Thursday, February 2, 2012

What do we have to give up to hear God?

Ever since I posted the Busyness blog post I have been struggling with putting aside my list. It has been so hard to focus on love being the center of it all in my life. I’m going to be 200% honest and say I have even been struggling with my daily devotionals and making time to read the bible because the rational side of me wants to keep up with all of my commitments and goals.

Let me tell you something, words mean NOTHING until they are put into action. God is very clear about that. He says- don’t just read my word, but live it! That is so hard for me to do. But that is my challenge daily. And sure enough, it’s easy to write about what I should do (like saying I will put aside my chores, and list) rather than actually do it.

Let’s be honest- we are always a work in progress. I don’t think one certain issue, concern, or worry will be solved overnight. I wish it was. Good ole’ Les  Carter (I call him Dad) would say “It’s not life on demand Lindsay. Things aren’t going to happen just as you want them when you want them.” When I was younger, I never understood that because I was too busy demanding, rather than listening. But for real, just like things take time to work themselves out, that is kind of how God’s word in our lives is. It takes years and years for some for us to master these ideas and even then we still won’t be perfect (Bummer, right?)

But today as I was doing my quiet in 1 Corinthians 9, a new revelation hit me. In my NIV Bible, 1 Corinthians 9 is titled the Rights of an Apostle. Automatically in the title, we get the hint that the apostles will be entitled to certain things. We all learned about rights in American History. We are all entitled to the right of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.(Insert: patriotic music playing in the background, preferably God Bless America) Some days I even make up rights for myself. A classic one is, well I did the dishes yesterday so it’s my right to not do them today (and this is an example of an illegitimate right).

But yes, we all get hung up on what we are entitled to in life. And Paul is talking about what he is entitled to as an apostle. In verse 4, he says he has the right to food and drink (get compensated so that he can buy food), and to take a believing wife along with him (v5), and to do as the other apostles and the Lord’s brother (v.5- this is interpreted as refraining from other work and being devoted to be an apostle, rather than have to get another job, like what everyone else did). Those are an apostle’s rights.

(Bear with me here- I am going to continue going deep into the scripture to establish the point!)

And then Paul even brings in a logical argument of why he is entitled to compensation his work. He says, “Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the grapes? Who tends a flock and doesn’t drink the milk?”(v. 7) Basically he is saying who works and doesn’t expect to receive some benefit for it. And in Verses 8-11 he establishes that since he works for the Lord and is sewing spiritual seeds among the Corinthians, shouldn’t he receive a material harvest? (material harvest=getting paid!) Paul says, if the average Joe Corinthian gets the right to be paid, shouldn’t apostles have an even greater right to be paid since they are doing spiritual, BIG work? (v12)

So after establishing that Paul and apostles have these certain rights, in Verse 15 he drops a bomb! He says “But I have not used any of these rights.” So that means he hasn’t been getting paid for all the work he has been doing. And to me, I was a little confused here because Paul did a great job of convincing me of his rights for 15 verses. I was thinking, yeah Paul, go get your wages! You were doing BIG things and you do deserve to get paid!  And his rights were legitimate, followed with lots of thought and reason.

But in Verse 18 he explains why he gave them up. Because the real reward of preaching the gospel and sharing the good news was greater than being paid, so he was willing to do it “free of charge.”

And at this point you are probably thinking, that you have no idea where I am going with this. But here it is. In order to hear God’s calling in our life, we have to give up our rights.

Let me say it again. Loud and clear. In order to hear God’s calling in our life, we have to give up our rights. You say, what does this mean? We have all identified things we are entitled to (our rights).  Let’s start with Paul’s example. If we work, we feel like we have the right to get paid. We feel like we have the right to get married. We have the right to spend our time the way we want to. Let’s go with the American example. We have the right to life. We have the right to liberty. We have the right to pursue happiness. Paul acknowledges all of his rights, but for him the real reward for him is giving them up.

What does that mean? I want to hear God. I want to know my calling. But I have to give up my rights. We are a people of want, want, want. We are a people of demand, demand, demand. We want God to be there right with us every step of the way. But we don’t want to give anything up in the process. For people like me, that might mean giving up my time. For others it might mean giving up an idea, or a timeline. And for somebody else it might mean giving up a destructive habit, or recurring sin. That is where Paul found his reward.

Today, I can think of a million things I need to do. And it appears that sitting down and spending time with God, or blogging will not accomplish much. There are things that I could be doing today that will give me an immediate payoff. Like studying for my test in 10 days. If I studied I would be in a much better place and one step closer to passing it. So, I have this right to do things that are going to be of value to me. Things that are going to PAY me. Some of you may spend your time working, where you physically get paid every month. We devote our lives to things that will bring us immediate gratification. We devote our time to the things that will give us tangible benefits.  And then when things go wrong, we wonder where God is. We wonder why he isn’t running down to save us every time we get frazzled. After we have spent all our time and energy on things that will pay us out, and not on quiet times or devotionals, prayers, and fellowship (because after all we don’t have time to do it all), we wonder where our community that will lift us up is. And God says where have you been investing your time? Time with God is an INVESTMENT. It pays out in the future. If you are going to spin your wheels on things that will pay out now, you can’t wonder where God is and why you can’t hear him.

To hear God’s calling in your life and to be his hands and feet, you have to give up your rights. For somebody that could mean taking a job that pays less so you will have more time for things that matter. For me, it means taking my time away from valuable study time to spend with God. And it is not easy to give something up. It’s not easy to have to pay a price for our intimacy with God. But it is something we have to do to truly hear the calling.

Have you ever thought that the days where you can’t hear God speak, maybe it is because you never listened? Maybe you never set aside the time. Maybe you were so consumed with your right to be happy. Maybe you were consumed with your entitlement to truly live life, because life is short and you have to live it up. Maybe you were consumed on your rights instead of understanding that a true reward lies in giving them all up.

God wants your whole heart, your whole body, your whole mind. He doesn’t just want the leftovers. He doesn’t want your worst. He wants your best. He doesn’t want you on Sundays. He wants you all week. He doesn’t just want you at night after you are exhausted. He wants you all day. And if you aren’t going to give him all of you, don’t wonder why you can’t hear God speak. Don’t wonder why you are so busy and never have time. Maybe its because you never set aside time. Maybe its because most days you, like me, don’t want to give up our rights. And we especially don’t want to give up the rights to ourselves.

I don’t think it was easy for Paul to take up a calling where he would not get paid. To go from his comfort of being a stable Pharisee persecuting Christians, to now being one of the Christians himself. But the reward of being a follower of Christ, the reward of knowing his greatness and becoming more and more like him each day filled Paul up. Paul wanted to fight so hard for his faith, to run the race so hard that he would get an eternal crown. You see, one day, hopefully we will all be standing in heaven alongside Paul, saying “God I gave you the time when I had it, I gave you the best of me, I gave you my all. I gave up the right to myself, so that you could work in me.”
I see it now, I can picture the joy Paul gets from giving up his rights. For God to look at me and say “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Now that is the reward that Paul is talking about.

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