Whenever we think of that, we tend to think of the effort, the labor, the sacrifice it means to us. Wanting, trying, to serve God despite our imperfections and limitations.
And at least for me, once my thoughts go down this line, I often end up facing the fear of failure.
I'm not wise enough. Maybe God doesn't want me to serve in this way? Is this just my own idea of what His plan should be like?
I'm not strong enough, or selfless enough. I know what to do, what I want to do. But it's so hard to overcome the flesh, the sin, the ME-ness!
And I get discouraged.
I find things like this scribbled in various prayer journals:
'I can't even want You on my own.'
'I wish I could be more clearly, directly worked in by You and not by my own misguided motivations and emotions...'
'How can I ever pray for others when I'm such a mess myself?'
But really, serving God is not a one-way action, as I tend to over-simplify it.
All our works for Him are also His works through us--His works in us.
I need to see my work for You not just as something I'm doing for You, but also something You're doing through me.
Knowing this is how He gives us peace.
"...Lord, You will establish peace for us,
For You have also done all our works in us."
I know that the times when I feel distant from God are often the times I'm most tempted to sin.
Why bother? Why try so hard, after all? I'm already so imperfect. God's probably already angry with me--or maybe He doesn't even care.
I will behave wisely in a perfect way.
Oh, when will You come to me?
I will walk within my house with a perfect heart...
I feel King David had one of the most personal and close relationships with God in the Bible--not in spite of, but because of his eventful life. He went through enough material for several movie scripts--rugged adventures as the rustic shepherd boy; the rags to riches glory climb; court intrigues and glamour; countless wars and military adventures; exile; countless brushed with death; marrying the king's daughter; playing Robin Hood; wandering in the desert; a rebellion; another exile...
Throughout his rocky life, David definitely experienced many times when he drifted away, for all the same reasons we face today (anger, grief, bitterness, distraction, complacency, pride, sin...and the list goes on.) But from his experiences, David knew what to do when he felt distant from God. His spiritual lows were the times he needed to cling more than ever to righteousness, when he needed to shun sin most.
The rest of Psalm 101 is a detailed and determined description of how David would actively apply his resolve to live righteously, in his lifestyle, in his surroundings, in the company he kept and the decisions he made.
As a mighty king, the very peak of an illustrious court and a powerful nation, David's resolve would have had drastic and widespread results. His family; his servants; his courtiers; his officers; his people; even his allies and enemies. A whole nation would be transformed when its king was determined: "I will not know wickedness." Justice and righteousness would blossom, while corruption and cruelty would be crushed.
And best of all, David knew that God's presence would return to him.
We may not have even a shadow of David's power and influence, but we can trust that when we resolve to stay pure, to the extent David did--especially when we feel distant from God--it will bless us, and bless those around us as well.
And best of all, it will help bring us back to God.
I saw this quote the other day on Pinterest (just about all this blog's images come from there at that!) and it made a deep impression on me. Mainly because I have experienced this myself. God did this with a gentleness I marveled at--giving me the thrill of having a dream come true, yet at the same time showing me that what I'd been hankering for actually wasn't what I needed (or even wanted, now I'd tasted it, though I'd enjoyed the taste I'd had.)
It's hard to explain, I think, but today a sermon made me reread John 1:45-50, and I saw myself (for the first time) in Nathanael. Nathanael's conversion was pretty dramatic. He was a skeptic. Christ gave him exactly what Nathanael the skeptic thought he needed in order to believe: 'proof' that Jesus was the Son of God.
In amazement, Nathanael listened as Christ quietly revealed His omniscience. Small unimportant details yes, but things no human could have known, and that was enough for Nathanael, Nathanael knew nothing of Jesus' character, His life, His teaching, yet he threw himself at Jesus' feet with blind exuberance.
Jesus was gentle with Nathanael. He gave him exactly what his human mind demanded. And after Nathanael's 180 degrees, rather comically dramatic turn around from skeptic to fan, Jesus didn't discount his giddy young faith because it was based on such a superficial foundation. He did chide Nathanael, gently, but He also promised him greater grounds for faith--not merely signs and wonders, like magic tricks a boy uses to impress his friends. Jesus taught a gospel that applied to life, to all aspects of life as we knew it--beautiful, ugly, mundane, flawed--not just supernatural wonders that dropped our jaws but didn't really relate very much to our actual lives.
I think Nathanael, eventually at least, must have felt much the way I did. Humbled. Grateful. Wiser. Encouraged. And marveling at the gentleness of God.
'...Your gentleness has made me great.'
I realize I am a fearful person.
Our common definition of fear was the reason why it took me so long to realize this--I thought that that one aspect of fear was all there was to fear, and so concluded it wasn't much of a problem for me. Sheesh, nightmares and snakes under the bed hadn't bothered me for years now.
We are all, in fact, in the grips of a subtle but deep fear that influences every aspect of our lives--from our thoughts to our feelings to our decisions.
The fear of man.
Edward T. Welch tackles this hugely relevant topic under its dusty, irrelevant-sounding Bible name. (When People are Big and God is Small) Fear of man, for goodness' sake? This is the 21st century, the century of freedom, individualism, nonconformity, and above all rebellion.
Edward Welch obviously fully expected the Biblical phrase 'fear of man' to set eyes rolling.
Here's the startling list he pulled out to widen the rolling eyes:
can't say no
fear of exposure
lies; maintaining 'face'
pride (based on comparing ourselves with others)
second-guessing/hesitancy/fear of erring
anger or depression because of other people
fear of evangelizing
All catch phrases of today.
After reading this, my own take on the fear of man today would be
trying to manipulate what others think or feel about me--and being manipulated in turn by that.
We've fallen into the delusion that other people are the solution to our felt needs and desires. And, as Welch says, 'what or who you need will control you.'
Our lives become needlessly complicated once we live in fear of the people around us. We're constantly trying to manipulate them to give us what we want from them, because our happiness and well-being depend on whether they do.
They become our god.
Our problem is that we need people more than we love them. And so our love for them tends to be based on our need for them--we love them based on how well they fulfill our needs.
We need to 'be people lovers, not people pleasers.'
We need to 'need people less and love them more.'
The way Christ did.
He loved us for ourselves. Not for what we could do for Him, because we could do nothing good; in fact we did evil to Him. He loved us even when we hated Him and rejected Him. He loved us without passing over our sin and our need of grace, because real love would see our need and help us, rather than pass it over for the sake of pleasing us.
He loved us, perfectly.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are