#CoffeeTimePrayer: Fertile ground

 

 

Once when I was a young teen my friends and I were playing the 30 Seconds board game. At one point a person on the opposite team quickly had to explain something to their teammate; we stuck our fingers in our ears to stop us from overhearing. Unfortunately, our nefarious plan to eavesdrop failed when they asked us, “Can you hear us?” and yours truly shook her head “No”!

In Matthew 13:16-17, wedged between the Parable of the Sower and its explanation, Jesus told his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (NRSV). Because we have seen and heard Jesus through the Word and the revelation of the Holy Spirit, we can’t shake our heads “No!” when we clearly hear his voice! We don’t have the excuse of thorny or rocky or weedy ground to explain our lack of faithful yield, because we “[hear] the word and understand it” (verse 23).

If like me you often find yourself shaking your head “No!” when Jesus talks to you, don’t be discouraged! In Proverbs 20:12 we read, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye—the Lord has made them both” (NRSV). Rather than condemn ourselves for our lack of yield, we can ask the Spirit of God to restore our sight and to heal our hearing, to see him and to hear him so we can be fruitful ground for the Kingdom seed.

Prayer: Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear you. Amen.

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#CoffeeTimePrayer “Burdens” mini-series: Apathy

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Last week we began to look at burdens we bear instead of bearing fruit. The first burden we looked at was the burden of defensiveness: a burden that grows from a root of insecurity and is nourished by self-sufficiency and a desire to “prove” God to yourself and others. We discovered that Jesus’ biggest temptation in Matthew 4 was to “defend” God – and what a chip on your shoulder this “defensiveness” can be.

The burden we’re looking at this week is one I think a growing number of Christians are familiar with: the burden of apathy. In a world awash with pain, conflict and suffering, Christians seem to spend times in headlines for all the wrong reasons – for making worse, and not for healing. But this corporate apathy has its beginnings in individual apathy. Think about the following questions and answer them “Yes” or “No”:

  • It is not our job to fix the world; our family/church/community has enough problems of its own.
  • The fallen world deserves its judgment.
  • I feel overwhelmed by all the bad in the world.
  • I’m not much interested in worldly affairs.
  • I struggle to see God’s work in the world as it is today.

If you answered more questions “Yes” than you did “no”, you might be struggling with this burden.

What does this burden look like?

We’re exposed to an unprecedented amount of “bad” news. Just scroll through any major news corporation’s Twitter feed and you’re inundated with a blow-by-blow account of the world’s ills, all in bite-sized format: x people killed. Y people lost. Z money spent. Brangelina’s split! It’s pain, panoramic. The instantaneousness of information has the odd effect of both bringing us closer and numbing us down for all our exposure.

Pain isn’t just global in scale, though. Often it’s up close and personal because it’s up close and personal: your sibling is addicted to drugs. Your best friend’s been cheated on. Your marriage isn’t working out. You’ve lost your job. You don’t know your kids. There’s a serious illness in the family. And it’s not just you dealing with all this stuff – it’s everywhere! In setting up the church slides this week, I had to add two additional slides for all the additional prayer requests. Sick people, people in pain, people grieving.

The world – ours and the one around us and “out there” – seems to be demanding more and more of our care, but we’re fresh out. So we make our “care” smaller. We keep it close: close family and friends only. And when that gets too much, we shrink it down even more. Everyone for themselves! The burden of apathy sags down the branches of our tree – our tree that’s supposedly planted next to water (Jeremiah 17:7-8) – and we sag with it, down, down.

bb-3I don’t think this is surprising, really. You know what nourishes this, what makes it pop out gluttonous fruit? Fear. See, it hurts to care. It hurts to have so much bad weighing you down. It’s quite literally a downer and naturally we’re afraid to feel this way. But fear isn’t even the biggest issue here. No, the root of this burden is far thornier: the root of this burden is doubt.

To proclaim a gloriously good God in a world terminally messed up? To say “Yet you are holy” (Psalm 22:3) when your kid is dead, your wife is gone, your job sucks, you’re going nowhere? To say “In you I trust” (Psalm 25:2, 31:14) when explosions and earthquakes and wars tear and plunder?

I think we’d be mad not to have doubt. We’d have to be fanatical not to have questions, not to lament our lostness. I honestly don’t think we will ever be doubt-free.

But does that mean we’re stuck with this burden of apathy? Or does it mean that God expects us to live in pain over pain?

I don’t think so. While God absolutely expects us to care, it’s what we do with that care that turns our doubt into something life-giving; into faith.

In Matthew 11:25-28 Jesus reveals the following:

“All things have been committed to me by my Father … Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Let’s unpack this, and we’ll end with it:

  • All things – all pain, whether personal, local, national, or global – have been committed to Jesus Christ, and it’s this commitment he undertook that sent him to be born, that carried him to the cross and kept him there. It’s also what resurrected him from death.
  • When we take burdens upon ourselves, we are trying to mimic what Jesus has already done and accomplished on the cross. It’s unnecessary. We are to give our cares to Jesus. Not to “free us” from care – but to enable us to keep on caring!
  • In sharing this burden with Jesus, in taking up the “light” yoke of his peace, grace and love, apathy, its nourishment fear, and its root of doubt are transformed into the ability to walk in love and light (John 8:12). Spiritual fruit flourish under these conditions.

Still, the initiative in surrendering our burdens lies with us. When we see and experience pain and any number of ills, will we choose to shield ourselves with apathy because we’re afraid the world is right about God’s nature or existence – that such pain cannot exist in a universe where he is acknowledged Creator – or will we turn our faces not away from pain, but toward Christ so that we can look upon it together?

And looking, see?

And seeing, feel?

And feeling, do?

#CoffeeTimePrayer “Burdens” mini-series: Defensiveness

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Burden 1: Defensiveness (Chips ahoy!)

Think about these questions and answer them “Yes” or “No”:

  • I feel self-conscious or defensive when I’m the only Christian in a group of people where my faith might come up.
  • I’m uncomfortable praying in front of others or praying for others.
  • As a Christian I have to be a “pleasing aroma” (2 Corinthians 2:16) to non-believers.
  • It’s important that God’s power is visibly demonstrated in the lives of Christians.
  • There are times when I feel being a Christian places an unfair “burden of proof” on my life.

If you answered “Yes” to most of these questions, you might be bearing the burden of defensiveness.

What does this burden look like?

Have you ever been at the other end of someone’s smile when they had something in their teeth? It’s silly, but it’s awkward, right? It’s pretty obvious the other person doesn’t realise what’s going on. And, no matter what they say or how we otherwise feel about them, we remain conscious of the offending food particles almost to the point of the exclusion of all else.

I think having a chip on your shoulder is much the same: while we remain oblivious to it, it’s almost always noticeable to other people and colours their perception of us and anything we say or do. When, deep down, we feel like we need to defend God or his honour, or our faith or the way we live our faith – that will bear this burden of defensiveness in our lives. We easily mistake it for faith, but of course it’s not. We find a good example of this in Matthew 4: 1-7:

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry.3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

In the temptation of Jesus we see Jesus being tried and tested by the Devil in the desert. But what’s curious to me is that the first two provocations the Devil throws at Jesus start with the word “if” and seek to challenge Jesus’ identity. “If you are the Son of God…” He was trying to lure Jesus into “defending” himself and God. On the surface this doesn’t seem like a bad thing – standing up for God, to old Nick himself! But why would Jesus need to?

If we are totally secure in God, in our faith, in God’s nature and in our salvation – why would we feel like we needed to prove something about God? When we are tempted to “defend” God, aren’t we really defending ourselves and the insecurities we feel that lie at the root of this burden?

Recently I’ve started doing the slides and music for Sunday worship. And for a while there I thought (but didn’t realise I did!) that the onus was on me to deliver a good “worship experience.” Certainly I try to select good songs and so on, but as I watched the people sing one Sunday it dawned on me that their “worship experience” was about as much my responsibility as getting the sun to rise in the mornings. When we try to “shoulder in” on God’s work, good intentions or no, we are punching far above our weight.

You see, God never mixes up job descriptions. He doesn’t expect us to do work that only he can do. For God our obedience far outweighs any words we may say in his defence, because obedience proves that we trust and rest in him, whereas defensiveness only proves that we still think we need our hand on the steering wheel.

bb-1So how do we stop bearing this burden without burning down the whole tree? I think the best way may be to starve it of its nourishment. Peruse my (badly drawn) diagram. What nourishes the root of insecurity that leads to our bearing defensiveness? Self-sufficiency. Thinking, at the back of our minds or in a corner of our heart, that we may at some point still need to “go it alone”; that God doesn’t truly care. Self-sufficiency is a reluctance to let go of the reins.

This week let’s try to be tuned in to where our hands are in relation to the steering wheel of life. Is God purely an emergency brake? Might he even be riding shotgun? If we rest in his security instead of our insecurity and self-sufficiency, what kind of an impact will that have on the size and weight of any chips on our shoulder – would we still feel like we needed to prove something? Or would the proof be in the pudding, quite without any input from us other than trust and obedience?

New #CoffeeTimePrayer series: The burdens we bear mini-series #devo

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It’s spring time here in South Africa, and all around our garden we have straggler strawberry plants doing their best to bear strawberries from between the cracks of paving stones and from underneath pots, or competing for space amongst onions, rosemary and a vibrant variety of weeds. The strawberries these plants produce tend to be small, pale and watery, quickly pecked up by birds or devoured by still-sluggish ants.

Biblically we know that through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we are all capable of bearing fruit (Galatians 5:22-23); indeed, that we should be (John 15:8). But are we fruitful? If you’re reading this and you are, that’s great, but in writing this I’m assuming there are folks out there just as perplexed, frustrated and dispirited by their apparent lack of fruit-bearing as I am. Where’s the damn fruit? we wonder, trying to crane our heads round so we can see what’s weighing down our branches. Because make no mistake, at every point in our lives we are all bearing something. But what sometimes feels deceptively like fruit-in-process are actually burdens: burdens produced from dodgy roots and nourished by bad ways of thinking and believing; burdens that sap our strength and leech further toxicity into our soil.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at some of these burdens. We’ll start with their harvest and work back towards their point of origin and the things that nurtured them, and hopefully along the way we’ll find that rooting these out will leave us plenty of room for the growth and nurture of actual fruit!

#CoffeeTimePrayer: Pearl for your swine?

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I’m doing a Louie Giglio reading plan on YouVersion called “Relate-able”. In yesterday morning’s devotion he wrote about how we need to see ourselves as God sees us – in a loving and positive way – if we ever want to be able to treat others in a loving and positive way. He writes:

Loving yourself is thus critical, because if you don’t believe that God loves you, you will have an impossible time of trying to convince others that God loves them.

Subsequently when I did my devotions yesterday evening and read Matthew 7, verse 6 stood out for me:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” (NRSV)

If we could dissect our psyches and label all the parts, I wonder how many of those parts – of our habits, behaviours, hopes, fears and anger – would have other people’s names attached to them? It’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror when in addition to your own inner monologue there is writ large the commentary of a thousand passing moments on the glass. Some are positive; but honestly, the negative words we are dealt over a lifetime tend to be written down just a little darker and bigger than all the rest of it, right? It can be hard to see yourself as God sees you – as a beloved and cherished child – through all of that scrawl.

Recently I found myself stuck in one of those nonsensical mental loops that serve no other purpose than to frustrate, depress and annoy. Testily I wondered Why? The day hadn’t started out bad and I couldn’t say that I was in a bad space generally. When I traced the genesis of this thought loop I found it rooted in comparison: I had been (unfavourably) comparing myself to someone I didn’t even know (partially because I suspected someone else had run this same comparison and found me wanting – good old fashioned projection!)

Could it be that we take this truth of ourselves – the “pearls” of our holiness, our “wholeness” in Christ – and throw them in front of the ever-devouring mouths of comparison and reputation? Only to have our perception, our sense and knowledge of our worth in Christ mercilessly chomped up by corrupt worldly standards?

Would you take precious jewels and throw them out for hogs to eat, along with the rest of their slop? Picture doing that. Ridiculous, right? Yet we seem to line up quite happily to throw far more precious things to the mouths of opinionistas and Facebook feeds, to passing comments and fads, to unwarranted censure from folks just as insecure as we are or perhaps even more so. We seem quite content to throw our pearls of redemption and belonging to the rabid dog that is our own inundated ego run rampant on the carcass of sin.

Friends, aren’t we being incredibly silly?

I don’t think we always realise that we get to make a decision about the way we see ourselves and think about ourselves; we get to confront negative behaviour and change it. We can choose what we do with our “pearls”: we can throw them for swine and dogs to devour, or we can lay them at Jesus’ feet. Dogs and swine are never satisfied or appreciative with our “pearls”, they always devour us in turn. But at Jesus’ feet, those pearls are picked up and bestowed on us again a hundredfold. Such is the nature of grace. Such is the nature of holiness – being whole – in our Creator.