Posts Tagged ‘devotion’

What does this look like . . . working hard “in the Lord?” I’ve been thinking about this since yesterday. I’m thinking the essence lies in the word sacrifice – a sacrifice of time and energy.

Romans 16:12
Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, those women who work hard in the Lord. Greet my dear friend Persis, another woman who has worked very hard in the Lord.

Truthfully, there isn’t much we can “give” to God since everything we have is gift from God already. Except for time. Granted, time is also part of God’s creation, and yet, we have free will in our use of time. It cannot be repaid and it cannot be controlled. Time marches on. Time is the qualifier to all of our lives. Time is our ultimate measuring stick.

How do I use my time?

To work hard within the constraints of the time given to me is, according to Paul, worthy of acknowledgment. The time I give to the things of God has more value than the time I give to anything else.

To work hard in the Lord then means I use my time for God. There are no surprises here: prayer (in all of its forms); helping the poor, widows & orphans; practicing koinonia with other believers; sharing our story (our witness); studying; teaching; and loving the unlovely.

Working hard in the Lord is not setting up church programs or retreats, cooking and serving a ladies’ luncheon, practicing skits, or building a building.

Instead, working hard is going against the easy way. Working hard is the way of the seed in soil or the caterpillar in its chrysalis. Working hard is transformation.

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What is it about this word, “righteousness,” that makes me recoil? Surely it must be the other word: “self-righteous” that jumps up into my mind instead. But they are actually direct opposites.

Romans 1:17
For in the Gospel a righteousness which God ascribes is revealed, both springing from faith and leading to faith [disclosed through the way of faith that arouses to more faith]. As it is written, The man who through faith is just and upright shall live and shall live by faith.

The thesaurus is most revealing for the word righteousness: devotion, devoutness, godliness, holiness, piety, reverence, sacredness, saintliness, spirituality, worship, zeal. These synonyms make more sense when Paul says that righteousness is revealed and springs forth from faith.

Faith is the roots of the tree and righteousness the growth above ground. As the tree grows up, the roots grow down deeper into the soul. The entire tree grows stronger and healthier. Both the roots and the trunk are needed for a healthy tree. They strengthen each other.

I think the self-righteous are those who have no roots. They are only concerned with the trunk and the branches of their tree. They have the appearance of righteousness, but it’s really only form, a skeleton. With the first storm, this type of tree will fall.

Over and over again, the tree image keeps coming back to me as a word picture for my life. My maiden name, Berzins, means “little birch tree.” In years past, I have planted many trees as a testament and thanksgiving for “place.” I have prayed under certain trees near the Susquehanna and found peace there. I had God-inspired visions and warnings of my life as a tree that had moved away from the living water. I am deeply grieved when trees are cut down nonchalantly or broken by wind and lightning. I am grateful for the trees in the woods behind our home. They are sources of beauty all year round from buds in the spring to full foliage in the summer, autumn rainbows, and skeletons in winter outlined by the sun that sets behind them each day. Trees are symbols for many faiths and beliefs.

Today, the tree is my personal symbol for uniting my faith with my actions. Amen.

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In Paul’s time, wholeheartedness meant more than just enthusiasm or sincerity. It was a single minded devotion; it was the whole spirit in focus. Only God knows if we are wholehearted in our faith.

Romans 1:9-10a
God, whom I [Paul] serve with my whole heart in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times…

As the information age took over the past decade, one of the initial assumptions was that everyone would have to be able to multi-task. There is so much to see and so much to read. The only way to capture it all was to have lots of “views” and “tabs” and “screens.” It was not uncommon for a computer owner to have multiple monitors or a monitor so big that a number of images could be displayed simultaneously. Time management was the buzzword and the goal was to eke out productivity from every available second. We were like teenagers convinced we could listen to music, watch television, play a video game, and do homework all at the same time. Good grades were the proof it worked.

Interestingly enough, this trend is actually abating. Some of the latest productivity gurus are now advocating single focus. They say, do one thing completely and with full attention, and work gets done faster and more accurately. A divided mind is like “RAM” in a computer, only so much can be allotted to each task. The brain’s computing power does have limitations.

How often do people say they cannot pray or meditate effectively because of a racing mind that continues to juggle a vast array of responsibilities, plans, and duties. We are actually losing the ability to be single-focused.

Currently, one of my spiritual disciplines is praying the hours (Morning, Midday, Vespers, and Night). This practice is only four times a day when I am to shut out everything else to read, chant, and pray. Ten minutes. And yet, my day gets sucked up into “busy-ness,” and I miss my time. There is no condemnation for missing. There is just loss of what God was ready to give in that moment.

Wholeheartedness and single focus is a time investment. It’s a discipline. It’s a commitment to whatever is before me. Today has potential for wholeheartedness… if I give way.

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As much as we hate to admit it, most of us want to belong–to something or someone. I think we’re wired that way. We’re just waiting for the invitation, the opening, the opportunity.

Romans 1:6
And you also are among those who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Historically, I have always been the joiner. Even as far back as high school, my participation index in the yearbook was longer than anyone else. I haven’t changed much. I still join clubs, I join groups, I join movements, I join sororities, I join churches, and I join associations. But what I really want to join is a relationship. The difficulty is that relationships are two-way streets. To join a relationship, there has to be give and take, mutual agreement, and growth. In a group situation, I can join and then I can be a good member of the group or a lazy member of the group, but basically, I’m still a member. Being lazy in a relationship is the kiss of death.

In a relationship, there has to be commitment and contact and communication. There has to be transparency and authenticity. There has to be a willingness to work through the rough spots. There has to be a desire to actually be in the relationship. It takes energy to start and stay in a relationship.

In the epistle to the Romans, Paul is telling his readers and listeners that they are ALL called (invited) to be in a particular relationship. That relationship begins with the Christ and then manifests in koinonia (fellowship with others). That’s how we can really gauge our progress in this relationship: how we relate to others.

Once I enter into relationship with Christ, there’s also a benefit package, just like belonging to an organization. Those benefits are laid out in the scriptures. Among the benefits is a promise that Christ Jesus will be with me always, through everything. Once committed to this particular relationship, nothing can separate me from Christ [Romans 8:38-39].

And if I fear, I can call out, “I am yours, save me!” [Psalm 119:94].

I am yours. Save me. I am yours. Help me. I am yours. Draw me. I am yours… and no other.

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John 12:3a
Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair.

Clearly, Mary was moved to this extreme act of devotion. I cannot believe that wiping someone’s feet with hair was a common occurrence even back in those days. But the effect was astounding for the perfume filled the house: all who were there knew what she had done.

Nard was primarily used to anoint the dead in burial. If a family had nard, it was precious and saved for their own burial. Jesus announces that this nard was actually saved for his burial, and in this way, he foretold again of his coming death.

But the point of interest here for me today is Mary’s act of devotion. How does one come to an act like this one? I don’t think we are supposed to conjure these things. [“Oh, what I can do show Jesus I really care!”] No, an act of this magnitude must be inspired by God. The key is the person’s willingness and openness to following through.

In our culture, we can all pretty much talk ourselves out of anything with or without facts. We know about cause and effect and yet some people are still smoking. Some people still take drugs and drink in excess although we know its effects can be catastrophic. And yet, if God were to inspire us to an act of devotion like this one, we would talk it away as being foolish and unnecessary.

Keep me open to your inspiration that I might act with love, authentically.

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