by Canon Jim House
(Introduction and conclusion by Bishop Elmer)
Thanksgiving Celebration / Proper 20, 19 September 2021
It’s said that where there’s no testing, there’s no testimony. Sometimes God allows us to go through difficult times, but He never leaves us. When we go through the valley of the shadow of death, we rise up and say to the world, this is how great our God is. He’s proved to many of us that He loves and cares for us.
I’d like to share with you how to be successful in a long-term walk with God, and in life.
Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus wanting to get away from the crowds with His disciples. Like us, they wanted to fulfil God’s destiny for their lives; and they’d left everything to follow Him. Jesus wanted to teach them some principles of God’s Kingdom, and of success for life. A disciple really needs to understand how God works and what His will is. Jesus said He would be betrayed, killed and then rise; they had no idea what He was talking about, and disputed among themselves who’d be the greatest. This isn’t a recipe for success – Jesus rebuked them and said, “If you want to be first, you must be the servant of all”. To be successful in this life and fulfil all God has for us, we need to understand how He works and know what He’s doing in our lives.
- Die to your dreams
Without a trial there’s no testimony. The first thing we must do is die to our dreams, deny ourselves and follow Him – we must go to the cross. It’s not bad to have an ambition, desire or dream; and God gives all of us promises. But sometimes the promises become bigger than Him in our lives. God tests and tries us to see which is the most important.
As a young Christian, I wanted to be married and have a family; I wanted to be loved. That’s a good thing, but it can’t be more important than God in your life, something you’ll do at any cost. God tested me; that dream had driven me for a long time. He brought a beautiful girl into my life; I asked Him if I could date her in preparation for marriage, and He said yes. Uprightly I began to build a relationship with her. Then, after a family vacation, the Holy Spirit told me never to see or talk to her again. I wrestled all night, asking God to speak to me; I opened the Bible, and read, “Be uncompromisingly righteous – don’t compromise”. I tried to twist God’s arm and make Him change His mind, but I knew in my heart it was from Him. Eventually I said, “Lord, I don’t care if I’m never married. My desire is to serve You, and You know better than me.” To my surprise, she never contacted me. Something broke in me, and I died to that dream. It set up a success in my marriage and family than wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t been through that trial and put God before everything else in my life. I’ve been married nearly 45 years, and God has given us 11 children and 32 grandchildren so far.
- Work hard with a good attitude
God calls us to work hard over a long period of time. I have my own business and I’m successful in it. There were times, years and decades when it looked as if it would fail, but I never gave up: I fixed my eyes on what God had called me to do in work and ministry. For 15 years I had to travel 800 km to work, driving nearly a whole day; I had to leave my family and go there for the whole week. Yet it was from God. It never became easier; every week it was hard and a struggle. If you want to have your own business and to be successful, it doesn’t happen overnight. Archbishop Adler said God deals with a person over their entire life, from when they’re born until they go to be with Him. It’s the same in our ministry and work. We must work hard at the things He’s called us to do.
What kind of attitude do you have at work? Many years ago I was working for an uncle, installing doors in an apartment complex he was building. He was paying us a very low wage, about half what it should have been, by the number of doors completed. I was happy, but my two friends working with me were constantly complaining, and it got into my heart. Eventually I talked to my uncle; he was angry and told me I was ungrateful. I repented and apologized, and told my workers there’d be no raise. We worked hard and finished the job. My uncle gave me an unexpected Christmas bonus of $5000. We must have a good attitude in what we’re doing.
- Don’t give up
There will be obstacles that make you want to give up. I was working hard in my business, and a company sued me. I was doing God’s will, paying my tithe, going to church every Sunday, having as many children as God would give me. In an instant I lost everything – my home, my car, my boat – and had no job. The church brought food for me and my family; it was humbling. We moved into a small house: the five girls were in one bedroom, my wife and I had a room, and the boys slept in the living room. After 20 years of hard labour, we had nothing.
I knew there was a God in heaven and I’d obeyed Him. I made up stories to tell my family about shopping, new clothes and a car; they asked me when. People had prayed and given me a word: “In an instant, suddenly”, so I hung banners around the house saying, “In an instant, suddenly, life will be changed”. I didn’t know how, so I added, “the phone will ring”. After almost two years, the phone rang and God did a mighty miracle; in an instant, suddenly I had a job and was back on top. I had no workers, tools or materials… I’d lost everything because my insurance wouldn’t cover me when they should have done and I decided not to sue; but the insurance company gave me $100,000 to start the job. I didn’t give up: my heart was fixed.
During that time I bought a small boat for $500 in installments. It became a place of escape where I could go to pray, and a haven for us in a time of great need, stress and trial. If you’re in a trial, and feel you’ve worked hard and done everything right but you’re not getting ahead, get pregnant with a boat – get something inside you that you want, give it up to God, and see what He does.
That’s only one story from over 20 years of struggle. When I say don’t give up, I mean don’t give up this week, this year, maybe a decade. Later God gave me a yacht, the desire of my life.
People see the things I have and things I’ve done, but they don’t know the story. You have a story; God has a destiny for you to fulfil and walk out, and it starts with these principles.
- Always rejoice and give Him thanks
“In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God”. Thank Him when you’re losing your dream, and realise that He knows more and better than you.
The disciples had confusion (James 3:16): they were double-minded and lacked understanding. I pray that God will impart to you a spirit of knowledge and understanding how He works; and that in any trial or temptation you’ll be able to cry out to Him, apply these principles, and rejoice and thank Him at the end of the day – no matter where you are, what your circumstances are or how hard it is. There’s a God in heaven; He sees who you are, He knows what you want, and He wants to give us those things. But first, as Jesus said, we must be betrayed by those around us, and go to the cross; then you’ll rise up in your life and ministry.
This is a very significant Sunday as you celebrate the 25th anniversary of this ministry. Your bishop has walked through all these things; God’s word to him is that success he’s never dreamed of is around the corner, because he’s been faithful and walked this path. The struggles and temptation no one else knows, but he’s cried out to God, and He has heard his prayer.
You might have a good plan for your life, but that doesn’t mean it’s God’s plan. We need to die to it and say, “I want what You want for me, Lord. I need to stop planning for me – I want Your plan.”
I’ve learned to thank God for what I have and what I don’t have. We all want things in life, but I know God will give me what I need. I might want something that would only destroy or harm my relationship with God. Let’s be thankful: if we truly trust God, when we need something, God may not give us what we want, but He’ll always provide what we need.
Let’s live by these principles and respond:
- If you have a dream you need to give up, do so right now – God has a better one for you. Give it up in exchange for what God has in store.
- If you have a poor attitude in life and in your relationship with God, and He’s on the fringes rather than in the centre, change your attitude. If you don’t have a well-paid job, it’s OK; be faithful to God, and pray for your employer or employees. If your church isn’t perfect, pray for your church and thank God it’s where you’re reminded that He loves you. If you husband isn’t perfect, thank God for him. Ask forgiveness for your attitude.
- Be thankful for what God has given us as undeserving servants. May He help us to rejoice in everything. We don’t see everything, but God does. In our trials we’re asked something very difficult – to rejoice; because through these things, what we cannot do, God is doing in your life. C.S. Lewis said God whispers to us in our pleasures but uses our pain as a megaphone. When it’s painful, there must be something God is doing in your life; let Him have His way.
- Mother Teresa said we’re not called to be successful but faithful. May we rejoice, because today is a new beginning for many of us; the Lord doesn’t change us from the outside, but from the heart. Your life will change, because God is at work in us.
 I Thessalonians 5:18