Sunday, September 21, 2014

Lavishing My Life

Sunday 9/21/2014 6:37 AM
Psalm 114 was part of my scripture reading this morning. It begins with these words, “When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel his dominion.” I thought about God calling me out of a life that was being lived contrary to his way and becoming a place where he dwells, his sanctuary. Because of my mathematical bent, when I first read it I thought it said Israel was his domain, rather than dominion. The domain of a function is the values for which the function is defined so if I am the domain of God it simply means I am a place where he is allowed to be. The idea of dominion is more that of being under the rule of God, which, for me has an entirely different connotation. If I accept the rule of God in my life then I cede the control of my life to him and forfeit it for myself.
Part of my reading included a prayer from the book Doctor Johnson’s Prayers. “Almighty God, in whose hands are all the powers of man; who givest understanding, and takest it away; who, as it seemeth good unto thee, enlightenest the thoughts of the simple, and darkenest the meditations of the wise, be present with me in my studies and enquiries. Grant, O Lord, that I may not lavish away the life which thou hast given me on useless trifles, nor waste it in vain searches after things which thou hast hidden from me. Enable me, by thy Holy Spirit, so to shun sloth and negligence, that every day may discharge part of the task which thou hast allotted me; and so further with thy help that labour which, without thy help, must be ineffectual, that I may obtain, in all my undertakings, such success as will most promote thy glory, and the salvation of my own soul, for the sake of Jesus Christ.”
There were three things in the prayer that caught my attention. The first fits in nicely with the idea of the dominion of God, to which I referred earlier. In the prayer he acknowledges that God has power over man; he gives understanding and takes it away, enlightens and darkens their thoughts. The second was the use of the word lavish as a verb. I have always used the word as an adjective, such as a lavish gift or a lavish lifestyle. The idea of lavishing away my life on useless trifles hits close to home, living in modern western society. Too often I concern myself with my own pleasure or with making my life more comfortable so that I have more leisure time to relax and enjoy life. The third is the part of the prayer that calls for me to avoid sloth and negligence, and perform the tasks God gives me, not to further my own personal success, but to further God’s rule and his glory. The idea of working for God rather than for man is consistent with the message of scripture but it is one that is easily forgotten when bombarded by the contrary message that is heralded by the society in which I live. I need to lavish my life away on the things of God.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Efforts and Results

Monday 9/15/2014 4:25 AM
The opening verses of Psalm 1 were the first things I read this morning for my devotions. “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.” I immediately thought of my students and how I want them to prosper, to succeed in their plans. There are times when I feel as if I almost have a greater desire to see them succeed than what they do. I know how much hard work is needed for success and it seems as if many of my students are more haphazard in their approach to life, unwilling to put in the time and effort that is needed.
I find the words of James Allen in his book As a Man Thinketh to be very sobering. “And you, too, youthful reader, will realize the vision (not the idle wish) of your heart be it base or beautiful, or a mixture of both, for you will always gravitate toward that which you, secretly, most love. Into your hands will be placed the exact results of your own thoughts; you will receive that which you earn; no more, no less. Whatever your present environment may be, you will fall, remain, or rise with your thoughts, your vision, your ideal. You will become as small as your controlling desire; as great as your dominant aspiration … In all human affairs there are efforts, and there are results, and the strength of the effort is the measure of the result. Chance is not. ‘Gifts,’ powers, material, intellectual and spiritual possession are the fruits of effort; they are thoughts completed, objects accomplished, visions realized. The vision that you glorify in your mind, the ideal that you enthrone in your heart – this you will build your life by, this you will become.”
I agree with much of what Allen says. I realize that there are forces inherent in society that sometimes inhibit a person’s success but, more often than not, my own success or lack of achievement is more inhibited by my lack of vision or my own lack of effort. I want maximum results with minimum effort, like many others in our society today. If I constantly view myself as a victim of circumstances I will never rise above them, I will become the victim that I envision. If I view myself as a gifted child of God, made in his image for a purpose in this world, and work as hard as he gives me the ability to work, I will have a much more likely chance to succeed.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tools and Work

Monday 9/8/2014 4:32 AM
My reading today includes Psalm 18. David was a mighty warrior and was successful in many battles. If there were anyone who had a right to be proud of his accomplishments on the battlefield it was he. David could easily have become proud or conceited thinking there were none who could even come anywhere close to his level of skill and accomplishment. However, he recognized the source of his success. Verses 32-36 read, “It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You make your saving help my shield, and your right hand sustains me; your help has made me great. You provide a broad path for my feet, so that my ankles do not give way.”
I often complain to my small group that I am irritated when many in the Christian community think that the poor in our society are lazy and simply have to work a little harder to better themselves or better their position in society. There may, or there may not, be some truth to their claim but I want them to recognize that it was not their hard work that got them where they are in the world, it is the grace of God. God gives them health. God gives them a strong work ethic. God placed them in a loving, supporting family structure. God provided them with a job. I could go on.
In my opinion, David had the right perspective. He fought the battles but he recognized that God armed him, protected him, gave him insight, trained him, sustained him and gave him a clear, unobstructed path to follow. Lord, never let me forget that I am the tool and that you use me to do your work in the world.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Pressure Cooker

Monday 9/1/2014 6:24 AM
The opening sentence of the invocation in my devotional book this week is, “Lord Jesus Christ, hasten the day when all of your people may know the joy, peace, and harmony of your kingdom.” The world today bears little resemblance to that kind of joy, peace and harmony and, sadly, it is not often found even within the church. I like to portray joy, peace and harmony to those with whom I have contact but it doesn’t take much effort for me to scrape away the fa├žade and unearth bitterness, resentment and frustration boiling just below the surface. Thankfully I have friends with whom I share my feelings so pressure doesn’t build to an explosive level but it would be nice to be released from root of it all. The opening stanza of a prayer by George MacDonald in Diary of an Old Soul is my prayer today.

O Christ, my life, possess me utterly.
Take me and make a little Christ of me.
If I am anything but thy Father’s son,
’Tis something not yet from the darkness won.
Oh, give me light to live with open eyes.
Of, give me life to hope above all skies.
Give me thy spirit to haunt the Father with my cries.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Comfort

Saturday 8/30/2014 5:02 AM
The theme of my devotions this week is prayers and promises. Most of assigned writings are prayers of various saints throughout history. They include prayers for insight, wisdom, and singularity of focus. There are prayers for a heart of service to others, a spirit of self-sacrifice and a mind that is concerned solely with the things of God. The prayers often include the desire that life can be lived with deep passion, that I can experience the depth of sorrow and the height of love that Jesus experienced in his life on earth. While I have uttered all of these prayers on one occasion or another I find that, when push comes to shove, my life is often devoid of any meaningful results. I want to offer my life as a gift to God out of gratitude for his mercy and grace but I bumble and falter in my attempts and end up feeling distraught and defeated.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem Comfort captures my feeling this morning.

Speak low to me, my Saviour, low and sweet
From out the hallelujahs, sweet and low
Lest I should fear and fall, and miss Thee so
Who art not missed by any that entreat.
Speak to me as to Mary at thy feet –
And if no precious gums my hands bestow,
Let my tears drop like amber while I go
In reach of thy divinest voice complete
In humanest affection – thus, in sooth,
To lose the sense of losing! As a child,
Whose song-bird seeks the wood for evermore,
Is sung to in its stead by mother's mouth;
Till, sinking on her breast, love-reconciled,
He sleeps the faster that he wept before.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Fear Mongering

Sunday 8/17/2014 6:56 AM
It seems to me that the world in which I live is one that is dominated by fear.  Terrorism or war in some form or other is usually the headline of any newscast.  Weather reports attribute every devastating storm to the catastrophic effects of climate change and we are constantly reminded of the dire consequences we will reap if nothing is done to curtail it. Local newscasts tell of shootings, rapes, robberies and other crimes and we are encouraged to invest in security systems for our homes, apartments and cars for protection.  Even pharmaceutical companies get in on the act with their advertising.  One commercial warns senior citizens that they may already have the virus that causes shingles, which is a no-brainer since shingles are caused by the chicken pox virus that the majority of seniors had in their childhood.  Of course, the answer to calm that specific fear is the drug that their company sells.  Hearing this encourages conspiracy theorists to say that the government or some major corporate entity is fear mongering, driving people towards dependency upon them for security, and sometimes I think they are right.
The opening prayer of my devotional material contains these words, “Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give; that our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee we, being defended from the fear of our enemies, may pass out time in rest and quietness.”  The part of this prayer that really caught my attention was the request to be defended from the fear of our enemies.  I would expect the prayer to be to defend us from our enemies, but there is no such request, only a request to be defended from fear.
I often joke around with people who are worried about the future by saying, “98% of the things we worry about never happen.”  That is a made up statistic that I think might be close to being accurate and I say it to remind them that we spend a great deal of time fretting over things that are not only out of our control, but things that are unlikely to even happen.  We become immobilized by our fear and we lose the chance to show our trust in God.

Almost every time God sent an angel to deliver a message to an individual the first words from the angel’s lips are, “Fear not.”  I always thought that was because the angel’s countenance was one that inspired fear and awe.  This may be true but perhaps God is merely trying to remind those with whom he wants to communicate of the futility of fear.  Paul reminds us that all things work for the good of those who love them.  It doesn’t say that all things that happen to those who love God will be good.  It simply says that the things will ultimately work for the good.
Do I have faith to trust God to be true to his word or will I spend 98% of my time worrying over nothing?  I pray that I will trust God for my security so I can pass my time here on earth in rest and quietness.

Monday, August 11, 2014

No Sweat

Monday 8/11/2014 3:59 AM
I have been jogging for the past thirty-six years.  I say jogging because I do not run fast and I have never been highly motivated to win races or compete in any way.  A number of years ago, when I still taught at Valley Christian High School, the cross country coach asked me to be an assistant coach.  She had some ribbons printed up that said, “No pain, no gain,” a popular phrase at the time.  The idea was that if you wanted to improve in your running you had to push yourself past what you thought you could do.  I joked with her that I wasn’t sure if I was the best fit for her philosophy since my mantra was, “Pain, no brain,” if you are hurting then it is time to slow down and catch your breath.  In my world of running those who work through the pain should have their head examined.
Each day we would begin practice with a three quarter mile warm up jog and we would do a number of stretching exercises before the actual workout.  I always ran with the team and at the end of the warm up run my shirt was always wet with sweat.  The team always commented on the fact that I sweat so much and I would joke with them that it was because I had grown up in Phoenix and had absorbed so much heat as a child that I was still trying to radiate it away.  Fittingly, at the year-end awards banquet I received an award for the sweatiest runner.
Today I read a prayer by William Barclay that brought back those memories.  It included these words, “Grant, O God, that we may never forget that sweat is the price of all things.”  When asked by someone to do a task that is considered simple we say, “Sure, no sweat,” implying that it will take minimal effort and that it will be no problem to do it.
Our world rewards efficiency.  People are always looking to find a way to do something more quickly and with less energy.  We have remote controls for nearly everything so I can sit in my chair while changing channels on the television, setting the thermostat in my house, locking and unlocking my car and various other tasks.  This ease of life creeps into other areas, too, so businesses look for ways to increase production and cut costs while employees look for ways to work less and get paid more.  Students want to get high grades on their transcripts but they don’t want to do the homework.  Parents want to have respectful children but do not take the time necessary to nurture healthy relationships with them.  People want to lose weight but do not want to discipline themselves to curb portion sizes and engage in some form of exercise.

This morning God reminded me that I have a similar attitude with regard to my relationship with him.  I want to invest minimal effort and have the maximum benefit.  I want the kind of intimacy with God that allows me to hear his voice, which gives me direction, but I do not slow myself down enough to listen.  I should not be surprised if God remains silent when I am not willing to put in the time and the effort to hear.  Somehow I need to have a different response to God’s call to intimacy than, “Sure, no sweat.”