eyechartDo you want to see God?

I don’t know of anybody who would answer “no.” Of course we desire to see God and Him working in real life right now. What could be more encouraging to continue the hard work of discipleship?

I’m sure the religious elite of Jesus’ day would say the same thing. Yet “seeing God” for them would have to fit within a predetermined box…otherwise it couldn’t be God at all. Remember the Sign of Jonah from the last post?

They didn’t have eyes to see that God was right in front of them, working in a miraculous way to change the course of human history and to write another chapter in the story of redemption.

Their eyes were bad. Dull. Opaque. The light can’t get in. And if the eyes, the gateway to the body, are bad, then the inside is consumed by darkness…by falsehood, lack of direction, and misunderstandings, whether we realize it or not (Lk. 11:33-36).

But what about my “eyes?” I recognize Jesus as Truth, as the Son of God. I claim to be a Jesus-follower, a disciple, a pursuer of God. But can I see God’s works right in front of me, even though they may not be what I thought I wanted?? Do I recognize His movement? Do I realize it’s God when it’s God?

Many times, no. Many times only long after the fact. When I’m in the situation, I frequently don’t even ask the question, “Is this God?” even though I long to see Him and recognize Him.

I think it’s largely because God and His work don’t always fit into my box.

I’m not supposed to just be working part-time after finishing seminary and still wondering what God wants for my “career.” I must have messed up somewhere, or am too selfish, or have not shown enough initiative, or…

My employees at work are supposed to be easier to manage, more bought in to what we are doing, and united. What happened to my “magic touch?” I must not be in the right place, or have become too soft, or have passed my prime, or…

My life and community is supposed to be more alive. I shouldn’t still have to battle complacency, a dry prayer life, distractions, and materialism. I must not be trying hard enough, or really understand, or am able to turn any of this around, or…

Yet I’m learning great lessons in patience, discernment, and where I find my value by still “just” working part-time. Plus, my schedule allows me to be more involved in other important ventures, even though I do not get paid for them.

Yet I’m being forced to grow through the challenges of a difficult employee group and am being shaped to take on even greater challenges down the road. I’m learning a lot about myself and my management and leadership styles, both strengths and weaknesses.

Yet I’m finding out first hand that I am indeed unable to do anything about my complacency outside of the grace of God. Really living is HARD work, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and I am the neediest of all!

Really, I probably don’t have know a fraction of how God is using different circumstances in my life for good…how He is working right now. I need to pray for that discernment.

I need to pray for good eyes.

open handDeciding upon the answer before you even ask the question is a rather foolish, wouldn’t you say?

Or formulating a conclusion before you do any investigation is a tad counter-productive, to say the least.

To decide Jesus is in league with Satan without honestly checking the facts is eternally damning.

Yikes.

Yet that is what many of the religious elite in Jesus’ day did.  Luke 11 gives us the story of these religious leaders’ accusations of Jesus as practicing witchcraft and also their demand of Him to provide a sign in order to prove Himself…even though the Torah (their own Scripture!) taught to test a prophet by their message (Deuteronomy 13).  If it led one to God (rather than gods), then the prophet was to be trusted.

If nothing else, Jesus’ message leads one to God.

But many of the scribes and Pharisees turned a blind eye and deaf ear to the real validation of Jesus.  They were not honestly seeking the right answer, but the answer they personally desired.

In response, Jesus compared them to the notoriously evil Ninevites in Jonah’s day and the pagan Queen of Sheba in Solomon’s day.  In this comparison, the Jewish religious elite lose.

Even the Ninevites really listened to Jonah’s preaching.  The Queen of Sheba truly investigated the stories of Solomon’s wisdom.

The Ninevites repented and fasted.  The Queen of Sheba showered gifts upon Solomon and praised his God.

Both the Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba had much less go to on than Jesus’ accusers, yet they recognized truth when they heard it.  Many of the Jewish religious elite  had the Son of God Himself, yet they played blind and dumb.

They had already decided who Jesus was, what He wanted, and what that meant for them.

Me too.  I frequently decide ahead of time what God desires.  Of truth.

For example, I’m a planner.  It is good to consider the future in order to responsibly make present day decisions.  But too often, I plan a course of action or a desired result and then proceed with my plan blind and dumb, so to speak.

The Gathering is a very transient and evolving community.  Decisions need to be made today that will affect the community tomorrow.  But 6 months ago who could have foresaw the radical changes all of the pregnancies would bring about?  Who could have guessed how the community times on Sunday mornings would evolve or how the logistics for creating the garden would actually happen?

Many of my “plans” had to be radically altered, if not thrown out all together.  I’m still not sure I’ve adjusted enough.  But just like the Ninevites and the queen, once I recoginze God’s desires, I need to submit to them and act accordingly.

Here is the point: plan, but hold those plans with an open hand.  Investigate and decide, but do so honestly with an open heart.  God is not bound by what we think is best and expect (thank God for that!!).  Remain sensitive to His guidance and divine change of plans (c.f. James 4:13-17).

Otherwise we risk missing out on something God desired for us to experience. 

We miss out on growth.

kingdomIt’s easy to let other people do the work.

Let the pastors do the work of leading, teaching, and caring for the local church and community.  Let the missionaries do the work of evangelism.  Let the worship leaders do the work of worshipping.  Let others do the “Christian” work so I can focus on the other more pressing details of my day.

Let God do his God-work.

Sure, I want to be on the right team, so I identify with Jesus and I have all of my theology packed neatly away in my head.  But I’ll let other more “qualified” people do the important work of the Church.  And when Jesus wins, I’ll be there to cheer Him on.

Ready for my excuses for such passivity?  I’m weak, flawed, imperfect, sinful, young, naive, inexperienced, fearful of failure, too comfortable, too idealistic…

And then I read Luke 11:14-23.  Jesus does battle with Satan by healing a demon possessed man.  He likens this encounter to an attack upon Satan in which He overpowers him, disarms him, and plunders him.  He claims this is the result of the Kingdom of God coming upon them.  

The Kingdom of God is expanding into enemy territory.

I’m here to cheer Jesus on.  Keep expanding it!  Keep it!  Go get ’em!!

And then verse 23.  It gets personal.  I have a role to play in this epic expansion of the Kingdom.  I can’t be neutral.  I’m either actively working against God, scattering people and leading them (and myself!!) to anything other than God or I’m actively working with God to lead people (and myself!!) to Him.

I cannot simply watch Jesus do it…or watch anybody else for that matter.  I’m in the game.  I’m working either for God or against God, toward God or away from God.  God designed life in this way.

The work of the Church is MY work.  And yours.  With Jesus, we are to be a people who gathers, others and ourselves, nearer to God.  To expand the Kingdom, by God’s power, further and further into the dark corners of our own hearts and those around us.

This work is not somebody else’s.  It is not the work of those we deem “professional Christians.”  This is OUR work.

It is OUR work to care for each other physically and spiritually, to push each other deeper, to give up more of ourselves to God, to fill our needed God-designed roles within the life of the Church.  There are no time-outs or intermissions.

After all, we’re about expanding God’s Kingdom.  You and me.  Actively.  Right now.

It’s only the largest epic ever conceived and the only one that really matters.

growthIt’s kind of like watching a baby grow.

Those who see the child daily rarely notice the rapid growth, while other friends and relatives who see the baby once a week or so frequently comment on how much Johnny is growing. 

How big he is getting!  Look at those arms and legs!  He’s saying so many words!  He’s walking around!

What can be hidden by familiarity and the nature of small incremental change to those involved with the baby on a daily basis is usually obvious to others less involved.

The same dynamic is at work in the spiritual growth of a community.

As a community we pray for growth, for change, for God to lead us into greater discipleship.  How easy it is for us to miss God answering those prayers.  To miss the very divine work we so earnestly yearn for!

So once a month, we as a community slow down.  We reflect on the past month.  We share what we see in our lives and our life as a community.   Where we are growing,  failing, succeeding, and experiencing frustration.  Where we see God.  And we pray.

It is tremendously encouraging to hear from each other the various aspects of the last month’s worth of journeying together.  And it is tremendously important for us to learn to discern God’s work in our lives.

God has reminded me this past month of the spiritual importance of the daily, small, boring details that make up life.  I’ve been learning to appreciate the small steps of growth rather than being frustrated that I don’t see greater leaps and bounds.  And I’ve got much more to learn and practice in these truths.

Our community is transitioning from a mostly child-less group of 20s and 30s to mostly child-full church, and how a bigger family affects our relationship with God and the community to which we’re committed.  We are figuring out what it means for the church to do the work of the church and not just rely on one or two people.  We are slowly moving away from simply talking about loving others to serving in concrete, real ways for others.  And we’ve got much more to learn and practice in these truths.

God is at work.  We see that when we slow down, rather than rush on.

May we learn to discern His work better.

May we never miss it.

prayer4It doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.  Jesus tells us to pray for the things in the Lord’s Prayer as though we are pounding on a locked door until it finally opens (Lk. 11:5-8).  We are to persistently, boldly, relentlessly present before God our needs in line with His will.

But He already knows them.  And He already desires to meet them (vv. 11-13). 

So why is God telling us to badger Him with the same requests, over and over again?  The whole enterprise seems rather futile before a omniscient, omnipotent, and loving God.

Surely it can’t be a form of divine manipulation.  If only we say this same prayer 30 times, THEN God is bound to grant it.  What hubris to even consider such human power over almighty God.

Surely it can’t be just a hoop to jump through.  The overall tendency of Jesus’ life and teaching seems to me to be a simplification of our relationship with God rather than imposing various new rules or laws or red tape.

Surely it can’t be to provide God with any new knowledge.  He’s God.  He already knows whether or not “we really mean it” or “really need it” or…

Surely it can’t be to change us.  I mean, we already know what we need.  We already know when we need it.  And how we need it.  And what’s best for us spiritually.  And all of the various implications.

Or, maybe not.  Definitely not.

So, as I see it, I’m left with one solution.  Persistent prayer is to change us in some way rather than change God in any way.

What’s the intended change?  I don’t know.  It’s probably different for different people in different places with their relationship with God.  Truly, each of us needs to be shaped a bit differently in order to grow in love of God and others.  To grow spiritually.

Maybe it’s to widdle away some pride or illusion of control.  Maybe it’s to force a greater dependence on God.  Or feelings of frustration that eventually boil over into greater honesty and surrender in prayer.  Or maybe a million other heart-changes.

Through persistent prayer, usually more gradually than suddenly, God shapes our hearts.  Somehow spiritual work is being done on you each time you pray it.  The you that pounds on the door the 50th time is probably not the same you who pounded on it the 1st time.

And that change is invaluable.

Have you experienced this?  How have you changed through the course of praying persistently for a particular need?  If so, please post it as a response…

prayer1It’s becoming more and more apparent as we journey through the book of Luke.

I suppose any saint would tell you the same thing.  But it is one thing to be told, and another to experience it for yourself. 

Almost every passage in Luke hammers on the theme of surrender.  Of total submission to God.  Just look at the last few posts: surrender to God life’s “details,” sacrifice life’s daily boring work, submit to the heart of God’s law of love, surrender pride, and on and on.

And here we are in Luke 11:1-4, the famous “Lord’s Prayer.”  Guess what big theme jumped out at us through our discussion yesterday?

Yeah, submission.

It seems prayer as Jesus taught is a lot about surrender.

When reading the Lord’s Prayer though the lens of surrender:

“Father, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come.”  Immediately we’re taught to be Other-focused, God-focused.  Prayer is not ultimately about us.  It is not our kingdom come…our plans, ideas, desires, schemes.  God’s Kingdom is about the divine transformation of us and our world, bit by bit, to be fully here in power at the end of the age.

To truly, genuinely pray for God’s Kingdom is to pry open our fists and to release whatever it is that we’ve been grasping to God’s perfect will.  That’s surrender.

“Give us each day our daily bread.”  We are taught to seek God for our being, our needs.  We are to trust Him and surrender our illusion of self-sufficiency, pride, and various other “idols.”

“Forgive us…as we forgive…”  A surrender of grudges, resentment, dark spots, and unhealthy relationships.

“And lead us not into temptation.”  A surrender of our future to God’s faithful guidance.  By this point in the prayer we are in a state of full submission and we certainly don’t desire to leave.  God, please keep us here!

We know these truths.  We’ve heard them again and again.  Do we  live these truths and not merely mentally assent?

The work of total surrender is tough, life-long work.  It is heart work.  And our talks with God, our communication, our prayers aid us in this endeavor.

Well, they don’t just aid us.  They are necessary. 

Do we want to REALLY live?  Then we must learn to pray.  And we must learn to submit.

Or maybe prayer and submission are really the same thing.

choresOver and over again, Jesus teaches us to not allow the details of life to distract us from God.

He says, “Don’t worry about what you wear or eat or your lifespan.  Seek first the Kingdom” (Mt. 6).

He directs the 12 disciples to go on a journey to proclaim the Kingdom without food, defense, money, or extra clothing.  The disciples are simply to obey and not allow the necessary details of living hold them back (Lk. 9).

In contrast to the many details involved with being a good hostess that were consuming Martha, He says that Mary has chosen the one necessary thing, the good part.  Mary has chosen to be with Jesus.  Her focus is wrapped up in her relationship with God Himself (Lk. 10).

And we know this.  We hear these admonishments time and time again.  Why is it  so hard to actually live a life devoid of distraction?

I believe one of the biggest reasons is because the details of life aren’t details to us.  How can God say that what I’m going to wear or eat is simply a detail?  These “details” are concrete…I can see them, feel them, and I know when I do and do not have them.  And I need these “details.”

The same is not as easily said about our relationship with God.  Our spiritual health is more ethereal and hard to really nail down.  If we completely ignore it for a couple of days, we don’t feel the same consequences as if we went without clothes or food.

But Jesus says that nothing is more important.  Nothing is more necessary or better than allowing the many things that make up life remain as details in contrast to our relationship with the Creator of the universe.

How do we live that way?

I believe the resolution lies with our focus, our heart.  By letting go of the details of life Jesus does not mean to avoid them.  He’s not saying to stop buying groceries or clothes or being responsible.  Remember, Jesus is most concerned about our hearts, because from our hearts flow our actions.  Flow our “details.”

Jesus is teaching us to not allow the details of life, especially when they don’t feel like details, to distract us from our God and our relationship with Him.  Don’t be consumed by your future plans, or financial concerns, or daily housework, or schoolwork, or career, or family, or…  Once these things consume us, they have become our gods, mere idols.

So, for Martha, she allowed the work of hosting Jesus and His disciples consume her and distract her from spiritual reality.  She allowed resentment to build up against her sister Mary rather than recognizing how powerful her service was in not only allowing her sister to grow nearer to God, but also in serving God Himself!! 

What Martha was doing was not wrong.  It was how she was doing it.  It was her heart.

For me, I find the challenge is in not allowing the mundane, boring, little daily routines distract me from God.  Rather, I need to make my routine a spiritual discipline of sorts.  A discipline that brings me nearer to God by recognizing each activity as spiritually significant.  To do my Martha work and to choose the “good part” at the same time.  Each day.  Little bit by little bit.

Jesus reminds us that where we are and what we do MATTERS.  Right now.  Here today.  And it is all about our hearts. 

Defend your heart from distractions as you go about the details of life.

This is the work of a disciple of Jesus.