Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Prosperous Life Part II

How does dependence on God take place? What does it look like? How does one become God-dependent instead of in-dependent?

Reading further in the book of Psalms, I came across this familiar verse, "Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker" (Psalm 95:6). As noted in the previous blog, there are those that would serve all their lives, but never truly in the court of God. Tragically, there are those who spend time regularly reading God's Word and attending worship who are not prospering. What makes the difference?

The difference is found not in what is said or done as much as in what occurs in the privacy of one's heart in response to God's Word. A heart that excuses behavior, justifies it, or chooses only comfortable passages will not experience God's peace or blessing. But to worship and bow down, to kneel before God is to openly trust that what He says is true and right. It is the most basic confession, agreeing with God. When I am unable or unwilling to bow my heart in submission to His goodness, I fail to confess Him as Lord. My mouth can say what it will, but the rest of my life stands in opposition to the lovingkindness and grace of God.

Few of us have thought of confession as lifestyle. For years, decades perhaps, we have thought of 1 John 1:9 "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But rarely do we consider time in God's Word as confession--and it won't be until we can accept God at His Word, trusting that He is right and true.

How would God have me bow the knee today? In obedience. In prayer when self-denial fails me, in prayer when love runs too short, in prayer when the easy choice seems the best choice.... Confession is the means of dependence for the prosperous follower of Jesus Christ.

Monday, August 4, 2008

A Prosperous Life

If you were to render a sketch of your spiritual life--right now, today--what would it look like? A solitary island sporting an asymmetrical palm tree? A series of rivers and tributaries converging in one fluid, rolling force? Perhaps a blown and tumbled corn stalk struggling to regain its strength?

After weeks, months, even years of service within the local church, many of us resemble the solitary island or tumbled corn stalk more than we'd like to admit. There seems a sort of disillusionment that takes place, a realization that others will take more than they give, that appreciation is never equal to the task, that sacrificing family, marriage, even basic needs is never enough. There comes a point of evaluation that reveals the emptiness and vanity of all we have to give and we wonder at the driving force. Why did we feel compelled to push so hard? Was it really worth it? Where do we go from here?

How then, can we reconcile this with the psalmist's words, "The righteous man will flourish like the palm tree, He will grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, They will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green, To declare that the LORD is upright; He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him" (Psalm 92:12-15).

Little by little I am learning the beauty of dependence. The righteous flourish because they are tended by the Master Gardener. They are planted in His courtyard, not their own. The fruit, the greenery, and the health of the tree is a product of God's work, God's care, not the tree's. The tree is an ornament of the Maker. It does nothing of its own, nor does it suffer self-inflicted thirst or harsh treatment. How like that tree I long to be! Not the beaten, bitter tree that stands alone; not the short-lived flowering bush that quickly perishes; not the petrified pine that withstood wind and time but bore no fruit. I long to be lush and full, prosperous and strong--to love life and laugh at worry.

And this will only happen in my Father's house, under His care, directed and pruned by His hands. So I asked myself this morning, "What directs the my life flow?" Am I learning to know Him daily and responding to His prompting or seeking to meet the needs of others based on my perception? Am I more motivated by pride or humility? Am I just as content waiting as I am working? Finally, who does this tree honor? The tree that is fed and prospers at the hand of God honors and glorifies Him alone. The glory of the tree is in the proclamation, the message; its health, beauty, prosperity, and usefulness is a work of the Master.

How would you envision your spiritual life? It is the hand of Master, and dependence on Him, that will make all the difference.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Whose in Charge?

Our family is reading Ecclesiastes for daily devotions this summer. As I sat down to today's reading (Ecclesiastes 4:13-16), I struggled with application. The passage speaks of a poor, young man usurping a foolish old king. And, to follow the theme of the book, "this too is meaningless, a chasing after wind." How would I apply this to my own life--or to our children?

Questions (and the Holy Spirit) led me to 1 Kings 11-12 where Solomon--the foolish, old king--was reprimanded by God for turning aside from His commands. God continued to inform Solomon that his kingdom would be given to his servant (the poor young man--1 Kings 11:11). Ecclesiastes tells us that people would throng to the side of this young man, but "there is no end to all the people...who...will not be happy with him, for this too is vanity, a striving after wind" (Ecc. 4:16).

What, then, is the take-away? A leader's worth, importance, and influence is not determined by popularity. It is God who sets up and establishes all authority (Romans 13:1-2). If I desire a place of influence to receive glory, power, the admiration of others--it is for nothing, it is absolute folly. People are fickle and any series of unpopular decisions will lose their favor, regardless of the wisdom of those decisions. To regard others as my audience is vanity and foolishness (Jeroboam's downfall, 1 Kings 12:27). But to serve with humility and dependence on God--this is effective leadership. Serving God first and foremost brings blessing, longevity, and favor with God (1 Kings 11:38).

The servant's heart will serve God, not people. In serving God, I will minister more effectively to the needs of others. Only God knows their true need and is able to move me toward meeting something more than a perceived need. Will I depend solely on the words and actions of others to determine my service? Or will I serve God first and foremost, living out an obedience and worship that blesses others?

(For a more in depth look at the traps of pleasing people vs. pleasing God, I highly recommend Lou Priolo's book, Pleasing People: How not to be an "approval junkie.")