Monday, July 25, 2011

Sensible Management

In affluent democracies Christians are often indistinguishable in lifestyle from non-Christians--not least when it comes to time management and personal organization. I have seen many articles written by Christians on these topics; virtually none even mention James 4:13-16 ("Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil"). Nor do any of the other "God alone ultimately determines how things will work out" scriptures get more than passing mention.

Not that I think a "truly Christian" approach is all that simple. Since God rarely sees fit to hand us minute-by-minute schedules for use of our time, we often feel forced into the secular "master your own hours" approach, lest doing "nothing" for extended periods costs us our chances of earning a living. Few are so closely tied to God as to always be sure what He wants from us--and we don't really wish to join those who won't get dressed in the morning without first praying "what color underwear should I put on today?"

Still, living most of our lives as if God didn't exist is no answer. Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Our problem here, I think, is that we take it to mean, "If you just 'pray right,' you need never be uncertain about where to place your foot for the next step, and you'll never hit a dead end." More likely it means, "If you make consistent effort to stay humble before God and accept that He has full control over what happens, be sure He will keep you from wandering far outside His plan for your life." Which is not quite the same as total freedom from confusing circumstances, or even the occasional serious misstep. Even hikers who know exactly where they are can sprain ankles.

It takes humility to admit this, but humility is key to effective Christian living. Once you start assuming you know best, you've taken a dangerous step toward assuming you don't need God.

You may be the heart of frugality
And save nickels and dimes every day;
But if you never give anything to God,
Then you might as well throw it away.

You may be a star in your use of time
And put all the best work in your hours;
But if you have no time for the work of God,
All your deeds are as weeds in the flowers.

You may be a planner of highest skill
And may never fall short of a goal;
But if there is no place in your days for God,
You are taking a chance with your soul.

Put aside every doubt that God is Lord
And the Master of all of your time,
That He holds the whole claim to each thing we use;
Nothing really is yours or is mine.

So give to Him the first of all you earn,
And surrender each hour to His will,
And hand Him full control of your destiny--
And with blessings your life He will fill!

Friday, July 15, 2011

If You Have Not Love

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing" (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

"Love" has multiple and often casual meanings in English: we know that loving chocolate and loving our children hardly comprise identical feelings, yet we use the same word for both. When St. Paul wrote the verses above, however, Greek was the world language; and the Greeks had different words for "love" of things and pleasures, for sexual love, for family love, for friendship love--and for the sacrificial, selfless love called agape, the ideal Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 13 and the hardest of ideals to attain. Without it, moral purity, sacrificial giving, even Christian ministry are all worthless in the eyes of God.

Shocking words, those. Is Paul saying that self-centered motives on the part of a preacher invalidate the salvation of everyone led to Christ by his ministry? Hardly: God can use even outright evil to accomplish much good. The "worthlessness" of loveless work lies in what it fails to accomplish for the worker himself. The Christian who truly loves God treasures quiet time for its own sake, joyful in the privilege of being with the One he loves; the works-oriented Christian sees quiet time as a means of getting marching orders, or, often, support for his own plans. The lover lets the challenges of his work draw him further into dependence on God; the worker trusts in his own strength to accomplish things. Perhaps most telling of all, the lover cares little about worldly success or appreciation, but finds all the reward he could hope for in His Lord's pleasure. The worker sees success and appreciation as indicators of God's pleasure, which is a no-win situation for his own spiritual growth. If he gets the rewards he feels he deserves, he lets pride eclipse his gratitude; if he doesn't get them, he grows bitter against God.

Do you love God the way you love those human beings you are closest to--through constant attention, eagerness to please, and complete faith in His good nature? And are you willing to let Him help you love the rest of humanity in that way?

If you give ten percent to the church each week,
But your heart remains cold and proud,
You may draw applause from the world at large--
But our God rarely goes with the crowd.

If you sing in the choir twenty days a month
With a voice like an angel's tone,
But then look unmoved on another's pain,
All God hears is the hurting one's moan.

If you know to the names of Kedar and Put
Every word that the Scriptures said,
But you close your eyes to the world's great needs,
Then your spiritual worth's all but dead.

It is not through our works, though they be great deeds,
We find favor within God's eyes,
But by means of love, fed by humble hearts,
Through the Spirit Who makes Christians wise.

Friday, July 1, 2011

You Can't Figure God Out

I got back from a two-week vacation three days ago, and already have regressed to frantic-and-frazzled mode. If whoever wrote "make time for God and He will make time for whatever else you need to do" intended it as a promise that your daily schedule will always fall neatly into place if you begin the day with a quiet time--all I can say is, I'm living proof that promise isn't from God. Clutter and interruptions are such a tenacious problem that I wonder if there's a demon specially trained in use of those weapons who's assigned to destroy my effectiveness. Regardless of the root cause, I've yet to see the miraculous relief of pressure others have reported on surrendering their schedules to the Lord's will.

"Life happens" even to the top pros at prayer, planning, and positive thinking; and anyone who doubts that is simply enjoying a long period of what we thoughtlessly call "luck." Then there are those who are going through the exact opposite and have reached the point of giving up hope it will ever end. "Lucky" or "unlucky," we all tend to assume that the way our lives have been for a while is the status quo. Be careful: God loves to shake up "normality" when we least expect it!

One thing God is not is "logical"--a good thing, too, or He might give us the eternal separation from Him that we deserve. But it's tough to appreciate that when all our logic says we deserve better than what we're getting--when we work hard and still can't make ends meet, when we take care of ourselves and still get sick, when we ask God what He would have us do and receive no discernible answer. There comes a point (often many times in one life) where all we can do is effectively throw up our hands, admit God knows best, and cast ourselves on His Word: "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you" (Heb. 13:5b).

God's Word also says, "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!" (Rom. 11:33). How will we respond to these qualities: with annoyance--or adoration?

We can trace out the paths of the planets,
We can look into human genes,
We can study a thousand cultures
And discern what each custom means;
We can travel through deserts and oceans
And can find beyond any doubt
Many hundreds of laws for nature:
But we never will figure God out.

We may judge Him by our human logic,
Say we know what He plans to do,
But our Lord has no end of surprises,
And with Him every day is new.
Good behavior will never oblige Him,
And it does no one good to pout,
Nor to question a thing He is doing:
Logic just cannot figure Him out!

All we know is those things He has told us:
That He ever is kind and wise;
That He watches our days and our actions
And the things never seen by our eyes.
When your whole life seems hopeless, still trust Him;
He still knows what it's all about.
It's not knowledge, but faith, that will guide you
On the path our Lord has figured out!