the danger of idle time and more

In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 11

2 Samuel 11 is the horrific account of David and Bathsheba. All of scripture is written for us (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11), so regardless of what we think about the bloodshed in military battle, and by the way, God would not let David build the temple because of all of this killing (1 Chronicles 22:8), we can and should draw out some lessons which should be warnings to us.

First of all, idle time is not necessarily our friend. It seems like the culture is more and more about entertainment, rather than doing something productive. It’s about watching TV and playing video games. Or whatever it is that you like to do. Or perhaps more to the point, don’t like to do. We don’t like the grind of daily work. We like leisure, and time when we don’t have to do anything. And we need times like that, even regularly, as well as vacations when we get away from it all in a different setting.

But back to the point: We live for the weekends, and work is often just a nuisance we put up with in the countdown to the weekend.

I would challenge that notion. Work is a blessing, as we read in Ecclesiastes. And the right balance of leisure and work is praised in that book (5:18-20).

When it comes to work, there seem to be two extremes at play in the world today. One is the incessant pounding for more and more work to meet a certain quota, which tends to be more and more after time. Oftentimes more is demanded from less. Very common today. Then there’s the other extreme of trying to cram all the work into one part, maybe with an added emphasis to not work hard, but smart. So that one can have at least a three day weekend. The push is to get the work done and out of the way, the other being the pull that the work is never done, so that not only too many hours are spent at work, but people do that work at home (or make the workplace their home), oftentimes 60 hours a week or more. Neither is good. Somehow we have to find a good balance and get a good rhythm going between work and play, busyness and leisure.

The other thing we might think about from the account on David, isn’t explicit in the text, but is important for life and evident in scripture. We ordinarily don’t fall overnight without weakening over time. It’s not like anyone can’t fall at any time. The attitude that we are fall proof is dangerous. But ordinarily we change so that what at one time would have been at least unthinkable and unlikely, is now the very thing we want to do, or will find ourselves open to doing. Surely something was wrong in David’s heart. And note that after this terrible act of committing adultery, and what followed, which was just as bad, if not worse, David did not repent right away as he should have. God was at work to convict him of his sin (Psalm 32) and some months later through his prophet (2 Samuel 12). Afterward David resumed his work as king, such as it was in those days.

What are we becoming? And what are we either doing, or failing to do, likely both, in what could be a gradual change for the worse? That change hardly noticed, and fully accepted by us.

Whatever our own life circumstances, we need to discern God’s call for us, what God wants us to do. We want to avoid a soul sickness which puts us in danger. We will do well to keep at the work God has for us, and get the rest and leisure time we need, especially in being alone with God, as well as attentive to, and at play with others. In and through Jesus.

blessed routine

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

There is something it seems like our society wants to get away from, to escape as much as possible, which I actually should be appreciated, if it was recognized for the blessing it is. That is, routine. I’m thinking in terms of regular responsibility, which actually is a privilege to be involved in, and carry on. Instead nowadays, it seems like people want as much freedom and free time as possible. I’m not at all suggesting that there might be better ways to do work, or that we always have to do things the same way. Or that we should work long hours and long weeks, with little time off. No. And there may be new approaches to work that are different and fresh, indeed, helpful.

Usually trouble follows us wherever we go, not just because we’re creating it ourselves hopefully, though that reality exists from which we can learn, even if just from being finite beings. But simply because we live in a broken, fallen world. It seems like if something can “so south,” it will, being hard to keep everything pointed to “the true north” (these sayings from the compass). Due to imperfections everywhere, from nearly every direction, there will be trouble. And that simply becomes a part of the normal routine we have to work on, and live with.

We’re to find satisfaction in all of that, no less, and even, no more. Ecclesiastes suggests that if wealth is added to that, then that’s all well and good, people occupied with gladness of heart, I suppose being able to do this and that, to enjoy life. Whereas those financially strapped, or living in relative poverty may be limited, yet hopefully blessed with a job to make ends meet. Though sadly here in the United States, a living wage is not guaranteed for any forty hour job. One should be able to live in humble quarters, and provide well enough for themselves with a full time job. Life isn’t easy, although some pieces are dropping in to many places, for example in Africa, to help societies and families have work, and provide for their own. The free enterprise system and capitalism are regularly beaten up by many progressives, but in my opinion, are not evil in and of themselves. Any system can become wrong, or more accurately have many wrongs because of the people who are in charge and in place in them.

Continuing on in the blessed routine, in whatever God gives us, should be something we learn to appreciate. For some of us, retirement age is approaching. If God gives us health, that can be a step into another blessed routine, of day in and day out, doing much the same things, hopefully to our own enjoyment, and even delight, and for the blessing of others. As we continue on as witnesses in all of this, to the truth and power of the good news of God in Jesus.

 

life change: slowing down

“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.”

Matthew 11:28-30

I have worked in an environment for years, even decades in which you have no other option but to move fast, especially at times, and to keep moving. And within a time frame when I could do that. And I have always believed in hard work, and that doing that is a part of living with a whole heart: one’s heart completely into something, hopefully in serving the Lord.

Lately that’s changed, and with getting older, and actually slowing down just a bit a few years back as our team leader then encouraged me to do, as of yesterday, I am on a life change. Challenging for me, but I think necessary, and I’m already getting a glimpse of it being good. And encouragement from at least one other, so far.

My job has high demands and pressure, and the option of doing plenty of extra things during specific intervals in time. I still intend to work that way. But slowing down means I won’t be able to get to as many things as I did before. And for me, that’s hard.

What prompted this change is actually a current change in our work schedule, which allows little time for much of anything else during the actual days we’re working, except to work, eat, and sleep. It has its good points with the time off, though I’m not a fan of it, myself. So I was wondering if this change is actually a rebellious reaction to it, that a little bit of that, at least, might be in me.

Actually, it seems like my life is on a theme of the Lord wanting to slow me down. Recently I didn’t see a flashing light in a school area, so that even though I wasn’t exceeding what I think* is the normal speed limit, I was picked up, and cited, since the lower speed limit was then in effect. So I’ve been driving slower ever since, yes, on the right hand side when I have to. So the thought of slowing down at work, which actually correlates with helping preserve my health seems to fall in line with that.

Just the same, although I had stated this new change at work, and was beginning to do it, I felt strange, out of place, and just couldn’t tie what I was doing to putting my whole heart into it. Until the above passage came to mind, which I began to repeat again and again.

Every bit of that passage is so important for me in this, for us all in life, actually. Yes, I’m weary and burdened. Yes, I need to come to the Lord for rest. He is gentle and humble in heart, so humble to work with the likes of me. And oh yes, I need that rest, for sure. And the thought that his yoke is easy and his burden light, and that he’s right alongside us in this. Wow. Wonderful. And just exactly what I need. So that, yes, I continue to serve God with my whole heart, of course not that I ever did that perfectly. But in a new, deeper way, which is actually more in line with God’s will in that it’s more oriented to Jesus, and less to myself.

So this is a new path I’m on as of yesterday. Soon after I embarked on it, I was tempted to go back for good reason, but stayed the course. And then, blessedly, the Matthew 11 passage came to mind. Something I intend to follow and grow in, in and through Jesus.

*Actually I just found out that I was 10 mph over the normal speed limit, and therefore 20 over with the flashing light. But the officer did reduce it to 10 mph over, so that my fine wasn’t as high. All the more reason to slow down. (3/10/2018)

 

trying to catch one’s breath

Sometimes life comes at us hard from several directions, rather than the steady hum we may have become accustomed to. Or perhaps it is just crazy from one source. There is no question that life can become hectic at times for a number of reasons.

Recently I was driving through an area I’m not used to, and had to stop behind a school bus. Afterward I went forward to get to the light, which I don’t think was that far away. But I had failed to notice the yellow flashers on, and was picked up for doing 40 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone. That was a pretty hefty fine, relatively speaking, although the police officer did reduce it to a charge of doing 30 miles per hour, which helped. I thanked him for doing his job, and know it’s important for him to protect the person helping direct pedestrians (I take it) in that zone at specific times. But it made me adopt a new practice of staying in the right hand side and making sure I don’t go over the speed limit, which is a novel idea, since it’s commonly thought that they give you a certain amount over. Though technically they can ticket you for being one mile an hour over the speed limit.

Maybe that will be a helpful event in my life, since it reminds me to slow down, something a friend who was over me at work once encouraged me to do a few years back, so that I to some extent took his advice. And yet some pressure to get things done will inevitably put us in a position in which we have to move at a faster pace than we ordinarily would. One axiom that has helped me is to simply do one thing at a time, and then the next, and the next. And also to try to minimize the hectic, so that one can act purposeful, work hard, yet not be in a hurry. A popular term nowadays is “Don’t work hard; work smart.” Being a bit more old school, I have a hard time with that, because it seems like the application of that sometimes is to not work at all. And yet there’s plenty of truth in it. I often think about how to do what we’re doing in an easier way, because it will likely often be hard, regardless. But to make it easier for more efficient work.

All of that to say, I really don’t have any one good answer on just how we can catch our breath. I do believe we need some good down times of quiet and being in prayer before the heavenly Father. And where we can, it is good to avoid having being in a hurry, planning and thinking ahead so that we can be as efficient as possible. But not being rushed in spirit. That can be a challenge for sure, at times.

Where we can, we need to take the time for needed rest. And for simply being present. A rest which is about knowing others, and especially the One who made and loves us: God. Something I haven’t been all that good at in my lifetime, though knowing God comes by simple faith. So a rest from our own hard labor, and a rest in God, which scripture talks about at various places. But I leave us with our Lord’s words:

“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.”

Matthew 11:28-30

accepting one’s lot

This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

It probably has taken me quite a while, but I think I’ve finally come around to begin to completely accept my lot in life with all the challenges and disappointments that come along my way. Life is like that; it is not some kind of dream vacation. Rather it is the hum-drum of challenge, effort, setback, failure at times, more effort, repentance all along the way, and remaining at it day after day.

And then there’s all the good that comes, if we could just see it. Wrapped up in the gifts God gives us, like the good wife I have, the grandchildren, the good I see in our daughter, the provisions God gives us to live and enjoy life.

Yes, in my case I would have liked to have been a pastor or teacher, but it didn’t pan out for this reason or that. I still maybe have some faint glimmers of dreaming about what I would like to see in whatever more days God allots to me. But above all, I want to more and more not only accept, but embrace whatever God gives me, and whatever place I find myself in. Knowing that God is good and that he will provide and help us as we seek to help others and be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

back to work

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Paul’s words need to be seen in context (link takes you to 1 Corinthians 9 and 10). This was all for the gospel, which is all about reaching people. It means the good news, so that is Paul’s aim given his mission. And by extension it seems clearly that he is calling the entire Corinthian church to the same commitment, of course in their various callings, but this one call directing all of that.

It’s our mentality and attitude up front that is crucial, which is why we’re told that we’re not to be conformed to this world, but instead transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul’s heart and mind were for Christ and the gospel, and involved in that is not only the message, but the medium for the message which must never contradict the message itself. Paul, and by extension we are that medium. Yes, not all of us are called to proclaim the good news like Paul was as the apostle to the Gentiles. But we are all called to be witnesses to it, which will involve both word and deed. Our lives must line up with what we say, otherwise our words will be empty.

It is utterly crucial for anyone in the ministry to take the hard discipline Paul exerts on himself to heart for themselves. When you read the passage in context (again, see link above) you will note that it’s about the gospel, and with reference to sexual immorality and idolatry. Money, power and sex, not necessarily in that order, have grounded many an aspiring person to follow Christ. Or perhaps it uncovered their true heart. At any rate, we are told in this passage that we all must be careful, and beware lest we fall into the same trap (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

Yes, we are present to work, to roll up our sleeves and be in God’s work by his grace in Jesus. Whatever form that work might take. What God has put in front of us, what we can do and find joy in doing in that work, we must give ourselves to fully. Rest is good, and must be incorporated along the way. But the work is what we’re called to, and what we must not let go of. And that requires a commitment and the discipline that goes with that. All for the gospel in and through Jesus.

work in part as a remedy to the soul

[Elijah] replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

1 Kings 19:14-18

I don’t condone all that is written in the Old Testament and ascribed even to God’s servants. Some of it I see as plain wrong in light of Christ. I refer in this passage to the violence ascribed to the upcoming prophet, not to mention the violence done by Elijah himself. But they were people in process and God was moving them along in preparation for what was to come in the fulfillment in Jesus. That said, there is much we can learn from all the pages of scripture, and something (even if we don’t always know what) from every passage, at least in context. And this passage is no exception.

Elijah had a mountain top experience so to speak on Mount Carmel challenging the prophets of Baal, with a miraculous, powerful witness of the reality and supremacy of Yahweh. But afterward he fled from a threatening Queen Jezebel, and sunk into a deep depression. God took care of him and eventually put him back to work, giving him something to do (click the link above for this story from 1 Kings 17-19).

I find for myself that keeping busy is important for maintaining my equilibrium emotionally. We do need our times of rest, for sure; that is important. But I have often found work a blessing, especially when I’m troubled by something, which was the case here with Elijah. God did give him an answer to his thought, but also put him to work.

Work is a blessing. Work then rest is a cycle for us physically in this life. Spiritually we want to work from and out of God’s rest in Jesus in which we live. Nevertheless we do work, God has something important for all of us to do. Especially for the blessing and good of others, as well as providing for our own needs, and gathering the provisions God gives us. In and through Jesus.

relax into routine: part of rest

“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.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Some jobs seem so high stress, and maybe to a point are, especially at certain junctures. But once we get used to them, they can in a way become “old hat” to us. We can learn to settle down, maybe slow down, and simply be at rest.

Jesus’s words invite us into that kind of activity, even routine of being at rest when we work. Because he is with us, we are with him, and he is making the load light.

Part of living in this world though is to live under the curse of Genesis 3:

To Adam [the LORD God] said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19

Humankind in the story is agrarian at that point: working the ground to plant and cultivate vegetation and fruit was a large part of what they did. But now they would have to contend with all sorts of problems. Creation would seem to become at odds with itself.

And that’s what we find in our work, even though most of it is not agriculture. Even with human manipulation, we run into all sorts of problems. Humanity is inherently limited. Although it appears from Genesis 11 that they are more than capable intellectually, so that in that story God stopped what they were doing. Knowledge is not enough. Humanity needs wisdom as well, and not the worldly wisdom of the serpent, but the loving wisdom of the kingdom of God and the shalom (translated “peace” and including the meaning of flourishing) that comes with it.

Somehow we need, even in the midst of trouble and seeming failure to learn to have a restful spirit in all we do. Not given to panic, not in fear of this or that. And even when we have to “grab the bull by the horns,” so to speak, we need to do so as people who are at rest. Believing that our work is not only God-ordained, work being good, part of creation, but that also we do so as those who would be in gospel kingdom work with our Lord, which somehow can be weaved into the other work, and maybe become a part of it.

That’s my goal, to relax into the routine, becoming more and more at rest in and through Jesus.

learning to be at rest

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

Mark 6:30-34

There is no question that we all need some rest from our work. Which is why the Sabbath was made for humans (not humans for the Sabbath), as Jesus said. Although Israel added cumbersome laws, even allegedly from God which could make what had been intended as a blessing, a burden.

In this gospel account quoted above, Jesus is recognizing the need of his disciples (and perhaps himself, as well) to get away and get some rest from the incessant clamoring crowd. But they couldn’t escape, and Jesus had compassion on them, and his teaching was followed by the feeding of the 5,000.

So in this case, and surely in many other cases servants of God don’t get the rest they want, and frankly think they need. What is to be done when such is the case?

We have to be faithful and serve those in need. But we also need to guard our downtime to some extent. We need to plan for safe getaways, but be ready to have our plans altered. There are times when there’s no escape from pressing need.

During such times, we need to be at rest in our minds and hearts, in our spirit. In dependence on God through trust in him, we can learn to experience rest in the midst of busyness and even tumult. We need to learn to live in God’s rest, and in the yoke that Jesus offers us. But not supposing there is no end to what we can do. We are human, and we need our sleep, for one thing. We need quiet and rest. But we also need that in our spirits in the midst of a busy life.

The words of Jesus are for us today:

“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.”

Matthew 11:28-30

holding on to what lasts

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.

Isaiah 65:17

Essentially what seems to be at the heart of this picture is the curse of Genesis 3 being removed in what is nothing less than a new creation. Maybe making the old new, or making something brand new that has similarities to the old. Different, either way.

So much that occupies our minds is destined to be forgotten forever. I know this application is not quite what the passage above is getting at, but it’s nevertheless apt from it, I think. What I’m thinking of is perhaps made more clear by our Lord’s words in the parable of the sower:

Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Mark 4:18-19

This reminds us of our Lord’s teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, telling us to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven, rather than treasures on earth, and not to worry about material provisions since we are in the Father’s care. But instead, to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, knowing all of our needs will be met (Matthew 6:19-34).

There is no question that we have responsibilities on earth that we would just as soon forget even now. But insofar as they are connected to that which lasts, we need to do as well as we can in fulfilling such.

What lasts is the love of God that is in Jesus and present to us by the Spirit. We want to live in that love, and share that love with everyone, particularly our families, where often the rubber meets the road as to just what kind of people we really are, and more importantly, are becoming. And we have special responsibility to them. I think of Paul’s words:

Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

1 Timothy 5:8

So we can’t shirk our duties in the name of devotion to God, and think we are devoted to God. But in the midst of that, we must put first things first. Doing the best we can, realizing that in this life, much of it will be a crap shoot, meaning neither fool proof nor assured. But in all of that seeking to hold on to that which will last. A prayer in the Book of Common Prayer is helpful here:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.