For this last post in our series, we’re going to keep things simple. How simple? We’re going to look at a few words found in John’s gospel. Two words specifically; increase and decrease. But first…
As we look back on the everything we talked about the last several weeks we noticed that there was a bit of a buzz around this series. It seemed to have struck a chord. I guess when you look at the themes and topics, it makes sense. We talked about our time, our money, our relationships, fear, peace, seasons, and discernment. These are ‘rubber meets the road’ kinds of things. Very practical and helpful right? Who doesn’t want to be better with their time and money and relationships? Who doesn’t want peace? Who doesn’t want to feel like they have the wisdom to make the right decisions as seasons of life change?
Let’s remember why we embarked on this journey of decluttering and in turn simplifying our lives – because we want to better hear God’s whisper in our lives. The noise can get out of hand, and God’s voice can get quite faint. Let’s take these lessons to heart and begin to be more attentive to God’s leading in all the area’s we talked about.
The need to declutter comes when things pile up, when life gets disorganize, and when the mountain of things we think we have to do topples over. Of course we can look at our garages, basements, homes, and cars as examples of the disorder or the clutter. However, there’s one place we can look that really shows how unnecessarily busy our lives are – our hearts. It’s in our heart where the real evidence is. That’s why the writer of Proverbs says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of your life” (4:23) Jesus even said that it’s from our hearts that our mouths speak. What’s inside is indicative of what’s coming out. So be careful what you let in.
And this leads us to John 3:30. At this point in the gospel story John the Baptist has completed his role, or he at least he thought so. Some of his friends are confused as to why Jesus is now getting the credit that was once John’s. But John knew his role and was full of joy that Jesus has arrived on the scene. John was always the pointer to Jesus, not the main actor; he was always just the appetizer, not the main dish, he was only the dating service, not the groom. So when we hear his words about Jesus, they should mean so much. In one sentence John clarifies his role, Jesus’ rightful place and our approach to faith in Jesus. You ready? Here it is: You must increase and I must decrease. Or. You must become greater and I must become less.
That’s it right there. This is the way to an uncluttered heart. “I” become less and “Jesus” becomes more. I must “decrease” for Jesus to “increase”. I move things out of the way to make room for Jesus. We can have all the other things in our life in order, but if this part is out of sorts then the other stuff doesn’t matter anyways.
I hope you’re thoughtful with your time so that your calendar helps you and doesn’t hurt you. I hope you’re a good steward with the money God provides. I hope you’re wise in your relationships, feeding others and being fed. I hope you have peace and not fear. I hope your can identify life seasons and navigate them well. But above all that, we simple need more of Jesus. We need to rearrange the furniture of our heart and make room for him. Some things need to just be moved, other things need to to be removed. Jesus, simply Jesus, is what must take the most space in our hearts. Because less of me actually means a better me. Less of me and more of him will always lead to a better version of myself. Jesus makes me a better human. How? By inviting him to take residence in my heart and life and letting his life flow through mine.
So as we continue on this journey of simplifying our lives, remember that Jesus, simply Jesus, takes the first and foremost spot in anyone’s heart, everything else should fall into place after that.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”(Matthew 6:33)
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small(er) group questions:
So, this series is done. What theme or topic spoke to you or challenged you most? Why?
How would you describe a cluttered heart?
Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else guard your heart…” What does that say to you? Why is this so important?
Take a few minutes to talk about John 3:30. “He must become greater, I must become less”. “He must increase and I must decrease”. How do you begin to unpack that?
We end with this one thought, ‘Simply Jesus’. What most excites you or encourages you about who Jesus is?
As you pray, please include a prayer for those affected at the Pickering High School this week.
This winter has been a strange one, hasn’t it. Well, it has if you live in Southern Ontario. We who live in this part of North America are very used to 4 full seasons. Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer. Even though we are in the middle of winter, it has been a season that sure doesn’t feel like ‘our’ winters. You can appreciate how easy it is for a resident in Toronto to forget how cold or snowy winter can get while in the middle of one of the most warm winters we’ve had in a long time. Until of course we have a weekend where the temps drop to -25 followed by a couple of days of snow. Just when you thought you might escape old man winter, he shows up and reminds us that he’s still as ugly as ever.
What this does is bring us back to reality – we’re reminded that we live in a country with 4 full seasons. Seasons are wonderful for a few reasons, first, because they don’t last, and second, they help us appreciate what we’re saying bye to (winter) or saying hello to (summer).
Life is made up of many seasons. Some good, some bad. Some long, some short. Some warm and some cold. Good or bad, seasons are meant to be temporary.
One writer helps us put to words why the long view of seasons, identifying them, and discerning how to navigate through them, is the best way to live. He says…
When we view our lives as a string of random days connected only by a calendar it’s easy to overlook the active movement of God.
Our ability to identify seasons of our lives increases our ability to co-operate with God, recognize his guiding hand, follow his lead, and expect the end of one season as the beginning of the next.
This leads us to the topic of Discernment. Identifying what comes next and deciding which way to go.
But first, Ecclesiastes 3…
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace
We can’t look at all of these, but it is worth taking a quick look at a few of them that hit home a little more.
Mourning vs Dancing
The writer of Ecclesiastes touches a sensitive topic here – grieving something that is lost. As we look at the grand scheme of our life we will notice times where we grieved and other times where we celebrated. The wisdom in this phrase is to take the opportunity to fully grieve when needed, but not stay there too long, while on the other side, ensure that one appreciates the good they are experiencing, as it won’t/can’t last forever.
Embracing vs Refraining to Embrace
This can be seen as relationship advice. (Enough said there) However, we can view this as how and when we embrace new challenges or opportunities. There are times to welcome a new challenge or jump into new opportunities. There are also times when we should refrain from them. An example might be financial opportunities. If you’re ready to take on a risky venture then it may be the time to do so, but if you’re struggling to make it by, then investing in something, as good as it looks, may not be the best thing for you to do. The question is, will you know the difference?
Keeping vs Throwing Away
This phrase may sum up our SIMPLIFIED series. We are attempting to declutter our lives so that we can hear God’s whisper. We must discern what we keep and what we let go of, when we keep and when we let go of things.
Silence vs Speaking
This may be the most challenging of all to figure out. When do we talk? When do we speak? When do we listen? When do we add to the conversation? Sometimes we say more when we say nothing. Other times we have to speak up. A friend may need you to listen, but that same friend may also need you to speak up and challenge them on a certain issue.
4 important things about viewing our life in seasons…
Identify your current season
– name it, call it, don’t hide from it
Be fully present in your season
– dive into it…tough season, own it…good season, celebrate it
What does God want to teach you
– If you believe God’s hand is in your season, then you’ll see the purpose to his activity. Don’t squander opportunities to learn and grow.
Recognize when the season is over
– which leads to that big word again, DISCERNMENT
People who discern well are those who…
– desire to know what God is up to
– ask God what is next…
– are open to hear God’s answer or thoughts
– really believe that God cares about them, their circumstance, their present and their future
Some scripture to consider as you think about discernment in times of choice.
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small(er) group discussion
What is it about seasons that you enjoy or don’t enjoy? Which one is your favourite?
Why is it so difficult to appreciate a season you may be in when you’re in the middle of it?
Read through Ecclesiastes 3 and discuss which one of the ‘this and that’ phrases jumps out at you? Is there one particular that resonates with you more? If so, why?
How can we best understand what God may want to teach us through a certain season in our life?
What about Discernment? How important is it for you to make the right decision in times of choice or transitions of seasons? Can you share any personal story about what you thought was a good or perhaps bad choice?
Which one of the closing scripture texts help you most when thinking about discernment?
Do you like getting questions about ideals and dreams? You know those kind of questions…the ones about where your ideal vacation spot would be, or where you think the most perfect place to live might be, or what kind of person fits your criteria for the perfect spouse. We have fun asking/answering those questions because most of time they’re long shots (except the spouse question, because if you’re married, he or she is already perfect right?).
What would you say if I told you that God’s preferred state for you and the human race is that we live in and experience PEACE (*shalom)?
If you were to ask our neighbours moving here from Syria what they desire most, it’s Peace.
If you were to ask a wealthy family with strife what they want most, it’s Peace.
If you ask a mom with energetic kids what she desires most, it’s Peace.
I think we’d all agree that if we want to live a SIMPLIFIED life PEACE is something we must be moving towards.
The Scripture has so much to say about peace. A few examples are…
Why do so many people lack peace in their lives? Two reasons: it’s not an easy place to get to, and there are many obstacles that get in our way.
No matter who we are, we will experience Peace Busters in our lives.
1) Bad News
– that letter, text, phone call, email, that changes everything and turns our peace into turmoil
2) Moral Failure
– the thing we do that crosses a line and moves us far away from who we are or who we want to be
3) Impending Mortality
– illness or age gets us thinking about the number of years we may or may not have left
As valid as these peace busters are, none of them rob us of peace more than FEAR.
There is constructive fear and there is of course destructive fear. Constructive fear is what helps you perform better (nerves) or what drives you to do your best or prepare well for an exam. Constructive fear also stops us from doing stupid things. You can probably look back to your childhood and recognize moments when you wish you used a healthy dose of fear.
Destructive fear is the kind of fear that immobilizes – that stops us from moving forward into God’s way for our lives – the kind of fear that robs us of peace. It’s that kind of fear that God wants us to conquer and move past so that we can experience his kind of peace in our lives.
A few ways to help us get from Fear to Peace are…
Understand where fear comes from
Was there an event, a person, or a circumstance in your past that is causing fear in your life today? Take public speaking for example, the most common fear that people have; they say this fear is often caused by an incident in our childhood, one we may or may not even remember.
Anxiety is often triggered by recent events that raise our stress level. We may be coming out of stressful or unique season in our life that causes anxiety in the forthcoming season.
Expose fear’s lie
Many fears are based on ‘what-ifs’ – we catastrophize situations and think of the worst case scenario. We can’t allow our fear to thrive on deceit.
Face fear head on
One writer on this topic said that avoidance only causes escalation. Instead, reach out for God’s hand and go through it together with him. In other words, lean in and walk through/past your fear. 2 Corinthians 10:5 says, ‘take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.’ There’s no use running away, instead we must face it, learn from it, and move forward.
Speak truth to the lie of fear
Finally, we must combat fear with truth. This happens with three kinds of speech: self-talk, scripture-talk, and prayer. Self-talk involves positive words we tell ourselves. Scripture talk is allowing God’s words to fill our hearts and minds. Prayer is the privilege we have as followers of Jesus to talk to God about anything.
Don’t let fear become an obstacle to experience God’s peace in your life. Instead invite God’s peace to move you closer to the SIMPLIFIED life you are longing for.
Let these 3 final scriptures inspire and challenge you towards God’s peace in your life…
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
1 Peter 5:6-7
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
He (Jesus) himself is our Peace…
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small(er) group discussion:
What is your definition of Peace?
What do SIMPLICITY and PEACE have in common?
The two verses from Proverbs are both amazing metaphors and very practical. How so?
Which Peace Buster hits home the most? Why?
How real is Fear in your life and experience and in the experience of your loved ones?
Do you think the steps towards Peace in today’s post are helpful? If so, why? If not, why not?
Spend the last few minutes talking about Philippians 4:6-7. Address things like anxiety, prayer, peace beyond understanding, and guarded hearts.
When you pray tonight, think of those in our world who live in turmoil. Pray for them and other unpeaceful situations that weigh heavy on your heart.
(Along with other requests you may have tonight.)
* Shalom is the Old Testament word for Peace. It’s meaning is deeper than just how I’m feeling inside. Shalom is God’s desire for people’s physical and spiritual state, as well as the state of creation. The story of Scripture leads to God’s restoration of all things so that the earth can live in Shalom/Peace.