While in the Carolinas on vacation, I was fishing off the shore, catching more fish than my two friends, Andre’ and Dave. This is not to say that I’m a better fisherman than either of them, but God was using these circumstances to teach me a lesson. Shortly into the vacation, God had impressed upon me the Bible verse, “Be still, and know that I AM God.” “Be still” in the Hebrew also means “cease striving,” and it applied to something even so simple as fishing off the shore for a guy who really didn’t know how to fish off the shore! I didn’t even know how to tie my hook properly, (still don’t), so I had to have my friend Dave tie my hooks, teach me how to cast properly, and teach me how to reel in a fish! Yet I caught three times more fish than both my friends combined. Suddenly I realized what God was showing me throughout all this. Instead of exerting myself, struggling, competing, fighting, manipulating, trying to make things work out, and trying to handle problems on my own, I needed to cease striving, and realize that I’m not in control but God is. Then God can work through me, and do the impossible!
James, the half-brother of the Jesus, was one who had to learn the lesson of “cease striving.” Before the resurrection, James wasn’t even considered a believer. John 7:5 tells us, “For not even His brothers were believing in Him.” Yet, when we read the book of James, he starts off his letter with, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ…” This simple beginning of a verse holds one of the most powerful truths of the Christian life…being a servant of Christ. James was: the man who lived with Jesus for 30 years; the man who grew up with Jesus and had to live with the Perfect One; the man who never beat Jesus at hide and seek, chess or Bible trivia; yet, he knew his proper place. He did not introduce himself as “James, second in command,” or “most reverend,” or “chief human head honcho,” but as “a servant.”
What is a Servant?
The Greek word for servant is “doulas,” which is translated “slave.” When a person was a servant, or slave, he had only one master. The servant had to have absolute obedience, and he knew no law but his masters word. The servant also had no rights of his own, yet the word “doulas” also implies a certain pride. It was a title by which some of the greatest men of the Old Testament (Moses, Joshua, Caleb, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Job, Isaiah) were known. So by taking the title “doulas,” James sets himself in the great succession of those who found their freedom, peace and glory in perfect submission to the will of God. James became a servant when he ceased striving, and recognized God’s authority.
Jesus was a Servant!
Philippians 2:7 tells us that Jesus “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” Look at the rights Jesus surrendered by being a servant:
1. “He surrendered the right to be God; He gave that up to become a man.” 1 (That would be like us becoming ants, to reach the ants).
2. “He gave up the right to be with His earthly family. He left His widowed mother behind to travel in ministry.” 2
3. “He gave up the right to marriage.” 3 (Oh no God, anything but that!)
4. “He gave up the right to a home.” 4 Matthew 8:20 tells us, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”
5. “He gave up the right to money and possessions.” 5 He was born in a manger, and He had no home. He had to borrow a coin to make an illustration, and He even borrowed a tomb, which He returned in three days! Jesus surely did not have enough faith to make it in the prosperity movement of today!
6. “He surrendered His reputation. As far as most people were concerned, He was an illegitimate son. His reputation among the religious experts was no better when He, the Son of God, was called a devil.” 6
7. “He gave up the right to life itself and became obedient to death on a cross,” 7 so like his brother Jesus, James said that he too is a servant of God.
Are you still striving or are you a Servant?
There are times when everything looks discouraging and we are exhausted from trying to take control of a situation. We try to work harder and still do not see results, yet God has a different solution. This one verse tells us how to handle the problems that life gives to us. Psalm 46:10 tells us, “Be still [cease striving], and know that I AM God…then I will be exalted among the nations, and among the earth.” God tells us in this passage that He is sovereign over everything. Whether the problem is personal or national, He is in control.
The Hebrew word for “be still” is translated, “cease striving, forsake, let alone, let it fail.” How many times have we tried manage something on our own strength, whether it is a relationship, ministry or even a business? If it’s not working, it’s usually because God is not in it! If a ministry has to beg and plead, claiming that they will go under unless you send money, do you believe that God is really in that ministry? Or is it a man possibly trying to manipulate you to mail in money? Like the Greek term indicates, forsake it, let it fail, and it will if it’s of man. Paul, the man called by God to bring the gospel throughout the Roman Empire, wrote, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” [Philippians 4:12-13]. These are the words of a true servant of Christ, one that God could use, no matter what the circumstances, to bring glory to His name; and the Lord’s ministry through Paul stands, even to this day, and it will stand for eternity, because it was founded on the Lord Jesus.
The Greek meaning for “strive” is “to exert, compete, toil, try, contend, struggle, fight.” So God tells us in this verse to cease striving, be still, forsake it, let go, and stop trying to hold up something on our own strength. Stop exerting, competing, contending, and fighting. This is truly the mark of a servant: when we cease striving. When we cease striving, we are to lay down our rights. Compare how Jesus lived to the way we live today.
Jesus surrendered His right to be God.
We have to Cease Striving in our religion.
Jesus hates religion. He doesn’t want you to have religion. He wants you to have a relationship. He is not pleased by our traditions! He told the religious people that by their tradition, they nullify the Word of God (Mark 7:13). Unless you have a relationship with the One who said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but through ME…(Jesus),” you are not a Christian. God wants us to worship in Spirit and in Truth, not with vain words. It’s not just a matter of believing in Christ, but dying to oneself and letting Jesus have full rule of our lives, making Him Lord and Savior.
Jesus gave up the right to be with His earthly family. We are to Cease Striving to please our family over our Heavenly Father.
Our families love us, but sometimes they can be the biggest hindrance to us in serving God. You want to go out and serve God, but your family has other thoughts of what you should do with your life. Jesus suffered the same problem as we see in Mark 3:21, “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of Him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” Even Jesus had problems with His family. I guess if we were to modernize this verse today, we would say that Jesus came from a dysfunctional family!
Jesus tells us in Luke that He comes before our families. “If any [man] comes to Me, and hates not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). Yes, Jesus wants us to love our families, but He is to come first. I’ve even seen many Christian parents tell their sons and daughters to “earn a living” and not worry about going into the ministry. How dare we take away from God’s purposes!
Jesus gave up the right to marriage.
We are to Cease Striving for a mate!
One of the biggest problems in the church today is that we have people striving to get married. Instead of just letting God put the couple together, we have to have “singles” dances, “singles” concerts, Christian “singles” dating services, and all types of events just so that Christian singles could meet. Yes, they do meet. But this is one of the reasons that the divorce ratio is the same among Christians as among unbelievers. Christians must not strive to meet their spouse instead of striving to please God! I’ve had couples tell me that they were hoping that Jesus wouldn’t come back before they got married! Now that they are married, they are praying, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
The highest calling of marriage is that the two joined together as one can serve God better than they could individually. So the best way to meet the one God wants for you would be to meet them while serving God, and following His call on your life. Stop looking for a partner, or chasing people. You must not attempt to force God’s hand in any area of your life, but wait on Him and yield to His will and His purposes. God is the one who will give you a husband or wife. I chased a woman for 6 years to marry her. When I ceased striving, and met the woman who was to be my wife, I realized that God gives the best to those who leave the choice with Him.
Jesus gave up the right to a home.
We are to Cease Striving to call the world our home
Let’s stop trying to conform to the world, and its ways of doing things. We are not part of this world, so stop trying to be its friend. I John 2:15 tells us, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” We can’t love the world’s system. This is only a temporary dwelling place, so why let our affections be set here? Set your mind on the things above, not on the things down here on earth. Let’s set our affections above, where we will live for eternity compared to the brief and fleeting 70+ years down here.
Jesus gave up his right to money and possessions.
We have to Cease Striving for possessions
We are to cease striving for money and possessions. One sin that is running rampant in the church in America is that we need the biggest and the best of everything. We have to keep up with the Joneses, or to be spiritual, with the prosperity preachers. We are caught up with the American dream, “He who dies with the most toys wins,” instead of following Jesus warning, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul!” The parable of the Sower, Mark 4:19, tells us that “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.” So if you’re wondering why the Bible is as exciting to you as the phone book, it is because you’re worried about your money, and your possessions. Are you caught up in America’s sin of covetousness? Jesus commanded us to cease striving after possessions when He told us that we can either love Him or money, but not both. When Rockerfeller died, they asked his attorney, “How much did he leave?” Without hesitation, his attorney answered, “all of it!” The same will be true of us, so let us stop striving after worldly possessions, and make your relationship with Jesus the only thing you strive after.
Jesus surrendered His reputation.
We have to Cease Striving for ours.
We should cease striving to build our reputation. We are to surrender our reputation. We are not out to become celebrities for Jesus. Our motives should not be to seek fame, honor or prestige, but to glorify God. Anytime we do things to bring attention to ourselves, we are taking the attention away from Jesus. So we are to cease striving to draw attention to ourselves instead of to the Lord.
Jesus gave up the right to life itself.
We have to Cease Striving to hang on to ours.
Today we hear Christians screaming, and I mean screaming, “my rights,” or “I have rights”; but not really. When you accepted Jesus, you forsook your rights and gave them over to Him. Jesus said, “He who does not pick up his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38). We all like to think of a shiny cross of polished metal, but the cross is actually a place of dying, where sweat and blood stained the wood. When God tells us to pick up the cross, He is telling us to die to self, and that all of our rights are now surrendered to HIM. He is wholly in charge of our lives, and we surrender our rights to Him when He becomes Lord of our lives. Salvation does not come from Bible knowledge, going to church, or by being good. Salvation is an exchange of all that I am for all that He is. It’s saying to Jesus, “I won’t follow me, I’ll follow You.” And God, who loved us so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die for us, and receive our punishment, is now the center of our lives and the One to whom we must abandon ourselves in total trust. So we are to cease striving for our rights.
Jesus changed the world in three years without striving.
We should Cease Striving in ministry.
Cease striving in your Christian work. Stop trying to do things in your own power and let the Spirit of God work through you. “Not by power, not by might, but by my Spirit says the Lord” (Zec. 4:6). Don’t focus on your ministry. Let your ministry flow out of your intimacy with God. There have been times I’ve tried to run ahead of God in ministry, yet unless the Lord does the work, we labor in vain. (Psalm 127:1) So cease striving in your ministry and let God be God!
Why do we need to cease striving? Because when we are moving, or striving, we can’t hear the voice of God! We are trying to do things on our own. Do you remember Jesus in the boat sleeping? “And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, ‘Peace, be still.’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (Mark 4:39) How about the storms in your life? How is your own personal boat called “life” doing with the waves? Do you have peace from the Prince of Peace? The root of the word for “be still” is “rapha,” meaning “to mend, cure, heal, repair, and make whole” and also “physician.” So as you’re still before the Lord, He will heal you. He will cure you of your spiritual hurts, sufferings, afflictions and concerns. He will make you whole again. Isaiah 40:31 tells us, “But they that wait [are still, cease striving] upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.”
And know that I AM God…
The word “know” also means to recognize. We need to recognize, in the midst of the whole scene, that God is present and in control. Too many times we are not aware of God’s hand in our situations. Remember Jesus calming the storm in Matthew 14:22-36. Here is a perfect example of Jesus testing the disciples. Jesus starts off by telling the disciples to go ahead of Him in the boat. It is important to note here that the disciples know they are in God’s will, because Jesus told them what to do. The disciples get caught in a major storm, with waves tossing the boat around. Now they are fighting off the waves and they see Jesus, thinking He is a ghost! Why didn’t they simply recognize it was Jesus? Perhaps because they weren’t looking for Him! All they could see were their problems. All they could see was the storm. If they would have been looking for Him, they would have recognized Him. We are the same way. Sometimes we fail to recognize what Jesus is trying to tell us in times of trial. Often it’s because we’re overwhelmed with other things. It doesn’t matter how much Bible knowledge you have, or how mature you are in Christ. If you don’t recognize that Jesus is in control, you will start to sink like Peter did, shortly after he stepped out onto the water. But Jesus was there with His hand reaching out for Peter, and Jesus caught him.
You may feel like you are in a storm, and that you’re sinking; but Jesus is there, right next to you, with His out stretched hand waiting to catch you! He is in every storm with us, holding us, taking care of us, and watching over us. But we have to do our part. We have to reach out and grab His hand as well, remembering to keep our eyes on Jesus and not on the rocking boat. Then all the allurements, the temptations, and the problems of this world become dim and blurred. We need to recognize our position in Christ, that we are servants of the Most High, who promises to take care of us. “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).