You Are Not Defined by the World

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Dennis Burke

        There are thoughts in God’s mind about us that can change everything we have ever believed about ourselves. That divine perspective is so important that it was part of Jesus’ prayer for His disciples and for us in one of His last acts before His crucifixion. In His prayer, Jesus revealed that we can see ourselves in the same way He saw Himself as He walked on this earth.

         In John 17:16 (Message), Jesus said, “They are no more defined by the world than I am defined by the world.”

         It is easy to believe that Jesus was not of the world’s system or confined within its limitations. In everything He did or said, Jesus revealed life as it could be lived outside the boundaries of people’s typical experiences. Jesus wasn’t limited by lack, disease, or politics, nor did He react to threats or accusations from people. He lived above it all—and now He expects us to live above it all as well.

         God’s life-changing power within us can lift us to a higher level of living when we learn the secret of how to define ourselves now that we are in Christ. But first, we have to answer this question: What really does define us as people?

         There are a variety of ways to answer this question, but we can start by looking at the dictionary meaning of the word “define.” To define something is to mark its limits; to set clear boundaries; or to identify it. Limits, boundaries, and identity are all aspects of defining ourselves.

         Look at Jesus’ words again in John 17:16 (Message) with these ideas in mind. We are not defined by the limits, boundaries, or identifying marks of the world. From God’s point of view, we are not of the world, nor are we to be governed by its limits and boundaries.

         One day when Jesus was walking with His disciples, He asked them a question:

         “…‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ So they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God’” (Matthew 16:13-16).  

       Peter had an answer that was completely different from all that the disciples had heard other people say about Jesus. Here is the point: Jesus expected His disciples to have a different answer.

         Jesus expects each of us to think and act differently—to have very different experiences than the world and to expect different results. Why? Because we are different; we’re no longer living in the same system as the rest of the world. We are now living in God’s Kingdom—His system.

         In a different situation, Jesus asked His disciples another question to get their response and help them examine their own limited thinking. This account is found in John 6 and Matthew 14, where Jesus fed the 5,000. Actually, many more than 5,000 people were in the crowd that day when women and children are included in the number. Bible scholars estimate that between 15,000 to 30,000 people came to that mountainside to hear Jesus teach.

         It was then that Jesus asked His disciples a question: “Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?’” (John 6:5).

         Philip and Andrew both answered Jesus’ question—and in both responses, we can see how their thinking was held inside the boundaries of their own experience. The disciples’ faith and expectations were defined by their limited thinking.

         First, let’s look at Philip’s reply to Jesus in verse 7 (CEV): “Philip answered Him, ‘Don’t you know that it would take almost a year’s wages just to buy only a little bread for each of these people?”

         Philip’s response was defined by the need they were facing. He could not see beyond the people’s need. They needed more food than could have been bought with nearly a year’s wages of an average worker. Philip didn’t answer Jesus’ actual question that asked where they could buy bread. Instead, Philip immediately became overwhelmed by the vast need.

         The same thing can happen to us when we’re faced with a need that is beyond our natural ability to meet. When we allow our thoughts to be governed by our own perception of the need we face, it is difficult to see by faith the supply God promises to provide.

         Andrew also replied to Jesus, saying, “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” (v.9). Andrew made the same mistake Philip did; he couldn’t see beyond his own limited thinking. Andrew saw the lack of adequate bread and couldn’t seem to imagine what else could be done.

         When our thinking focuses on what we can do to solve a problem or meet a need, we can forget about how big God is. As a result, we risk missing out on what He wants to do to bring His supernatural provision into our situation. 

        The disciples were earthbound in their thinking. They were still defined, limited, and confined to the way things happen in this natural realm. Jesus intended to expand their ability to receive by multiplying the loaves and fish in their own hands.

        Jeremiah 17:5,6 tells us exactly what happens when we stay focused on the world’s system: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited.”

        This person doesn’t even see when good comes. He is focused on the wrong source of supply, and it affects the way he views everything.

        Surrounded by thousands of people, Jesus went on to perform one of His greatest miracles. In fact, this is the only miracle detailed in all four of the gospels. There are several things that leap out at me in this account that are vital for each of us to understand so we can change our thinking and expand our capacity to receive from God.

        First, Jesus directed His disciples to bring the loaves and fish to Him (Matthew 14:18).

        In order for God’s people to see great miracles, they must first give Him something to work with. Time after time, God directed people to give first and then to watch Him work. For example, Elijah told the widow to make him a cake with her last little bit of meal. When she gave to the prophet, God released an abundant supply (see 1 Kings 17:9-16). Another example is the time Jesus directed the servants at the wedding in Cana to bring Him water in six large pots. When they did what Jesus asked, He turned the water into the finest wine (see John 2:1-10). These are just two of the many scriptural examples of this principle.

        According to that same principle, God directs us to give our tithes and offerings, as well as our lives. As we give Him something to work with — our offerings and our faith — He said He would pour out His blessing upon our lives beyond what we are able to contain (Malachi 3:10). Our natural act of giving God something in faith unlocks His supernatural supply of abundance beyond what is even needed.

        Second, Jesus had all the people sit down on the hillside (v. 19).

        Sitting is a position of rest, and God wants us enter a place of rest in Him. Faith rests in His presence, His promises, and His provision. There is an inner calmness that comes when we are resting in Him and puts us in a position to better receive from Him.

        Third, Jesus took what had been brought to Him and gave thanks (v. 19).

        Our gratitude toward God for all He has already done for us keeps our heart right to receive more from Him. Thankfulness is an expression of our faith, and it is a powerful force. We are to be thankful for what we have and for all God has done. In addition, we are to be thankful for the blessings we know God has promised to provide, even if we don’t see them yet.

        Thankfulness is also the expression of a humble heart. We thank God to express that we are content in Him. We are at peace with the place we are in Him. That doesn’t mean we are to be complacent or apathetic about change. But we are to acknowledge that we appreciate what God has already provided and that we value what we have.

        Fourth, Jesus distributed the loaves and fish to the disciples (Matthew 14:19). The disciples handled each loaf and each fish that God multiplied. Every bit of His supernatural provision passed through their hands.

        Today God wants to use each and every one of us who are His disciples as distributors of His provision. We are made for abundant living and abundant giving.

        Provision was certainly abundant that day for the crowd who had come to hear Jesus. Every person present ate as much as they wanted. It was a feast for a multitude, and everyone left satisfied.

        Finally, we see in this miracle that far more provision remained after the crowd had eaten their fill than the five loaves of bread and two small fish they had started with.

        God doesn’t think in terms of supplying just barely enough to meet a need. He thinks in terms of abundance, overflow, more than enough, and far beyond what is needed!

        Jesus was teaching His disciples an important lesson that day, and it’s the same lesson He wants us to learn today. He wants to redefine our lives by creating in us a new way of thinking.

        So ask yourself this question: Are you defined by lack and need — or by God’s abundant supply? If you can’t answer that question the way you want to right now, make the decision from this point on to stop allowing yourself to be defined by or identified with the world. You don’t have to stay confined within the limitations of lack, past failures, need, sin, weakness, or fear. Jesus is the One who defines you now!

        No matter what problem or need you might be facing now or in the days to come, you can use that challenge as another opportunity to redefine your life by God’s Word. Just give Jesus your own “five loaves and two fish,” and then keep your eyes and your faith focused on Him. As you do, you will release His supernatural power into your situation to bring you more than enough of the supply you need.

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