In John 4, Jesus has a discussion with a Samaritan woman. The discussion eventually turns to worship, and Jesus says this to the woman:
true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
What does “worship in the Spirit” mean to you? I think that is a question worth pondering for a while…. As I reflect on it, it certainly takes me beyond the motions, beyond appearances. It’s not enough for me simply to show up for worship on Sunday, or to show up in prayer and make my requests. Our God is concerned not just about our behavior, He is more concerned about our character, the spirit in which we come and act. It is entirely possible to pray for the right things, but with a bad attitude. It also is very possible to do good things, but with bad motives. God’s desire and will for us in not just changed behavior, but to change our heart, the inner castle of the soul, to “make the tree good.” We should continue to worship, even if our spirit is not entirely appropriate; and we should continue to pray, even with a bad attitude. But we should also go beyond the behavior, and open our hearts and souls to our God. A right request or action is still right, even when done with a bad attitude: but we should never be content with ourselves and those persistent selfish, sinful attitudes. That’s where we need the Spirit’s presence and help, so that, over time, not only the behavior, but the spirit is right.
I began a sermon series this past Sunday on the Lord’s prayer. It has been renamed by some, “The Disciples’ prayer,” for Jesus gave it to us as a model for our own prayers. There is a clear pattern to it: it begins with a focus on God, and on His kingdom, His will. Prayer should begin by remembering there is always Someone on the other end of the line, that we never get a voicemail with God. Enter His presence, enjoy simply being with Him, and let Him minister to you soul. We are usually in such a rush that we move immediately to requests: to telling God what is on our mind. It is so unfortunate that our prayers are so full of self: our needs, desires, requests… Think about it for a moment: we have so little understanding of all that is happening around us, our perspective is limited in so many ways, to the point where we don’t know what truly is best, or even good. So often I have been so thankful I did NOT get what I asked for, and also the reverse, I have been so thankful God did lead me in ways I did not ask or even desire. Let me encourage you to rest in Him for at least a few moments: allow Him to enlarge your heart and perspective. And always remember to add: “and not my will, but yours be done.” I have learned over the years not to trust in my requests as much to trust in His loving responses to my requests. And quite frankly, it gives me great comfort to know my God will answer my requests based on His infinite knowledge and unceasing love, not on the frequency or intensity of my requests!
Mark 14 records what we today call the “anointing at Bethany.” Jesus, nearing the time of His death, is sharing a meal with his disciples as a woman comes into the room and pours expensive perfume on Jesus as an act of devotion. The disciples, you might recall, are upset at this wasteful act when there were so many needs around them. Jesus reply includes the words, “she did what she could.” As I read those words again in the past few days, I found myself asking the same question of myself, “am I doing what I can for Jesus?” Not, “am I doing as much as _____,” or “am I doing all I want to do?, or even, “what difference am I making for Jesus.” Just a simple, “am I doing what I can?” for Jesus. Today, where I am, with what I have. How ‘bout you? Are you doing what you can- for Him? Are you praying for those around you? Are you looking for ways to serve others? If all of us would simply commit ourselves to “doing what we can,” wouldn’t the world be a different, and better place?
As most of you know, this past Sunday I preached on the passage where Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. In particular, we focused on just one verse, where Jesus says: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.” (John 10:27-28) I asked three questions that I want to ask all of us again: 1- Do you believe Jesus is the Good Shepherd? 2- Is He still speaking today? Probably all of you who are reading this blog would answer “yes” to both of those questions. That leads me to question # 3: the important one: 3- What is He saying to You today? If you can’t answer that one, why not? Do you think he just isn’t speaking to you for some reason? That he doesn’t care enough for you to speak. That He is too busy with others, and can’t spare the time to be with you? I trust you know that each one of those statements is absolutely false. The real reason we manytimes cannot hear the voice of Jesus, and don’t know what He is saying to us, is simply because we are not listening! We are good and consistent about bringing our requests and needs, but we are not so good at taking the time to listen as we pray. In fact, we are often just plain bad at listening! Let me encourage you today to develop the discipline to listen for God’s voice. It might seem uncomfortable at first, but just begin by being quiet and still, not bringing any requests. Act as if another person were in the room (which is true!), and you were waiting on him/her to speak. Then, be attentive to where your thoughts and minds go, to what your heart feels and your mind dwells on. I promise you: Your Lord, the Good Shepherd, is nearby, and he has something encouraging and loving to say to you. This is so important, to be able to hear and discern the voice of Your Lord. If you have any questions, or need some encouragement in listening for His voice, don’t hesitate to give me a call, or send me an e-mail. But don’t do nothing! The vitality of our life depends on being able to hear and follow the Good Shepherd!
The Olympics are in the spotlight these days. The best of the best competing against each other, under the bright lights and the whole world watching. To get to this point, competing in the Olympics, an athlete has to be very gifted, but also for years has had to dedicate their lives to develop those gifts. And they do it for an Olympic medal, for the honor of being called an “Olympian,” and all the glory that goes with it. As Christians, we, too, have been gifted by our God: with spiritual gifts. We, too, have been given a name, “Christian.” We, too, are called to develop the gifts we have been given, to be the best we can be. But we do not use them for our own glory, or for an earthly crown, but for God’s glory. And we do not compete against anyone in using our gifts: they are for the good of others, to serve them, both within the church and out into the world. As you journey through this week, ask God to show You how to serve others around You, that you would not shy away from opportunities to serve, and use your gifts.
Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life. James 1:12 (msg)
“Life and more life.” “Blessings today, and bright hope for tomorrow.” I encourage you to ask the Spirit to give you the eyes to see the opportunities to serve others before you today (perhaps there are some around you who are hurting, or discouraged in some way?), and the willingness to keep developing your gifts through serving them.
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
There is lots of darkness around us, isn’t there? And within us as well. There is the darkness of ignorance, of limited understanding, needing the light of wisdom and direction. There is the sin of rebelliousness and hardened hearts, needing light that will soften our hearts, give renewed resistance to sin, and change behavior. Also, there is the darkness of doubt, worry and fear, in need of that light which brings peace, comfort. And on and on,… there is lots of darkness in this sin-infested world. In what areas of your life is there darkness, where you need Jesus, the Light of this world, to come and conquer? A great comfort to us should be the very nature of light and darkness: wherever light comes, darkness is no more, for darkness is simply the absence of light. As we invite Jesus into our lives and our circumstances, darkness is removed. Is Jesus in your life? Have you invited Him in? He will never force His way into Your life, He simply waits at the door of your heart, waiting, hoping you will open it and let Him in. If you have invited Him into your life, are you asking Him to remove the darkness in and around you? As you pray this week, for yourself and others, pray for the discernment to identify the areas of darkness that are hindering your experiencing the abundant “life” of Jesus, and pray for His Light to invade and conquer those areas. His light is the light of ‘Life’: eternal and abundant. “O Lord, light of this world, grant us Your light. Amen.”
I’ve been reading a book entitled The Divine Invitation, by Steve McVey. In it he speaks of the hectic lifestyle we live and try to bring into our walk of faith. Only problem, the Lord is not in a hurry: His pace is so different than ours, mostly because he knows relationships can never be rushed. McVey writes: “A legitimate Christian lifestyle gently flows like water along a riverbank, refreshing all who happen to stumble upon it. It isn’t a flash flood of activity that honors God. He doesn’t lead that way, but instead He chooses to make ‘us lie down in green pastures. He leads beside quiet waters. He restores our soul.’ God loves you so much that he wants to deliver you from the misery of must into the triumph of trust.” I love that last phrase. As you go about your activities this week, as you stop to spend time with your God and pray, make sure you are expressing your trust that, in all things, He is in control, is watching over you and will protect You. Slow down, and enjoy the refreshing waters of His presence!