Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Another message

I'm in correspondence with someone that has been sending me messages from his meditations. To provide a broader distribution, I will be posting these occasionally. See following:

Taking Up the Cross

And Jesus said to all, “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

Today I would focus in on just one of Christ’s words, “daily”, as in taking up our cross daily. In today’s culture, we have a great tendency to segment our lives. We have our work life, our family life, and the life we share with our friends. Finally, we have our religious life, our relationship with God, which we often like to put into a little two or three hour block on Sunday. Now, how do you think the almighty God, creator of everything, feels about being so marginalized. Not to mention the fact that we would most certainly be shirking our duty to be Christ’s ambassadors to everyone we meet through our attitude of love, kindness, patience, and gentleness. We are not called to be Christians just one day a week. We are called to take up our cross every day, to daily crucify our impatience, our malice, our bitterness, our jealousy, our rivalries, and our divisions, all those things that darkens the light of Christ that should shine out from within each and every one of us.

Scripture is absolutely full of verses about the Christian way of life, about how followers of Christ are to live their lives day to day. Allow me to inundate you with several examples:

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those that hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil.” (II Timothy 2:24)

“You have heard that it was said you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:43-44)

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

Now, I will certainly admit it is often difficult to live up to these standards. It’s one thing when it’s a Sunday, the sun is shining, you’re feeling great, and everything looks like it’s going your way. It’s quite another when it’s the middle of the work week, your coworkers are being belligerent, your kids won’t listen to a word you say, and there seems to be a never ending pile of bills to be paid. So, we’re left with the question of how do we live our lives like Christ day to day to day, rain or shine, no matter what the world may throw at us. Ultimately, it comes down to having utter and absolute faith in and reliance upon God. Great. Now, in all practicality, what steps can we take to get to that place?

Fortunately, that question has a relatively simple answer. If we are to daily live a life pleasing to God, then we must daily seek Him through the means we have readily available. We must daily seek Him through prayer and reading His Word, the Bible.

Devotional, meaning regular and intentional, prayer and scriptural reading are two foundational keys to daily godly living. Prayer, to start with, is how we communicate with God. It is how we tell God of our hurts and our pains, our joys and our successes. It is how we express our thanks for our many blessings, and it is how we ask the Lord for His help. We are instructed to pray regularly, “continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2) And we are promised some wonderful things through steadfast prayer. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phillipians 4:6-7) “If any of you lacks wisdom, let them ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given them. But let them ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:5-6) As if we needed more reason to continue in regular prayer, just think about what our faith really means. Christianity is not about some rote religious practices, it is a relationship with the one true living God and prayer is how we talk with Him. If we don’t talk to our friends, our spouses, our parents, our children, then those relationships suffer. It is much the same with God. If we don’t take the time to spend time with Him in prayer, then we are pushing ourselves farther away from Him. Conversely, when we come to God in prayer, we draw ourselves closer to Him and to knowing His will.
While prayer is our primary way of communicating with God, His primary way of communicating with us is through scripture, His Word. Scripture has in it all we need to know to live upright lives. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9,11) And it truly is given to us from God.

“All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16-17)

A common thread in the lives of the most notable Christians through history is their commitment to regular devotional scripture reading and prayer. George Műller, a man whose life is certainly an example to be heeded made it is first priority each day to spend time on his knees before the Lord, and it was noted that he had read through the Bible in its entirety more than a hundred times. Martin Luther once exclaimed that he would hardly have the time nor the strength to accomplish what he needed to get done each day if he did not first spend three hours in prayer. Now, the amount of time we spend in prayer and the volume of reading we do are not the important thing. The important thing is how our hearts are towards God, and that we daily seek after Him. For those of you who like having a structured program, I thought I would give an example from my own practices. Again, the amount we read and the time we put into prayer is not what is important, and my way is certainly not the best way, it is merely an example. This is about developing our relationship with God, not just blindly following some mindless ritual. I generally start my devotional time with some scriptural reading. I’ve included a daily reading plan that I put together. It’s not the one I use, but this one is better about having around the same amount of reading each day and it focuses equally on Old Testament, New Testament, and Psalms and Proverbs. It works out to about 30-45 minutes of reading a day, depending on how fast of a reader you are. If you find that to be too big of a commitment with your busy schedule, I would first ask you to perhaps reevaluate your priorities, but then I would suggest maybe focusing on just one of the Testaments, old or new, at a time or use a different reading program, like the “one-year” Bible. In my reading, I also like to write down verses that particularly stand out to me, whether because I thought it to be a useful insight, or it was applicable to a situation in my life, or it was just plain interesting. I try to pick out about one verse like that each day. The several verses I quoted together earlier are examples of ones that I had picked out recently.

After my scripture reading, I go into a time of prayer. I often do it in that order on the advice of George Müller, who often found it easier to focus on his prayer time and not be distracted by stray thoughts after first spending some time in God’s Word. Now, it is important to reach out to God in prayer throughout our day, but I use this time I’ve set aside to really lay out my whole heart to Him. I start with a time of thankfulness and praise, just really thanking the Lord for the many blessings He showers on us, His constant provision, His beautiful creation He has given us, our loving families, etc. I then lay out to Him all my hopes, my cares, my worries, my plans, anything and everything important that I need to do with my day, and every big thing that is coming up. I lay this all out to God, trusting that He will help guide and lead me through it all in a way that is good and right and pleasing to Him. I finish up my prayer time with specific intercessions, prayers made on other people’s behalf. It may be for a certain person to come to know God, or for someone’s bodily healing, or for the healing of someone’s heart and emotions. I pray for whatever is on my heart for another person, knowing that God, who delights in our prayers, will take care of their situation as He, in His infinite wisdom, sees fit.

After I am done with my prayers, I finish up my devotional time by reviewing and meditating on those verses I had noted down on previous days. That way I am not just reading through the Bible without absorbing any of it. I take that time to really reflect on those verses that had seemed important to me and try to see how I can learn and grow from them, and how I can apply them to my life that day.
There is a third foundational key to the Christian life that I did not touch on, which is fellowship, but that is another subject for another day. Really, we can simply describe the whole of the Christian life as trying to emulate Christ in His love for our fellow man and His love for and reliance upon the Father. It is not always easy to live as He would have us live, but at least the instructions for gaining guidance are simple. We must daily seek after God through His Word and through prayer.

“And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek God’s kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:29-31)

Anonymous

1 comment:

Bryan Fraser said...

In my meditations on taking up the cross, the Lord has impressed on my the intentionality of this taking up. I hope readers find it helpful..

Taking up our cross is intentional. The gospel of Matthew records that, as the Roman soldiers were going out to crucify Jesus, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. Jesus will show us our cross, but he will never force us to carry it. He calls us to follow him or not. Jesus leads us as a shepherd leads his flock. He does not drive us as a cowboy drives his herd. We either take up our cross ourselves or walk away from it. It is our choice.

In this sense, taking up our cross is different than enduring our trials. Taking up our cross does not mean coming to terms with your trials. We get no choice with trials. The Lord never asks permission to bring trials into our lives. A trial is suffering given for the purpose of our purification; Sometimes we will hear someone say something like, “I’ve had to live with this physical affliction for 30 years. I guess that’s just the cross I have to bear.” No, that’s a trial. The patient endurance of trials trains us in righteousness which is certainly a good thing, but that is not taking up our cross.

Taking up our cross is always a choice to offer up something precious to be put to death. It is a willing sacrifice offered for the purpose of bearing spiritual fruit. Spiritual fruit can only be brought forth through death. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much fruit” John 12:24. Obedient disciples take up their cross willingly because Jesus has given an example for us to follow and our love for him constrains us to follow him.