NoVA feels like one of the most workaholic cultures in the world. As the 80s band Loverboy sang: we’re all working for the weekend. We strive and contend with God to get him to give us what we want, when we want it. What’s the one thing you have to have or do- that, like water, is your most basic and core need? That you have to stay on top of? And when things don’t stay on schedule, causes us to strive and contend- and there is no rest until you get it. So how do we get to a place of rest where we can trust in God for our most basic needs? How can God quench our thirst? Not just physically, but spiritually.
Check out this talk on Numbers 20 and how a quarreling, contentious and thirsty Israel tries to hold God’s feet to the fire and how when we do that we’re actually laying our rod across Christ’s back:
I hate serving. I love serving. You could say I have a love/hate relationship with serving. I hate getting started because its inconvenient. It takes me out of my game. I don’t know anybody there. I don’t know what to do or how to do it. So my default setting is usually: “don’t I do enough already?” Then, after the guilt sets in, the evil twin of, “I don’t do enough.”
These are the two places from which Christians should never serve. Because frankly, you could never “do enough” or not “do enough.” Christ already did everything. The first is born of pride the second guilt. If we’re “doing enough,” we’re taking credit for doing something that we think should cause God to love us more. And when we’re not “doing enough” we think God loves us less. Both attitudes are opposite sides of the sanctification by works coin. God won’t love you more for doing more and he won’t love you less for dong less. But precisely because he loves us unconditionally like that- we should love him back- in obedience.
So rather than looking at service opportunities from the “works” binary, simply try to obey… for obedience sake. Simple obedience is the gateway drug to sanctification. Now surely there will be valid times when you can’t or shouldn’t. But simple obedience gets us over the reluctance hump. Once you try it, figure it out, meet the people, serving becomes something you want to do rather than have to do. That’s a heart being sanctified.
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu. Churches, not so much…
Cheesecake Factory Church
The Cheesecake Factory is known for its ability to pull off an eighty page menu. Churches, not so much. In church world, something for everyone sounds great but usually fails at disciple-making. A church with too many menu items becomes stretched and spread too thin. Or, as Frodo Baggins would say “butter scrapped over too much bread.” You wind up with a dozen or so ministries with a dozen or so people in each- it dilutes resources- people, energy, time and money. Ministry fatigue results. So I prefer the Steakhouse model instead, pick a few things you can do well and stick with it.
What ministries in your church are good at disciple making? Where can you get the most bang for your buck? Small Groups are a “big bang” discipleship program. Connectivity, care and share, in depth bible study, gospel application, meaningful group prayer, leadership development, and even eating the occasional cheesecake together. If your only going to get people one time every week or two outside of church, this is a good one.
If you have many programs that accomplish all of these things well, then great! But we should always be evaluating and asking- how are they making disciples? If you’re only hanging out/socializing, that’s great- maybe you’re only studying the Bible together, not bad either, or serving, or praying, etc. But where are you doing all these things at once?
Check out this message on John 17:17-24 – its as close as I’ve been able to come to fully and biblically articulating the (drive by) theology behind my position: The Beauty of Gospel Community
Most people are reluctant to go to group prayer meetings precisely because they’ve been to group prayer meetings. Count me among the recalcitrant. Group prayer time used to send me into despair. I once suggested privately to my wife that we should pass a Yahtzee timer around. Not very loving or patient on my part. Hopefully, I’ve grown since. But my problem wasn’t the prayer, it was the prep. The backstories dominated the time. All too often, they began, “It all started back in fifth grade.” Cue famous painting “The Scream.” But two years ago, a couple of our Life Groups began to combine once a month for dedicated prayer time. Wary of past time sinks, we laid a few ground rules:
Get started right away. After a short 2-3 minute introduction by an informal leader- with a few community and church themed things we should be considering, we got started, right away.
No backstories. If the details are important, they are important enough to reveal them in the prayer.
Make a list of things to pray for BEFORE you arrive.
Pick a passage of scripture to pray for- concerned about the will of God? Worried you won’t have anything to pray? Plenty of material here. God’s Word is God’s will.
Embrace the silence. The Holy Spirit is still moving.
Then simply pray until everyone is prayed out. You’ll know when. Our early meetings lasted 15 minutes and eventually stretched to 45. It felt like two. Prayer is like distance running- you have to get in shape.
Getting right to prayer was the answer. There is still a place for backstories- albeit more appropriately in Life Group setting where the express purpose is to share life experiences. But give it a try. Get a couple of groups together, once a month, and if you’re nervous, have one of the pastors take the lead until you get the hang of it.
Oftentimes, even as believers, we can convince ourselves that we are enemies of God. Deep in our hearts we believe that in our sin, we have made ourselves the enemy. Here’s why:
The reason we sin is because at that time, we wanted that feeling, that thing, that experience more than we wanted God. We wanted the money, to be accepted, whatever it was, more than God when we did it. What happens is subconsciously we know it, and it weighs on us, and we feel like enemies of God.
Remember how Paul chastised the Colossians: Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. Yes, once we were enemies, but no longer. Even though we’re no longer enemies because of what Christ did for us on the cross, we can convince ourselves that we are. So repent of your sin, thank God that you are forgiven- yet again, and breath a sigh of relief. But you are not the enemy.
How can a saved Israel (Exodus), learn to obey such a holy God (Leviticus) in thankfulness for their rescue? Numbers continues the journey of Israel as they seek to become the people God set them apart to be. In Numbers 1-10, through participation, orientation and purification, God continues to reconnect His people to the one true “bigger thing”- Himself, as they continue their journey with Him in their midst.
Only the gospel is powerful enough to massively and drastically change the life of a Christian. It should be giving us a whole new identity and making us almost unrecognizable from the people we used to be.
God and Jesus were spiritually and supernaturally connected before the world began. When Jesus gives us his glory- we have access to the same kind of supernatural community. Gospel community unifies, sanctifies and glorifies. We can only be unified in God and Jesus to the extent that we are unified in one another. We can’t neglect the work and commitment it takes to study, worship, and have fellowship together.