The church is currently in the season of Lent – that time of the year when Christians go around asking each other, “What did you give up?" But rather than a time to give something up, Lent is the period of time between Ash Wednesday and Easter where the followers of Christ seek to be closer to Him. That doesn't happen by just giving something up. Rather, we practice replacing something natural with something spiritual. We replace a natural practice that brings its own reward with a spiritual discipline that brings the blessing of deeper intimacy with God.
Jesus did this. He replaced daily bread with the bread of heaven, God's word (see Matthew 4:4). He replaced lunchtime with the food of doing God's will (see John 4:34). We need to practice Lent like Jesus. Are you giving up lunch? Then replace your lunchtime with time in God's word, in prayer or serving others. Are you giving up chocolate? Replace that sweetness with the sweet presence of Jesus in worship, memorizing scripture, etc. The question we should be asking for Lent is, "What are you replacing in order to practice growing closer to your Lord?"
This year our church (San Dimas Wesleyan) is practicing Lent by replacing our time with God time:
It's not too late for you to start practicing Lent.
What's your answer to the Lenten Question: What are you replacing in order to practice growing closer to your Lord?
God is doing something new, we'd rather He do the same old thing. At least this was the attitude of Zechariah (see Luke 1:5-25). He was comfortable with his life and religious routine. When God showed up and through the Angel said, "I have a mission for you." Zechariah didn't want to believe or see his comfortable life disrupted. The irony here is that the comfortable, religious routines Zechariah wanted to hold onto, were meant to prepare him to serve God's purposes, not hold him back from serving.
Mary had a different attitude. When she was approached by the same angel and told the part God had for her she responded, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38, NIV). This young girl with no priestly training who was given the more difficult job said, "Yes, I'm in," when the mature, experienced pastor said in effect, "No thank you."
What is your answer to God's call to serve His mission, to do a new work, begin a new ministry or serve new people for the sake of His kingdom?
Most of us would admit we tend to be cautious, "mature" Zechariahs rather than excited, surrendered Marys. Perhaps you remember when, as a new Christian, the new things God wanted to do were exciting. God would point out a character flaw or sin in our life and, though painful, we'd praise him because He was transforming us. When there was a call to serve, to share our faith, to minister in the church we would jump at the chance to be on the front lines of God's mission to this world.
It's not too late. Like Zechariah, you may have become comfortable in the recliner of your religious routines, not wanting to get up (for the record I hate when I have to get out of my reclining chair). But also, like Zechariah, if you will submit to God's correcting, to His training and preparation, you will discover the desire, the courage and strength to say, "Yes I will serve you and do my part for Your mission." For Zechariah this meant listening to God's commands for the purpose of serving God's mission (remember, Zechariah couldn't speak, which means he became a good listener). It worked, he was transformed, got out of the recliner and served God's mission (read Luke 1:57ff).
Will you listen to the word of God (through reading, preaching etc.) with an ear to hear His mission for you? Will you let God get you out of that comfy, cozy recliner to serve His salvation purposes in our world? He will do it if you let Him.
Christianity is everything we don't want it to be, if we surrender too deeply. This is what Jonah learned. At the end of the book of Jonah he confesses the reason he ran from God in chapter one, “That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.” (Jonah 4:2,NLT) Imagine God said to you, "I am going to get rid of some bad people. I am going to squash the person who has hurt you. I am going to humiliate those who are causing you trouble." Our response would be, “Go God!” Then God says, “But first I want you to share the good news of my Son with them.” All of a sudden we want to get away on Southwest Airlines. That’s too much work, frightening work and we don’t want it to work for certain people.
In chapter one of Jonah God uses a wind and a whale to get Jonah to reverse course from disobedience to obedience, but his obedience was not complete. In chapter four God uses a weed, a worm and a wind to help Jonah reverse the condition of his heart from apathy to compassion. Something was wrong with God's prophet. After the Ninevites repented, Jonah left the city, climbed a hill, built a box office seat and waited for the annihilation to begin. When it doesn't happen, Jonah is angry.
God tricks his prophet. He causes a plant to grow that shades Jonah from the intense heat of the sun, Jonah is happy. Then God sends a worm to kill the plant and a wind to cook the prophet, Jonah is miserable. God asks, "Are you upset about the plant dying?" Jonah (taking the bait) replies, "Of course I am, you'd be upset if your air conditioning broke in the middle of the dessert." Then God springs His trap, "So it is okay for you to be upset about the death of a weed you didn't even plant but I can't be upset about the death of over 120,000 people I have cared for longer than you can imagine?" It is at this point the careful reader realizes she too has been drawn into God’s trap. We’ve been thinking, "Really, Jonah, how could you, whose life was saved, be so selfish?” As soon as the thought comes to mind the Holy Spirit convicts us that we, like Jonah, have shown more concern for the transient cares of this life than for those who are perishing?
Are you willing to take a look at your heart? Jonah’s heart was filled with the wrong pronouns. In chapter two he praised God, “YOU hear, YOU save, YOU are worthy of sacrificial service.” In chapter four Jonah focuses on his condition, “I am angry, I am hot, I am happy/not happy.”
Christianity calls us to the worst imaginable sacrifice for a people who love our “I-lives.” Followers of Christ are called to “YOU-Lives.” (the “YOU” being Christ). The YOU-Life surrenders hurts, forgives enemies, love others, sacrifices time, treasure and talent in order to serve God’s mission wholeheartedly so that those who are perishing may be saved.
Prayer: Lord, put our hearts in sync with YOURS. Give us hearts for YOUR mission, filled with YOUR compassion. Help us give up our I-lives live the YOU-Life. Amen.
Prayer is work. It requires commitment, it requires time, it drains us, it is necessary to provide spiritually for ourselves, our families and our church. It is both commanded and expected by our Boss (Jesus), to not pray is to be an unfaithful employee.
Prayer is supernatural work. Physical work rewards us with a paycheck (or direct deposit), sense of a job well done, promotion, praise and that internal joy that comes from checking off an item from our "to do" list. The supernatural work of prayer does not reward us in any of these ways. The reward of prayer requires faith. We'll get the job done if we believe God is present when we pray, if we are confident that He hears us and we trust He will answer. We are encouraged to pray when we realize there is no hope for our burdens without prayer (this is being forced to our knees). We show up to pray when we are confident that our prayers will make a difference in the eternity of others, in the situations we bring to God and even at highest levels of power in our world ("Pray for kings..." 1 Timothy 2:2).
The reward of prayer is the tiredness that comes after pouring out our hearts to God, the peace that results from giving our burdens to Him and the joy that is present when we know we have obeyed our Lord. The hope of the Christian mission in this world depends on prayer. Christian, its time to show up to work and get to work.
Are you so worried you might do something wrong that you will not take a risk in your service to God? In her too short book, "John Wesley: Christian Revolutionary," Mildred Bangs Wynkoop explains what it means to give ourselves to God as a "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1-2). She writes that we are to be....
A virile, vibrant organism. The figure reminds us of a four-year-old getting into everything, climbing, jumping, bothering everyone, asking questions, challenging parental authority sometimes, but alive. A living sacrifice is a vital, living person, busting with life, impulsive, individualistic, eager -- with all this put at God's disposal. ...God is willing to take the risk. In fact, he is not only inviting the risk but pressuring us to invest our resources with Him. He surrounds us with all the aids, guides, guards, mercy and chastisement needed to direct this energy into spirital maturity.
A "living sacrifice" may think some new thoughts-plan some new plans. A Luther is apt to burst out of the bondage of mediocrity and shatter precedent. A Wesley is apt to find his heart warmed again and go crashing into a too-comfortable church and stir it up. He may go running out into the fields - or into the ghettos - where a sin-saturated culture needs the well-harnessed dynamic of a Christian who cares about people. God needs people who don't quit thinking and challenging life when they become Christians. Heaven isn't here yet.
Have we become to cautious, too careful, too comfortable or too catatonic in our faith. to risk dynamic service for our Lord? Let's get out there with energized, creative service to God and allow His Holy Spirit to shape, transform, chastise and encourage us along the way.
I can plod. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.
- William Carey
My name is Tim Kirkes. I am honored to be the a child of my heavenly Father, the husband of Lisa, the father of two boys and the pastor of San Dimas Wesleyan church.