Thursday, October 27, 2011

Sabbath Spirit

As the week starts to wind down, many of us are already anticipating the weekend. But what are we really anticipating? Time to enjoy our favorite hobbies? Time to surf the Internet? Time to get out of town for a day? Time to catch up on our chores? Time to sleep late?

Or... just "down time," period?

Or do we feel a bit guilty even entertaining that idea? For many of us, weekends are as frenetic as weeks, and Sundays no less than Saturdays. Many people arrive at church irritable over how the kids dawdled getting ready, apprehensive over doing good jobs as ushers or choir singers, and hoping the sermon won't cut into after-church time. Too many people with too many weeks of such attitudes, and you wind up with a congregation lacking in both joy and Christian love, full of plastic smiles and good behavior that hides aching hearts and judgmental spirits.

When God commanded His people to take every seventh day for a Sabbath, what He wanted was for them to pause the "hurry-scurry-flurry" of life long enough to discover the true joy of loving Him and each other with all our hearts. All too frequently, we instead make "worship day" either a dutiful requirement or an excuse to be equally busy with different things--and then squabble over who's right about what. Jesus regarded the legalistic Sabbath-keeping of His earthly days with sadness and anger; one can picture Him still shaking His head today because His people still don't "get it."

Loveless legalism and flippant disregard have their roots in the same problem: trying to define "how rest should work" solely by our own judgment. The Sabbath was intended as a day for us to get in tune with God's judgment, to take time to listen to Him and to absorb the teachings of the Spirit so we can learn to see things eternal as clearly as things temporal.

And to carry that sight into our daily work.

The dawning of the Lord's Day
Should bring us joy and peace:
Forgive us, God our Father,
When strivings do not cease,
And when we rush our worship
And squander what is best:
Give us a Sabbath Spirit,
That knows the way of rest!

The dawning of the Lord's Day
Should lift our hearts to praise:
Forgive us, God our Father,
When we choose selfish ways
And grumble over matters
Of prayers or music tone:
Give us a Sabbath Spirit,
That seeks Your will alone!

The dawning of the Lord's Day
Should bid us seek new heights:
Forgive us, God our Father,
When we chase selfish "rights,"
And help us yearn, wholehearted,
For all You hold in store:
Give us a Sabbath Spirit,
That craves to know You more!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Worship in the Times of Plenty

I'm no economist, but anyone not living on a remote island knows that these are hard times financially for more people than average. And I do know enough history to be convinced that one cause of economic downturns is the "get all you can while the getting's good" mentality that rises in times of prosperity.

While many people turn on God because their lives are miserable and He doesn't seem to be doing much about it, if anything we forget Him faster when we have little to complain about. When the Israelites first entered Canaan, God warned them that if they let their attention to the Law lapse, "...when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.... You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me'” (Dt. 8:12-14, 17). Which, of course, was exactly what happened.

Hard times or easy, we all have a tendency to slip into seeing God primarily as a means of getting what we want rather than as the One Who deserves all we have to give. Learning to truly worship is hard work.

But oh, how worth the effort when we are freed from slavery to our circumstances!

Worship in the times of plenty:
Though you seem to have it all,
Don't forget: God gives the blessing,
Makes abundance rise and fall.

Worship in the times of hardship:
Though your blessings seem but few,
God still gives His glorious riches
Every day with mercies new.

Worship God in health and sickness;
Worship Him in peace and pain:
He is worthy of all praises;
Even loss, in Him, is gain.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Wait and Work

"Finding God's will" has never been my idea of a well-defined task. I seem to constantly drift toward one of two extremes: refusing to move for anything short of an audible voice from Heaven or taking the slightest inner twinge of interest as God's go-ahead signal. It must come from having a "student temperament" that loves learning on nearly any topic yet demands well-defined assignments before doing anything with that learning.

Christians who are surer of God's specific call on their lives often suffer a different problem: call it "crash and burn syndrome." Typically, it hits those who embark on a ministry with great promise; achieve one "great work" after another at first; then, when everyone least expects it, seem to drop overnight into severe depression, or, worse, sin. Usually, the warning signs were there, at least for the "victim"--loss of passion and interest; increasing discouragement and fatigue; and, worst of all, the gradual disappearance of time alone with God--but the active-motion life, the seeming urgency of keeping up with all that "needed" to be done "for God," had become so central to life that it eclipsed everything else. Even the need for paying direct attention to the God Whom all this was supposedly being done for.

I'm not the first to observe that our "work for God" often crowds out our love for Him. How would you feel about having a child who always chose "getting things done" over spending time with you, on the insistence that he only wanted to make you proud of him, to prove himself worthy of you? Wouldn't you say, "Sweetheart, you don't have to prove anything to me. I love you and just want to be with you"?

There's no question that God has tasks for us to do. But too few of us recognize the vital interrelation between doing His work and listening for His voice. 

God's good things come to those who wait--
Those trained in being still,
Who tune their minds to things of Christ,
And seek to learn His will.
God's good things come to those who work--
Those serving in His name,
Who seek His will above all else,
And feel the Spirit's flame.

To wait for God is still His work
When done with fervent prayer;
To work for God is still to wait,
As rush is never there.
To do His will as He commands--
To let Him set the pace--
Means work and rest are done for Him,
Each in its proper place.

Our Lord is never in a rush,
Nor is He ever late.
Our Father guides us step by step;
We work, and yet we wait.
Lord, let us never run ahead,
Nor drag our feet behind
The mission You have set for us,
Which through Your grace we find!