Thursday, July 26, 2012

Divine Service

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
        Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
        From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
        If I lack'd anything.

"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
        Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
        I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
        "Who made the eyes but I?"

"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
        Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
        "My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
        So I did sit and eat

-George Herbert

I've been doing a Bible study this summer on Psalm 23.  Today the author included this poem since the verse that we were meditating on was 23:5, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows."  In relating the meaning of the poem, she described anointing with oil as an action a host undertakes for an honored guest.  Then she said this:

"As you sit there, God comes up behind you and begins gently pouring oil on your head to anoint you. This signals to your enemy that you are someone special whom God has anointed and that you are protected. You might imagine God’s palms resting on your shoulders, maybe God even leaning over you in endearment. Can you feel God standing behind you this way?"

I realized I rarely think of God this way.  Like in George Herbert's poem, Love bades me sit and be the honored guest and I object that I am the one that must serve.  I was reminded of Peter when Jesus washed the disciples feet.  I've read that account hundreds of times, but never analyzed where I put myself in the scene.  I'm definitely with Peter.  If Jesus kneeled down to wash my feet, I would ask him to please let me wash his instead.  I don't feel like God's honored guest; I feel like his servant alone.

But doesn't God call us to be like he is?  If God says, "serve one another in love" (Gal. 5:13), then he is telling us to do what he himself does.  God serves us in love and we reflect this to others by also serving in love (1 Pet. 4:10).  God serves me so I serve others.  I learn what devoted service is because God is devoted to me and treats me like an honored and loved guest.  Not only that, but serving others IS serving God (Eph. 6:7).  It's a beautiful cycle of service: God serves me - I serve others - Serving others serves God - who serves me.

In Luke 12, Luke relates a parable that Jesus told about people waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet.  They are waiting for his knock on the door so they can let him in.  Jesus then says this, "It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them."  Jesus pictures his return as a master clothing himself to serve his faithful servants.  His servants recline at the table and he waits on them.  Is this not a startling image?  Do you see Jesus as returning to serve you, delighting to wait on you while you recline in peace?  It startles me.  I don't keep this image at the forefront of my mind.  I think I have to work and work; rest and peace and letting God serve me are far from my mind.

O Lord God, may I capture this image!  May I walk in confidence and peace knowing you have chosen me as your honored guest.  May I rest in this picture so that I can reach out to others, wanting to be to them what you are to me.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Devoured or Strengthened?

"Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.
Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion,
seeking someone to devour."
1 Peter 5:8

How does the devil devour people?  How do I know if I am being devoured?  In the context of the above verse, Peter talks about humbling ourselves before the Lord so he may exalt us.  If we are not humble, we are ripe pickings for the roaring lion.  Our pride propels us away from God and into the mouth of the adversary.  In a previous post I explored what it means to walk humbly with God: It is to "recognize his sovereign rule, to trust his sovereign knowledge, to love and serve him by obeying his commands."  In pride, we reject God's rule and knowledge.  How does this make us weak and easily devoured?  The devil is called the Father of Lies (John 8:44).  The devil feeds us lies and encourages us to doubt God's rule, God's goodness, God's very existence.  He calls us to put our faith in ourselves, to throw off humility and clothe ourselves in pride.  Paul depicts the devil as firing arrows at believers (Eph. 6:16), flaming arrows of temptation and lies.

"For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth
to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him."
2 Chronicles 16:9

When I read the above verse, I immediately thought of its similarity and contrast to the verse that describes the devil as a roaring lion. Whereas the devil prowls the earth, seeking someone to devour, God looks throughout the earth to find people to strengthen.*  The context of this verse involves King Asa of Judah, who took gold and silver out of the temple and gave it to the King of Aram so that the King of Aram would join with him against Israel.  In doing so, he demonstrated that he put his faith and trust in another nation to save him and not God.  In other words, Asa did not walk humbly with God.  He did not view God as sovereign ruler and protector of Judah.  Who does God strengthen?  Those whose hearts are fully committed to him.  Those who know God is sovereign and who trust his rule.

It is by trusting God that we are strengthened and defeat the devil's flaming arrows.  Ephesians 6:16 says, "take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one."  The devil is defeated when we defend ourselves with trust in the Lord.  As we stand firm, we are strengthened by God who sees our faith and bolsters our committed hearts.  The more we stand, the more we will be strengthened.

Today, are you a candidate for devouring or strength?  Are you prey for the roaring lion or a faithful heart upheld by the Lord's strength?  We are either one or the other.  We either listen to the lies of our adversary or trust in the Lord's power.

*Another telling contrast in the this verse is that the devil is a lion, a created being with one form who has to roam the earth looking for someone to devour.  God's eyes search the whole earth.  In other words, God can see all at once and strengthen everyone whose hearts are committed to him.  The devil is a limited being who can only devour one at a time.