Friday, October 24, 2008

Confessions of a Spiritual Wannabe

I am subscribed to several online devotionals which seek to minister especially to women. One particular group puts major emphasis on having a daily quiet time. I have a confession to make: I am a devotional failure. Oh, I have tried. I have invested hundreds of dollars in trying to find just the right devotional book. In my desk drawer are numerous prayer notebooks started with the dates carefully noted of when I first made a request. The spirit is willing. I just can’t seem to remain consistent. This week, I think I have discovered why.

I used to think it was because I was NOT a morning person. Anyone who sat with me for two years in early morning Greek class will testify to that one, along with my husband, who IS a morning person and will tell you most definitely I am NOT. And anyone who knows anything about devotions will tell you that the morning is the most appropriate time to spend with the Lord. It will set the tone of your day, and allow you to put priorities in order. For me, devotions in the early morning meant nodding off -- again.

So I tried it in the evening. Snuggling under the covers with my Bible at bedtime sounded like a good plan. The problem with a bedtime devotional was I was physically tired at the end of the day. My mind was tired, too. So as I struggled to stay awake, I found concentration to be at a shameful level. I was definitely not giving the Lord my best.

Spiritual people know if you are going to walk with the Lord, you had better be good at devotions. I was doomed.

This week my twenty-somethings Bible study group discussed Mark 2:23-3:12. Jesus had been walking through the fields with His disciples, and the disciples were picking grain to eat on their way. The Pharisees were indignant, because it was the Sabbath. It was an outright violation of the oral law. And so they confronted Jesus.

First of all, let me assure you, neither Jesus nor His disciples had broken any law in the Torah. They were not working to harvest crops. They were gleaning to eat. The Pharisees in recent centuries had taken the Law in the Pentateuch and written their interpretation of its parameters, known as the Oral Law. There were over 1,000 regulations in place about keeping the Sabbath alone. Picking grain to eat on the Sabbath did violate some of those-- but they were the invention of man, not God-breathed.

Jesus gave the Pharisees a firm response. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” he told them. God had put rules about the Sabbath into place to benefit man. Man would be tempted to work hard, trying to get ahead, for all seven days of the week. You can only operate at that level for a limited time. Life would become all about work and production. God put Sabbath rules into place to insure man would take a day to remove himself from his livelihood. That day was to be set aside to worship the Lord. Reconnect with God. Give man a chance to enter rest, both physically and mentally. It was a foreshadowing picture of the “rest” that God would offer man through belief in His Son-- an eternal rest (Hebrews 4:3-9).

The Sabbath was to benefit man. Yet the Pharisees had taken a gift of refreshment from God and made it into a burden for the people. The Sabbath had become a day where one walked on eggshells for fear of breaking a rule. The Pharisees had turned a simple concept and convoluted it into a system.

My husband says whenever we attempt to add specific rules to a command in Scripture, we end up on a legalistic track. It becomes all about keeping the system, rather than the people whom the system is supposed to be serving.

Back to devotions. We can’t view devotional time with God as a good luck charm, insurance that your day will go well. We also can’t make the effort one more thing to check off on our list to affirm us in our spirituality. The whole idea behind devotions is to spend time in God’s Word and prayer because we love Him, not because it is on a to-do list.

However those two things get accomplished is not important. I do my best praying while walking the dog or driving in my car. I have been a student of God’s word my whole life-- and while the way that I study does not match up to a typical devotional pattern, I am not ashamed of what the Lord has taught me over the years.

We shouldn’t do devotions because it is one more hoop to jump through. We should pray and study because we love Him and we need Him. So while my devotional efforts may not follow the standard expectation or pattern of most Christians, I am content in what the Lord and I have worked out together.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Gifted for the Good of Others

As I scurry around today getting ready for a weekend retreat, I am thankful for what the Lord gave me this morning from Ephesians as I started my day with Him. I am in chapter 4, where Paul is listing the gifts Christ bestowed on those He redeemed. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers. . . all given for the equipping of the saints. Not the saint who has been gifted, mind you. The saints who will be the recipients of the gifted individuals’ efforts.

Until this point, Paul had been writing about the need for unity within the body of Christ. Jews and Gentiles have everything that matters in common, Paul has told them. We all came to be part of the church from an equal playing field-- sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God. At the beginning of chapter 4, Paul tells the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of their calling. He then lists attitudes necessary to do this: gentleness, patience, tolerance, and diligence to preserve unity. It struck me as I read through these a few days ago that each attitude puts others’ needs before my own.

Now as I read the reason for the gifts given to members of the church, that same attitude rings clearly. We are here for each other. God has gifted us to build each other up.

In my line of work, that truth often gets swallowed up as a speaker gains popularity. It becomes all about their ministry rather than about the people that are recipients of their ministry. It is an easy slide into self-importance when you are up in front of a crowd, their faces earnest, writing down every word you say. Yet if we allow ourselves to become the center of what we are trying to do, we will miss the mark. Our ministry will become about self-promotion, rather than about assisting others to maturity.

God, protect me from this!! Make me so aware every time I stand in front of a group of women that you are choosing to use me in order to build your church. It is not about me, nor about building my ministry. It is about bringing others closer to the mark of being mature in Christ.

Every time I speak, the Lord seems to bring a truth like this along to remind me of my dependence on Him. I need it-- my heart so quickly strays from Him and on to my own agenda. My prayer today, as I travel up to the mountains to meet with the women at Grace Presbyterian, is that God will use me, the gifts He has given me, to encourage His people along the right paths.