One of the Bible verses that has most impacted my life is a verse that most people don’t really know about. Paul is writing the church at Corinth, and they are fighting about who they follow. Paul says, basically, What is Apollos? What am I? We are servants of God. And here is one of the core verses for the Bible in my life. Verse 6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God brought the growth.”
So far in these blogs about Sabbath I have made the case that Sabbath is a symbol of commitment between God and God’s people (a wedding ring) and that Sabbath is a sign of resistance to the world’s view of people and life. But it is more than just a symbol and it is more than just resistance. Sabbath is also a major tool that God uses to help us love our God and love our neighbor.
Consider the place and role of the Sabbath in the 10 commandments in Exodus 20. There are 3 commandments about God—no other Gods, no idols, and no taking the Lord’s name in vain. There are 6 commandments about neighbor—honor father and mother, don’t murder, no adultery, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness against neighbor or lie, and don’t covet.
Sabbath sits in the list right between these 2 sets. It is by far the longest commandment and it is the hinge between the two sets. Sabbath is how we start to take our relationship with God and live it out. It is the mechanism God uses to help us live out our faith with our neighbors.
But how does Sabbath help us love God and love neighbor?
- Sabbath keeps us connected to God. In Psalm 46:10 God tells us, “Be still and know that I am God.” How can we stay connected with God if we are never still? We need to Sabbath so that we can stay connected with God. Otherwise our lives will tend to crowd God out.
- Sabbath keeps us aware of our neighbors. If we are busy few tend to lose sight of others. I don’t even see my neighbors when I am rushing to get somewhere. Sabbath gives us space to notice the needs around us.
- Sabbath helps us to not stop coveting. Coveting is last commandment for a reason. It is often coveting that leads to the other sins listed, and it is Sabbath that helps us to deal with it. When we are satisfied, we can trust God and there is no need to harm others. We need the Sabbath to help us stay connected to God so that we do not covet.
- Sabbath keeps us rested and at our best. Have you ever noticed that if you are really tired or really stressed you tend to have a shorter fuse? Sabbath gives us rest so that we have the ability to choose our emotional responses to situations instead of just reacting to life.
Do you have trouble trusting God? Do you have trouble having empathy for others? My first question for you is—what is your Sabbath habit like?
In my last post I suggested that Sabbath is very important to God because it is a sign of the covenant—like a wedding ring. But it is more than that. It is also a way that God gets our perspective in the right place.
The Israelites had been in slaver for 200 years. In Egypt, the Israelites were commodities. They were the sum of what they accomplished. They were the sum of the bricks they made. In fact, they were more like bricks to be used by the Egyptians then they were people. They were a product to be used.
You can imagine how dehumanizing this could be, not only for individuals but for the community. Commodity leads to anxiety because you don’t have neighbors to care for. You can only have threats and competitors. Some in the system got to be on the top while others got to be worked to death by those on the top.
God’s economy is different. God rested on the 7th day not because God was not tired, but he was setting an example, because he is more than what he created. It has been said that it took God 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but 40 years to get Egypt out of them. Sabbath is one of God’s main ways of helping Israel with that.
Ultimately, Sabbath is resistance. It is resistance to the world of commodity. Sabbath says that God is not Pharaoh. God does not keep demanding more and better.
Sabbath is a system of rest to contradict a system of anxiety. You are not a thing. You are not the sum of the work you do. You don’t have to be so stressed. You can trust in God to take care of you..
You are more than what you product, you are more than what you, you are more than what people think of you. You are more than your job.
- You do not have to do more, know more, sell more, control more…
- You do not have to have your kids in all these different sports…
- You don’t have to have a job that makes you work 65 hours a week…
- You don’t have to be younger, more beautiful, or more financially stable…
- You don’t have to drive a better car than your next door neighbor…
- You don’t have to get ahead at work at the expense of someone else….
- You don’t have to kill yourself following everybody’s rules and expectations….
Sabbath is resistance to the economy of commodity. If you do not have a Sabbath habit then you are probably getting consumed by the Egypt mentality, because that is where our world is. What economy do you want to live in?
Join the Resistance!!
This is the second in a blog series on Sabbath. For deeper reading, I recommend Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now by Walter Brueggemann. Some of this blog post was directly inspired from that work.
Brennan Manning tells this story that captures what it really means to trust in God:
Dennis Rainey tells the story of a missionary family home on furlough, staying at the lake house of a friend. On the day in question, Dad was puttering in the boathouse, Mom in the kitchen, and the three children, ages four, seven, and twelve, were on the lawn. Four-year-old Billy escaped his oldest sister’s watchful eye and wandered down to the wooden dock. The shiny aluminum boat caught his eye, but unsteady feet landed him in eight-foot-deep water.
When the twelve-year-old screamed, Dad came running out. Realizing what had happened, he dove into the murky depths. Frantically he felt for his son, but twice, out of breath, he had to return to the surface. Filling his lungs once more, he dove down and found Billy clinging to a wooden pier several feet under. Prying the boy’s fingers loose, he bolted to the surface with Billy in his arms.
Safely ashore, his father asked, “Billy, what were you doing down there?” The little one replied, “Just waitin’ on you, Dad, just waitin’ on you.”
(Ruthless Trust, Page 94)
How often in our lives do we try to save ourselves. We struggle, we worry, and we try to find our way out ourselves. But the way of the Christian is ultimately a way of trust. This is what Brennan Manning calls “The Second Conversion.” The first conversion saves us from the land of sin and death. The second conversion saves us from the land of worry and self-hatred. We need to learn simple and child-like faith that lets us cling to Christ in all circumstances at wait for our Loving Father to come to our rescue.
There are so many Brennan Manning books and none of them are anything but life-changing. With that said, here are a few of my favorites if you are new to Brennan’s work.
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out– This is Brennan’s key book. I think that most of what he says in his other books is basically found here. His other books just dive deeper into certain elements of this book. The heart of the book is the heart of Brennan’s work–that God loves you like crazy. We are all ragamuffins before God. We are sinners desperately in need of God grace and able to do nothing to gain God’s grace.
Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God– In this work Manning talks about the defining characteristic of a Christian faith– trust in God. This is not just an emotional reliance on God but a total dependence on God’s grace for everything. What does it mean to live a life of trust? To live without anxiety?
The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus– This is a book about changing the way we think. This may make us do things that seem foolish to the world. Power becomes unimportant. Wealth becomes unimpressive. In the end all that matters is the love of our Fathe
Reflections for Ragamuffins: Daily Devotions from the Writings of Brennan Manning– This is a daily devotional with clips from various of Brennan Manning’s books. Get ready, because Brennan had a way of saying something even in a paragraph that could make you chew it all day long.
All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir– Brennan Manning died in 2013. After his death I got his memoir on audio cd. I found it so inspiring. Manning was mistreated as a child. He was an alcoholic and fell back into drink a number of times. He tried to get to God by living in a cave, living with the poor, and teaching in college and seminaries. Through all the ups and downs he came to learn of God’s radical love and grace for him.
There are so many other good books by Brennan Manning. Start one soon.
This Sunday I started a sermon series inspired by the work of Brennan Manning. I have not planned the series. I am just returning to some of the great stuff from Brennan that has inspired and shaped my faith. This past Sunday I preached about how much God loves us. You can listen to the sermon HERE. This blog is from that sermon.
Do you have any idea how much God loves you?
God loves you as you are and not as you should be.
God’s love is not an investment in what you could be because you will never be what you could be.
God’s love is not based on you at all. It is based on his own love.
Paul says that God’s love is unknowable.
God knows every bad thing you have done and still love you.
God loved you from before time began.
God calls you a son or daughter and in you he is well pleased
If you were a lost sheep, God would leave the 99 and venture out into the wilderness to rescue you.
If you were a leper, God would touch you and make you well.
If you were a prostitute, God would save your life and forgive you.
If you have run away from God, he will run to you and throw a banquet for you.
If you lived your whole life for yourself and then became a Christian, you still get the same payment as the workers who had worked the whole time.
If you feel like an outcast in society then know that Jesus accepts you like he did so many outcast people that he sat at a table and at with during his earthly ministry.
If you have had a rough and colorful past then you are in good company. All of Jesus’ best friends are like that.
Jesus died on a cross for you- not humanity in general, but you in particular.
In fact, if you were the only person in the world Jesus still would have gone to the cross for you because he would rather die for you than live without you.
God holds you in his arms and with a perfect love says, “I love you and you are mine.”
God is absolutely crazy about you!
I have already posted about the difference between analysis and discernment and 5 misconceptions about discernment. Those have laid the groundwork for how discernment works. Now I want to start getting more practical. Here are 5 Tips for discerning God’s will:
1. Set the Environment- It is important to get yourself into the right place for discernment. By environment I mean your space physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If God’s voice is a small voice or whisper than a loud world might be a problem. Take a hike at a park. Go to a beach. Sit in Starbucks with nothing to do but relax. Turn off your phone. I also recommend doing some centering prayer to get your own internal voices to quiet down as well. If you are like me then you probably go over all kinds of “what if” scenarios in your head. Stop it. This is where it is helpful to have others to pray for you as you discern.
2. Seek to Know in your Knower- You need to set the scoreboard right. The goal is not to get a feeling. The goal is not to make a logical decision with the best possible outcome. What are you trying to do is discern what God’s will is. My dad had a funny way of saying it: “You have to know in your knower.” I have found his description to be accurate. What you want to do is have an internal sense that a certain way is God’s will. If you understand that this is what your aim is then you can dump the pressures of having to feel or think certain things and can instead just trust your gut. Remember: this only feels unnatural because you have been trained to use analysis your whole life. Discernment is actually more natural for you.
3. Make Test Decisions- I learned this idea from Pastor Bill Hybels at the Global Leadership Summit one year. Honestly, I thought it was as stupid idea until I tried it about a week later. I have been using it ever since. If I am trying to make a decision, I will make a test decision for the day. Let’s say you have to decide between job #1 and job #2. Take a day and decide in your mind that you are going take job #1. Sit with that decision for the day and see how it feels. Then the next day decide in your own mind on job #2. I have found that by doing this give myself the time needed to sense God’s leading.
4. Have Patience- It is often difficult to discern when there is a lot of pressure to do so. God’s time is not our time and a time crunch often disrupts our ability to discern. In contrast, I have found that often people discern clearly and quickly when they finally give up the pressure to know the answer immediately. Take your time. Be patient.
5. Expect God to do His Part- You are not alone in the discernment. If God does have a will for your life then He is also partly on the hook to help you find what that will is. If your pursue God’s will and that is the honest desire of your heart then I believe that God will honor that. He may not do it in your time or in your methods. Furthermore, I believe God has the ability to fold bad decisions into His will. Trust God to show up and lead you.
In an earlier post I talked about the difference between decision making by analysis and decision making by discernment. I believe that Christians are called to discern God’s will rather than analyze our choices to make the most logical or beneficial one. As I continue this series of posts, I want to share 5 common misconceptions that people have about discernment.
Misconception #1 Discernment should be obvious. Most people believe that when God shows us His will that He will make it really obvious. That is simply not true. One time, as I was looking at seminaries and got a scholarship in the mail. It was like God was saying, “Jordan, here is $30,000. Is there any doubt anymore?” That was really the only time God’s will was so obvious. Every other time that I have had to discern God’s will it has been a slow and messy process. Perhaps God does that so that we can rely on Him instead of on ourselves.
Misconception #2 Discernment should be logical. We like things to add up and make sense. God does not care about that. In fact, God has a tendency to not make sense on purpose. He picks younger brothers, small armies, and broken people. He gives His work to fisherman. God likes the underdog and the illogical because there can be no doubt who the source is. Discernment is not very logical. God asks us to do crazy things sometimes.
Misconception #3 Discernment should feel right. People that I talk to about discerning God’s will almost always want a certain feeling to go with the discernment. They want a sense of peace, contentment, or joy when the right decision is made. That feeling is never promised us in scripture and rarely if ever happens. From the Bible it might be more accurate to expect that discerning God’s will should be accompanied by a certain amount of freaking out.
Misconception #4 Discernment should be an open door. Most people believe that when God has a door He wants you to walk through He will swing that door wide open. If there are multiple paths to choose from then people expect the open one to be God’s will. Christians will sit passively and wait for God to open that door. My experience, however, is that there are often many choices and options available in a time of discernment. My theology of discernment is one of closed doors. I am going to knock on any door and travel down any path and expect God to close the wrong ones.
Misconception #5 Other people should agree with what I see. We do not like to feel alone, weird, or outside of the norm, so it makes sense that we want others to verify our discernment. The challenge is that this affirmation is not always promised us. Job’s friends tell him to curse God. Jesus’ friends tell Him not to die. Sometimes God’s will does not make sense to other people.
Be the kind of Christian that will boldly follow wherever God leads you.