Sunday, January 20, 2008

We Reap What We Sow

I am not entirely familiar with the philosophy of karma. I vaguely associate it with the idea of getting what you deserve. What I do know is that the scriptures tell us that a man reaps what he sows. It is not possible to plant deceit and reap honor, just as it is not possible to plant corn and reap tulips. The seed bears what it is given to bear, it is up to us to be certain we are planting the right seeds.

I was recently involved in a situation where I was manipulated and used. Someone took something of mine, twisted it, and used it against my wishes for selfish gain. I originally had given my permission, but was not given the whole story. When the entire plan was revealed, I was uncomfortable with the situation and asked the person to reconsider. Instead of reconsidering, however, the person reacted in a way that was uneccessary and full of drama. An enormous fight ensued and I was told that my help would not be needed.

However, it turned out that, after all of the screaming, crying, and drama, the person went ahead with the plan without my knowledge. They used something that belonged to me without my permission or knowledge. They were willing to sacrifice integrity, character, and relationships in order to get their way in order to win a contest. Was it worth it? They didn't even place.

And so, I've been thinking about the verses in Galations.

7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature[a]will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

Why the verses 7-8 come to mind isn't hard to see. A man reaps what he sows. Dishonesty and manipulation were planted and the destruction of a relationship and a lost contest were reaped.

But, verse 9 has also been meaningful to me in this situation. "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up". It's easy, sometimes, to become weary in doing good. It seems that when someone does something for selfish ambition, they quickly reap a harvest of good things. Perhaps they get their way in what they were trying to accomplish. Or, perhaps they have a financial windfall from a dirty deal. On the surface, it seems that they reap a harvest of bounty from a dirty deed. In truth, they have a costly harvest ahead of them that may not be apparent right away. But, the gestation time of a good deed can be lengthy. Ever heard the phrase, "No good deed goes unpunished"? That's how it feels. Often, when we do the right thing we reap an immediate harvest of pain and trouble. We may choose to stand up for something and be wounded in the process. Or, perhaps we shed light on darkness and we pay a personal price for it. It's hard to stay the course and "not give up" We may not see the reward or the "fruit" of goodness this side of heaven. But, we are still instructed to press on. Take every opportunity to do good.

In this instance, I'm expected to rise above. I'm expected to let it go even though I was wronged. The one who acted badly is getting their way once again. And, I have to be ok with that. I don't, however, have to be taken advantage of again. I don't have to offer my help or services in the future. My flesh wants to be vindicated and to "have it out" with the violating party. But, what will that accomplish? Will they apologize? Probably not. Will they even recognize that what they've done is wrong? Probably not. Will it erase what has been done and the hurt that it has caused? No, it will not. So, I will move forward and seek to be more discerning in the future. I will do my best to not fall into a similar situation again. I will pray for those involved and hope that they see the problems in their methods. And, I will continue to plant seeds of goodness in the lives of those around me and pray that I never weary in doing good.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What My Obedience to God Costs Other People

I've often struggled with obedience to the Lord...until I paid the price of disobedience. I still have my moments of struggle, but in the end, the thought of the pain I will cause the Lord and myself, far outweighs the temporary pleasure of whatever else I might choose. I've learned the hard way that it's always better to choose obedience than to fight a losing battle with your Maker! (Isaiah 45)

But, I've never really considered how my obedience to God might affect others. Today's My Utmost for His Highest gave me pause. I've seen how my DISobedience has affected others in the past. But, I've rarely considered the cost of my obedience on others. I've had opportunity to do that recently and it weighed heavily on my heart. I chose to be obedient (although I begged that I not have to be!) even though I knew it would cause some pain for some other people. But, maybe that's ok. There have been times in my past where I chose obedience and stopped protecting someone from the discipline God was trying to give. That's a good thing. It's up to us to be obedient and let God do His work in and through us.


They laid hold upon one Simon ... and on him they laid the cross. Luke 23:2

If we obey God it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the sting comes in. If we are in love with ourLord, obedience does not cost us anything, it is a delight, but it costs those who do not love Him a good deal. If we obey God it will mean that other people's plans are upset, and they will gibe us with it - "You call this Christianity?" We can prevent the suffering; bu tif we are going to obey God, we must not prevent it, we must let the cost be paid.

Our human pride entrenches itself on this point, and we say - I will never accept anything from anyone. We shall have to, or disobey God.We have no right to expect to be in any other relation than our LordHimself was in (see Luke 8:2-3).

Stagnation in spiritual life comes when we say we will bear the wholething ourselves. We cannot. We are so involved in the universal purposes of God that immediately we obey God, others are affected. Are we going to remain loyal in our obedience to God and go throughthe humiliation of refusing to be independent, or are we going to take the other line and say - I will not cost other people suffering? We can disobey God if we choose, and it will bring immediate reliefto the situation, but we shall be a grief to our Lord. Whereas if we obey God, He will look after those who have been pressed into the consequences of our obedience. We have simply to obey and to leave all consequences with Him.

Beware of the inclination to dictate to God as to what you will allowto happen if you obey Him.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Thoughts on Quiet Times

I’ve been thinking a lot today about the Christian practice and/or idea of a “Quiet Time”. This is supposed to be that time during the day when you are quiet before the Lord and study His Word. My own perception of what that time looks like in practice has been challenged in the last several months.

A Quiet Time (or Devotional Time) has always seemed to have a pretty standard structure for me. It may include a time of prayer in the beginning (especially inclusive of a request for wisdom and open eyes and ears), a time of Bible reading or study using a curriculum of sorts, and then a time of closing prayer (mostly filled with requests). This is a fairly shallow and narrow depiction of what a quiet time could consist of, but I think it is fairly representative of the way we are taught to have these times. In the past few months, and in my processing of them this morning, I have come to see Quiet Times in a new light.

As I was discussing the idea of a quiet time (via email) with a friend this morning, I realized that it is often seen as a time of Bible Study…something academic. Prior to today, I think I would have agreed that it should be a time of study. But, something about phrasing that way rang terribly untrue within me. Should we study the Bible? Of course we should…there is no doubt about that. Should our daily time with the Lord be focused on Bible study? I don’t think so.

I’ve seen it happen time and time again…people getting burnt out in trying to maintain a quiet time. It’s seemed like the impossible task in my own life at times - a duty, even drudgery at times. How often do we set out with renewed verve and believe we will actually have a daily time of study only to fall short and lose interest? Why does that happen? What’s missing? I think I’ve begun to understand, in the last several months, where the disconnect happens.

It’s truly about relationship.

In thinking of some of my relationships, I have learned what works to make them stronger. First of all, it’s important to spend time together. Talking to and listening to a friend builds understanding of one another. In the time that we spend discussing things or just in conversation, we come to understand each other’s character and personality. It’s in the back and forth that we truly see who the other person is.

The same is true with our relationship with God. That daily quiet time should be as simple as a visit with a friend. Just as we interact in different ways with our friends, so we can interact in different ways with God. We can learn and understand His character through time spent getting to know Him.

How do we do that?

Conversation – Just as we converse with our friends, so we can converse with God. In the language of the church, we call this Prayer, but it’s really as simple as talking to a friend. I have some friends who speak so easily with God, it’s easy to imagine Him sitting with us in the car or as a 3rd party on a phone call. I love those moments when one of them invites Him into a conversation without a second thought. Prayer can be intimidating or seem like it has to be formal or spoken perfectly. But, it’s just as easy as picking up a phone – more so, actually because God is never too busy to listen or speak.

Letters – Have you ever gotten a love letter? I have. What a treasure they are! What I love about letters is that they can be kept and treasured and pulled out whenever you need a reminder of someone’s love or encouraging words. And, although we don’t often think of it as such, the Bible is God’s love letter to us. We have, in writing, His promises and stories of His enduring faithfulness. Anytime we want, we can pull out writings that tell us how much we are loved and treasured. And, these writings also teach us about the One we love. They show us His heart and His character. (Journaling is a great way to write love letters back to God, keep track of what you’re learning, and revisit those lessons time and time again).

Acts of Service – Have you ever done something to help out a friend? Maybe it was a surprise or maybe you just jumped in and helped where you saw a need. I had someone do that for me a few months ago. I was overwhelmed and stressed out and couldn’t take the time to get everything done I needed done. Then, without being asked, simply as an expression of love, my blessed cousin stepped in and took care of a big need for me. You would have thought she had just bought me a new car for all the joy it brought me! She was truly an answer to prayer to me that day. And, scripture tells us that when we’ve done anything even unto the least of those around us, we have done it for the Lord. You can bless the heart of the Father by meeting the needs of His children.

Giving of Gifts – I LOVE to give gifts. Gift giving is one of my primary love languages. I have a terrible time keeping them secret. I love making someone feel important to me by giving them something, whether it’s something I’ve made (mmm…chocolate chip cookies) or something I purchase because I know they’d love it. In the same way, our tithe is a gift to the Lord and a way we can bless His heart.

Now, not all of these things can take place in a “quiet time”, but that’s where the relationship is cultivated. It’s in those times of connection with the Lord that we learn who He is and begin to become more like Him.

In close friendships, have you ever noticed how you pick up the character traits, quirks, and even silly habits of your friends? It seems the more time you spend with someone, the more you become like them. I know I’ve found that to be true in my own life. How amazing would it be if we spent so much time with the Lord that we began to take on HIS character traits? Imagine if we saw with the Lord’s eyes. What if you came across someone who was angry and bitter, but instead of seeing the meanness you saw the wounds that caused it? How much more compassion and grace would you have for that person? How much more patience and tolerance? What if we truly became His hands and feet? What if we filtered everything and everyone through His heart? How would our families be different? Our friendships? Our relationships? Our churches?

In addition to learning to treat my devotion time as time spent with a friend, I’ve also learned (and have been learning for quite some time now) how important it is that it is the MOST IMPORTANT friendship I have. When I’m taking that time first, everything else feels in it’s proper perspective and place. If I’m in right relationship with the Lord, I hear that “still small voice” more quickly and clearly throughout the day and in my decisions. My days are less stressful, my outlook is brighter, and my worries are nearly gone when I take the time to connect with the One who made me and knows me better than I know myself.

I haven’t written in a while, so I know this is a lot. I have more to share, but I think it will wait for another time. I challenge you to make this a year of getting to know the One who made you and develop a hunger for time together with Him.