Tonight we come to Ecclesiastes Ch.7. It’s wonderful chapter. When I first preach the Book of Ecclesiastes in my own church years ago, I took 32 sermons to go through 12 chapters; so in this 10-day Conference, we won’t be able to cover the whole of the chapters. Tomorrow night I want to look at the final chapter, the end of the Book of Ecclesiastes, because everything points towards it. So today I will end our reflection by Ecc. 7:1-10. But I encourage you in your own time to go to the Book of Ecclesiastes Ch. 8-12. To help you, here I to give you a key to understand how the chapters look like. I would like to give you each for the chapters.
I called Ch.8 “the Boss chapter” because the chapter discusses about how to deal with the king and principles which could be applied to how to deal with those in authority of us and how to deal with our boss.
I called Ch.9 “the Strategic Living chapter”. The idea is how to seize the day, how do you leverage the opportunity – how to live life strategically. That is why the book of Ecclesiastes so wonderful: it is ancient wisdom for modern living.
I called Ch.10 “the Confidence chapter”. It is about how to live with self-confidence.
Interestingly, Ch.11 is “the Investment chapter”. It is about finances and how to make wise investment in life.
So, from Ch.7 to Ch.11, it answers the question how we should live life. And in the wisdom literature of the Ecclesiastes, there are different proverbs that are given to us for telling how to live life wisely. In our fast-paced world, we fail to appreciate proverbs. There are a lot to say about the proverbs of the wisdom literature, but I just want to highlight TWO as an introductory background.
The FIRST is to appreciate the profound wisdom of proverbs of the wisdom literature – it means the speaker in the wisdom distills wisdom into a simple sentence or simple proverb; and from that short sentence one can unpack much wisdom therein. Because it is reduced into essence, it is up to us to unpack it. Tonight in Ch.7 I would like to unpack about 8 proverbs for you. But because of time I cannot go too deep into one proverb; I just want to give you an overview, a sense of the profound wisdom.
The SECOND thing we have to understand about proverbs in the wisdom literature is the use of images or pictures behind the proverb. It is because poetic language is used to communicate the truth. As we go through some of the proverbs, I will highlight some of this for you.
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I called Ch.7 “the Better chapter”. Many of these problems it is stated “this is better than this”, “this is better than this”, so I called it “the Better chapter”. Please bow down and pray before we discuss this Ch.7.
Heavenly Father, it is in our hearts that we ask you to renew our minds. Help us see the wisdom comes forth from the wisdom literature of the Scripture. As we look into the famous proverbs, help us to get to the heart of it. Give us a sense of the wisdom behind these proverbs. But more importantly, Heavenly Father, please give us a spiritual compass in how we ought to live our life, because as we go through the Book of Ecclesiastes, we realize we don't have control. Only You have control of our life. For us, control is an illusion. But you have given us principles by way of this with the proverbs, so we can be directed forwards. Teach us to live well, teach us to live wisely.
Thank you in Jesus’ name, Amen.
A. The FOUR “Better’s”
God calls us to a better life; He leads up to the higher ground. But we must understand there is another voice which calls us to the better life – the voice of the world. The voice of God and the Word of God call us to a better life so that we may live well and live wisely. But the world also calls us to a better life – it says you must have the good life; but good life is not enough, you must have a BETTER life. So the world is creating a dissatisfaction of our hearts, and it drives us to persuade more and more. Of course, the advertising world knows that; it aims to increase the satisfaction inside – you are not beautiful enough, you are not fit enough, you are not good enough – unless you use this product. It creates dissatisfaction and tells you that you must have a better life by using our products or services. But even as the world and God both call us to a better life, there are two different “better’s” altogether: when the world calls us to be better, it actually calls us to be bigger, but God calls us to deeper; when the world calls us to be greater, God calls us to be wiser. In other words, the world calls us to a “more”-life, while God calls us to a MEANINGFUL life. So, let’s explore the first FOUR proverbs that show the better life in God’s point of view. Of course this is not a summary, but these proverbs give us the right direction by which we should live our life. If God tells everything on the menu, the Bible will be very thick. But what Bible gives us is a principle, and these proverbs point us to these fundamental principles of life. So I want to show you some of these fantastic proverbs and anchor us in these principles
1. A Good Name vs. Precious Ointment (7:1)
Ecc. 7:1, “A good name is better than precious ointment…”
There are two things we must pay attention to – (1) you must pay attention to the picture behind the proverb, and (2) you must pay attention to the principle that the proverb anchors upon.
The “good name” is reputation; this reputation is representing character and integrity. So the picture of the reality behind this word “name” is the idea: character. This precious ointment is expensive perfume, so you can imagine this is a large bottle of Chanel No.5 which represents what makes us look good or, in this case, smell good. But here it says, integrity and character is better than a big, expensive bottle of Chanel No.5 or any other branded luxury goods.
Here is the principle we must grasp; it is an important wisdom principle: in the world pre-occupied with OUTWARD, we must pay attention to the INWARD. The Chanel No.5 represents the outward, while the “name” represents “integrity and character” which is the inward. The world we are living in is always gravitated to the appearance, the image of outward. There are terms like “business images”, “image consultants” and “image managements”. The danger is that we are so obsess with the outward image that we fail to pay attention to the inward – character and integrity. Don't be preoccupied merely with the outward.
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When you pay attention to the inward, there are THREE things I would encourage you to pay attention to; we have these discussed previous night, and I want to remind you.
(1) Be careful of the spirit of comparison. We have to be careful because when people compare to each other, they always compare about the outward but never the inward:
“This person is so gifted.” or
“This person is so rich.” or
“This pastor has such a large church.”
But nobody compares like
“This man has a deep and wise life.” or
“This man has wonderful integrity.”
We never compare the inward; we only compare the outward. But we have to learn to stop comparing, because comparing gives us a sense of insecurity. (2) Be careful of the spirit of competition. Competition is outward. Nobody comes and say, “I want to grow in the inward.” We compare ourselves by the performance, indicators and indicators of success. But also, in the inward, be careful of the opposite. And (3) Be careful of the spirit of complacency.
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These three spirits of comparison, competition and complacency have a common root: inner insecurity. It is because our sense of identity and sense of security are not rooted in the Word of God and God Himself. Security comes along the sense of identity, and identity must be defined by God. Many servants of the LORD see their identity as “I am a minister / servant / pastor / missionary. I work very hard.” If you are a pastor, there are many expectations from the congregation and the deacon board, and these expectations become comparison with other churches, or the preaching of a pastor is compared to preachings of another pastor. So we have to work very hard, and as a result we are very busy and very tired. After a while, it is no longer fun to serving God; it is not even out-of-fun, but it is not even fulfilling. It becomes a mere duty. You may think that only the pastors and missionaries are that busy; but when you look into the cell group leaders and other members, everyone is equally busy. In the church, everything is so tense, everything is so tiring; but in our busyness we lose sight of the joy of the LORD in serving Him.
But what is worse today is the shift in our thinking – we are busy in serving, serving and serving, refuse to see ourselves through our true identity: we are the SERVANTS of God, but we forgot we are the SONS of God. We fail to see the love of God upon His beloved children. So we don’t know the inner rest, because the demand of the world is upon us; we are trapped in the performance trap. We have to learn to stop.
In the world preoccupied with the outward, we must pay attention to the inward. Don’t just get caught in the performance trap without the joy of worship and service.
2. House of Mourning vs. House of Feasting (7:2)
The second wisdom proverb is also interesting. Ecc. 7:2, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting…”
Again, there is picture and image behind this principle. The picture is going to a funeral as opposed to going to a celebration party; and this proverb suggests that it is better to go to a funeral than a party. Why? Because there is a principle communicating to the picture: when the world is preoccupied with temporal, we must pay attention to the eternal – because going to a funeral sobers us. When we are going to a funeral, we will capture the sense of mortality in our life. It is sober to us that we realize how short our life is and therefore we are to live wisely. To be living wisely, we should not be preoccupied with the temporal, and we must invest in the eternal.
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Last night I told you, one of the best ways to invest the eternal is changing destiny through evangelism. One night, I told my church to stop evangelizing, but to start loving people in the name of Jesus. Why? Because “evangelism” has become a dirty word. When we hear the word “evangelism”, two things happen in our mind: (1) “I am scared” or (2) “I am not adequate”, and hence it is for someone else. It is for pastor Edmund Chan. Or someone eloquent or someone who is a pastor.
This is a wrong thinking. Loving people in the name of Jesus is very natural; you just love them and you share with the greatest joy of your life. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, used to ask one important question to pastors: “What is the most exciting or thrilling experience that ever happened in your life?” What is the most important thing that ever happened in your life? If you are a Christian, the most exciting and thrilling thing in your life is the day you received Jesus Christ. And Bill Bright asks the second question, “If the most thrilling thing in your life is receiving Jesus, what is the most thrilling thing you can give to another person?” It is to introduce them to Jesus. So, love them and introduce them to Jesus.
I don't want to say, but I can give you two important things you can practice; every Christian can do it. The first is, wherever you go, carry a gospel track (brochure), so you can share with a person, or just read it with the person. The second thing every Christian can do is to ask, “What things can I pray for you?” As simple as that. Whether the person receives Christ does not matter – it is the Holy Spirit to convert people, not you and I; we are not the convertors but witnesses. We just point to Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to convert.
But I know what many Christians are thinking: it is the job of the pastor, or that they really cannot do it. It is a lie from Satan, and I want to tell you the truth: there are some Christians who have been Christians for 10 or 20 years, and they have not the joy of personally leading someone to Jesus. But that does not have to be the case. Just carry a track and give, and allow the LORD to use it to bless. Just ask “what can I pray for you” in sincerity and love that person in Christ. When there is an opportunity, share your testimony or bring him/her to church. If you feel inadequate, God is your strength.
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In my discipleship conferences, I always share this personal story that is a defining moment in my own life; it happened when I was in the first year of Bible College, towards the end of our school vacation. The church members gone overseas holiday and let me the use of the car. When I had the car, I volunteered to pick up a missionary and send the missionary. When I was driving along the highway, suddenly the car broke down. I only knew how to drive the car; I didn't know what to do when the car broke down, because I didn't own a car. As a young Bible College student with no experience, I don't know what to do. Luckily, the missionary was very resourceful; he called his mechanic friend to come to help. So he called his friend, and we waited.
In Singapore, if you wait on the highway, nobody stops to help you. But suddenly there was a huge lorry stopped behind our car, and an Indian driver jumped out and asked what was wrong. I said I don’t know. So he checked the car, and he found that it was the battery. So he took out his jumper cables to charge our battery.
As he was charging the battery, God spoke to me, “Share the gospel with him.” I dared not, because I didn’t know how. I gave all kinds of excuses. “I don’t know how long the battery will charge, so I don’t know how long I should preach the gospel.” “I don’t know how much time, and I don’t know what to say.” As a young Bible College student, I have been sharing the gospel in the university. In the university, I know what to say; from philosophy to theology, all these I know what to say. But to an Indian lorry driver, philosophy and theology mean nothing. So I didn’t know what to say, and I kept quiet. When he finished charging the battery, all I could say was “thank you, God bless you”, and he drove off.
When he drove off, I switched off the engine, thinking it would save the battery. But if you own a car, you know you supposed to keep the engine running to charge the battery. I didn’t know the car, so I did not know. So I switched off the engine and wait for the engineer; when he came, we waved off, “there is no need, the car is fine now.” And the engineer went off.
When we got back to the car, and when I tried to start the engine, the engine could not start. Now we are in trouble; what should we do? When we were thinking, the same lorry with the same lorry driver had made his delivery and made a U-turn, and he was on other side of the highway. And he stopped for the second time. Across the highway, he shouted, “What is wrong?” This time I am smarter; I shouted back, “The battery!” He then did a palm-over-forehead, a universal language for “stupid”. He was so kind that he carried his battery with the jumper cables, crossed the highway, and charged the battery the second time. And God spoke to me the second time, “Share the gospel with him.” This is a second chance. If you have a second chance, will you take it?
I did not. I was scared. I dared not; I didn’t know what to say. Today, I realized this irrational fear is a spiritual warfare. It is the deception of Satan. But as a young Bible College student, proud of my philosophy and theology, I was helpless and I was scared. What I could say when he finished charging is, “Thank you very much, God bless you.” And he drove off.
I went to my car; my whole world collapsed, and I was in depression. I sent the missionary to his place, and I went back to my Bible College. Then I told my wife, I am quitting Bible College. I was only in the first year, but I am quitting. I felt like a failure; I felt unworthy; I felt I betrayed Christ. What is the use of training in the Bible College when I am a failure?
The next day the school started, students went to school, but I did not go to the class; I was in depression, waiting to quit. But God spoke to me, “Son, go to the chapel.” I didn’t want to go, but God insisted me to go. So I dragged myself into the chapel, and I sat behind. And I remembered the song they were singing, “It Is Well with My Soul”. I knew it is not well with my soul. I couldn’t remember who the preacher was, but he must be a funny man, because my school mates were all laughing. But I was not laughing; I was crying. I sat behind, and tears came to my eyes and I said to myself, “I don't belong to this company of saints; I am not worthy to be here. LORD, why do you want me to sit here?”
But the LORD spoke very clearly to me, “I want to use you.”
And I said to God, “God, if I were you, I would not use Edmund Chan because he is a failure; I would not use him because he is unworthy. Simple instruction, ‘share gospel with the Indian lorry driver’, he dared not, so I would have quit on him. And you want to train him to be a full time servant?”
Then the LORD said, “I WANT to use you, and I CAN use you.”
I said to God, “No God, you CANNOT use me. Even if I am willing to be used, I am a failure. And to prove that you cannot use me, I will share the gospel to the person who I will meet when I go across the road.”
The first person I met was a middle-age Chinese lady. I was in my early-20s, and she was in her middle-age. And I asked her, “Can I share something with you?” And she replied in Mandarin, “Shén-me? (What?)” As I heard Mandarin, I felt a headache, because my Mandarin is very terrible. Now I really wish in front of me is in the Indian lorry driver; at least I can speak in English. Now what do I do? I have said to God that I would do my best even if my best is useless, now I am really useless!! So, with a little bit of Mandarin, a little bit of Hokkian and perfect Oxford English, in a mixture I shared the gospel. This is the worst gospel presentation in the history of the Christian church – three languages all mixed up. All I remembered was “I don’t know what to say” So I said what is most impressing in my heart, with great urgency,
“You must believe in Jesus!”
And I shared gospel whatever I can,
“He died on the cross for you.”
Then I asked her, “Do you want to believe in Jesus?”
She said, “Yes.”
And I looked up to the Heaven, speaking in Singapore English,
“Wa, like this also can!” (Wow, even this works!)
I could not believe it.
But now my problem really started – I don’t know how to pray in Mandarin. So I bring her to the Bible College, and I asked a Chinese student to pray for her, she just accepted Jesus. As they were praying, I went back to my room and I cried. “LORD, I am a failure; LORD, I am useless; LORD, I am worthless. But the power and the grace of God to save lives are incredible.” Then I said to God, “LORD, use me.”
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Do not live for the temporal things but for the eternal things. Use me so that people can be lead to Jesus. Because I see your love or them. You love them so much that you use a failure like me to share gospel with them and win them for Jesus.
My dear friends, don't feel like a failure. God wants to use you. And God can use you. You have to arise and say, “God, I am willing. I want to live for the eternal but not temporal.”
3. Rebuke of the Wise vs. Song of Fools (7:5)
Ecc. 7:5, “It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.”
This is an important principle highlighted for us. In the world preoccupied by the praises of man and the applauses of man, we must pay attention to wise reviews. Why? Because we lack of self-awareness.
I am amused by the few times I have a chance to watch on the television “American Idol”. What amuse me is those “singers” who cannot sing but they think they can. They would say “my friends told me I can sing”, but actuall they can’t. So when the judges did not put them to the next round, they got very angry with the judge. Some of them even say, “You judges don’t know how to judge. I am talented and you cannot see my talent.” This is a lack of self-awareness. They would have done better to pay attention to what the judges say.
In life it is like that. We have to listen to wise reviews so that we improve to them. Many people are more concerned to impress others rather than to improve themselves. When we listen to wise reviews, we learn to improve ourselves.
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I have learned, in the life of a pastor for 30 years, that I will get criticisms as well as compliments. Any leader will face criticisms and complements. And I have learned that for both compliments and criticism I have the same way to deal with the two of them – I bring the two to Jesus. If I receive compliments, I think of having a bouquet of flowers, and I go to Jesus and offer it to Jesus; if I receive criticisms, I bring it to Jesus and say, “LORD, whatever it is true, teach me, because I want to listen to wise reviews.”
4. Ending vs. Beginning (7:8)
Ecc. 7:8, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning…” In other words, in the world preoccupies with starting well, we must pay attention to finishing well. This is an important principle in life because many people start well but they failed to finish well. One of the key virtue of leadership and life to finish well is the spirit of perseverance.
About two years ago, I was on an island resort on vacation retreat, talking with business owners. All three of them, their businesses are highly successful; they are award-winning business owners. As for one of them, his business is in the Harvard Business School case study for success. All of them receive recognition, and government has claims for what they have accomplished. So in the Bible study together, I ask them, “What is the one key thing for business leadership in your life?” All three of them say the same thing: “The key to success in the business – perseverance.” Of course, they acknowledged that they have received favor of the LORD. In the mentoring times, I worked with some of them in their highs and lows, and they recognized favors of the LORD and answered prayers. But without faith and perseverance, nothing would have happened.
In life we must aim to finish well. Don’t give up; have a perseverance spirit. Don’t just start well; finish well.
B. The FOUR Dangers
I would like to take some time to look with you in the next few proverbs about FOUR dangers along the way. We have examined FOUR proverbs, FOUR “better’s”: (1) it is better to pay attention to the inward, (2) it is better to live for eternal, (3) it is better to listen to wise reviews, and (4) it is better to finish well. Now I would like to share with you FOUR dangers along the way.
1. The Danger of Corruption (7:7)
Ecc. 7:7, “...and a bribe corrupts the heart.”
In the Book of Ecclesiastes, the more we pursue life, the less we get out of life. It is because, like happiness, life is a by-product of something else. You want to pursue happiness? Happiness is illusive, because happiness is a by-product of something else. And for Christians, happiness is the result of living consistently to the principles of God. So, in this proverb, we learn to be careful of greed, because corruption is born out from greed.
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And corruptions not only corrupt individuals; corruption can corrupt an entire nation. Many years ago I was driving in a foreign country which is known for corruption. I was driving out of the country, and at the immigration all cars has to stop. So I took off my seat belt, bent to the glove compartment to take out my passport. Then I was about to put on my seat belt again. When the seat belt was about to be locked in, someone knocked on the window. He was an immigration officer. He said,
“I have to fine you because you didn’t put on your seat belt.”
“No, I am waiting for the cars, I am just taking my passport out.”
“Don’t argue with me. You have to be fined.”
So I said to him again, “No, I am taking out my passport.”
“I believe you, but you must pay the fine – but there is an alternative. You can pay less. You don’t have to drive all the way to the office if you pay me directly.”
So I said, “I don’t have money.”
He then said, “Any amount also can. (Any amount will do.) Whatever you have.”
Then I said to him, “Do you give me a receipt?”
Then he looked at me angrily, “What receipt?”
“I am giving to you, a government official, you have to give me a receipt.”
Then I said to him, “If there is no receipt, it is illegal. If you think I am illegal, then this (not you) is also illegal.”
So he looked at me, didn’t know what to do, and just said, “Go, go!!”
Corruption corrupts a nation. Beware of the greed that behind corruption.
2. The Danger of Impatience (7:8)
Ecc. 7:8, “…Patience of spirit is better than haughtiness of spirit.”
I find this interesting because it is not saying “patience of spirit is better than impatience of spirit” but “haughtiness of spirit” which means “pride”. I mentioned that we have to capture the principle, and here the principle is that pride causes us to be impatient. Our self-will and self-agenda cause us to be impatient. It causes us to have one instant gratification. Beware of it. It is because we will be driven by our appetite, and moves to us the instant gratification without realizing that instant gratification doesn't satisfy our appetite but enlarges our appetite. That is not wise. Be careful of bride and impatience.
3. The Danger of Anger (7:9)
Ecc. 7:9, “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry…”
There are many things we can say about anger; here I would like to highlight THREE important things.
(1) Anger is an addiction. You can be addicted to anger.
(2) Anger seems to be an empowerment. Anger seems to give you the strength or confidence. You may lack of confidence, but when you are angry to your boss or colleagues, suddenly you seem to have strength and confidence. But what seems to empowers you actually deceits you and destroys you.
(3) Anger is a sin. The Bible says, “The anger of man does not work out the righteousness of God.” Don’t walk around with an angry spirit.
What is the opposite of an angry spirit? It is a grateful spirit, a spirit of thanksgiving. So next time when you are angry about something, change it into a spirit of thanksgiving. When you are washing dishes, there are so many dirty pots and pans and there is no one helping, be thankful that you have food to eat. When you are cleaning up children’s mess, and you get angry inside with children, be thankful that you have children. Whenever we get angry, turn it into a thanksgiving spirit.
4. The Danger of Living in the Past (7:10)
There is one more thing that a spirit of thanksgiving would help us in; it helps to free ourselves the danger of living in the past. Ecc. 7:10, “…Why is it that the former days were better than these?”
In other words, we are looking back at the “good old days”, because we are lacking a gratitude and thanksgiving for the opportunities today. Many Christians say, “I wish I could live in the days of Pentecost in the Book of Acts.” I admire what the apostles have done in the Book of Acts; I am amazed by the things God has done in the Pentecost. But I am thankful that I am living in today. I believe, if Apostle Peter and Apostle Paul have the chance to choose, they would have chosen to live today, because the opportunities are fantastic for the gospel. In their days, Christianity was only in Palestine, just moving towards Rome; today, Christianity is all over the world, and the church of God is arising. God is on the move. The opportunities for today are fantastic. Live today with the sense of expectation and joy. Live today with the passion of God.
Let me close today with a true story. It is one of my favorite stories that I want to tell it again because of the principle I have learned there. It was told by an American pastor by the name of Gaspers.
When he was in college, football was a big thing. His team was in the finals. Whoever won this game would not win just a game but the entire season to become the champion. And now they were in the final minutes of this football game, and the teams were tied. So now in the last few minutes, whoever scored the next goal would win not only the game but also the entire championship. And he said, as he turned around, the ball was coming to him. So he prayed to God, “God, please don’t let me have butter finger, please help me hold the ball firmly.” And he managed to grab the ball, spun around and made a 19-yard dash to the touchdown. And he managed to score the goal and won the championship. So they celebrated him as the champion.
Football reporters came to interview him. They asked, “When you catch the ball and make the 19-yard dash, what were you thinking? What was in your mind?” He said, “There was no time to think. As I grabbed the ball and spun around, everything seems to be in slow motion. And as I turned, I saw my father at the grand stand. He was shouting, but I could not hear what he was shouting. But I saw him waving his fists, and in my heart I heard my father shouting, ‘run, son, run!!’ And I ran with everything I’ve got and made the touchdown.”
Today, we are not in a football game but the final hours of world history. What is in the hands of the church is something more important than the football – we have the gospel of Jesus Christ to change our world. And I can hear our Father in Heaven saying, “Run, son, run!!” “Run, daughter, run!!” Because the time is short. Because your life is short. Because Jesus is coming again. Because the world needs Jesus. Run, son, run!! Run, daughter, run!! The church cannot afford to be asleep. The church cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot just go slow motion, because these are the last days. It cannot be busy as usual, because in these days we have to engage with unusual business with God. Because the destiny and history of the world can be changed by the power of the gospel, and God WANTS to use you, and God CAN use you.
Heavenly Father, you are calling us to arise with passion. You are calling us to arise with purposes in our life. You are calling us to run for your glory. LORD, grant us this passion.
Tonight, this is the prayer that I am leading you to – LORD, grant me this passion. Use me. If this is the desire in your heart right now, I invite you to stand. You stand up and say to God, “Here am I. LORD, I want to run for your glory. Use me. My life is in Your hand. Use me to run for Your glory.” Don’t just live in routine; live well and live wisely. Run for the glory of God.
Heavenly Father, I would like to pray for many of us who are standing. May you bring revival to their hearts so that they truly run for Your glory. And for everyone here, I pray that Your presence and Your Word would convict us, and You are leading us to a better life to live – a deeper life, a higher life, a more meaningful life. Thank you for that, dear God.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.