Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Work or Worship?

September has been a busy month for me. Crazy busy. Sometimes life's like that. Busy, busy, busy. And it's times like this when my Christian walk feels more like a frantic sprint. But before I assess this past month with too much disdain, I need to remind myself that Jesus did lament the desperate need in His Father's harvest for labourors -- that is, hard workers (Matthew 9:37-38). And Jesus was such a hard worker that He said His "food" was to accomplish the "work" of His Father (John 4:34) and that "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). In other words, God sees great need for work to be done and wants us to be working too.

But that doesn't mean God spends His time scanning the earth searching for workers. That would be like God looking down here and saying, "Ah yes, there's someone who could probably put in a good effort. He looks good and strong for all the hard work I've got to get done." Instead, Jesus specifies (in the same context in which He says His food is to do God's work) that God is looking for someone else: "the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him" (John 4:23). The latter part of that verse is typically lost in the shadow of the more famous phrase mentioned at the beginning of the verse. Yet the end of that verse is absolutely vital. The verse begins with Jesus defining true worship, but then He explicitly states who God is looking for as He scans the earth: God is searching for worshipers. God is looking down here saying, "Ah yes, there's someone who's heart is completely Mine. I will give her the strength to do great works in My name!" (see 2 Chronicles 16:9).

But with Jesus' great emphasis on working, as well as stating that the Father is searching for true worshipers, is it fair to say one is more important than the other? After all, isn't it true that our worship of God and our work for God are so closely intertwined that they're meant to appear indistinguishable? In other words, can I be a true worshiper of God if I'm unwilling to be a worker for Him? And can I even say I'm a worker for the Lord if I neglect to be a worshiper? To truly be one means I must truly be the other. Which would mean that a worker who worships is as valuable to God as a worshiper who works, right? And it is that very question that causes me to hesitate to equate these two characteristics of a follower of Christ because it fails to clarify the order in which I came to be both a worshiper and a worker -- and that is what I think Jesus was stressing when He said that the Father is seeking true worshipers.

Worshiping God must precede working for God. It must be so or we'll end up working in our own strength for the dim glow of our own glory eventually becoming a hard-hearted Pharisee who's forgotten the One we're working for! That's why God is seeking worshipers, whom He will then make into workers according to His strength working in us and through us (Colossians 1:29). He wants our hearts before we offer Him our hands. I'm sure that's why Jesus told Martha that her sister Mary had "chosen what is better" (Luke 10:42, NIV) when Mary chose to sit listening at Jesus' feet rather than to be so distracted by busyness.

So I now need to ask myself why I've been so busy. Is it because I'm busy working at all the things that the God I love and adore -- and listen so carefully to -- and receive all my strength from -- has asked me to do? Or is it because I think I need to work this hard for God in order to win His approval -- perhaps because I haven't found it easy to draw near to Him in worship amidst all my self-imposed busyness? And if God is seeking worshipers, what will He find in me when He finds me busily serving Him so hard?  Yikes. The answer will be in whatever the posture of my heart is as I serve Him with my hands: a worshiper of God who has become a worker for His God.

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Thursday, September 23, 2010

First things first

This past spring, I read a biography of Hudson Taylor. It was extremely helpful in how it turned my attention to Jesus Christ's sufficiency in all circumstances, and I highly recommend it as worthwhile reading. Today I was reminded of a few passages from that book that feel extremely relevant to me these days. My prayer is that I can put them into practice rather than simply recall that I read them! I hope that you too will find this selection of quotes from and about Hudson Taylor a great encouragement.

God came first in Hudson Taylor’s life—not the work, not the needs of China or of the mission, not his own experiences. He knew that the promise was true, “Delight thyself also in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”

From a practical standpoint, he knew the truth of Oswald Chambers’ statement: “God does not give us overcoming life; He gives us life as we overcome.” And to Hudson Taylor, the secret of overcoming lay in daily, hourly fellowship with God. This, he learned, could only be maintained by personal prayer and faithful meditation on God’s Word.

With the life he lived, and its demands on his time and energy, finding opportunity for his own spiritual maintenance wasn’t easy.  But he made it a priority…

...The hardest part of a missionary career, Hudson Taylor admitted, was to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study. “Satan will always find you something to do,” he would say, “when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.”

So he would have fully agreed with the words of Andrew Murray who wrote: “Take time. Give God time to reveal Himself to you. Give yourself time to be silent and quiet before Him, waiting to receive, through the Spirit, the assurance of His presence with you, His power working in you. Take time to read His Word as in His presence, that from it you may know what He asks of you and what He promises you. Let the Word create around you, create within you a holy atmosphere, a holy heavenly light, in which your soul will be refreshed and strengthened for the work of daily life.”

That’s just what Hudson Taylor did. Even in the midst of many difficulties.

...Are you in a hurry, flurried, distressed? Look up! See the Man in the glory! Let the face of Jesus shine upon you—the wonderful face of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is He worried or distressed? There is no care on His brow, no least shade of anxiety. Yet the affairs we are concerned about are His as much as ours...

Flesh and heart often fail:  let them fail!  He faileth not!

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Friday, September 17, 2010

Let's go up!

I was quite surprised recently by the encouragement I found in the final few words of the many words written in Chronicles. Chronicles can be a discouraging book given how badly God's people behaved. But in the last two little verses, the writer speedily fast forwards the story so that he can end the book with great hope following the lengthy and tragic explanation of Judah's and Israel's spiritual decline. And it was there that four simple words caught my attention.

The final verse describes Cyrus king of Persia inviting God's people to return to Jerusalem to build the house of God. Cyrus said, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has charged me to build Him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up." (2 Chronicles 36:23).

Now that's an amazing thing for a pagan king to say to a conquered people, and focusing on that fact is reason enough to be encouraged by this verse. But as I finished the book, the words "Let him go up" caught my attention like never before. It seemed to me that that invitation must still stand. I paused and wondered, haven't I received that invitation as well?

I couldn't help but wonder if I'd heard an echo of this verse in the gospel. After all, isn't Jesus' invitation in John 7:37, "...let him come to Me..." an expression of the same heartfelt longing that we see at the end of Chronicles? In Chronicles, Cyrus said, "The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth..." Then he said, "Whoever is among you of all His people... let him go up." Centuries later, in the Gospel according to Matthew, we're told that Jesus said, "All things have been handed over to me by My Father..." (Matthew 11:27). Then He said, "Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28).

Cyrus had the authority from God to invite God's people to go up to build the house of God. And now Jesus has the authority from God the Father to invite us to come to Him to be the house of God, as God dwells in our hearts through faith in Him. The invitation stands: Let him come! Let him go up! This reminds me that when we chose to put our faith in Jesus, God "raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (Ephesians 2:6). In other words, as I come to Jesus each day, I am going up to be with Him. Up above my circumstances, up above this world's view of things, up above the emotional swirl that's sometimes in my heart. You see, the main reason I was taken aback by that ancient invitation "Let him go up" was because of my own emotional frustrations with my own spiritual struggles. There are days when I feel like a loser, low in faith, and can wonder if God even wants me near Him. But I can know that -- just as a people who had been disciplined for grave sins can be given an open invitation to go and build God's house -- I can be certain that a spiritually inconsistent man like myself can be invited to be God's house simply because Jesus is the King who's doing the inviting! A King who was crucified to pay the penalty for all my failures, and who's been raised to heaven to now call us up to Him.

That's why I'm encouraged by those words, "Let him go up!"  I believe it's still an invitation for today -- for right now. And I believe it's an invitation to rise above the discouragement of our troubles and to open our hearts to be a house of the living God -- Christ in us, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27).

© 2010 by Ken Peters

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Opposite of Forgetfulness

Forgetfulness is a common weakness in this world.  It happens to me regularly, though it's often as harmless as a brief search for my misplaced car keys.  But forgetfulness can also take on dimensions of greater seriousness when we fail to remember a shift at work or carelessly miss a spouse's birthday.  And I was recently reminded of how much more serious it is when my forgetfulness creeps into my life with God.  In this regard, forgetfulness can be as serious as sin. And I was surprised by what the antidote appeared to be.

The Bible warns us of many expressions of sin, but God got my attention the other day as I was reading Psalm 50, and He appeared to refer to forgetfulness as a sin.  The writer of Psalm 50 is King David, and in verses 16-21, he quotes God listing many of the sins of the "wicked".  Near the end of the quote, God says, "Mark this, then, you who forget God..." (v. 22).  Who?  Who's "you"? Verse 16 had begun that quote of God with the words: "But to the wicked God says..."  In other words, those who forget God are the wicked!  And before I had a chance to think that I don't forget God, but think of Him quite often, the very next verse showed me how I could be certain that I haven't forgotten God: "The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies Me" (v. 23).

That suggests that if I want to avoid forgetfulness, I need to practice gratitude -- deliberate, daily, conscious expressions of gratitude to God.  Gratitude is the opposite of forgetfulness.  It's a sure way to remember how much favour God has shown us, and to remember how much we need Him.  Thanking God all the time keeps us from forgetting God in our everyday lives.  And when we "give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5:18), it's how we can remember God in all circumstances.  By doing so, we are not only acknowledging God in every area of our life, but also glorifying Him with the wonderful "sacrifice of thanksgiving" (Psalm 50:14).

© 2010 by Ken Peters