Title: What’s in a Word
Text: Luke 1.37-38
Introduction: The year came to an end. The holiday season is over. New Year’s resolutions have been set. Or, not! Maybe, you’re thinking this through still, wondering if you even need a New Year’s resolution. Each year or two I find a verse that moves me and I make it a focal verse for that season of my life. Hardly ever does it happen on January 1st! My most recent verse was Jn 4.34: 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. It started with a fast, but became a point of focus for me in ministry. Lisa shared something with me last week that got me to thinking about my focus and what God is doing in my life.
I’ve shared with you before that my greatest spiritual gift is hindsight! Well, Lisa shared with me an article by John McGee entitled: Two Guiding Words for Pastors. His two words come from reflecting on his past – hindsight. I’d like to share it with you this morning. John writes:
I’ve always been intrigued by people who say they have a word for the year. You know the people I’m talking about – every year they have some big action word like “excellence” or “expansion” to guide their year. When I hear someone talk like this, I always feel left out because I don’t have a word for the year, and worse, I’m not even sure where to go if I wanted one. I’ve wondered if there’s a book of power words that I don’t know about, an unlisted blog they’re reading that I can’t find, or a Twitter account that spits out these words so people can pretend they came up with them to impress the rest of us.
Unfortunately, I’m still on the outside looking in when it comes to this phenomenon, but over the last year I’ve felt impressed to try and be two things: faithful and helpful. When I think about being faithful I think about Luke 16:10 and being faithful in little things first. Being helpful is along the lines of 1 Peter 4:10 where I’m supposed to use whatever gifts I have to help others.
Faithful and helpful don’t seem nearly as powerful as some of the other words I’ve seen others order their lives around, but it’s been an incredible benefit to keep both in the forefront of my mind.
Now this got me to thinking about my verses – that often keep me grounded, focused. One year, I found a manta that I would repeat over and over and over again. It was during one of the most difficult years of my ministry: Relentless Forward Progress. I don’t remember the verse that went with it, but I remember the phrase. I got it from my running experiences. Don’t stop. Walk if you have to do so, but don’t stop. Relentless forward progress. I cannot tell you how much this mantra helped me through that very tough year.
Now, for John, in his article, he makes it clear that he didn’t come upon these words first and then try to mold his life around them. But, after noticing them, began to focus upon them – using them for direction and guidance.
Listen to how these words offered him some guidance:
Here are few things I’ve noticed as I’ve pursued faithfulness and helpfulness:
- When I’m simply trying to be faithful, I find I don’t worry about “How many were there?” I find I sleep better, regardless of numbers.
- I’m more creative. I find as I pursue faithfulness that I don’t worry about numbers and success. This gives me more brain space, and new thoughts, illustrations, and ideas seem to flow.
- It has helped me slow down. When I don’t have to generate endless activity in an attempt to prove my significance, I can simply give myself fully to the things that God seems to have given me to do rather than always asking, “What’s next?”
- It has freed me from trying to be significant. When I’m trying to be helpful, I don’t have to impress people; I can simply look for ways to serve them.
- I’m present with others. When I’m trying to be helpful to someone, I can be fully engaged. I don’t have to worry about impacting them, and I’m free to simply help them.
Trying to be faithful and helpful is freeing me from striving for significance. If I’m striving for significance, I ride the emotional roll coaster when I think I have it and when I think I don’t. Not only does the nauseating ride impact me, it negatively impacts my ability to simply be with people without agendas or needs for outcomes.
Now this has me thinking about my seasonal verse. Where is God leading me? How does He want me to serve? Live? Give?
I love John McGee’s words and the direction and guidance it gave him. I’m a pastor – I need that same guidance and direction. I need to be more focused on people and not on numbers. I desire to:
- Not worry
- Be more creative
- Slow down – focus on productivity and not endless activity to validate my significance
- To be present…
But those are His… I want my own!
Transition: Is this even important? Is it Biblical? I want to be very careful and not just be a motivational speaker today! Turn to Luke 1.36-38: 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
In the last couple of years, I was translating this verse from the Gk to the Eng when Shawn Cook stopped by for a visit. Shawn’s visit has nothing to do with this verse, except that He was taking Greek and it was a point of conversation with us. The literal translation of verse 37 was what moved me: because every word of God shall not be impossible. The Subj. of the sentence is “Word” – Every word of God. The verb is the word impossible. It is in the future tense – shall be impossible. But, it has a negative particle – shall not be impossible. Put it all together and you have because every word of God shall not be impossible. That’s what makes Mary’s statement so beautiful in the next verse, she takes and uses what the Angel has just said: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” – ῥῆμα – she uses the same word.
I don’t know about you, but this moves me. To see this young girl surrender to the will of God. Wow! Listen, I’ve simplified this explanation. I’m not implying our translations are wrong. Or that I’m smarter than all of the translators of every Bible translation. I’m wanting to dig deeper into a sentence, into the very words themselves and find out what’s being communicated. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God means that every word God speaks will be established.
So, what’s in a word? Well, if it’s God’s word – nothing is impossible. If God says you’re forgiven – then you’re forgiven! If God says you’re loved – then you are loved! If God says you are healed: then you’re healed! If God says Peace, be still! Then the wind and the waves obey. So, what is God speaking into your life?
Ill.: He spoke and the world came into being. He spoke light and there was light, ground, trees, plants, moons, planets, stars, etc.!
Transition: That’s why I think it is so good to have a verse for a season – something that speaks possibility into our lives. Now, I’m very careful to say that – speaks possibility into our lives. I’m not saying pick a word or a verse and that God’s gonna make it happen! No! This isn’t a possibility message of get what you want from God now…No, this is a message to say that God can accomplish anything through a surrendered life. Anything He desires.
I’m guessing Mary’s word would have been Faithful. God would be faithful to fulfill his word. Maybe she would use that word to describe her life in the face of her circumstances: No matter what comes my way, I will be faithful.
I want to share my word with you today. But, I’m cautious. I hesitate, because I don’t want to just throw it out there and devalue it somehow.
I want to share my word with you today. I think in so doing, there is accountability, but there is also grace. My word is my word. Your word should be something that matches where you are. My word is meant for me. I don’t share it so that you’ll throw it back at me should I struggle or fall. I share it because I hope you’ll encourage me. My word is…
I like that word. It makes me think of steadfastness in the midst of struggle. Keeping the ship aright, when the storms toss it about. I think of someone who doesn’t get too emotional in times of uncertainty. I think of consistency…continuity…perseverance…solid…steady…strong…immovable. All of these are words that pop up in the synonyms category. Yeah, it’s a good word for me. As Peter closed his 2nd letter to the Christians he was encouraging, he wrote:
14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
In Proverbs, Solomon wrote: 2When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue.
Understanding and knowledge – yeah, two traits I need. What’s more, in Isaiah stability is what God brings: 5The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, 6and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.
Stability: It’s something I need in my life and something I greatly desire for Calvary.
John McGee finishes his article: So what about you? Where is your focus today? If your goal is significance, you’ll probably end up using people and feeling empty because you aren’t significant enough. You also won’t be able to present and enjoy your pastoral work because you’re worried about how you can be more important.
You don’t have to be a pastor to struggle with significance. That can happen to anyone in the church at any mark on the spectrum.
Here’s what I want to challenge you to do:
- Over the next few days, even weeks, reflect upon 2015 and see where you were at your best. See if there is a word that sums up that activity – or that activity of God in your life. Consider whether that word might just be a good word to adopt for the next year. Maybe you’ll see too many down times – too many failures. Think of a word that best fits what you need. Find your word.
- 2nd, search the Scriptures for a verse that will strengthen the use of that word in your life.
Consider: Faithful, Helpful, Available, Giving, Serving, Patient, Hidden, Loving, Forgiving, Forgiven, Contemplative,