Thoughts From My Quiet Time: Trinkets vs. Treasure

Here’s a thought. It might fly in the face of a great deal of theology and conventional wisdom, but I think it tracks. So here goes.

Don’t seek the kingdom. Don’t seek the blessings. Don’t seek the gifts.

Seek the person.

Strive to know only Christ until everything else falls away. Your desire should be for Him, not for what He can give you, not for what he can do for you. But for who He is to you.

The strange truth is that even if God never answered a single prayer, never performed a single miracle in your life, you should still be striving to know Him more fully and completely in every moment.

Not to ask, “where is God?!” when things go sideways on you, but instead, “who is God in this moment? And who am I in Him?”

It is not about rewards, or circumstances, or plans for the future. It is about merely abiding in His presence and that being more than enough.

That said, there are abundant gifts and blessings in store for those who give their life to Him, for those who abide in Him; but they are trinkets compared to the treasure of the simple, consuming love we can and will share. The pearl of great price.

Our hope is not in the promise of blessings in this life, but being more fully in His presence in the next. And so our abiding is manifest in our prayer, and in our seeking to know the person of God…not just clamoring for His stuff!

Challenge: Today, am I going to hunger for more of God’s love, for more knowledge of him? Or will I let myself become too focused on what I do or don’t have, what did or didn’t happen to me? Lord, help me seek you and find you in every situation today!

And He Will Heal Their Land. Maybe.

I’m sure we’ve all heard this one.  The time-worn favorite of the armchair evangelical who exhorts us to pray for our nation in that email you are supposed to forward to 25 friends.

2 Chron. 7:14 – “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. “

We see this verse again and again when it’s time for the National Day of Prayer, “See You At The Pole,” or a variety of other times and events when people need to feel like they are DOING something.

However, like so many other things in modern day eschatology, I think we tend to skip over a lot in this verse and focus on the “easy” stuff.

Keep in mind that praying is only ONE of the things that the verse exhorts us to do.

Another is to humble ourselves, a third is to turn from our wicked ways.  Understanding that “wicked” simply means “un-Godly.”  We tend to think of wickedness as those “evil” things like adultery and murder and stealing.  But in God’s eyes, “wickedness” is anything we do outside of His will.  Anger, strife, jealousy…delusions of self-sufficiency.  Even “good” things done with the best of intentions, if they are done based on our human (and thus flawed) intentions might ultimately be considered “wickedness.”

Isaiah 46:6 – “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”

It is hard to truly understand “humbling” ourselves when we’ve never really lived under a King.  We’ve never had to physically kneel before a throne, before a man who has the power of life and death in his hands, and whose very words become law the moment they are spoken.  Humbling ourselves means giving up everything that isn’t of God; giving up the demands that we get to live life like WE think it should be lived.  It means giving up being mad at God when I don’t get my way or don’t understand my circumstance, and committing myself absolutely to accepting His sovereign authority over my life. “Seeking His face” involves a lot more than invoking his name like a spell from Harry Potter that will magically fix things.  It means daily, moment by moment, wanting to know more about WHO God is and what than means to my life.

It’s easy to say we will pray every day.  It’s easy to say that if the rest of the country would just straighten out and clean up their act…

However, is it as easy to say that we will pray…AND seek His face AND humble ourselves AND turn from our wicked ways? It’s about more than praying for our leaders, it’s about changing the way we live our lives in a very real and personal way.  ONLY THEN does this scripture promise that God will heal our land.  Prayer is certainly a great place to start, but I think it’s a lot taller of an order and a lot more work than most people want to think.  Myself included!!

I think it’s important to remember that the context of this verse is God speaking to Solomon just after the completion of the Temple.  God is actually speaking in the past-tense here.  Because the people, after they had already endured droughts, plagues and disease, humbled themselves, turned from their wicked ways and turned their face towards God, He heard their cry and restored them as a nation, complete with a fantastic new temple.

However.  Comma.

God IMMEDIATELY goes on to warn Solomon that (based on Israel’s history I’m sure) their new-found providence is still very conditional (I paraphrase slightly here):

IF, and I repeat IF you walk before Me as your father David walked, even to do according to all that I have commanded you, and will keep My statutes and My ordinances,  then AND ONLY THEN I will establish your royal throne as I covenanted with your father David, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man {to be} ruler in Israel.’ (vs 17-18)

And then he drops the other shoe….

“BUT!  If you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them,  then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

“As for this house, which was exalted, everyone who passes by it will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land and to this house?’

“And they will say, ‘Because they forsook the LORD, the God of their fathers who brought them from the land of Egypt, and they adopted other gods and worshiped them and served them; therefore He has brought all this adversity on them.’ (vs. 19-22)

And you know what’s sad?  We see in Isaiah 64:10-11  that that’s exactly what happened:

Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.  Our holy and beautiful house, Where our fathers praised You, Has been burned {by} fire; And all our precious things have become a ruin.

So what we have is a pretty clear “Either/Or” proposition. God says that either you humble yourself, acknowledge HIM and ONLY HIM as your God, or your land will be made desolate and your people scattered.

No middle ground.  Not a lot of ecumenicalism or mutli-culturalism there.  Doesn’t seem to support the whole, “we all worship the same god, just with different names” thing.  Kind of “intolerant” and “divisive” isn’t it?

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.  (Heb 4:12 NASB)

It’s almost like God KNOWS the wickedness of our heart, the darkness of human nature, and our nearly inevitable tendency to follow our own hearts rather than His will.  Almost like a theme, running throughout the Scriptures, as if some things never change.

Something to think about.  And tell 25 of your friends.

WWJD or WWYHMDL?

A while back the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelets were all the rage.  They still pop up now an then.  Like tying a piece of string to your finger, I believe the the WWJD bracelets were supposed to be reminders to live your life in a more Christ-centric way, to evaluate your actions in the context of what you think Jesus would do in a similar situation.  It is certainly an appealing and catchy sentiment that appeals to our desires to “do the right thing.”  There’s just one problem.

It’s asking the wrong question.

Asking WWJD means that you are guessing.  You’re taking your best estimate as to what YOU think is the right answer in this situation.  You are trying to live your life like Jesus lived his.  So, does that mean that are you wondering if you should go overturn the tables in the temple courtyard?  Should you go live in the wilderness for 40 days, or get in the Pharisees’ face about their legalism?  Should you go hang out in the lunch room at IRS headquarters so you can fulfill your mandate to consort with tax collectors?

Uh….probably not.  See, the thing is, you CAN’T LIVE YOUR LIFE LIKE JESUS, because he was the Son of God.  He set an unachievable goal.  He didn’t set us an example to follow…He gave us a path to follow!  He didn’t come to give us a list of do’s and don’ts…He came to show us the way to the Father.  Jesus only gave us two commandments…”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Luke 10:27)

I propose that you can’t really do the second one until you start doing the first one!

So, instead of wondering WWJD, what we should be asking is, “What Would You Have Me Do, Lord?”

See, the thing is, we don’t have to wonder.  We don’t have to guess.   As believers in Christ we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we have a hot line straight to God, such that when difficult situations arise, we don’t need to look to our bracelet…we can go right to The Source.

While, granted, WWJD fits better on a bracelet or a T-Shirt or a bumpersticker than “WWYHMDL,” we need to understand that relying on our best guess estimates makes us the arbiters of truth.  It becomes too easy to live life according to a series of handy, and often changeable “Jesusisms” that reduce His Word to little more than philosophical precepts.  We might as well ask what would Gahndi do, or Buddha, or Oprah.  Jesus was not just another philosopher exhorting us to live better lives.

He called us to live our lives in service to Him, and the only way we are ever really going to know what that is supposed to look like is to ask…HIM.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Prov. 14:12

The key word in this passage is the word “seems.”  There is an answer which “seems” right to us, a way that “ought” to be correct, or a solution that “feels” good.  Except that, if it is OUR way, then it is wrong. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord , and turn away from evil.  Prov 3:5-7

Lean not on your own understanding.  Rather than do what “feels right,” study the scriptures, pray, come before the Lord and ask Him to tell you what to do.

We are too easily swayed by the ways of the world to trust our own judgement when it comes to spiritual matters.  So, instead of settling for What Would Jesus Do, let’s keep asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

You may not always like the right answer, but it’s always better than feeling good about the wrong one.

Thanks in All Things

We are called by the Scriptures to give thanks in all things.  Even the silly little things.

Did God really help me find my ID card this morning?  Just because I prayed for His help?

I’d like to think so.

But I’d much rather mistakenly thank God for something I did, than mistakenly take credit for myself on something God did.

So I thanked Him, and felt blessed.

40 Days & 40 Nights

As part of my spiritual journey, one which has ebbed and flowed at various times during my life, sometimes burning with intensity, other times smouldering with barely a flicker of flame or a wisp of smoke, I have decided to commit to a 40 day fast. 

I have come to realize that I have been putting other things in my life before God.  Now I intent to LAY them before God.  After a bit of introspection, I have identified the following three things that have become stumbling blocks or dependencies in my life:

1) Caffeine.  I put waaay too much time and effort into maintaining a level of caffeination that my body can simply no longer tolerate.   I lurch from cup of coffee to soda to coffee to “get me through the day.”  It has become my stumbling block, and I’m depending on IT when I should be depending on God.  So, for the next 40 days, no caffeine.

2)  Sugar.  Processed, nasty sugar.  I have identified some ongoing health issues, probably Candida or some variant of Celiac’s Disease, and sugar is a fermenting, yeast producing nasty that my body can do without.  And since I’ve discovered that I am a “comfort eater,” I tend to put back a lot of sugary sweets during times of stress.  Which these days is most of the time.  Again, it is my crutch, my dependency, my replacement for the work of God in my life, so for the next 40 days, it goes.

3)  Blogging.  What used to be fun has devolved into pounding out negative, critical screeds replete with the very kind of huffy-puffy indignation and self-indulgent posturing one would expect from a DailyKos’r or HuffPo columnist. And that’s not me.  At least, I certainly don’t WANT it to be me.  It has begun to take away time from work, my family, and any hope I might have of quality devotional time.  So not only will I not be blogging myself, I will not be reading or commenting on other blogs.  I need to go cold turkey.  I doubt I’ll ever quit entirely, but I need to get myself back on track, and find my muse, so to speak.  So for the next 40 days, no blogging.

prayerI once had a strong and growing web ministry via my writings.  I was touching peoples’ lives and bringing them the message of Hope to be found in Jesus Christ.  I was repeatedly blessed by emails from people who read something that God had given me, and it had spoken to some struggle or challenge that they had been facing in their own life.   How exciting, and how humbling!

Problem is, I haven’t been doing that for quite some time now.

It is what I have always felt I’ve been called to do.  I may never plant a church, become a missionary, or preach from a pulpit, but I believe God has gifted me to use my writing to touch hearts and souls, to shine the light of Christ in those dark corners we fear, or hope, no one else knows about.  But God knows, and he uses every tool at his disposal to reach into those places and do the work that needs to be done.  I like to think that at times I’ve been an instrument in his hands, helping to heal what was hurt, repair what was broken, perhaps bringing reconciliation where before there was only estrangement.

I want to begin to do that again.

So, since sundown last night, to use the Judaic model, I began my fast.  40 days, committed to the Lord, to reclaim that which has been lost, or at least buried.  To re-energize my Walk, and to rekindle the flames of ministry which I have let die.

My hope, and my prayer, is that as God teaches me, leads me, and guides me through this time, that I can share those lessons and struggles here in such a way that others can be blessed by them as well. 

So, off we go!

In Christ,
~~Steve Berven~~