Monday, November 26, 2007


At my church, yesterday's sermon text was Philippians 2:5-11--the perfect passage to bridge the transition from Thanksgiving to Advent. For what, after all, do we have greater cause to give thanks than the Incarnation and all that came with it?

Many Christians, though, fail to appreciate the full value of God's Christmas gift. Instead of rejoicing that we are saved by His grace alone, we live as if He had said, "You're free to go to heaven--but you'd better prove yourself worthy of the gift!!" We feel obligated to attend every church event and volunteer for every ministry opportunity.

As though a sense of obligation and a sense of opportunity could co-exist. Obligation is a drudgery; opportunity is a joy. Only those who delight in each new opportunity to serve God and others--and who fully appreciate how unworthy they are of the honor--can truly rejoice in the great things God is doing. Those who serve out of "obligation" become slaves to their own pride; it's only a short step from "I have to do the Lord's work" to "I am indispensable to the Lord's work." It's a short step from there to feeling entitled to appreciation, and becoming resentful when it fails to materialize. And the next step down is grumbling, like the prodigal's brother, "All these years I've slaved for You and You never gave me a thing in return!"--followed by becoming "weary in doing good" (Galatians 6:9) and burning out completely.

Burning out is no fun; take it from someone's who's been there more than once. The self-inflicted pressure to leave no book unread, no event unattended, no opportunity neglected, has stolen a good deal of my joy--not least because it's hard to concentrate on the project of the moment when you're obsessed with finishing on schedule and with what you have to do next. Thank God for His reminders that cultivating my Christian life is ultimately His job--as when yesterday's sermon brought a fresh perspective on "opportunity not obligation." (If anyone would like to hear the sermon for yourself, it should be posted on the church's Web site sometime this week.)

When a neighbor calls with problems
While you're trying to watch TV,
Do you see an interruption?
Or God's opportunity?

When you're asked to Mom's for dinner,
And you'd planned to keep things free,
Do you see dread obligation?
Or God's opportunity?

When you're cornered by a babbler
At a party or at tea,
Do you see a mere annoyance?
Or God's opportunity?

When someone thwarts your ambition
Or competes successfully,
Are they obstacles to level?
Or God's opportunity?

God's best gift is not your pleasure,
Nor a life that's trouble-free,
Nor great wealth or high position,
Fame or lasting dynasty:

But His purpose is your growing
To Christ's own maturity,
Which He forges through your struggles:
Seize each opportunity!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're right - the sermon topic is the perfect transition. And your poem leads us example by example into the right attitude for the season. Hope folks take you up on your suggestion of hearing the sermon too.