devotion to closeness to God

Their leader will be one of their own;
their ruler will arise from among them.
I will bring him near and he will come close to me—
for who is he who will devote himself
to be close to me?’
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 30:21

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Hebrews 10:19-22

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

James 4:7-10

The NET Bible note says Jeremiah 30:21 is a rhetorical question with a “no” answer expected. That is not clear in the NIV nor the KJV, perhaps more “literal” in English from the Hebrew, but clearer in other English translations. No one would dare seek to draw near to the God of Israel on their own. Hebrews 10 makes it clear that the way has now been open to all of God’s people through the blood, the once for all sacrifice of Jesus in his death on the cross. We in Jesus are a “holy” and “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5,9), and “made…to be…priests to serve…God” (Revelation 1:6).

So the way that was once made open through only designated ones necessarily year after year is now made open to all through Christ’s fulfillment in his atoning sacrifice. Not that “Old Testament” people couldn’t draw near to God who were not priests. They could do so only through the sacrificial system when possible, of course through faith. Enoch would be a prime example before the law was given (Genesis 5:21-24), and David (Psalm 15) and Daniel afterward (Daniel 9-12).

The passage in James quoted above makes it clear that this must be both in attitude and action. We’re told of the need for ongoing repentance, keeping short accounts with God. As well as simply taking the time to come near to God. This must become a priority, maybe we should say the priority of our lives.

I have more or less tried to do something like this over the years. I would in theory seek to be doing this all day. I did have a few special times, one I can remember early on in particular, “a date with God” as I called it, of drawing near to God. But special times each day were not a part of my life such as what evangelicals call “personal devotions.” I thought I would more than less be seeking to do that all day. I think at least to some extent this was a mistake. It is better to err on the side of making sure one has that “quiet time” with God. I used to listen regularly to God’s word being read. And now open my little Bible off and on throughout the day. But there needs to be those special times in prayer and in the word, not just thinking we can do that as we run throughout our day. But God will honor our attempt to do that even in the midst of the rush of life. Yet we need those times in silence before God.

Then hopefully as a pastor friend, Marvin Williams reminded me, we’ll have the scent of Christ on us, and be enabled by the Spirit to lead others to him. In and through Jesus.

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continue to soak it in

When we were part of a Vineyard church, “soaking” was the term for spending time in God’s presence, usually I think for hours. I’m not sure I ever participated in a time set apart for that. We probably don’t do enough of that. People can mock “personal devotions,” or practices in church meant to help us draw close to God, but really, we need to soak in- to remain, so as to soak in- to take in, all God has for us.

Part of that is to watch ourselves and our own life. And to watch life in general. In all of that, we want to observe, and be taught by God. “What is God teaching me?” is a good question. Usually it won’t be hard to come up with an answer if we’ve been open. No doubt we are slow learners. We live as Christians with the desire to know God’s word and apply it, but we also live within experience. In some ways experience can help us when we verify the truth of what God says, the Spirit giving us insight. But often we run up against our limitations, our weaknesses, not to mention spiritual warfare.

Where I start as I’ve often said is in Scripture which I take to be God’s written word pointing us to his Word in Jesus. I remain there, with an emphasis on application. I especially want to apply what I think God has been teaching me lately. That will take time. And included in that is more soaking, not just in the word, but in life and hopefully God in our experience as we seek to grow in what God is teaching us. In and through Jesus.

press on

We can become weary and lose heart, indeed think all or most is lost for many reasons. And yes, things are lost along the way. Many of us make some bad decisions which God either protects us from, or not, but often with consequences of one sort or another. Or we lose friends who we once thought were truly friends, but we find out otherwise. And we doubt ourselves, still ringing in our ears voices from the past which put us down in discouraging ways.

It doesn’t matter. We need to press on, period. There’s much for us to live for now. Witnesses to Jesus and God’s good news in him. Prayer for loved ones, friends, all who are in need, even our enemies. Doing what we can to help others. None of this small in God’s eyes.

For me it’s the goal of an interactive relationship with God through ongoing Scripture reading and prayer during the course of a day. With the goal of devotion to God in loving God and others. And wisdom to make my way through all of life in a way that’s honoring to God and helpful to others. In and through Jesus.

a proper obsession

Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.

Isaiah 50:7

Last evening in our church small group, my wife leading our book study from Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love, the chapter on being obsessed, I was reminded of my current reading through the gospels. If you don’t call that an obsession, what Jesus was doing, and his disciples following him, learning to do the same, I don’t know what an obsession is. To be obsessed is to be intensely occupied with something. Jesus’s life was wrapped up in his Father, obedience to him, and in doing so, being a servant to all, even unto the death of the cross.

The quote from Isaiah above is from what is called the servant songs, fulfilled by Jesus. And the idea of setting his face like a flint is echoed in the gospels when Jesus set out to Jerusalem for the last time, knowing this visit would end in his crucifixion.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

Luke 9:51

That was the culmination of Jesus’s obsession. Just begin to read through the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see that they’re marked by a singleness of vision and devotion to that. And in and through Jesus, we carry on that same life. We either follow Jesus in that way, or according to Jesus, we’re not following him at all. That’s the life to which we’re called by God in Jesus. The life we’re redeemed to in turn for the redemptive good of others. In and through Jesus.

 

not trusting in God, a form of idolatry

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

Recently I was noticing what could be a tie between Jesus’s words here in the Sermon on the Mount about not being able to be devoted to both God and money, and the need therefore, we might say, to trust God for our material needs. What we’re to be preoccupied with is devotion to God, seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first.

I can’t help but think of Ahaz, who seems pious in his claim of not wanting to put the Lord to the test, but in reality suffered from his deficiency in trusting God, so that God was perhaps trying to help him trust God by encouraging him to ask for a sign as to whether or not God’s word at that time would come true or not (Isaiah 7).

The 2011 NIV’s rendering of Proverbs 3:5-6 is interesting and suggestive in understanding the tie to unbelief and idolatry:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.[a]

Proverbs 3:5-6

The idea of submitting to God is the result of acknowledging him in all our ways. To acknowledge him involves seeking his will and doing it.

Back to Jesus’s words. They are words of exhortation and encouragement, to trust the Father for his provision. And they do seem tied to what preceded, to not be taken up with money, since one cannot be devoted to money and God. It is either one or the other.

So one form of idolatry, or danger falling into it is simply to fail to trust God, to have faith in him. We then put our faith elsewhere, maybe in a mix of things. Idolatry. But God wants to help us learn to trust in him, an essential part of devotion to him, in and through Jesus.

devotion to prayer tied to living in God’s presence

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

Recently James Banks spoke to us at Our Daily Bread Ministries on prayer. And specifically on living in God’s presence, or “practicing the presence of God.” It definitely spoke to me, James often referring to his black Labrador who loves nothing more than just being in his company.

Prayer is not just a means to an end. It’s about participation with God in seeing God’s will be done. And it involves dwelling in God’s presence. Jesus’s words about abiding/remaining in him point that direction:

 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

John 15:7

“Remain” here might better be translated “abide.” Concerning the Greek word here, μένω, Bill Mounce writes: “To abide in Christ is to follow his example of a life obedient to the will of God.” As I heard Pastor Darwin Hartman of Pike Mennonite Church suggest recently, arguing along the same lines: while remain might be literally accurate, that comes across as more passive than the context of its usage might suggest. That to abide by something, means adherence to it in a more active sense (my words of what Pastor Darwin said).

Prayer is then dependent on both God and us. We pray, and in a sense are in God’s presence in both speaking to God, as well as being with him. God’s presence is never withdrawn from us, though we often can be withdrawn from him, and not living in God’s favor.

James Banks noted how that his Labrador gets special favors from him, because the Lab is lovingly present with him. Another dog they have doesn’t like to hang out with his master, but is disappointed when he misses out on the treats James gives. That could be an apt analogy of part of the dynamic of prayer. That we want to be near God, that God even appreciates such a longing. And that God honors that in specific ways. In and through Jesus.

why don’t we trust the Father?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

I like to quote more than less, and often include the context on the links. We have the unhealthy practice of taking verses out of context, so that our application of them might not be at all in keeping with the context.

Jesus’s words here from the Sermon on the Mount have to do with faith in the context of money, and devotion to God. And material things as well. Actually here, basic necessities for life. Of course, while we have to read all that’s said here in its own context, we also have to consider that in the context of all of scripture. When reading this, some might draw the conclusion that planning for the future is unnecessary. But Jesus was not saying that. And other scripture contradicts that (Proverbs 13:11).

It’s all a matter of devotion and trust. We are called to be responsible with money, but not devoted to it. Our devotion first and foremost is to be to God only. Which doesn’t mean we are not devoted to our spouses, families, or loved ones. True devotion to God will enhance our devotion to others. But we’re not to be devoted to money. Scripture tells us that the love of money (not money, itself) is a root of all sorts of evil (1 Timothy 6:6-10). Note Jesus’s language about the eye, and the NIV footnotes that it has to do with either being generous or stingy.

And Jesus teaches us to trust our heavenly Father. That he will indeed take care of us. That instead of worrying about whether our material needs will be met, we need to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. And then how all that we need will be then be taken care of.

I think that often a big part of our struggle is the desire to have our needs and I must add, wants fulfilled on the world’s terms. The world tells us we need such and such an amount of this and that. But as followers of Jesus, we are to live in a way in which, while we should enjoy all that God richly provides for us, we have a heart to bless others, the very heart of God (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

And so in this key, basic way we’re to follow Christ, as he taught in his foundational sermon. In utter devotion to and trust in God. In and through Jesus.