Friday, November 27, 2009

Faithful in the Least Things

D.L. Moody once said, "There are many of us willing to do great things for the Lord, but few of us are willing to do little things." We tend to evaluate responsibilities in terms of importance and prioritize accordingly. But the reality is we will spend most of our lives doing what we probably would deem "unimportant."

These tasks may seem unimportant to us, yet I wonder if that is how God views them. Certainly Scripture does not put importance on one kind of service over another. For example, when Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts, he is careful to point out that no gift is more important than another. Every member of the body of Christ is essential. Jesus taught that in the kingdom, the last will be first, and the first, last. These two concepts apply to acts of service as well.

Colossians 3:17 urges us to consider every action as something to be done in service for God. "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus..." From scrubbing a toilet to teaching a Bible study, God invites us to serve Him with our efforts.

It is not easy to keep a servant's heart in the day to day routine. Yet our faithfulness in the mundane is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate obedience. Our determination to live each moment as an opportunity to serve God will be a light to those living in the darkness.

Arthur Stace, from Sydney, Australia, was that kind of faithful. After living a corrupt life in the streets as a drunk and a criminal, in 1930 he gave his life to Jesus Christ at a church mission. Two years later, he heard a sermon that captured his imagination and passion with a single word: Eternity.

The Lord put it on Arthur's heart to write "Eternity" all over the city of Sydney. Each morning, he would be up before dawn, wandering though the streets. Every 100 yards or so, he would stoop down and write "eternity" in copperplate script with a crayon. Year after year, Arthur was faithful to spread his simple message. He wrote it an estimated half-million times! Thirty-three years after his death, that word remained an inspiration to Australians.

On December 31, 1999, the eyes of the world were on Sydney via satellite television as the first major city entered the new millennium. As the countdown ended, fireworks erupted over the harbor. There on the bridge, the word "Eternity" was lit up in copperplate script for the world to see! One little man had a huge impact by remaining faithful at the simple task God had given him to do.

Our dedication to God will be revealed in how we deal with the small things we are called to do. J. Gregory Mantle, a preacher in the 1800's, once wrote: "It is far harder to live for Christ moment by moment than it is to die once for Him; and if we wait for great occasions in which to display our fidelity, we shall find that our life has slipped away, and with it the opportunities that each hour has brought of proving our love to the Lord, by being faithful in that which is least."

We live around people who are living in darkness. God has called us to be light. Doing the "unimportant" things with a happy heart and a servant's attitude will speak volumes to those who are watching. "You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world . . . Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven." Matthew 5: 13-16

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Go Ahead and Pray for Patience

Have you ever heard or even said yourself: "Don't pray for patience. God might give it to you." In all honesty, I sometimes qualify my prayers. I don't want God to disrupt my life with pain or trouble. So I carefully pray not only for a blessing, but how specifically I want it accomplished. Essentially, I struggle to trust God to do the best thing for me. I am underestimating the goodness of God.

Jesus knew this was a human tendency. So after telling his disciples to ask, seek, and knock in their prayers, he reminded them of God's goodness and desire to give good to His children. "What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish; he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?" (Matthew 7:9-11) God delights in doing good things for His children, because He is good.

A friend of mine committed herself into a mental health facility very recently. She was struggling with suicidal thoughts and feared herself capable of doing bodily harm. Her doctor urged her to put herself into a safe environment. It has been over a year since she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. This is a woman with a true heart for God. Even now, while presently in excruciating emotional distress, she has determinedly placed herself into God's capable hands, waiting for Him to use her illness for His glory. No medications as yet have stemmed the wild up and down emotional roller coaster she is on. She continues to wait.

It is so hard to watch someone you love suffer. In my prayers for her, I instruct God on how He should act. It is time for the suffering to end, I inform Him. She's been through enough. Once again, I am doubting the goodness of God.

A God who is good will only do good for us. But it is challenging to believe in that goodness in light of the suffering and terrible things that happen to those that love the Lord. How can these things be good?

Maybe we need to rethink our definition of good.

A psalm writer named Asaph found it necessary to do just that. At the beginning of Psalm 73, Asaph perceives good as health, wealth, and security. Therefore his faith in the goodness of God falters as he sees the wicked flourish while godly people struggle. Then, in the middle of the psalm, Asaph has a eureka moment. His conflict abruptly comes to an end when he enters God's presence. "Then I perceived their end," he confesses.

Until the middle of the psalm, Asaph thought of goodness in very external terms, as many of us do. But as he comes face to face with God, he understands he has missed the truth. God's goodness must be viewed within the reality of eternity.

God is all about His relationship with us. His desire is to draw us into a close, intimate bond. One way He does this is through trials and various struggles, because prosperity breeds independence. The success of the wicked had actually hardened their hearts toward God. They had become proud and arrogant. This independence would cost them a great deal, especially in light of eternity.

In the end, Asaph finally concludes the struggle has brought him good. "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever... the nearness of God is my good." Asaph has redefined good at the end of his psalm. It no longer means health and wealth. He now understands that intimacy with God is the greatest good, and it is this God has in mind for His people.

To understand the goodness of God, we must look beyond ourselves and view reality as our eternal God does. Elisabeth Elliot put it this way: "He makes us wait. He keeps us on purpose in the dark. He makes us walk when we want to run, sit still when we want to walk, for He has things to do in our souls that we are not interested in." Whether we know it or not, the best thing (the greatest good) is to be in a close relationship with Him. God sometimes chooses to accomplish this through the struggle.