If you've ever purchased a car, you've seen the owner's manual. It's the book that tells you about the "non-negotiables" for maintaining the car. These are things like changing the oil, filling the tank with gasoline, topping off the transmission fluid, and having tires with adequate tread. We spend a lot of time making sure these non-negotiables are done so that when we get in the car, it runs properly.
The same principle is true for the life of a believer. We must spend time on the non-negotiables so that our lives may glorify God. But what are the non-negotiables? They must be defined in order to maintain and fulfill them. In seeking the Lord, I have discovered what I believe to be seven non-negotiables for life. Each principle is centered on the Lord, bringing the glory to Him alone, and the fulfillment of each is essential to the healthy Christian life.
#1: Seek God, not sin.
For thus says the Lord to the house of Israel, "Seek Me that you may live." —Amos 5:4
God is the life-giver. We will find life in no other. But as sinful creatures, our hearts are naturally prone to wander from our Creator. Our souls were made to pursue God, know God, and walk with God—nothing else. It's only as we pursue Him that we live. In the book of Amos, God tries over and over again to get the attention of His people. He allows them to experience famine, drought, and pestilence and yet, as God says in Amos 4:11, "you have not returned to me." But Amos 5:4 reminds us of where life is found. God says, "Seek me that you may live." These words should get our attention. We will only find life in seeking Him.
#2: Fear God, not men.
The fear of the Lord leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil. —Proverbs 19:23.
Our God is holy and is the Lord God Almighty. When I think of the power He holds, I can't help but fear Him and hold Him in reverential awe. Do you care more about what men think of you than God? Then learn to fear God, and you will be preoccupied in walking in His presence, not wondering what other people think of you. You will begin to live your life in light of eternity, and the temporal views of men won't matter anymore.
The fear of the Lord also keeps us from evil and sin. A.W. Tozer writes, "It is impossible to keep our moral practices sound and our inward attitudes right while our idea of God is erroneous or inadequate." When we lose the fear of God and don't respect Him and His commandments, we are going to live our lives without accountability to God and one another, which is the cause of a number of sins.
#3: Love God, not the world.
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. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. — John 2:15
What is the object of your affections? Power? Recognition? Hobbies? Not too long ago, I visited an unbelievable house, and as I walked around it, for just a moment my thought was, "I could have had a house like this." But I was reminded that a house is not what life is all about. The world is seeking to seduce us into a love affair, but we must love God and be preoccupied with pleasing Him alone.
When I first fell in love with Barbara, no one doubted that I loved her; I was preoccupied with pleasing her. We must also love His people and be concerned about their eternal destiny. We must look at them with compassion, like Jesus, and be moved with action to do something for them. Those who love God will do what He wants and be concerned about His mission and His will, and they will fulfill His calling.
#4: Believe God, not the deceiver.
You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. —John 8:44
In 1938 a man in Long Island ordered a very expensive weather barometer. He unwrapped it and realized that the arrow that was supposed to reflect the weather he was experiencing was stuck at the bottom, pointing at "Hurricane." So he slammed it down a few times, and when it didn't respond, he wrote a hot letter to the manufacturer and mailed it off on the way to work. When he came home, he found that a hurricane had hit, and everything was gone.
As believers, sometimes we don't want to believe the truth. When life and Scripture collide, which one do you believe and trust? The deceiver wants us to believe the lie. Will you believe God? The Scriptures tell us that without faith it is impossible to please God, but our nature is to move toward unbelief. Never forget that your adversary is the father of lies. He wants to destroy you, so he works to make us doubt the promises and to accuse the brethren.
#5: Obey God, not your appetites.
Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.
—1 Corinthians 9:24
Our appetites are the passions that we have within our flesh, contrary to the spirit, craving and battling to be satisfied. If you give in even the slightest to these desires, the enemy can use that to launch an attack in your life. At the same time, the same trivial act in obedience to God may be used to launch a powerful life-changing ministry. Our passions must be subordinated to the cross.
Obedience to God demands two main things. It demands courage to say no to self, no to appetites, no to lusts of the flesh, no to what's easy, and yes to carrying the cross. It also demands faithfulness—the plodding endurance to God, to his call, and to that which He calls you to suffer. Only by yielding to the cross can you obey God, not your appetites.
#6: Serve God, not self.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" —Isaiah 6:8
The concept of becoming a "bond slave" in the Scriptures means that we are the slaves, and He is the master. That means that we must surrender completely, without reservation. Many would see this type of service as lowly, and it is humbling, but it should be seen as a privilege to serve such a loving Lord. In 1972, in the first year of our marriage, Barbara and I decided that before we would give anything to each other we would surrender our lives in writing to Jesus Christ, giving Him everything we ever dreamed of having. We gave it up and gave Him the contract and title to our lives. Looking back at that day, I see now we gave Him nothing, but I am amazed to see that He has given us everything in return.
#7: Worship God, not comfort.
Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the Lord, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation. —Habakkuk 3:17
I don't know anyone who enjoys suffering, but I do know many who have benefited from the growth that occurs as a result. Are you celebrating God and worshiping Him in the midst of your pain or do you seek comfort by escaping it? When suffering comes, you must move through the pain to the God who allowed it to come to fruition. When you escape, you miss the comfort God gives in the midst of that pain.
Barbara and I have given thanks for short paychecks, for the deep waters of misunderstandings and unmet expectations, for a teenage boy with muscular dystrophy, for the loss of friendships due to the call of God—the list goes on and on. Pain has pressed us against our Savior and reminded us that we are not in control. Pain results in growth and greater fruitfulness for Him. We worship God through music, prayer, God's Word, and baptism. But we should also worship God in the midst of suffering and pain.
These seven non-negotiables are the basics for the solid Christian life, and if any of them are neglected, we will be the ones to pay, not God. Now that you know what the non-negotiables are, why don't you sit down in a quiet place and meditate on the areas where you are taking good care of your spiritual life and then ask the Lord to show you the areas where you need help. And then choose a close friend or accountability partner and share with him or her the areas where you need help and prayer. Soon, you will begin to experience a healthier life—mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
Dennis Rainey is the president of familylife today. He and his wife, Barbara, co-authored the best-selling books Building Your Mate's Self-Esteem and Moments Together for Couples. Dennis hosts the nationally syndicated "FamilyLife Today" radio program and has spoken at conferences around the country. The Raineys have six children and numerous grandchildren.
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