One of the most encouraging (yet saddest) Bible verses has to be this one: "At that time the Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them. You will be changed into a different person. After these signs take place, do what must be done, for God is with you." (1 Samuel 10:6–7)
Samuel is blessing Saul and predicting his spiritual awakening and opportunity. Reading the wonderful start of Saul's kingship, we are amazed as this shy and insecure young man leads a group of shepherd and farming tribes into a new era of statehood. Continuing the story however, Saul regresses to jealousy, defensiveness, and fear.
That happens to a lot of us. We make a great beginning in the faith. We experience God's presence, devote ourselves to serve him, and are empowered by His Spirit. Some of us see miraculous interventions of God's hand. Our worship is fervent and heartfelt. We can't wait for time to read the Bible and ponder about God's goodness and the mystery of a relationship with Him.
And then the troubles of life ensnare us. We see others thriving beyond our gifting or coming up on our heels to claim the work we love to do. We get upset with the behavior of fellow believers and label everyone as hypocritical (ourselves excepted, of course. Our bad behavior is "only a response" to others?) We're disappointed when our prayers are answered differently than hoped. We change our focus from life with Jesus to life around us.
Slowly we drift from our first love of Christ. We depend on Sunday services and a "verse of the day" to feed us. And we focus more and more on the shallowness of others, even as our toes become pointed from spiritual depths of living water to the worldly shores of self-indulgence and pleasures. Or, like Peter, we find our eyes on the impossibility of walking on the waves instead of on Jesus and sink out of sight.
How can we prevent our precious faith from becoming mere religion?
- Approach life with Jesus as just that: Life With God. Salvation is a walk beside God, listening to what he says, loving what he loves, and enjoying his presence in good days and bad.
- Meditate on God's goodness. Be thankful. Marvel at the privilege of knowing a Good God. He's not a demanding idol like the gods of other world religions, who insists on more and harder and "never enough" to satisfy the gods. Our God paid the price in full for our salvation. And he gives us a day of rest in which to enjoy him ... every week. Imagine such a joyful approach to his creatures!
- Affirm God's nature. Have a sense of wonder as you explore how God reveals himself in scripture. For example, the 10 Commandments list qualities God values, such as holiness (recognition that God is above all and separate from His creation); truth and honesty (don't bear false witness); faithfulness (don't cheat on your spouse and family); honor and respect (of parents, who represent the various authorities we submit to); and of contentment (not envying others).
- Turn quickly from failures and sins. God forgives us. After confessing sin and making it right with God and others, we should move on to live life to the fullest. Constantly groveling and talking about how lousy we are only causes more damage.
- Trust that God will accomplish his purposes in us and others. Relax and face up to it: you're not a god and never will be in control. But our Good God can do anything and His strong arm holds us safe in sunshine and storms.
- Look forward to the day with God. Approach each morning with the anticipation of partnering with God. Who knows how wonderfully you will be His hands extended.
- Include others in your journey. Studies show that the unchurched are surprised that their Christian friends don't talk about their faith. They see how shy and embarrassed we are and wonder if Christ is worth following. Most would attend church with us if we asked a few times.
*Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you. Deuteronomy 8:5
*Don't envy sinners but always continue to fear the LORD. You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed." Proverbs 23:17–18
*While the son was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20
Moravian Prayer: Parent God, our teacher and protector, let us learn from our mistakes. Help us be open to correction as we receive your forgiveness. Amen.