Keep watching and praying, that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Matthew 26: 41

 

Whether you think that this is a good thing or is troubling, God knows everyone of us in ways that no one else will ever grasp. He is aware of the half-hearted commitments that we can make so readily, and He is also completely tuned into the passionate yearnings for righteousness that fuel our best acts of loving service and times of deepest interaction with the Lord. For most of us, we live a life that is filled with times of contradiction as we may desire to always respond to others in a manner that speaks Jesus’ love; yet, we actually deliver a message that is a potent brew of frustration, anger, and self-defensive criticism. Jesus responds to me in these times by saying, “Keep watching and praying.”

 

So what does Jesus want me to keep watching for and what is the subject of all that prayer? It seems that the Lord is mostly interested in the fact that we are pulled to Him by this process; for, as we take up our vigil and allow our hearts this calming time of prayer, amazing visions and powerful words of truth and enlightenment will be spoken by God and into our hearts and minds. The visions may be as grand and as powerful as an epic film, or they may be seen as a spirit-lifting impression that is planted deep in the heart. At times we will hear and see words that clearly state God’s will and desire for us, and at other times, we will be left with the reassurance and the understanding that all is well with our life’s direction. At other times, the Lord leaves us with unresolved tension and in need of further contemplation and prayer.

 

Jesus is not calling us to a specific time of watching and praying. This is not an hour on a daily calendar or a week out of a month; for, the Lord doesn’t see time as we do, and He doesn’t plan His involvement with each of us around that sort of human concept of relationship. Jesus wants to watch and to pray with us through every beat of our hearts for the balance of our lives. Christ is aware of the challenges that we each face as we journey forth in this world. He is also attuned to the cares, concerns, and passions of our hearts; so, He desires to guide us into serving Him with all that we have. He knows me and you too well, and He is fully aware that for us to resist temptation and to continually seek to live righteously, our weak flesh needs His strength to hold us upright and strong in order to fulfill Christ’s calling for the life that He has given to us.

 

 

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When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is man that you are mindful of him,

and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8: 3, 4

 

People may think that they can take control of the sky and have dominion over the moon, the stars, and the space around them, but this realm has already been claimed by another. We might consider ourselves to be the true captains of our destinies and plan out our days with that in mind; however, on even our very best days, we will arrive there a distant second to the Lord. God made everything that exists in the seen world and far beyond that. His creative handiwork was accomplished in order to fulfill His own purposes; so, none of the universe belongs to any other, and there is no way for any of us to take dominion over even the smallest corner of that place that we call outer space. It is the height of human arrogance and the pinnacle of folly to strive for such a thing.

 

The same God who made all of these wonders and set the massive clockwork that is the universe into motion cares about and even counts the hairs on the heads of each person on the earth. The Lord also made every one of us, and His compassion, mercy, grace, and love are poured out upon our lives and into our journeys through life. God desires to see justice tendered to everyone regardless of race, gender, wealth, nationality, or other factors. He seeks to bring each of us into a relationship with Him, and the Lord uses the love and care that we humans can provide to others as His primary means of exhibiting that precious redemptive zeal. We are to be diligent and self-sacrificing in our efforts to meet needs where they exist and to welcome home the stranger wherever those homeless ones are forced to wander.

 

When we care for the weak, provide a place of dwelling to the homeless, feed the undernourished, and grant lasting asylum to the oppressed, we are expressing the same loving attributes that we have benefited from in the sacrificial love that Christ has bathed us with by His cleansing baptism of redemption. The Lord has made it clear to us that He holds even the most insignificant of people as precious and as worthy of all care and protection. Thus, the Creator of the universe, the sovereign God over the heavens and the earth, desires to have each of His people join with Him in living out Christ’s calling for us to love others, to protect the weaker ones, and to grant the blessing of welcome to all who are needful of shelter and its rest. People may think that they can gain dominion over the earth and the heavens by might and by force, but in truth, that already belongs to God, and we enter into His purposes and embrace Christ’s calling when we set aside fear, self-protection, and false power in order to bless our world with the peace that comes through caring for others.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

1 Corinthians 1: 26, 27

 

Of the many things that come our way as a result of having a relationship with God in and through Christ, calling is one of the most difficult to grasp and to understand. It often seems to defy the usual processes of analysis and definition. Calling can be very certain for some, but it is most frequently something that floats in the realm of the mystical. Yet, it also serves to define us in many ways, and it also forms the shape of how much of the world views our place in life, especially in life’s economy. I believe that God does call each of His people into service to Him and for the sake of His kingdom. Our calling is specifically related to the gift or the gifts that we are given by Him as a part of the transformative work that the Spirit does in and upon all who come to Christ. So, in part, we are given spiritual gifts in order to enter into our calling.

 

In fact, I would propose that calling is one of the ways that God enters into the life of each individual follower of Christ. Every one of us is unique, different from every other person, and given certain qualities and characteristics that mark out our individuality and that also form and define our role and place within the body of Christ. When it comes to actually entering into the work that we do, there may be many possible courses that we could take that will still follow God’s will and engage in His calling of us. The Lord equips us and then wants us to trust Him and to follow our dreams and our passions into the way that we use His giftedness and the skills that we develop along the way in service to Him and for the glory of His name. This rather vague and general sense of what we are to do in life can be frustrating or troubling, but God wants us to engage with life in a manner that sees it all as a journey of faith so that we continually step out in trust of His provision and guidance.

 

The real calling for each of us who follow Christ is to do exactly that. We are firstly children of the Living God and followers of the one true King. This fact helps to frame in the structure of life so that many of our world’s possibilities are eliminated from our consideration; however, that same framework opens a wide array of other choices for us to make. As we look at, pray over, and seek the wisdom of other people of faith regarding the direction that we might go in life at this time, we can hold one thing before us as certain fact that should help to define our reality, and that is that we are each a unique expression of what God sees in us as possible. We can enter into these possibilities at any point in life’s journey and we can do so with confidence in the will of the Lord to walk with us and to empower the processes of doing the work of this endeavor. These choices and decisions will not always make sense in the world’s view of what should be done with a life, but God’s concept of worth and true value do often seem foolish in that economy of self. Rather, in Christ, we can follow our dreams, engage our passions, and walk through our days with the joy and the satisfaction of serving Christ as our greatest reward.

Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that an idol has no real existence, and that there is no God but one.

1 Corinthians 8: 4

 

As we start out today, I am making an assumption, and that is that very few of us are concerned about the consumption of foodstuffs that were previously used as sacrifices to various types and forms of gods or in other religious practices. This was a real issue in Paul’s world, and it is simply not as obviously pervasive in ours as it was in his. Yet, the fact that idols exist is something that I think is important for us to consider in our culture and in our lives, and almost in contrast to the approach that Paul took toward the sacrificial foods, I think that the way that we feed our idols and the idolatrous foods that we consume are important to consider.

 

We live in an age of consumption. It often seems that the primary fuel that feeds our world is made up of the goods and the services that we can purchase and utilize for the sake of personal enjoyment, pleasure, and self-worth appeasement. These things that take on great importance to us are not very different from the idols that were so prevalent in Paul’s times, for they too demand our attention, bring us to a place of worship for their sake, and engage our passion as disciples to their cause and of their personage. We can each look introspectively at our lives and into our hearts in order to determine where this sort of over zealous commitment to things of this world might be found. They can be relatively minor in their impact upon living for Christ, and they can be powerfully consuming and devastating to the same purpose and calling.

 

Regardless of the depth of commitment to the idol or of the amount of personal resource it demands from us, everything that ascends to this level of ownership over us is something that drives its wedge of distraction and distance between Christ and us. Anything that takes us away from our ability to focus on the Lord’s calling and commission for our lives or that places itself above Christ in priority for us, even if this is only momentary in duration, is an idol, and it will demand that we feed it out of the precious resource that is our love, devotion, and submission to righteousness. Fortunately Paul also gives us an answer to this universal challenge. He points us toward the one singular truth that changes everything in the fact that there is only one real God. All of these other things are false and are made by our hands out of the raw materials that God, Himself, created for us. So, everything in life that takes us away from serving Christ with the fullest possible expression of our heart and the complete engagement of our passions can and should be placed behind Christ so that all of our being is dedicated without distraction or diversion to service to our God.

 

Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says,

In a favorable time I listened to you,

and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”

Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

2 Corinthians 6: 1, 2

 

Paul is making reference to the fact that all that he does by way of sharing the truth of the Gospel is done in conjunction with what Christ has done and with what He continues to do. There is no independent labor on Paul’s part involved. There is nothing that can be done by him or by any of us that is outside of what Christ has undertaken Himself. In other words, no one comes into a relationship with God except by way of Jesus, the cross, and the conjunction of God’s grace and love at that point of sacrifice and redemptive victory. Some people might want and even desire to be granted the comfort of grace for a time or even for a season, but they are not prepared to set aside the shallow pleasures of the life that they have known and surrender fully to the cross of Christ with its hard realities and radical transformation.

 

So, they walk away from a relationship with God that they had never truly entered into. This is a mark of the vane and foolish nature of people in that we will give up on eternity and on an opportunity to be engaged in life in conjunction with the author of all wisdom, truth, and love. Yet, it does not need to be so. God’s grace is made available to us in an unending supply. He does not hold it back or remove His offer of it from us. There is no set season or finite opportunity for a person’s response to Christ. In fact, the time for repentance is now, the season for acceptance of God’s offer of salvation is here. These are the hours and the days for people to come to the Lord and this is the place where their lives are to be changed.

 

Christ calls upon those of us who do know Him to be open and willing to follow Him into engagement with people at all times and in all places. We are not going into all of this on our own. We are not even responsible for leading the effort. Rather, Christ has gone before us in yielding His life to the cross, and He continues to be the one who does the real work of bringing people into acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. We are simply asked to be willing to take the risk of rejection that comes with being confidently open about our faith and that happens when we share Christ with the people that we encounter in the course of our days. So, even people who have walked away from God’s offer of grace, those who have openly and possibly aggressively rejected Christ, and others who are antagonistic to Christ and to us because of Him are loved by God and are among the people that Christ wants us to seek out and to care about for the sake and the glory of the Gospel.

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Colossians 1: 28, 29

 

Paul had goals. He knew the desires of his heart, too. He wanted to bring people into knowledge of Christ and to see them grow into a relationship with the Lord that was founded on solid truth and understanding. He also knew that these new believers would need to be taught, counseled, and developed in their faith if they were to be sustained in their journeys with Christ. All of this required that Paul spend time and expend energy in the pursuit of this labor of love. Being a shepherd for any flock is not easy, and doing this with people can be all consuming. Yet, shepherding is what Christ had called Paul to do, and this was what Paul was intent on seeking to do.

 

It doesn’t seem as if caring for the emotional, physical, and spiritual needs of others was truly Paul’s gifting either. He was an intellectual with a great passion for knowing God’s word and for seeing that it was adhered to by all. However, in Christ, all of this was changed, for Christ calls upon His servants to care for the people who come into His flock. This is a very mixed group with many gifts, strengths, and skills to offer, and also with many challenges, personality quirks, and sinful issues to work on and through. The process of entering into the lives of others is not easy, and it is made even more taxing by the fact that God calls upon His people to engage with others for the long haul of life in a manner that is like the one that He employs with each of us. That is, we are to stay in relationships that do not always go well, and we are to go after people who wander away from God’s path of life. All of this can be tiring unto exhaustion and frustrating to all who seek to serve Christ.

 

So, we do not need to enter into this work of shepherding by using our own strength and consuming our internal resources. They will never be sufficient for all that lies ahead in service to Christ. Instead, we are granted Christ’s unending and bottomless resources as our source of supply for His calling to enter into the lives of others. The presence of Christ within does not change the reality of the challenges that come with the calling, and those challenges will bring about hours and days when we are beaten down and exhausted from the effort that we are required to expend and by the harsh rejection and personal assaults that we are forced to endure. Yet, even the worst of these times are ones in which Christ is present, and it is in these dark times that the Lord often becomes His most real and tangible to us. Loving others will lead to struggles and to opposition, but loving others and shepherding Christ’s sheep is His calling for His people, and Christ is faithful to give His shepherds the energy that is required by this calling and the strength to endure all that comes as a result of serving His will.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show to you.

Genesis 12: 1

 

When Abram obeyed God in this matter, he became a pilgrim and a traveler, an immigrant. He left behind everything that gave him earthly identity, comfort, and safety; plus, he effectively walked away from his heritage as a man of some rank and privilege. But he was responding to God’s calling for him and upon his life. There was a very powerful promise of greatness through descendents that God gave to Abram, but that was certainly vague and intangible. What this man of rather ordinary faith knew was that he needed to pack up his household, his wife and the people who served them, his nephew Lot and his family and servants and leave home for foreign soil that was far away and probably dangerous for them.

 

He did all of this because God told him to. He entered into a life-changing journey of faith in response to a calling of the Lord that was too powerful and compelling to ignore or to set aside. The journey was a true adventure, and its narrative gives us many of the great accounts of God’s faithfulness, protection, and grace in the Bible. Yet, it all started with one person who knew God and responded to the Lord’s voice. Frankly, I have never been in Abram’s shoes. God has not given me directions that involved such bold and blind faith. My journey with Him has been shaped and formed in close connection with other people who have listened and responded to the Lord’s calling upon them. My steps through life have landed on soil that is close to the place of my birth. My morning sky is filled with the light of a very familiar sun.

 

However, there are aspects of my story that are very similar to Abram’s. The life journeys that all followers of Christ experience are also like Abram’s in certain ways. Christ calls us out of the false security of our birth identity, the comfort of family, and the familiar rules of culture, and He leads us into the foreign soil of the kingdom of God. If we take Christ’s demand upon our hearts and minds seriously, we become true immigrants in our world. We enter into a life of living outside of the secure connections that our earthly homes provide as we embrace the adventure and the restorative love that is at the center of Christ’s will for each of His people. Followers of Christ today are separated from Abram by thousands of years and live in a radically different world; yet, we are truly like him in many ways. God speaks to us. He gives us His will, the promise of His faithfulness to us, and He grants us the ability and the authority to bring life into the foreign lands where we now reside. Our part in it all is like Abram’s in that we need to pack up and go.