Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Monday, 13 December 21:
Micah 6:6-8 – “’With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
We can make religion far too complicated doing all sorts of things God never asked of us rather than doing the simple things He did command. There are many Christians wearing themselves out today with religious activities which have not helped them learn to walk humbly and faithfully with God. In fact, religious activities (and other acts of service) can be one of the primary issues detracting from a person’s intimacy with God day by day. In one study, for example, 83% of surveyed pastors said “busyness” was the top obstacle to spiritual growth.
Most Christians understand the need to avoid pointless activities or potentially harmful activities, but many fall into the trap of substituting “good deeds” for abiding in the Lord (see John 15). When we allow activity to detract from our prayer life, our Bible study, our solitude, and our personal relationships, we sacrifice the very intimacy with God which enables us to do anything of value for Him, and spiritually we wither – “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
- Haggai 1:6 — You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes.
When we substitute acts of service for intimacy, we can also become prideful and resentful as we learned from the story of Martha’s resentment of Mary –
- Luke 10:38-42 — Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Martha’s ‘service’ or busyness became a hindrance to her relationships with Jesus and with her sister instead of a joyful gift of love to them. If your religious activities (or other activities) rob you of your intimacy with the Lord, your joy and your humility, return to the Lord’s feet and listen to Him and be refreshed by Him.
We can certainly be distracted with activities and substitute business for intimacy and faithful service, but there is a big difference between being pridefully busy and busy serving the Lord, with the Lord, and through the Lord. In fact, when truly serving the Lord, in genuine fellowship with Him, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we may find ourselves busier than anyone might think humanly possible, yet thriving and blossoming in the Lord, continually radiating joy, peace, and thankfulness. After all, God created us to work, and He commanded us to love Him with ALL our strength (Gen 2:15; Luke 10:27). Most Christian commentaries have nothing good to say about busyness. However, when we are busy with the Lord, even while doing everyday tasks, we might discover our greatest intimacy with Him as we live out the life for which He has created us.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:8-12 — So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us. For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 — Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good. If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.
At one point, you might recall from Matthew 12, the disciples had grown so hungry while ministering with Jesus, they began plucking heads of grain to eat in the grainfields on the Sabbath, greatly angering the Pharisees who had not experienced this busy, physically exhausting intimacy with Jesus. Ironically, this incident recorded in Matthew 12 occurs “at that time,” right after Jesus had said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) Labor while yoked with Jesus is easy, and light burden, even joyful, and sanctifying. Labor apart from Lord, even acts of service to others, is vain, wearisome, anxious toil, a crushingly heavy load which one ultimately cannot bear for long – “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” (Psalm 127:2)
- Isaiah 40:28-31 — Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
- 1 Chronicles 16:11 — Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!
- Ephesians 6:10 — Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.
- Philippians 4:13 — I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 13 December 21: Consider your busyness. Are you yoked with the Lord in your labors? Pray that God will help you replace your vain, needless, anxious, wearisome toil with labors of genuine, spirit-led love and that He will give you the strength to be even busier joyfully doing exactly what He wants you to do.