Spiritual reading is mostly a lover’s activity – a dalliance with words, reading as much between the lines as in the lines themselves. It is leisurely, as ready to re-read an old book as open a new one. It is playful, anticipating the pleasures of friendship. It is prayerful, convinced that all honest words can involve us somehow or other, if we read with our hearts as well as our heads, in an eternal conversation that got its start in the Word that “became flesh.”
— Eugene H. Peterson, Living the Message, (Meditation for September 24)
I admit that I am frequently guilty of what Peterson calls “reading as a consumer activity,” i.e., reading for the sake of information that will “fuel [my] ambition or careers or competence.” I think, however, that this cannot be helped if one’s career has become an idol. In today’s competitive world, especially in the field of law, to read “consumeristically” is a necessity if you want to rise to the top. The solution seems to be: not to want to rise to the top. To be sure, one must do one’s work well, excel even! But one must also set limits. I should always remind myself that “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God,” and “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you as well.”
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.”
— Hebrews 11:24-26
Choosing to serve the people of God may mean sacrificing some dream of personal greatness, some personal ambition to climb the heights of success or to excel in one’s profession. But Moses turned his back on what many of us hold dear in order to serve the people of God. Serving the people of God, even if it meant being mistreated with them, was more important to him than a life of comfort, wealth, privilege, fame and success. The choice before us, then, in the words of Betsy Childs, is this:
We can exhaust ourselves by seeking significance in what we do and how we are known, hoping that we will be remembered after we are gone. Or, we can lay our lives on God’s altar, squandering them in the world’s eyes, but entrusting our legacy to our maker.
When we take up the role of servants, we do precisely what the powerful prefer not to do: put ourselves in a position where our power is of little use. Rather than asserting the privilege the powerful have to control their environment and avoid humbling experiences, we seek Christ in the places where we will not be noticed, will not seem useful and will not receive praise. Servants are anonymous and often all but invisible, and the more powerful we become, the more we should seek out opportunities for anonymity and invisibility.
— Andy Crouch, Culture Making, p. 228
Somehow, I have to give up this thing that I love above everything else on earth because the love of God is greater… to renounce the purest of all vocations simply because it is not the one God has chosen for me – to accept something in which it seems likely that my highest personal ideals will be altogether frustrated, purely because of His love, His will. He who loves me prefers it this way, and to accept His love is to send up to Him the incense of the purest prayer, the sweetest praise, without pleasure for myself – and yet in the end it is a supreme joy!
— Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas
I found this post (over at Provocations) so inspiring I just had to link to it. At the age of 40 Alphonsuz Rodriguez’ life just unraveled: “His wife died in childbirth, followed shortly by the deaths of his mother and his other children, and the family business failed.” But did he turn his back on God? No!
Rather than shaking his fist at God for such multiple misfortune, Alphonsus decided to dedicate the rest of his life in service to God.
The lesson here is: overcome evil with good. When misfortune, affliction, failure, calamity and what-have-you strike, serve God all the more!
Click here to read the whole thing.
What is pride? Here’s C.J. Mahaney’s definition in his book Humility: True Greatness –
Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon him.
Making use of an insight of Charles Bridges, Mahaney goes on to say that pride is “contending for supremacy with God, and lifting up our hearts against him.”
What then does the proud person seek after? Self-glorification.
Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self-glorification. That’s the motive and ultimate purpose of pride – to rob God of legitimate glory and pursue self-glorification , contending for supremacy with Him. The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive.
“God opposes the proud” (James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) – he hates pride with a pure and holy hatred. Mahaney warns that “The proud will not indefinitely escape discipline” because “God’s opposition to pride is an immediate and constant activity.”
I’m just into the first couple of chapters but already this book is proving to be a real blessing. It makes me want to cry out to God for forgiveness for the many times I have been proud, conceited and arrogant. It also makes me realize that I shouldn’t be surprised if I often find myself humbled and even humiliated. God is serious about killing the pride in my heart so that I will learn to seek His glory and not mine. Oh, for the grace to be humble!
In the previous post we had a Trappist monk’s perspective on work and spirituality. Now here is a 17th century puritan’s take on the subject, but with a slight twist, as his concern is more on remaining in one’s calling:
Devote yourself to performing your duty in the place and calling God has given you. The very power of godliness lies in such consecration.
(William Gurnall, The Christian in Complete Armour, vol 1.)
This is actually one of my favorite quotes, as it reminds me of the importance of remaining in my calling and not to think that activities such as preaching, etc. are more spiritual than lawyering. Gurnall goes on to say:
We are to tend with all diligence everything that comes within the scope of our particular calling; beyond this, we are tilling someone else’s field … You cannot expect to honor God by leaving the work He assigns you and doing something of your own choosing instead, no matter how worthwile it may seem.
This is a timely reminder for Christians engaged in “secular” jobs not to disparage their calling.
Many Christians would not consider their daily work as “spiritual”; what is spiritual, they think, are preaching, praying, and the like. Thomas Merton in Life and Holiness thinks differently:
… one’s daily work is an all important element in the spiritual life, and that for work to be truly sanctifying the Christian must not only offer it to God in a mental and subjective effort of will, but must strive to integrate it in the whole pattern of Christian striving for order and peace in the world. The work of each Christian must be not only honest and decent, it must not only be productive, but it should contribute a positive service to human society. It should have a part in the general striving of all men for a peaceful and well-ordered civilization in this world, for in that way it best helps us prepare for the next world.
To be little, to be nothing, to rejoice in your imperfections, to be glad that you are not worthy of attention, that you are of no account in the universe. This is the only liberation. The only way to true solitude.
— Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas