The Struggle Is Real

I woke up at 5:30 this morning. Instead of getting up and turning on the television or signing on to the computer, I stayed in bed and prayed. It wasn’t elegant prayer and I eventually dozed back off, but for the first thirty minutes that I was awake, I was praying. I woke back up at 7:30 and got up so that I wouldn’t oversleep. I took Kobi for a walk and got dressed. I was here in the office by 8:30. I put on a pot of coffee and then went to my office to read. I have a Quiet Time Bible that has questions to go along with the daily readings.

I read the first chapter of Zechariah and answered all the questions that went along with it. Then I prayed about what I had read. I really like the way it went. I like the way that Bible is set up and I think the questions and directed prayers are beneficial. My goal is to get up and read from it every morning. After that, I ate a cup of yogurt and fixed my first cup of coffee for the day. I put on a worship mix that I have on the computer and that’s what I’m doing now. Sitting here, sipping my coffee, and singing.

I feel like my day is off to a good start because I deliberately avoided the things that usually distract me. I haven’t even checked my e-mail this morning. I know that once I got online I’m going to check CGR and Facebook and any other thing that pops up while I’m on. I know that once I turn on the television I will find something interesting to watch and I will sit there glued to it. I know that if I put on music I am going to get caught up in it and not do other things. I know all of this. That is what I had to make myself NOT do those things this morning. I knew that I would never sit down and do my quiet time if I started something else. It’s a matter of discipline. That is one area that I have struggled with for my entire life. I am trying my best to surrender my will and put God first. It is hard though.

I know that I may sound like a broken record player but my experience at camp last week has really rattled me for the better. There have been times in the past when I taught the Bible to others and pretty much ignored it on a personal level. I am ashamed to admit it but it’s true. I think one of the biggest misconceptions about pastors is that we have strong, flawless spiritual lives. I know a lot of them do and I strive to be that way as well, but there are times when I struggle just like everyone else. The one thing that I got out of all the lessons and vesper talks last week is this: I have to CHOOSE to do God things over world things. I have to want to follow Him. That means I have to intentionally arrange my life in such a way that His ways come first. That might require sacrifice on my part. I may have to lose things that I enjoy if they distract me from Jesus.

That’s easier said than done isn’t it? Romans 12:1-2 says this:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

I really like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message.

“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

Isn’t that the challenge we all face? We have to take our everyday lives and dedicate them to God. Being disciples requires our whole lives, not just a few hours a week. Everything we do and say is part of the sacred. Paul reminds us of that in Colossians 3:17.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (NIV)

I have to constantly stop and ask myself if the things I am saying and doing are bringing glory to God. I realize that there is some debate over how much liberty we have in Christ. Some of it is a matter of personal conviction but I think we like to walk the line way too much. I recognize that there are some gray areas and that we need to show grace and mercy when it comes to differences of opinion. However, the more I study Scripture the more I believe that there is more black and white than we want to admit. We like the gray areas because we can use the concept of “liberty” to defend our personal actions. I have done it for a good part of my life. I believe it is in those gray areas where temptation is the greatest. The older I get, the less I want to walk the line. If for no other reason, I do not want to appear inconsistent to others, whether believers or not.

At the same time I still need to exhibit grace and mercy to those who do not agree with me. That includes Christians and non-Christians. I recently read Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach and one thing he said really has stuck in my mind. On page 113 he writes:

“The balance between grace and truth isn’t an easy thing. If it were easy, we wouldn’t have the issues we do. It’s easy to be on the side of grace (with no truth) or to be on the side of truth (with no grace). Riding the tension between the two is much more demanding, but it is absolutely necessary.”

He sums it up like this: “As I’ve said, another name for the tension between grace and truth is love.” (emphasis his)

I think that is true regardless of the issue we’re dealing with. It applies to our relationships with those who aren’t believers and it applies to those who are part of the Church. I also believe that it requires a deliberate effort on our parts. It doesn’t happen naturally and we don’t just stumble into it. I think it can only come when we allow the love of Christ to work in our lives. That is our biggest struggle.

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