[Editor's note: I wrote this post in April, but for some reason never published it. Blog posts that are written, but not published, often seem to block me from further creative thought. I've had a long drought of creativity, so I decided to go ahead and post this one.]
On Wednesday, I read my daily Bible selection, following the through-the-Bible-in-a-year schedule as set out by the good folks at One Year Bible.
Not my actual Bible. I use the online version, usually NIV or some other
I came across a passage in Luke that warns against complacency among believers, and encourages faithful servants of the Master to be ready for His return. I had tended to interpret this as referring primarily to the Second Coming, the time when Jesus returns in majesty, glory and power to claim His own.
One of the really cool things about reading the Bible is that, because it is the very inspired living Word of God, the Holy Spirit is able to interpret it to the heart of man in new and fuller ways, the more it is read and studied. This time when I read it, I thought in terms of the smaller â€˜returnsâ€™ of the Master, as He calls to me in my day-to-day life:
â€œBe dressed for service and keep your lamps burning, as though you were waiting for your master to return from the wedding feast. Then you will be ready to open the door and let him in the moment he arrives and knocks. The servants who are ready and waiting for his return will be rewarded. I tell you the truth, he himself will seat them, put on an apron, and serve them as they sit and eat! He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. But whenever he comes, he will reward the servants who are ready.” — Luke 12:35-38
Many non-believers play a deadly sort of game with God, knowing that He exists, but delaying their recognition of Him in their lives. â€œIâ€™ll get right with God when Iâ€™m done with the â€˜meâ€™ phase of my life,â€ they tell themselves, not realizing that they are hardening their hearts against Godâ€™s influence, painting themselves into a corner where they cannot respond to His love, more surely than Ebenezer Scrooge forged his chains of greed. When the end of their life comes, often unexpectedly, they find that they never quite made the time or opportunity to turn their hearts to God, and so they spend eternity, separated from Him and all of His glory.
I think it is possible even for a Christian to play a variant of this game. â€œIâ€™ll become a fully devoted follower of Jesus once I take care of [insert excuse here]â€. It may be a job, wealth, family, marital status, schooling, personal entertainment or any other thing that I put ahead of the call of the Master in my life. And so they go on with their lives, not responding to the Masterâ€™s call in their daily walk with Him.
“But what if the servant thinks, â€˜My master wonâ€™t be back for a while,â€™ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant in pieces and banish him with the unfaithful.” — Luke 12:45-46
Surprise, surprise, at some point the Master will return in glory, and mete out rewards and punishments as promised. But along the way, there are also many rewards to be had, for those servants who are faithful to obey His voice.
I havenâ€™t been sleeping very well of late, because of my allergies â€“ averaging about 5 hours of sleep a night. When I finally saw an allergist on Monday, he gave me a steroid that almost entirely dealt with my symptoms, but (ironically) prevented me from sleeping the first night I took it. On Tuesday I fired off a note to the men I pray with on Wednesday mornings, telling them I may take a â€˜passâ€™ if I was unable to get to sleep early Tuesday night. But before I slept that night, I asked God to wake me if He wanted me there. Then I carefully turned OFF my alarm.
About 25 minutes before we usually meet, Kathy woke up and went to the bathroom, waking me when she came back to bed. I looked at the clock, and realized that, if I took a quick shower and hustled, I could make it on time. Part of me wanted to go back to sleep, but a louder part of me remembered the prayer the night before.
â€œThe Master is calling,â€œ I reminded myself; and so I got up, grumbling: “… but does He have to call ‘just before dawn’, just to fulfill the Scriptures?”
I’m not very gracious in my thoughts, early mornings.
As it turns out, it was important that I was there to pray, and my presence there opened up several other ways for me to serve. More and more I find myself listening for the voice of my King, and eagerly wanting to please Him, to demonstrate to Him that I am a good servant, not beating the other servants or getting drunk while â€˜waitingâ€™ for Him to return.
I was talking yesterday evening with a dear brother, about motivation in pleasing God. â€œIs it right to be motivated by a desire for reward, when obeying God?â€ he asked. Christians sometimes get caught up on this kind of thing, wanting to serve with the purest of motives, but not knowing how to get to that point.
â€œWell, God set up the whole idea of rewards for good service,â€ I told him. â€œI donâ€™t think He has any illusions about our motives, and He doesnâ€™t seem to have a problem with our mercenary greed, at least when it is put to His service.â€ I paused reflectively.
â€œIn my life, Iâ€™ve found that the more I serve, the purer my motives become. Even when I start out obeying out of obligation, duty or even fear, I find (if I keep obeying) that my motives begin to joyfully skew toward obedience out of love.â€
Iâ€™m sure I wasnâ€™t quite that articulate, but, hey, this is my blog, and I can quote myself however I like. I went on at some length, trying to paint a picture of someone who starts out at Duty, and arrives at Love. Most people can identify with this at some level â€“ parenting an infant is like that, or working at a new job (if it is a good one).
Every day that I go in to â€˜the cityâ€™ to work, I drive past one of the ubiquitous coffee stands that infest our town. This particular one advertises, in a garish pink sign, â€˜Bikini Barrista Babesâ€™, and its chain has been featured in local news stories for the scanty nature of the â€˜bikinisâ€™. Every day I want to look over as I drive past and check out the girls who serve the coffee. It is a dangerous stretch of road, frankly, not the least because of that visual distraction.
At first, I didnâ€™t look out of duty and obligation. How could I expect to be a worthy instrument of Godâ€™s grace if I disobeyed such a simple instruction, so early in the day?
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” — Matthew 5:28
“You shall not commit adultery.” — Exodus 20:14
It doesn’t get much plainer than that, I’m afraid. It is clearly not God’s intent for a man to lust after a woman who is not his wife.
This morning I was thinking about my heart motivations, and I realized that I was able to keep my eyes on the road, not begrudging the duty, but out of joy. â€œI make a covenant with my eyes not to lust after strange women,â€ I reminded myself, â€œbecause I love my Lord and want to please Him.â€
“Women who wear bikinis at 5 in the morning to serve coffee are definitely strange,” I mused.
Iâ€™m sure my motivations will not always be good and pure, but I find that I am able to get to that point more and more as I practice obedience.
Still, it would be nice if the Master would return in mid-afternoon, when it is convenient for me.