Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Romans 12: 11

 

Romans is not the place where I would look in order to find proverbs, those short and pointed little statements about living that can be used as signs on a wall or as quotes at the bottom of a page. Yet, here is one tucked into Paul’s great theological work. As Paul is summarizing the nature and the character of followers of Christ, he mixes in this statement about the attitude and the approach that he is directing us to hold as we prosecute the journey of our Lord’s calling. In so doing he sets out the image of the sloth as the opposite one to the way that we should enter into our engagement with our world. The sloth is slow moving and very careful. It could never be accused of rushing into anything. They prefer hanging around in a safe place and observing it all, for a very long time. Then, they act with great care and deliberation.

 

Paul is saying that Christ should make a real difference in our willingness to take risks and to engage with whatever life sets before us. He grants a form of security to His followers that penetrates deep into the soul and that frees us to speak the Gospel of Christ and to live out His love without counting the personal cost first. This counter sloth-like living is propelled forward by a passion for Christ that exists deep inside at the level of our inner most drives and desires. Passion can be hard to sustain, but the one that comes forth from a relationship with the Lord is different. It is not based upon rapidly consumed emotions or upon shallow and momentary excitement; instead, this passion for the Lord is driven and inspired by Christ Himself as He directs and leads His people into lives that demonstrate His truth, grace, love, and righteousness in every aspect of life and of living.

 

This active and passionate life is a picture of what it is like to serve the Lord. There are certainly other quieter and more contemplative aspects to a life of service to God and within His kingdom, but action and the freedom to engage in it are clearly something that Jesus demonstrated and that Christ calls us to engage in. Following Christ means that we will go to those places and encounter the people and situations that He did, and His Spirit does guide and direct us along those same harsh and troubles streets. These real life moments of challenge, confrontation, and of coming face to face with spiritual opposition are exactly what Christ equips His people for and are times for us to enter in faith into living in total reliance upon Christ. This is the sort of service that our Lord desires, and this is the way of life that brings us ever closer to a full knowledge of God.

Advertisements

In everything the prudent acts with knowledge,

but a fool flaunts his folly.

Proverbs 13: 16

 

God’s conception of knowledge is much broader than mine. For me, knowledge can involve possession of a few facts and some analysis of them that leads to a conclusion on actions to take. My sense of knowledge does not engage relationally, and it frequently doesn’t involve the sort of prayerful contemplation that leads to a deeper understanding of God and of His will. So, when God’s Word tells me to act with knowledge if I desire to be prudent, then I need to enter into the pursuit of that knowledge in a manner and with the conviction of a person who is setting out on a holy pilgrimage.

 

The sort of knowledge that God has in mind can be life altering. It is established upon knowing God and upon knowing other people. Gaining this knowledge involves openness to other people’s stories about life that can be very uncomfortable to hear. It also requires me to be transparent and vulnerable in sharing both my reaction to what I am hearing and my personal struggles. This journey into knowledge requires me to be open and honest with God, too. This can be the most uncomfortable of all of the aspects of seeking after knowledge.

 

This is a very humbling process. The sort of knowledge that God desires for me to obtain demonstrates my sinfulness and weakness while it points clearly and directly to Christ’s redemption and the grace that has set me free from all guilt and shame. God’s knowledge cuts through discomfort and fear so that I can enter into relationship with people. It leads me to set aside difference in order to truly see others more closely to the way that God sees them. God’s form of prudence is not often safe in human terms as it leads His people into the battleground of restoration, redemption, and peace.

The horse is made ready for the day of battle,

But the victory belongs to the Lord.

Proverbs 21: 31

 

People were designed and created by God to be interested and engaged in the process of governing our world. The Lord granted us this as a right and as a responsibility. This aspect of humanity’s calling has very deep roots as it goes back to our time in the garden, existed before our exile, and was also a part of God’s commentary on our new life on the outside. Then, as it continues to be now, it is our sin that turns this process of governance into a battle. Evil in all of its manifestations desires to be in control. It will do anything and promise everything in order to win. So, people who know God are required to be vigilant and to remain prepared for the fight.

 

This preparation is founded in our knowledge of God. Our minds are made ready through the study and contemplation of His Word, and our hearts are strengthened by the presence of Christ’s Spirit. This state of preparedness is constant and unrelenting. There are no times of vacation, for Satan does not take a leave of absence from his war on righteousness. So, Christ warns His people to remain ever vigilant and to continually maintain our spiritual weapons. Yet, our hard work and all of our efforts are doomed to failure if they are done for us. They are futile if Christ is not leading our way. We do not possess the wisdom or have the understanding of God’s true purpose and plan that would be required to devise a holy and just battle plan. Our role is to be well-prepared rank and file soldiers in service to our King.

 

As we do not know God’s strategy or have a clear picture of His tactics, we are called upon by Him to follow. We are to stay true to the Word in our thoughts, actions, and expression. This means that we are to stay engaged in the processes of governance even when God’s objectives are unclear and when it seems that our voice is not being heard. God continues to implore His people to be the ones who bring respect to the discourse and love to the debate. Although we do know the outcome of it all in that Christ does reign supreme over all of Creation, God will not give us total understanding of His daily plans. We are to remain loyal and committed to serving the gospel of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life, and we are to trust our Lord and have unyielding faith in the fact that the victory is His.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable are His ways!

Romans 11:33

 

God’s ways are truly mysterious, and His understanding of things has a depth to it that defies my capacity to grasp. Yet, He isn’t slippery like a wet puppy that you are trying to keep from getting all of the furniture wet, and He doesn’t change shape in the way that a water filled balloon does. The Lord is consistent, solid, and tangible to the degree that He defines these concepts. Maybe that is a part of the reason that His ways do seem so far outside of my own understanding. This depth and consistency are foreign to the human mind and experience.

 

My God is the foundation upon which I set my feet. His love is the defining element for my soul. Still, He amazes me with His knowledge of my heart, with His capacity to grasp my needs and His willingness to continually meet them. God’s complexity and expansive nature compel me to seek out knowledge of Him. Every time that I begin to think that I know Him well, the Lord reveals more of Himself to me, and in each situation where I believe that I have reached the limit of His provision or His involvement in my life, God goes further and does more with and for me. There is no limit to the Lord!

 

God knows us well. He is fully aware that human nature is such that if we already knew everything about Him and if we had the full picture of God’s involvement in our lives laid out before us, we would become too casual about our relationship with Him. We would tend to take Him for granted and stop seeking His wisdom and grace as the essential activity of each of our days. So, God retains His mysteries. He reveals Himself to each of us as we trust Him and seek to know Him better. In this revealing, God blesses us daily with the gift of an ever deeper relationship with Him.

 

Hear the word of the Lord, o children of Israel,

for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,

and no knowledge of God in the land.

Hosea 4: 1

 

Some of us might observe that little has changed in the approximately 2,750 years that have gone by since Hosea was moved by God to state this lament about the condition of his nation and its culture. Others, of course, would disagree heartily; saying that we are progressive and forward-looking. We are no longer bound to the rituals and the myths of ancient religious practice. Our culture has figured out the rightful place for God to occupy. We have discerned that His place is not in the public square, and it is certainly not in the center of our system of governance. Additionally, many have placed God in a secondary or even lesser position in our personal lives. We seek the wisdom of this world long before we give consideration to what our Lord has to say.

 

It must be apparent by this point that I think that this prophet is speaking about our world and to our hearts. He sets out words that are challenging. His accusations are condemning and personally convicting. All of us are participants in the development of this sadly Godless state of affairs. I am simply not aware of anyone who lives up to God’s standard of righteousness. We all land in this state of being the objects of God’s disappointment, anger, and disapproval. The Lord has a controversy with every person on earth, and there is nothing that we can do about it ourselves.

 

This situation can lead to hopelessness, or it can bring us to the place of acceptance of the absolute promise of redemption that God has given to humanity. If I see the truth in Hosea’s words as they apply to my world and more importantly to my life, it would seem that I am called to a simple course of action. God wants me to repent, to turn from the ways of thinking and acting that are in defiance of His will. He tells me to submit to His Word so that the Spirit of Christ can begin to change me from the center of my being to the smallest of my actions. Then, Christ calls upon me to follow Him so that there will be knowledge of God in the parts of the world that I touch.