Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Help me be an un-self-conscious servant

This is a reflection on my quiet time with God today. For an explanation of how I approach my time with God see here.

If the model you find there, taught to us by Navigators, doesn't work for you, I encourage you to find some way that you can get away with God, read and ponder His Word, and pray at least five days a week. It can be transforming to spend time regularly, not just in worship on Sunday, which is an essential part of Christian faith, but also on our own, quietly, attentively. I try to maintain quiet time about five days a week.
Look: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Luke 17:10)

Luke 17 begins with a warning from Jesus: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.” (Luke 17:1-3)

These are frightening words. They warn believers in Jesus not to be the instruments by which others are tempted into sin. In my life, I can look back on times when I have been exactly that.

Jesus’ words call for me to genuinely repent, leaning on the grace that God only gives to those who turn from sin and turn to Jesus as their only hope. Without Jesus, I am without hope for forgiveness or for life with God beyond death. It’s terrifying to contemplate!

Jesus also tells me to watch myself. In other words, I need to honestly assess my thoughts, actions, and motives. I need to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to see the truth about myself, so that I can repent. I need the help of the Holy Spirit to run away from temptation and sin. Watching myself means being willing to hear what God, with His perfect insight, tells me about myself in His Word. If I’m open to God, God will grow my faith and my character. Then, I will want to forgive those who sin against me, as Jesus commands in this chapter.

But very often, I’m like the twelve apostles who, in response to Jesus’ words in Luke 17:1-3, say: “Increase our faith!” If God would just magically increase our faith, we wouldn’t be susceptible to temptations, we wouldn’t be disloyal to God and so, tempt others into sin. If God would give me a bigger faith, it would be easy for me to forgive. At least, that’s what the disciples seem to think. And, honestly, it’s what I often think. I’ll catch myself in a sin and think, “Why did God let me do that? God should have given me bigger faith.” My first impulse is to blame God, instead of myself.

Jesus tells the apostles that the issue isn’t the size of their faith. A little faith (about the size of a mustard seed) in a big, gracious God is all that’s needed (Luke 17:6).

Besides, Jesus seems to say in vv. 7-10, concern over the size of our faith grows out of our sinful self-absorption. Faith, whatever its size, is a gift from God. It’s a gift that opens our hearts, minds, and wills to doing what God wants to do through us. No matter the size of our faith, or its depth, God can use the opening to Him created by our faith to enter our lives, prayers, actions, and thoughts and do great things. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10). “Get your minds off of yourselves,” Jesus is telling us, “and just walk in whatever faith you have at the moment.” “Walk away from sin and walk toward Me,” He’s telling us, “and I’ll take care of the rest.”

This approach will steer us away from getting full of ourselves when, by the power of God working through our faith in Christ, we do something good. Like faithful servants, if attention is called to some good we’ve done, we can say: “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.”

In fact, Jesus seems to say that as we seek to walk in fellowship with Jesus each day, we will lose our self-consciousness. In the judgment scene Jesus portrays in Matthew 25:31-46, the “sheep,” the faithful, have no idea what King Jesus is talking about when He lauds them for visiting imprisoned believers, offering water or food to the thirsty or hungry, clothing the naked, and so on. “When did we [do any of those things]?” they wonder (Matthew 25:44).

Listen: As I walk more closely with Jesus, I am bound to hear more clearly as He warns me about the temptations I may present to others, the faultiness of my own character and behaviors, and the susceptibility of those who seek to be faithful to self-rigtheousness or dismissive of the seriousness of my own sin. Just yesterday, I said something cutting about another person which presented an invitation to others to join in. It took me a while to realize what I had done. Now, I regret it and repent for it. I contacted several people to whom I had made the comment to apologize for my sin. I need to be open to God both to avoid a recurrence of such sins (and many others) and to know when to seek God’s forgiveness in Christ’s name. “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1).

I cannot presume that when I approach the Father in Jesus’ name that God will excuse my sin, but that He will forgive my sin. God is gracious to the repentant! (Thank You, God, for that!)

Respond: God, help me to focus on following Christ without reference to others’ applause or notice.

Help me to be so focused on following Christ that You can freely work through me.

Help me to resist temptation and grant, God, that today I will not be an instrument of temptation to sin for others.

Help me to simply do what You tell me to do: love You, love neighbor, be a disciple, make disciples.

In Jesus’ name I pray. 
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]

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