In Paul’s ending to his letter to the Ephesians, he talks about how to defeat the powers of evil and darkness. We have take up the whole armor of God.
We have to take it up. Surely the armor of God is a gift, and we would have any of it without God, but Paul says we have to take some initiative. We have appropriate it, practice it, put in on. We have to make the choices to accept the gifts of protection that God has given. And it’s no coincidence that the metaphor here is a full set of armor, each piece designed to work with the others. Each item is crucial, and with out even one, the whole solider would be compromised. That’s why he says take up the whole armor.
So what is the whole armor of God? Let’s survey these briefly in the order they appear:
This is what holds everything together. In the times of Paul the basic garment was a flowing tunic; it was a square piece of fabric with holes for the head and arms that would hang loosely around the body. When preparing for a fight, soldier would put on the belt, which would gather the material between their legs so they had greater freedom of movement and keep it from being so loose as to be a liability.
This is what the the truth of God’s word does for us. Our faith is founded on the truth that Jesus really did live, that he did really did die, that he really did rise from the grave, and that he really is God in the flesh! This is the truth that keeps everything from unraveling around us. If we don’t have a firm foundation in this truth, we are on shaky ground indeed.
And further, we must people that are about truthfulness, that is we continually seek after the truth, we speak the truth, we believe that truth exists, and we love the truth.
This is referring the not only to the righteous of Christ that is imputed to us–that is, given to us on his behalf–but also the righteousness of our everyday life. We guard our hearts and innermost being when we live in a way that is holy and pleasing to God. All those little habits of turning your thoughts toward Jesus, of living generously and simply, and so on, will protect you from temptation and subtle lies from Satan.
Without the right footwear for the activity at hand you’re sunk. The right shoes allow to traverse difficult ground quickly and gracefully. A couple years ago I ran a 12 mile obstacle race called the tough mudder. About 6 miles in I realized I had worn the wrong shoes… they were letting rocks in in every mud pit. And there were a lot of mud pits. By the end of the race I could barely walk, let alone run. I didn’t have the right shoes. We sometimes forget that the Gospel is a message of peace and reconciliation, and so we forget the core of our mission. Certainly not everyone will accept or believe the Gospel, but isn’t completely different when we approach people as ambassadors of peace and instead simply trying to assert the fact that we are right and others are wrong? Hateful groups like Westboro Baptist Church show that you can get many facts of the Gospel right, and still miss the core Gospel message.
Paul says we take up the shield of faith to protect from the fiery darts of the evil one. These darts are actually arrows that were used in the ancient world, dipped in pitch and ignited before launching at enemies. They could be devastating because they would splatter when he hit, lighting all kinds of things and people on fire.
I think of these assaults on our faith as things like inexplicable suffering of loved ones, the stresses of unexpected financial struggles, personal failures, chronic illness. These things have the potential to do us great harm, to shake us to our core. Yet, these are the very moments when we must stand strong in our faith, in our trust that that God that has already won the war by raising Jesus from the dead, thereby conquering death, and will not abandon us in our battle.
This is where it starts getting really good, brothers and sisters. The helmet, the part of the armor that covers the most important part of the body, is called the helmet of salvation. As long as we have put this on by believing in Jesus and confession him as Lord, we know that we will be saved. Not just from our past sin, but from our present struggles, and future failures.
Our ultimate end can’t be anything other than victory. Not because of us, of course, but because Jesus is already victorious. Let me put it another way…the helmet of salvation assures that ultimately, we are invincible to Satan’s attacks. He can’t do anything to snatch us from our Father’s hands.
Our only offensive weapon here is the sword of the Spirit, which Paul is the word of God. Of course we immediately think of the Bible–“living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” as it says in Hebrews. And this word is animated by the Spirit. So we must be careful to listen for what the Spirit actually saying to us in the text, being careful to not just assume it’s saying what we might like it say. The image here is of a short weapon that required skill and precision to use. So part of arming ourselves with this weapon is knowing when and how to use it. Jesus used it to counter temptation and lies of the devil, but remember the devil tried to use it too! So we’ve got to be careful with one. It is powerful, but we hurt ourselves or others if we don’t treat it very seriously and listen very carefully, and operate in the power of God the Holy Spirit. You can see how each piece is just absolutely essential. If we don’t have the helmet, we’re in danger of eternal death. No sword and we’re left with no offensive options. No shield and not only are vulnerable but other people as well as the effects of those fiery darts spread. But how do we appropriate it? How to do we put it on?
Matthew Henry said, “Prayer must buckle on all the other parts of our Christian armour.” So we put on the whole armor by coming to God and asking. All the time. By consciously examining ourselves to see where our weaknesses are and taking action to bring those things to the Father in prayer.
We are to pray at all times in the Spirit which simply means with an open and trusting heart to work of Spirit in our lives.
What would your life be like if–having identified your true enemy–you devoted yourself to fighting with weapons that God has given you? What if in times of crises you saw opportunities to live a holy life marked by prayer and constant witness to the Gospel message?
What could your nation be like if Christians, instead of trying to throw money and worldly influence and guns at problems took up the whole armor of God together and took the fight straight to real sources of evil?
In Paul’s famous passage in Ephesians 6:10-20 on the armor of God, he makes a big deal about letting us know who we’re really fighting when it comes to the battles of the Christian life.
So who are we up against? This is crucial. You’ve got to know your enemy to be able to fight them effectively. Paul tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood (by which he means human beings) but rather “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
Spiritual forces of evil, people. In other words, the devil and his demons. In our hyper naturalistic culture this kind of language seems pretty strange, but there’s no way to get around what Paul is saying here. If he’s right (and I believe he is), there are forces at work beyond that which is immediately visible to us. This has important implications.
It means that as we look at the world, the things we perceive as our enemies are not in an ultimate sense what we are fighting.
It means that ISIS is not ultimately our enemy. Politicians and presidents are not ultimately our enemies.
These are pawns only of greater, spiritual powers that desire violence and oppression not only for Christians, but for anyone they bring under their influence.
I say this because we give much attention to to the terrorists and the kings of this world, but if we only ever deal with the pawns, solving earthly problems with earthly means we will not make significant headway against the evil powers and principalities of the spiritual realm.
What Paul is saying here is that you have to take the battle past what you can see…and start fighting even the things you can’t see.
Stay tuned for more.
A few years ago Amber’s side of the family decided it would be a great idea to get together around Thanksgiving. And at this family get together, it was decided we would play a rousing game of paintball.
If you have ever played paintball you know it’s really is a lot of fun. Here’s the thing though: paintballs hurt! They’re being shot from a gun, usually powered by compressed gas, at a really high velocity! Well it’s not like I’m a pro paintball player or anything so I wore some grubby clothes and dutifully donned the protective eye mask from the facility. Then I went out to do battle with my inlaws. [Let me pause here. Some of you have met my mother in law right? I mean, she’s saint. If you know Kristy, you can’t imagine her hurting a fly, am I right?]
So around midway through the game I pick her as my target. Honestly, I’m thinking this going to be pretty easy. As I approach, however, I make a crucial mistake. I trip and I fall, which reveals my location to my sweet mother in law. While I am still on the ground she takes the opportunity to just unload her weapon on me at close range. I mean she shot me so many times…and since I was on the ground my neck under my mask was completely exposed. So that’s where she shot me, of course.
It hurt. It hurt bad. I learned two lessons that day:
1) Don’t underestimate your opponent.
2) Protect yourself as much as you possibly can–take care of those vulnerable spots before they are exploited by the enemy!
I think this is what Paul is getting at in his famous passage on the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. He’s helping us to realize who our real enemy is, and how to make our defense so we’re not caught off guard.
Stay tuned for more in this series on the Armor of God.
This is an edited manuscript of a sermon I preached at Grand Canyon University. Watch the whole thing below, or keep scrolling to read through the content.
Has something ever happened to you that changed your reality to such extent that you became almost a different person? I can think of a few examples in my own life. When I got married, for instance, my reality changed!
I went from single, to married. From being a bachelor to being a married man. This changed so much about how I lived my life. Every decision was different and suddenly my priorities shifted. It was a very similar experience to become a parent for the the first time.
Maybe you’ve experienced something like this before, either getting married or having kids or a big move or even a new job or career shift. Something happened, that changed your decision making process and set you on a new path. Sometimes these are positive experiences, and sometimes they are negative experiences, but they happen to all of us, and it’s what makes life interesting!
Those of you that know me a little bit know that I’m kind of a nerd. I love super hero stories. Batman, Spiderman, Avengers, all that stuff. An unassuming individual unexpectedly gains knowledge or power or some sick kung-fu skills, they take on this new identity, and then they go and fight crime in while wearing tights and throwing out witty one liners. What’s not to love, am I right? There’s this pattern that’s the same in every single comic book or superhero movie: new reality, a powerful origin story, and a mission to save the world.
I want you to see that this stuff isn’t just pretend movie magic. Like we just talked about, our everyday lives are filled with change and transformation, and the Apostle Paul is tells us you and I are in fact part of the most epic story ever told! And here’s the thing: it’s a true story.
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:14-21 ESV)
Paul set us up with a new reality.
...one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15 ESV)
This is the event that changed everything for everyone in whole world! One perfect person, Jesus Christ, died and was raised back to life for everyone so that they could be free from selfishness and find real abundant life outside of themselves. This is new reality, and implication are huge, because it means that real self-giving love and authentic community are actually possible. It changes the way we look at everything.
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. (2 Corinthians 5:16 ESV)
Once you realize what Jesus has done for you and everyone else, you can’t just look at him from merely human point of view. You can’t just say he was a good teacher or prophet or healer. If you believe what Paul is saying here, that Jesus took your sin with him to the cross, conquered, and came back to life. you can’t look at him the same. He becomes your Lord and your God. And you can’t look at others the same either. You can’t look at yourself the same. This is a new reality that leads to the origin of a new identity.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
What does it mean to be “in Christ?” It means to believe in him, and to obey his commandment to love one another. In John 15 Jesus said,
Abide in me, and I in you. ...As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you...Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love...This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 15:4-12 ESV)
When you really believe in Jesus, things change. You begin to love other people in ways you couldn’t before, and it becomes so clear that you have a new identity in him. John Wesley said that for the person that has trusted in Christ, there is
“present, visible, undeniable change! All things are become new - He has new life, new senses, new faculties, new affections, new appetites, new ideas and conceptions. His whole tenor of action and conversation is new, and he lives, as it were, in a new world.”
Do you realize that old you, the one that was a slave to selfish desires, was nailed to the cross with Jesus and is even now dying away? “Behold!” Paul says. Open your eyes and see what Jesus as done and see the freedom that you have been given, and realize that you have been remade on the inside.
Paul keeps going in verse 18, “All this is from God.” This means that this new origin and identity that you have is a gift. There’s nothing you could do earn it or deserve it, because the kind of shift in reality that is required for it can only come from God. Who else can bring someone back from the dead, except the God that created life?
To go back to superheroes for a minute: You’re not like Ironman in this story. He gets his powers from this suit that he built with his own money and and his own intelligence. You’re more like Spiderman or Superman, who through no effort of their own, are given a gifts of power, and with it responsibility.
If you wake up to the reality of the love of Christ and what he accomplished for you by dying on the Cross and being raised back to life, if you accept this new identity as a new creation, living for Jesus instead of yourself, then you have a mission. If you’ve ever wondered about your purpose in life, this is it:
...Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation...Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us... (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 ESV)
God wants to get his message out through you and through me. An ambassador speaks on behalf of and with the authority of the person they represent. Can you believe God has given all of us such an important role? To speak for him, in his name, to the world? This is the message we’re to proclaim and to live out:
...on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:20-21 ESV)
Look, I don’t presume to know where you are in your relationship with God today, so let me try to live this out right now.
If you only hear one thing from me to today, hear this:
Jesus is speaking to you. Right here, right now. And he is saying “be reconciled to God.”
Be reconciled to God, because he made you and loves you. Be reconciled so that you can begin to make sense of both the deep brokenness and the profound beauty of this world.
Be reconciled because what I am saying about Jesus is not only a beautiful story, it is the truth.
Be reconciled to God so that you can receive forgiveness for your sins.
The whole needing forgiveness thing is hang up for a lot of people, and I get it.
Why you need forgiveness from God, and especially why do you need to ask for it, if God is so great? And after all you’re probably a pretty good person.
You know according to your standards and my standards you probably are a pretty good person, but you know you’ve done things that are wrong. You know that your own selfishness has sometimes hurt others, caused you to move farther away from God instead of closer to him. We all know that in relationships, lots of little things add up after awhile.
Every time you have lied or cheated or passed by someone in need or allowed selfish thoughts to run free in your head you have damaged your relationship with God who is perfect, because he made you for more than that. He made you to perfectly reflect his character to the world. You haven’t done that; the truth is you aren’t able to do that on your own.
And this isn’t just theories and rules: God is relational. You can’t forgive yourself for stuff you’ve done to someone else. You can’t rescue yourself if you’re the one drowning. You have to ask for forgiveness. Someone has to pull you from the water. Here’s the good news, though:
Jesus knows and you and loves you and because of that he has made a way for you to be forgiven for your sins, and to be in relationship with him, and with your Father in heaven, and he wants to be with you always through the Holy Spirit.
Jesus took the eternal consequence of your sin on himself on the cross. Even though he was perfect he took on so much for so many people that Paul says he was made sin. There has never been anyone so innocent, so undeserving to die as Jesus. But he did it anyway. He was humiliated and tortured and killed. And he did this so that you could become the righteousness of God.
“The righteousness of God” means God’s perfect character, and especially his faithfulness to keep his promises. God doesn’t just want to make you a better person for your own sake. He wants to use you to keep his promises to bless the world:
To help the poor. To heal the sick. To come alongside the lonely and hurting and all those that are in the margins of society. To reveal beauty and truth. To draw others into a reconciled relationship with one who made them. This is the life he is offering.
Don’t get me wrong, he’s not asking you to be perfect in this moment. He simply says “come, receive forgiveness. I’ll give you everything you need.” So, receive it. Don’t wait. On behalf of Christ, for the love of Jesus, be reconciled to God, so that you can become the righteousness of God.
If you are someone that has received this forgiveness, if you already see the fruit of new creation in your life, don’t forget the reality that God has initiated for you to be made new, and don’t forget the mission. You are an ambassador for Christ, a minister of reconciliation, and this shapes everything about you. It should be shaping your family, your career, your church, your free time.
Your origin story is just the beginning. It’s the first episode in a long series of sequels…each presenting a new challenge and a new expression of God’s goodness in and through you.
You have already been reconciled to God, so open your mind and your heart to the power of Spirit so that you also may become the righteousness of God to a world that desperately needs it. Don’t shy away from sharing forgiveness, hope, and truth as often as you can to anyone and everyone as often you can and in every way you can.
So, St. Paul has given us the setup for an epic story. A new reality, initiated by God and inaugurated by the resurrection of Jesus. A powerful origin–a new identity and relationship with the God of the universe–for any that will receive it. And a mission to save the world.
So I have to ask…why wouldn’t you want to be part of that story?
(Ephesians 5:18 ESV)
The celebration of Pentecost is nearly upon us. As we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit in power on that day 2000 years ago, let’s talk about what it means to be filled with the Spirit.
To be clear, I’m not talking about what many in the Pentecostal tradition would call “baptism of the Spirit.” What is usually meant by this is a second experience post-conversion, with the required “evidence” of speaking in tongues and the result of a “higher” sort of Christian life.
I think this is problematic on a couple of fronts. First, it implies that one is not baptized in the Spirit at the time of conversion. 1 Corinthians 12:13 clearly links the baptism of the Spirit with incorporation in to Christ and his Body on Earth. So, if you are not baptized in the Spirit at the moment of conversion/baptism, you probably aren’t really part of the Church.
This line of thought is contrary to the general thrust of the relevant passages (which celebrate many gifts over and above the so-called “sign-gifts”), and it leads to an easily abused “class system” within the Body of Christ, where you have those have “gotten the Spirit” and those haven’t.
No, one is baptized (cleaned, washed, immersed) in the Spirit by Jesus (Luke 3:16) at the moment of conversion. Conversion is “signed and sealed,” confirmed and expressed, in the gift of water baptism. I agree with Pentecostal theologian Simon Chan who said in his book Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community,
"...the water ritual can be understood only in relation to the gift of the Spirit...the gift of the Spirit is an essential component of the rite of initiation. Theologically, this means that in cannot be understood as a "second work of grace" distinct from initiation, but must be understood as part of conversion-initiation." (p. 119)
Of course, the work the Spirit in your life isn’t finished at this moment of conversion and baptism. Far from it! It’s because this work is ongoing that we speak of being continually filled with the Spirit.
The filling of the Holy Spirit is a normal part of the Christian life. For most, it is an ongoing process of yielding more and more of your heart to him over time.
Many Christians also experience definitive “breakthrough” moments (sometimes more than one of the course of their lifetime). Everyone responds differently–some weep, some laugh, some fall down or faint, some become very quiet, some burst out in ecstatic speech, some make no outward indication of what has just occurred in their hearts. No matter what it looks like, the point is that God wants to be continually at work in your life and in your heart in powerful ways.
Here’s the thing: while subjective responses to being filled with the Spirit vary widely from person to person, the objective fruit is always the same: ”…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…“(Galatians 5:22-23 ESV).
Do you see the fruit of the Spirit in your life? If you have truly accepted Jesus as the lord of your life, it’s inevitable that you will, because you will be open to his gifts. But do you want to see more? There’s always room to grow, room to be filled even more, even to overflowing. A. W. Tozer suggests a four step framework for cultivating a deeper relationship with God the Holy Spirit and receiving him more fully into your life.
Brothers and sisters, do not quench the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19). Be filled!
About two weeks ago now, my wife Amber noticed some swelling in her left leg. She was experiencing some pain and discomfort, but (being the strong woman that she is) wasn’t sure about getting it checked out. After a call with our midwife, however, she decided to go in for an ultrasound.
Now, when you go in for an ultrasound, they usually send whatever results you get to your primary care physician. The ultrasound technicians themselves aren’t doctors, so they’re really not supposed to give you any information, because they very well could be wrong.
Nevertheless, Amber knew something was up when the tech kept looking at her mid-ultrasound and asking, “do you still feel okay?” and then about 10 seconds later “how about now? You okay?”
And then a little later, “you really need to see your doctor, like…right now.”
Here we are in the hospital. Amber remains cheerful while I furiously text our family updates :)
It took a little pressing from Amber, but the tech finally admitted that they thought Amber could have a serious blood clot in her left leg. Of course, blood clots are no joke, for mother or baby, so we rushed to hospital, where Amber was admitted for monitoring and treatment. She was 36 weeks pregnant at that time.
Slowly the implications of this began to sink in:
The stress level of our lives has gone up…considerably.
Of course, Amber is navigating all of these implications with grace and strength: typical Amber.
But let me be honest: I have not. I am by nature a worrier, and I tend to allow the “what-if” scenarios rule in my mind and by extension–because that’s how these things work–my heart. My struggle against worry and fear has been constant.
I have had many moments where I am freaking out on the inside because I can’t bear the thought of what could happen to my dear, sweet wife or to our precious little one that is waiting to be born.
A few days after Amber came home from the hospital I attempted to pray the Psalm for the day, which begins like this:
Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Prove me, O LORD, and try me; test my heart and my mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness. (Psalm 26:1-3 ESV)
As I made my way through the Psalm I thought, How can I pray this? How can I say this to my Lord and my God when I do in fact waver, sometimes every hour of every day? And it’s not that I don’t want to…more than anything I want to trust in Jesus but no matter how much I want to, the more I try to force some faith, the more it seems to slip through my fingers and I realize that I am helpless. I am weak. I do not possess in myself even the ability to believe.
But it’s not just a piece of poetry from the Old Testament that confronts me on this, but the the words of Jesus himself. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
In Matthew 6, Jesus says, over and over, “do not be anxious.”
At the beginning of the very chapter we are in right now Jesus said, ““Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1 ESV)
I feel like like I love Jesus, I know I want to love Jesus. I have dedicated my life to loving Jesus..and yet, this simple statement devastates me.
Does it devastate you?
Do you grasp the difficulty?
You and I can’t work for Jesus, or speak about Jesus, or bring others to Jesus, or really love others at all, much less love Jesus as he says, by keeping his commandments. We just can’t do it. We’re not able to do it.
At least, not on our own.
I’m reminded of what Jesus says just a few verses later in chapter 15: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”
And that’s why what Jesus says next in John 14 is such good news.
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth..”
This is the beginning of some good news! God will send us help to accomplish what we can’t under our own power! And that help will be a person…God the Holy Spirit himself.
In his daily devotional on the Holy Spirit, A. W. Tozer says,
“Indeed it is not possible to love Jesus rightly except by the Holy Spirit. Only the Third Person of the Trinity can love the Second Person in a manner pleasing to the Father. The spiritual love of Jesus is nothing else but the Spirit in us loving Christ the Eternal Son.”
I love Jesus, and I want to obey his commandments. I want to love him and other people, but I need a Helper. Thank God Jesus has not left us as orphans.
Thank God he sends us his Spirit.
This post is an edited excerpt of a recent sermon. Listen to the whole thing here.
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:1-11 ESV)
During Holy Week we will through Scripture readings, prayer, and special services walk with our Lord to the cross, and it all starts on Palm Sunday. This is– as you would expect–a rather somber journey, but Palm Sunday is a celebration. I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as a little strange. The whole story of the Triumphal Entry is–if you think about it–a little weird. The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said,
“Christ’s kingdom is a very strange one, totally different from anything that ever has been seen or ever will be seen…”
This story is a perfect example of this. At virtually every turn Jesus is doing something that neither his disciples, nor the crowds that celebrated him, nor the religious authorities, nor even you and I would probably expect.
Now, this story may be strange, but here’s the thing…it’s in the strangeness that we’ll find the significance. We have to go a bit beyond a surface-level reading to see what’s happening here. Are you ready to dive a little deeper with me?
Jesus has been travelling. He’s been moving throughout Israel, teaching, preaching, healing, casting out evil spirits, doing miracles. He has repeatedly talked about the nature of his own ministry (Mark 8, 9, 10), how he came to serve and how he must die. But it doesn’t seem like the crowds or the disciples were getting it. In fact the Scripture says there were afraid of asking him about it.
Now he comes to Jerusalem. It’s certainly not the first time he’s been here, but this time it’s different. He stops at the Mount of Olives which stands directly opposite the Temple mount. So if you were standing there with Jesus, you would look across the Kidron Valley and you would see the Temple, the holy city, ruled by religious hypocrites and the Roman military. Luke says that Jesus wept over this city because they did not understand what was really happening here, who he really was.
That’s when the strange things start happening.
Strange thing #1:
Jesus sends his disciples to get a young donkey, one that hasn’t been ridden before. Somehow he knows ahead of time that it will be there, and that the owners won’t mind if he commandeers it for a while.
I mean, think about what happens in this story: The disciples go, they find the donkey, and I’m sure you can imagine they’re just hoping they don’t have to explain what they’re doing. Of course, they’re caught red handed. The owner’s all like, “hey, why are you taking my donkey?” You know they probably looked at each thought, I hope this works. Then they say, oh, the Lord needs it…but don’t worry he’ll bring it right back. The owner response: “Cool with me.”
Imagine if couple scruffy dudes came to your house and started hotwiring one your cars. You’re like, hey what are you doing? They’re like, “The Lord needs this…but we’ll bring it right back.” Kind of strange.
Strange thing #2:
Jesus rides the donkey–a young colt that hadn’t yet been broken in–into Jerusalem. First, this is a little weird just because the colt allowed it, and second, it’s not exactly an impressive animal. It would be like a celebrity rolling up to the red carpet in a beat-up, borrowed Ford Fiesta instead of the Rolls Royce. It should seem a little off.
Strange thing #3:
The people love it! They starting shouting and singing and praising and throwing their clothes in the road and treating Jesus like a king! Why would they do this, and why would Jesus allow it when he had just told Peter back in chapter 8 to not tell anyone that he was the Messiah, which means “deliverer of Israel?”
Strange thing #4:
Jesus gets to Jerusalem, looks around, and leaves. All this celebration, all this commotion; Jesus is even using supernatural powers to find and ride this donkey…and the people are loving it…shouting in praises and talking about him like he’s a king and savior…and he walks away.
Sometimes I think we just accept all the details in this story without really thinking about them because we’ve heard it so many times…in reality this is a strange story but each one of these strange details is crucial for understanding the significance of the Triumphal Entry then and understanding the significance of the Triumphal Entry now.
So let’s take a look at each of these strange events with fresh eyes and try to understand them in their cultural and biblical context.
First up: Jesus knowing about and requesting a colt. I think this is significant because it is a testimony to Jesus’s divine and sovereign character. He had foreknowledge that no ordinary human being could have. And he commands an incredible amount of trust and respect from his disciples who carried out the strange order, and from owners of the colt themselves. There’s more to it than just the supernatural-ness of this, though. Jesus is quite deliberately fulfilling an Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah from Zechariah, Chapter 9:9-10:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10 ESV)
Do you see what’s happening here? Jesus is taking on the mantle of Messiah. The connection between his actions and the Zechariah passages probably wouldn’t have been lost on the disciples although some of it definitely went over the heads of the crowd…more on that in a bit.
Okay, so getting on the donkey after doing lots of miracles and teachings and stuff is a deliberate fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. But why did he ride it into Jerusalem the way that he did? To understand this you have to understand that the whole idea of a Triumphal Entry is not unique to Jesus. In ancient Rome rulers would make triumphal entries into cities after a military conquest, usually on horses with chariots, displaying the plunder and glory of their conquest. When Jesus starts on his ride to Jerusalem, the crowd picks up on the cues he’s laying down. He’s talking and acting like a king, finally! And that explains why the people got so excited.
The people, seeing what Jesus is doing, think he’s coming in to Jerusalem to triumph over their enemies, the occupying Romans! To be fair the timing was perfect…it was the beginning of Passover week, the celebration of Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
The celebratory shout of the crowds couldn’t make this more clear:
And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! [(which means ‘please, save us’)] Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mark 11:9-10 ESV)
In their excitement, they are missing that Jesus does things very differently. He makes no show of wealth–he borrowed his ride after all. And again, he’s on a donkey. Certainly kings rode donkeys in the ancient world, but they were seen as peaceful animals. Not like a horse, bred for war, a donkey is raised for acts of service. The crowd misses what Jesus would later make explicit–that his is a spiritual, not a political kingdom. It’s a kingdom marked by reconciliation, not war. A kingdom that is not concerned with making weapons, but in making peace between God and man. If you’ll endulge one other Spurgeon quote, commenting on this passage the great preacher said:
“His armies are loving thoughts, his troops are kind words. The power by which he rules his people is not the strong hand and the stretched-out arm of police or soldiery, but by deeds of love and words of overflowing benediction he asserts his sovereign sway.”
Jesus drives this point home by arriving at the end of his 2 mile journey at the Temple, taking a look around, and…doing nothing. He does come back and cleanse the Temple, on his own time-table, of course. And it’s not by spilling Roman blood or starting a riot. No, he drives out money-changers single-handedly in a powerful critique of how corrupt the religious leadership had become.
The cumulative effect of all of this is to bring the people of Israel to a point of decision. Jesus is acting like a king, talking like a Messiah, yet a very different kind of king, a different kind of Messiah than people wanted. He was in effect forcing the people to make choice, because now they can’t avoid his claim to be the Messiah, and after his stunt in the Temple along with the rest of his teaching, they can’t deny his idea of the Kingdom of God is very different than what they were expecting from a savior.
[bctt tweet=“Jesus did not demand a bloody political revolution, but a radical reformation of the heart.”]
These were not the terms they were expecting or desiring or willing to consider, so the crowds that had cheered for him quickly turned against him. In just a few days the same people that had cried “Hosanna!” would be shouting, demanding, “Crucify him.”
He knew it would happen; he had already tried to tell his disciples three times! Mark Chapters 8,9,10.
As we walk with Christ through Passion Week, we begin here, at the Triumphal Entry. And just like the crowds and the religious rulers we too are forced to come to terms with who Jesus claimed to be and what his Kingdom is really like.
And don’t assume that you or I would have thought much differently than the crowds. I mean, it seems to me that the church is in many corners is looking for Jesus to change their political situation–just like the Jews in the first century. It seems to me that many people calling themselves Christians are also publicly calling for military solutions to their persecution–again, just like the nation of Israel under Roman rule.
We have allowed our own evangelical culture to be politicized and militarized in ways that Jesus would not recognize as part of his Kingdom.
On personal level, are you submitting to the Lordship of Jesus on his own terms in your life? Or are you only following him when it is convenient, when it seems like Jesus is operating within your preconceived expectations? Are you willing to follow not a lord of war, but a prince of peace? A king that died not only for his oppressed people but for the oppressors, too? Are you willing to follow a king that doesn’t necessarily deliver you from your circumstances on your timetable, but is rather more concerned with transforming your very soul to be more like him?
Jesus did a very strange thing by riding into Jerusalem on that young donkey. He did a very significant thing. He said he was the Messiah, Savior, and Lord.
He proclaimed a counter-intuitive, new kind of kingdom, where a carpenter is king, where the poor have cause for celebration, where swords are beaten into ploughshares, where God himself serves even the lowliest of his subjects. And those subject will be lifted up and called sons and daughters of the Most High God, and they will worship him with all their heart and soul and mind and body in spirit and in truth. T
hey will have a hope that frees them from the fear of death, and indeed they will be free from death itself!
This is the Kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming, and you can be part of it.
But to enter that kingdom you’ve got accept Jesus on his own terms, strange though they may be.
Brothers and sisters, we are now solidly into the season of Lent. Lent is that time of the Christian year where we remember own sin, our own deep need for a savior. We remember we’re made of dust, and we’re going to back to being dust. Perhaps you’re giving something up for the Lent this year…
Christianity Today compiled a list of some of the most popular things people are giving up on Twitter.
You know what the number one thing people are giving up for Lent is on Twitter?
School. It’s understandable. You know you’ve been there.
The number 3 thing was Twitter (not a bad choice).
The 5 thing was social networking (I’ve done this before…it’s quite refreshing).
Of course the usuals like chocolate, alcohol, fast food, and so on were popular. Then there are the people trying to be clever.
Giving up Lent for Lent came in at number 14, and right ahead of that was simply the word “you.”
As in, I’m giving up you for Lent (yikes!).
You know, on the one hand, I’m encouraged that the culture at large is at least aware of the season of Lent, and is at least interested in the idea of denying themselves in some way. I do wonder, however if even those of us in the church really have a clear understanding of what it means to deny ourselves the way Jesus talked about it.
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34 ESV)
What does this mean? What does this look like in our day to day lives?
Self denial isn’t giving up chocolate
First, let’s talk about what self denial and taking up our cross isn’t. The kind of self-denial that Jesus is talking about is so much more than giving up chocolate for Lent. Giving up sugary snacks might be an admirable form of self-discipline and could be a way to deny an unhealthy sort of pleasure. But I don’t think this is exactly what Jesus had in mind when it comes to discipleship. I once heard on a sermon on Ash Wednesday in which a priest made this statement: “a great proposal demands a great response.”
When someone proposes marriage to another, they are offering a great gift: their entire life. Yet, to accept this gift, you have to say “yes,” which means giving your whole life as well in response. This is how it is with God. He has made a great proposal by sending us Jesus. This proposal demands a great response. If our practice of self-denial is limited to chocolate, I’m not sure we’re getting what the Lenten season is all about…or what following Jesus is all about.
When it comes to taking up our cross, we often speak as if merely enduring inconveniences is somehow giving glory to God. “Poor Amber has to listen to Nathan’s jokes every day. That’s just her cross to bear.” I don’t think so.
Don’t you think real denial of self, a real taking up of one’s cross has to be more than this?
What self denial really looks like
When we think about denying ourselves, we often become self centered. We think about not swearing, or drinking too much or gratifying some other desire of our flesh. We deny ourselves the pleasures of the world, and we do it to try to increase our own personal holiness.
Don’t get me wrong, personal holiness is important, but you can’t stop there. Jesus was perfectly holy, perfectly righteous, but he still went to cross. Aren’t we called to imitate him in this?
Jesus didn’t take up his cross for himself–he suffered scorn and shame and death for you and for me. So our self-denial has to move beyond just personal holiness become self-sacrificial in character. We have to deny ourselves and pick up our cross and follow Jesus for the sake of others.
Let me offer your three examples of what it looks like to deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Jesus:
1) Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Thomas Cranmer was the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the English Reformation. It’s primarily because of him that we have the liturgy in English that we worship with today. He risked his life to reform the Church, and was ultimately burned alive for his commitment to the Word of God.
2) Recently 21 Christians were killed in Libya by radical Muslims. The brother of two of the men prayed for their murderers publicly on television, thanking them for publicizing their profession of faith in Jesus, and saying “This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.” This man set aside any desire for revenge and retaliation for the sake of even of those who killed his own brothers!
3) My parents, Jeff & Renée. Both of them left established, comfortable careers to become missionaries in Africa. My mom was playing violin for world-class orchestras. My dad was minister of music at a large church. Things were going well. They gave up safety, security and all kinds of certainty to take their young children with them and plant churches in one of the least-reached places on the planet.
Do these examples sound radical?
Do they sound extreme?
I hope so.
“Deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me” is a radical, extreme statement. Remember…a great proposal requires a great response. How are you living a radically sacrificial life for the sake of others?
But…what if you are not a Reformer? What if you are not in physical danger because your commitment to the Word? What if you are not called to be a full-time missionary?
First, you are called to be a Reformer. You are called to stand firm on the Word of God and be constantly reforming your life to that standard. And believe me, that will always entail risk. Perhaps not to your physical person (at least in the short term in the United States)…but it will entail relational risk. It will mean changing your life in ways that may be scary to you. In ways that will be unsettling and profoundly uncomfortable at first. And you are called to embrace that, and lead others into it.
Here’s the thing: if you’re following Jesus, sooner or later will be presented with your opportunity to take up your cross and join in Christ’s suffering. I will go so far as to say that suffering with Christ is a necessary part of the Christian life. The Apostle Paul reminds us,
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:16-17 ESV)
If you are living a life of habitual risk-avoidance you will certainly suffer less. But you will also miss out on really following Jesus.
What do you really believe?
Please don’t get me wrong. I never want to encourage suffering for suffering’s sake. That would be sick and perverse. We don’t embrace suffering because it is inherently good…it’s not, and we rightly pray to be relieved of it. But when we are suffering for the sake of others and for Christ we can see God’s hand it in, we can see it’s worth it because of what is waiting for us on the other side.
“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:35 ESV)
This is the counter-intuitiveness of the Gospel, and Jesus is crystal clear here. What he calls us to may look like death, but only in the short term.
Do you believe this? I mean, really deep down do you believe it? Because if you do, you will act on it!
You remember how Paul said it…
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21 ESV)
Paul believed it, and acted on it.
In order to deny yourself, to take up your cross, and to follow Jesus you’ve got to believe the believe it deep in your soul when you pray,
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
This is the truth.
And this is our hope!
And we are fools if we cave in to our own selfishness and the lies that the world will tell us.
“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38 ESV)
Not reserved, but radical.
Not self-centered, but self-sacrificial.
Not grudging, but giving.
Not haughty, but holy.
Not only a promise of life forever, but an invitation to die today.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
The great proposal has been made. Jesus lived and died and rose again for you and today, and he has spoken to you..
What’s your response?
Will you come?
Will you die?
Will you truly live?
When my wife Amber and I married each other, a lot changed for both of us in the days immediately after our marriage. For instance, we went from two separate bank accounts to one, joint bank account.
All of a sudden someone else could see everything I was spending my money on. I remember well the days before I got married, when I could buy video games and technological gadgets without really asking anyone for permission, just because I wanted to.
Those days are long, long gone.
Things changed because I became responsible for more than just myself.
Before we got married, I had a car and, Amber did not. After we were married, if someone asked Amber if she had a car, she’d say yes, of course I do. My things stopped being my things and became our things. In effect, my stuff became her stuff. And while it took some getting used to, I really didn’t mind. Why is that? Because the relationship was worth it.
Because on a summer day in 2005, I gave Amber my heart, and everything else followed from that.
Isn’t really the same with any deep relationship? We have these expressions that we reserve for our best friends and people we want to honor…”what’s mine is yours” “Mi casa es tu casa.”
If this is how we relate to other human beings, how much more should we give to God?
St. Mark shows us what it looks like in someone’s finances when they’ve given their whole heart to God.
The Widow's Offering And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44 ESV)
When we give our heart to God–when we say “you are worth everything to me, it is you I am going follow, it is you that I’m going to find my identity in,” then doesn’t it make sense that everything will follow? Giving our life to God can mean nothing less than our time, our energy, our efforts, and yes, even our money. There is no reason our finances should be exempt from this. Our entire lives become our responsibility to steward toward the furtherance of God’s Kingdom.
We don’t like to talk about money in our culture. It’s considered to be a private affair. Here’s the thing though: Jesus wasn’t afraid to talk about money. Not at all. I made a chart to illustrate!
This graph is based on simple word searches from ESVBible.org.
I found about 80 passages that deal with money or use money as an illustration, which is significantly more than many other very important topics like hell, the Kingdom of Heaven, and faith.
Here’s just a sampling of what Jesus had to say about money, wealth, and treasure:
“You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money...ridiculed him.” Luke 16:14 “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15
In contrast here are some of Jesus’ thoughts on poverty:
“...when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind...” Luke 14:13 “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Matthew 19:21
This one is truly staggering, evening paradigm-shifting:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” Luke 6:20
So the first thing we have to realize is that it’s okay to talk about money. Jesus did it! We’re meant to talk about it because the money’s not ours anyways. The second thing we have to realize just from this short survey is that Jesus’ attitude and approach to money is drastically different from our natural instinct.
Our culture privileges, idolizes, and empowers the wealthy. Possessions are status symbols because one’s status is determined by what one can afford. Jesus takes a different approach. For Jesus, everything belongs to God, and we are just managers.
Is that how you see yourself when it comes to your finances?
As you think about your life and how you approach your finances and what Jesus had to say…you have to ask yourself hard questions:
That’s what is so beautiful about the passage from Mark. Jesus saw what the widow gave and had to comment because she went all-in. She gave everything she had to live on. And you know Jesus has gone all-in for you. Are you all in for him?
And the widow wasn’t giving for show! Everybody else was just throwing coins in, and enjoying the attention they would get as a result. But not the widow. No, the widow gave what she could, without any fanfare. But didn’t matter to Jesus how much she gave…it was the condition of the widow’s heart that mattered to Jesus.
That’s how it is with you and I too.
It’s not a matter of whether or not you are giving a 10% “tithe”. Honestly, that would be the easy way out. You could think that if you’ve given your 10%, you’re good to go and the rest would be yours to do with as you please.
The whole 10% rule thing is a great place to start and a valuable part of the Old Testament economic system, but if we approach it as some sort of magic number or a strict rule that we just have to follow, we’re missing the point.
What did he tell the Rich Young Ruler who said he had been keeping the law faithfully his whole life? “Sell all that you have…“
Look, Jesus doesn’t demand 10% of your money. He asks for 100% of your heart and he wants whatever amount that you give to flow from that.
[bctt tweet=” Jesus doesn’t demand 10% of your money. He asks for 100% of your heart.“]
The point isn’t whether or not you are giving 2%, 10%, or 50% to your local church. That’s not what Jesus is looking for. That’s not how a heart that belongs to God looks at it. It’s about whether or not 100% is being stewarded toward the Kingdom of God. This includes paying your rent and providing for your family and even enjoying life and gifts God has given you, but you’ve got to check your heart often to make sure you’re not hoarding or becoming selfish.
Here are 3 indicators that your giving coming from a heart belongs to God:
“Sacrificially generous” doesn’t necessarily mean that God is calling you to sell everything you own for a particular purpose right this second. I’m not saying it for sure means you shouldn’t buy a nice TV or new car. However…it might mean those things! You need to make sure you’re willing put others ahead of yourself. I mean, the widow gave everything she had to live on. Jesus gave everything he had to live on. Are you willing to follow Jesus in this?
If this sounds like a hard saying, good. This is hard. This kind of trust requires wisdom and faith and sacrifice.
But the relationship is worth it.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 ESV)
Do you believe this today?
Giving God control in the area of finances will free you to build his Kingdom in ways you never even thought possible. God will accomplish amazing things in and through you that you might not even be able to imagine.
Consider the example of John Wesley, the Anglican priest that started the Methodist movement in the 1700s. He made a good living (in fact he was quite wealthy) and spend most of it at first like most people…on things like entertainment and furnishings for his apartment. After an incident where he encountered someone in need but realized he had spent all of his money, things changed. One writer tells what happened:
Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds. Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving.
John Wesley knew that if his heart belonged to God, so did everything else.
We’ve all been given a sacred trust in relationships, opportunities, physical resources, and money. If you believe your life is not your work, but God’s work to build his Kingdom, you have to be cheerful, consistent, and sacrificially generous in how you steward your entire life.
Of course, there’s so much more to it than money. Your whole heart must belong to God.
And if your heart belongs to God, so does everything else.
This post contains outdated info on the tools I’m using. For the most up-to-date info, see this page.
In David Allen’s classic book on personal productivity, Getting Things Done he describes an ideal state of mind:
Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn't overreact or underreact.
A mind like water is a disciplined mind, a mind focused on the right things, at the right times. David Allen places this in the context of personal productivity, getting the things you need to get done, done. David Allen’s Getting Things Done system can help you clear the clutter from your daily task list and help you order your life in a way that is consistent with your values.
I think there’s actually a spiritual component to this, if we’re open to it: the very biblical concepts of stewardship and working “as for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).
It’s so easy in the digital-age of distraction to forget the sacred trust of time that we’ve been given. In midst of “important” emails, social media notifications, and activity-packed schedules, we miss the important because we’re too preoccupied with the urgent. I’ll be the first to admit that I have sometimes gone weeks and then wondered why I haven’t made progress on the stuff that really matters to me. When that happens I know I haven’t been disciplined in my approach to managing the many things that demand and deserve my attention.
It’s possible to be very busy, but still procrastinate and put off the most important things. This naturally leads to anxiety, restlessness, and stress even though it might seem like you’re workin hard on the surface. This is where a disciplined system can be a huge help. It can help remove some of the friction of starting and finishing those tasks and projects that we just don’t want do, by providing clarity on exactly what we need to do next.
In a nutshell, David Allen’s technique revolves capturing your “next actions” into a trusted system, making sure they’re organized in a useful way, reviewing them on a regular basis and of course, actually doing them.
Everyone will have a different way of doing this, of course. Some people keep everything in a three-ring binder notebook, others organize their world in Excel. Some people love high end notebooks like the Baron Fig, others make do with index cards and legal pads.
Your tools don’t matter that much, as long as they actually get used. Whenever I learn about a new productivity system or tool, it’s very tempting to tinker and experiment instead of actually making headway on my action list. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
All that said… Here’s a snapshot of my trusted system; not because you should do things exactly the way I do, but more for you inspiration and education. Here we go.
Capture & Organize
Simple tasks For the capturing and organizing simple tasks, I use the Any.do app.
Any.do lets me add tasks quickly and organize them efficiently into sublists like “home,” “work,” and “someday/maybe.” You can even add recurring tasks for action items that you do every day, week, month and so on.
Multi-step projects If I need to plan a multi-step project, I’ll make an Any.do todo item like, “plan such and such event.” When I execute on that task I will actually plan the event by breaking it down into smaller tasks. I use Trello for this. During meetings I used pen-and-paper to capture and transfer action items (todos) to Any.do as soon as possible.
Time-sensitive items Items that have to be done at a certain time go immediately on my calendar (a Google Calendar/Outlook combo). If something needs to be done on certain day I’ll add a due date to the item in Any.do so I’ll be reminded on that day.
Paper items I have inboxes for paper items that need to be processed and put on my task list. To be honest, this is the weakest point of my system…mainly because I haven’t been disciplined in my review process for these at home. At work, I quickly scan and email most paper items to myself. Which brings me to my email system.
Email Everyday I get my inbox at work to zero. To do this I use a simple (but effective) three-folder system:
My “Follow up” folder is for any email that needs an action from me (including a reply) that I can’t do right now.
The “Hold” folder is for any email that needs further action from someone else. So anything that I’m waiting for a reply on or that someone else needs to act on before I can “close the loop.” It’s also a handy place for anything I might need for next couple of days for reference.
Everything else goes into “Archive.”
Review I schedule a weekly review on Friday to go over all of task lists. I’ve learned this step is crucial, and really the key to making GTD work. Without a disciplined review, all your nicely captured tasks stay in your nicely organized system…but may never be acted on. I look through my Any.do list, making sure things are are in the appropriate folders, adding anything that comes to mind, and transferring items to the calender if needed. I do the same thing with my projects in Trello.
Taking action My favorite feature in Any.do is how the app will guide you through planning the tasks you’d like to accomplish that day, complete with some motivational feedback when you finish your session. I do this every morning almost without fail so I can make sure to keep reviewing my list and making progress every day.
Of course, I’m not there yet. I don’t always have a mind like water. But I’m getting there one next action at a time.