HOW DO I PREACH MY LIFE?
HAVE you ever had the experience of yawning simply because someone in your presence yawned? A simple illustration of the power of influence. Influence is felt in every area of life. Even the animal kingdom is included. The Talmud puts it succinctly: "Sheep follow sheep." An old Chinese proverb declares, "Not the cry, but the flight of the wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow." When Solomon sent sluggards to learn from the ant, he knew that no one preached better than they. Yet how much talking does an ant do? An old Spanish proverb spoke truth: "Live with wolves and you will learn to howl."
The power of example is little understood and less believed by most of us. How little we realize that the power attending the person who practices what he believes is the most potent force in moving others to action. There are a few conscientious individuals in the world who will make decisions in favor of any truth from the weight of evidence alone. But the majority will never be moved to obey God's moral or natural laws from hearing a mere theory. The influence that stems from the living testimony of those who practice what they preach is what counts most. These are the ones who have an experience with the things of God. These are the ones who have found delight in not only knowing truth but in practicing it.
If you were charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” In other words, does the way you live your life really reflect what you claim you believe and value? Most of us fall short, but in general, we can recognize if we are muddling along in the direction toward what we hold sacred and true or away from it.
For us Carmelites, we might come at it in a slightly different way. How does your life preach? What does the way you live proclaim to the world? As Carmelites, we are called to prayer, contemplation and ministry. That doesn’t mean we sit around listening to homilies and reflections, or doing nothing while in the contemplative mode. It means we strive to recognize that what we do – how we treat each other, how we live together, how we reach out to others – is a way of preaching Christ’s Gospel.
How do I preach with my life? What do I preach with my life? Does my life say what I want it to be saying? Does my life align with God’s desires for me? Asking these questions can help us figure out if we are on the right path and can help us discern the forks in the road.
How much influence would Paul have had both in and outside the church if he could not honestly say, "Agree together, my friends, to follow my example. You have us for a model; watch those whose way of life conforms to it" (Phil. 3:17).
There is little doubt that Paul was a great advocate of practicing what we preach. "Paul carried with him the atmosphere of heaven. All who associated with him felt the influence of his union with Christ. The fact that his own life exemplified the truth he proclaimed, gave convincing power to his preaching. Here lies the power of truth." —The Acts of the Apostles
The element of leaven is used in the Scriptures to portray the power of influence either for good or for evil. Paul asked the Corinthian believers, "Don't you know how a little yeast can permeate the whole lump?" (1 Cor. 5:6, Phillips). The Corinthians had not recognized the power of influence. In this case Paul was discussing the deeds of an evil doer. If one defiant transgressor remains in the church, his corrupting influence leads others to follow in his footsteps. It is often more healthful both to the individual and to the church to separate him from membership in order to protect the body from an evil influence and in order to wake up the evildoer.
No truth does the Bible set forth in clearer light than the peril of even one departure from the right—peril both of the wrongdoer and to all whom his influence shall reach. Example has wonderful power; and when cast on the side of the evil tendencies of our nature, it becomes well-nigh irresistible.
The strongest bulwark of vice in our world is not the iniquitous life of the abandoned sinner or the degraded outcast; it is that life which otherwise appears virtuous, honorable, and noble, but in which one sin is fostered, one vice indulged. To the soul that is struggling in secret against some giant temptation, trembling upon the very verge of the precipice, such an example is one of the most powerful enticements to sin.
However, influence is a two-sided coin. What is true of evil is true of good. The influence of a person who does right grows to amazing proportions. What a contagious example is exerted by those who take a stand on God's side. Elijah, Gideon, and Daniel were individuals who lived what they preached. See a whole nation being brought back to God because a lone man stood on a mountaintop and dared to stand for right. The masses are fickle. Take a stand for right, and others will stand with you. History is not shaped by majorities but by minorities who know what they want and where they are going. Christ proved this point when He started the Christian church. From a human standpoint, illiterate peasants and fishermen who constituted the first general conference appeared most feeble and unpromising. Critical on lookers could not conceive of this little group making any impact upon the world. But they did not reckon with the influence of even a small number of people who were transformed and elevated by the power of the Holy Spirit. These Spirit-filled men practiced what they preached!
They knew they could not live unto themselves. They knew that a thousand fibers of influence connected them with their fellow man. They knew they could preach a better sermon with their lives than with their lips. They knew the best and liveliest commentary on the Word of God was a good example.
The unstudied, unconscious influence of a holy life is the most convincing sermon that can be given in favor of Christianity. Argument, even when unanswerable, may provoke only opposition; but a godly example has a power that it is impossible wholly to resist.—The Acts of the Apostles
How Our Identity in Christ Changes Our Lives
Knowing our identity is in Christ is one thing, but understanding how that practically changes the way we live is another. Here are a few ways that understanding our true identity in Christ can greatly impact the way we live our lives.
We no longer chase after the desires of our flesh but instead seek to bring God glory in all areas of our life.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions is not from the Father but it is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
If we are not seeking to find our identity in Christ alone, then we are seeking it in something else. However, when our identity is in the eternal things of Christ, we will not be crushed by our failures and weaknesses, fall into pride from worldly success, or despair over disappointments or tragedy. We won’t get lost seeking the attractive but empty things the world offers because Christ gives us a stable and eternal hope in a world of unstable hopelessness.
We no longer fear the future.
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father.” (Romans 8:14-15)
If we have peace with God, then we have nothing to fear on this earth. Our eternities are secure as adopted sons and daughters of Christ. So we don’t need to fear financial collapse, losing our job, getting Ebola or Measles, or being ridiculed for our faith. Of course these things aren’t easy or painless, but we can have confidence that our Heavenly Father is sovereign over every moment of our life and will equip us for every single thing he ordains.
He bought us with the blood of his own Son so that we could claim our identity in the righteousness of Christ. We can trust that he will provide us with everything else that we need in this world. Our identity in Christ has given us direct access to our Heavenly Father, who we can call on with confidence and complete trust.
We have no need to judge or compare ourselves to others when we seek to please Christ alone, in whom our identity is hidden.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. (Romans 14:5-8)
Comparing ourselves to those around us or judging the decisions that others make can suck the life right out of us. Biblical convictions are hard and fast truths that God has given us in his word to show us the way to live. Personal convictions, however, are decisions we make within our own families that may be right for one family but wrong for another. It’s easy to confuse the two and judge others who have different convictions than ours.
This can also create insecurity in our own choices due to our desire to please man over God. So let’s be careful that we are not imposing our personal convictions on others as if we are more godly than they are. We can ask Christ for wisdom in this area of personal convictions, be open to hear and discern other’s perspectives without judgement, and then walk in confidence that God is the only one we need to honor and please in these decisions.
The other way we compare ourselves is to the gifts and blessings of others. We are all created with the purpose of glorifying God but in the unique ways God has created us. One person is filled with creativity, while another glorifies God with a beautiful voice. One person glorifies God as a CEO, while another glorifies him by doing custodial work in the church. One person glorifies God in the way they seek to raise their family, while another glorifies him in the way they use their singleness to serve him.
We must seek to glorify Christ in the gifts and talents he has uniquely chosen for us and not get lost in the joy-sucking pursuit of being something God never created us to be. Don’t miss out on the blessing of serving Christ where you are with what he has chosen for you.
We should not be surprised when suffering comes, but we can be confident that it will produce things of eternal value.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17)
If our identity is in Christ, then we are guaranteed that one day we will identify with him in his sufferings. Just as Christ’s sufferings were not hopeless and wasted, neither will ours be. Christ’s sufferings defeated sin and death, and therefore we identify with him as he uses suffering to put sin to death in us, to make us reflect more of him. Not only does suffering sanctify us, but it assures us that, after suffering with him for a while, we will one day be glorified with him.
This theme of suffering has been a familiar one for me over the last several years. While I will be the first to say that they have been some of the hardest years of my life, I can also say they have been some of the best. Everyone suffers, but can everyone look back at their suffering with thankfulness and joy because of it? Only those with the hope of Christ can do that. There is no good that comes from suffering if we are apart from Christ.
However, I can attest to the truth that the more I have let go of what I thought I wanted (despite my attempts to hold on with a white-knuckled grip), the more I have found joy and treasure in what only Christ could have done through the pain he has ordained in my life. Suffering gradually changes our earthly perspective into an eternal one.
We can spend our lives fearing pain and suffering, or we can thank God for the times of reprieve. Then we can trust the seasons of suffering to Christ’s great purpose in our lives: to identify with and become more like him.