All that I am trying to tell you is that one has to weigh carefully all the consequences of living in the will of God. This is summarized by Peter when he speaks of Christ who, “as a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.
(1 Pet 4:2).
Growing in the Grace of Giving (2 Cor 8:7)
The seminal verse in the Bible is John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” After the big verb ‘loved’, comes the practical verb, ‘gave’. The two verbs are related. Love gives. If you love your children, you give them what they need.
Giving did not come easy for me. I grew up in a poor family as my father passed away when I was less than 10 years old. My mother had to work hard to put bread on the table. So I always felt wanting because I never had enough of anything. So when I was able to earn money, guess what, I kept it all to myself. It was easy to justify. I worked hard for it and therefore I deserved it.
It was only when the love of Christ inundated my heart that I realized that all that I have comes from the hand of God. I give not out of my ability but out of God’s provision. Nothing is mine. It all belongs to God. “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”
(1 Tim 6:7)
This change of heart did not occur overnight. It took years of studying God’s word, listening to good preachers on the subject and reading excellent books on the topic. Little by little, I was able to follow the teachings of
2 Cor 8-9.
The Old Testament teaches us about tithing. That’s the concept of giving 10% of one’s income to the Lord. The New Testament while still adhering to the tithing concept expands the idea beyond the 10%. We should give as God enables us and as we grow in the grace of giving. Suddenly there is no limit. It is all fair game. That creates a dilemma for us. We now no longer have a rule or a law to follow blindly and rigidly. So if we push this thinking to the limit, we can even say that God wants us to give back to Him 100% of what He gives us! Why not? I have heard of this business man who has given 90% of his income. That’s the highest that I have heard so far. However, we know that God would want us to pay for our basic needs and of those for whom we bear the responsibility to provide. The teachings of the Bible must be taken in their totality. We have to add one teaching to the other and have each complement the other.
So like all Christians, I started with 10%, struggled with that for a few years; then decided that as I was growing in the grace of giving, to give more. So I went from 10% to 20% to 30% to 40%. I will not tell you where I am today because it would sound like I am boasting but it is important that we all grow in the grace of giving.
Another aspect of tithing which always brings a chuckle is whether one should give 10% of our income before or after taxes. The best answer I have heard so far is: “You decide. Do you want your blessings from God to be before or after taxes?” God does bless us when we give. Someone has said that “We cannot outgive God.” The more we give the more He will give to us; not necessarily in money but in blessings of so many other types. We of course, do not give so that God will give us more but the principle is there. If you grow in the grace of giving, you will learn to give just for the sheer joy of giving and pleasing your God.
Now I am truly a cheerful giver (2 Cor 9:7), looking for opportunities to bless other people through the money that God has bestowed on me. There is no greater joy than to share God’s goodness with others, pointing out that it is God who gives all good gifts
Growing in the Grace of Suffering (Php 1:29)
You will note that the two previous topics I discussed, contentment and giving, are mostly unpleasant and unwelcomed. So I will go all the way and close this article with the third and perhaps most despised member of this maligned trio: Suffering.
For those of you who have come from mainland China, you have suffered much and you came to Canada to escape that suffering. So it is a bit of an offensive statement to make by asking you to grow in the grace of suffering.
Why should we be so masochistic and want to suffer? Paul gives us an answer in
Romans 5:3-4 when he says that “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character and character, hope.” If suffering allows us to develop hope and character through perseverance then we should be glad to suffer.
However, I go back to my master and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who through suffering purchased us from iniquity. Our salvation was not cheap. It was paid with suffering. So our model and example should always be Jesus Christ. He suffered for us and for all mankind
(Heb 2:10). We should therefore not be surprised that we are called to suffer for Christ. That whole section in
1 Pet 4:12-19 teaches us that suffering should not be unexpected for the Christian. We are to follow in the footsteps of Christ
(Mk 8:34 & Luke 14:27).
I am cognizant of the fact that the context of 1 Peter is that of Christians suffering for their faith and in our daily lives in Toronto, that’s hardly the case. We should not make a mockery of Christians who are truly suffering for their faith in Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Pakistan, when we say that we are suffering here in opulently comfortable North America. However, I do want to extend the idea of suffering as a good gauge of whether we are in the midst of God’s will. Here’s how I have applied this principle in my life. Whenever I have a tough decision to make, I am always tempted to take the easy route, i.e. the one with less pain and suffering. After having lived for so many years, believe me when I say that the easiest route is rarely the best answer. I am sure that there are exceptions but they only prove the rule. The hard route is usually the way to go. However, we rarely go down that path because we run away from suffering and pain and frustration. That’s our natural instinct. Christ did too. In the garden of Gethsemane, he prayed
(Mat 26:42) that the cup of suffering may be taken away from Him. We too can ask that the Lord does not give us much cause to suffer but should it be His will to make us go through hard times, then we should be willing to accept that decision.
The key question though is how we prepare ourselves to walk down that road less travelled. Surely it is not by lying on a sofa and feasting at the table of ease every day. The answer is that we should be instead be training ourselves in righteousness. This starts by learning to suffer in small ways now in preparation for the day that the Lord will call us to greater suffering. Does that sound unrealistic or masochistic? I have nothing against a life of comfort. I believe that a minimum of comfort is necessary but what we need is to define what that level of comfort is. Some of us were born with a silver spoon in our mouths and our definition of what is luxury would therefore vary. Each person has to determine that level and no one can judge others. I was born in a poor family and on a poor island; so for me even though I now live in Canada and have a good income, it is not difficult for me to now keep my life simple. Many books have been written on how to simplify our lives. For myself, I have learnt to distinguish between needs and wants. Lately I have been obsessed about giving things away instead of hoarding them. I try to do with less not with more. When I travel, I take as few clothes as possible, preferring to re-use, one of the 3R’s, as much as I can. It is interesting how we have come full cycle. What was once thought as a sign a poverty has now been transformed into a ‘green’ or ecological ticket. Switching off the lights in a room that is not in use is now called, “Reduce”; using a container over and over again is now called, “Re-use” and “Recycling”. For those of us who have been used to living freely and carelessly, it is indeed suffering to practice the 3R’s but as we become committed to our faith, we have no choice but to learn to give up. There is a freedom that comes from living simply. Much has been said about the poor being happy. Don’t get me wrong, it is not fun to be poor, I have been there; but the poor can be happy because they do not have the worries of the rich and they find pleasure in ordinary things of every day life whereas the rich have to be entertained continuously and lavishly.
I believe that we live too selfishly. We need to learn to be content with little, give away as much as possible and live a simple life. Only then can we be of use to our Lord. That’s the ultimate goal. That’s what God calls us to. It is the rich life of someone who has found himself or herself in God’s magnanimous nature and who lives in His unbounded Grace.
Let me finish with one of the most significant passages from the Scripture for me. It summarizes all that I have been saying so far. The Bible is so much more concise than my writing.
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
(Laval Yau is the elder of CGC, worships at CGCT English congregation