Hello friends! Today is Friday so that means I'll copy the congregation wide Lenten devotional and then offer some of my own reflections on that below. However, I invite you to add to the conversation by sharing your thoughts in the comments. Stay steadfast in the wilderness because we're ever closer to the great day of celebration of Jesus' resurrection!
Draw Near To God
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
As mentioned before, James is one of my favorite books of the Bible. I love it for its hard-hitting, no nonsense guidance on Christian living and reliance on God. But many preachers, teachers, and Christians bristle at James, with good reason. Jame's writing is not a tender softball pitch from God to us, but a tough-love letter to wake up and live into our calling.
In this passage from James, we are called to draw near to God so that God will draw near to us. Have you ever thought about your relationship with God in that way? Like two people, inching toward each other: In human terms, we take a step toward God, and God takes a step forward to us. James is clear that the more we move closer to the divine, the more the Triune God will return in kind. But this Biblical writer also offers conditions: clean hands, purified hearts, and a focused mind.
We are in luck, because these three conditions James lays out for drawing closer to God are precisely what we have been doing in the wilderness this Lent. Through our Scripture study, spiritual practices, and examination of our own lives, we are cleansed, purified, and focused our energy on the Supreme Being. In this way, we are prepared for the closeness James urges.
This devotional comes from Gifts of the Spiritual Wilderness: A Lenten Devotional by J. Dana Trent. A free copy of this devotional can be picked up from the church office.
Do you feel closer to God when you began this journey on Ash Wednesday? Make a brief list of what you think has contributed to this feeling. If you feel further from God than you did more than three weeks ago, explore that, too.
- My Thoughts -
As I was reading the line "take a step forward and God will take a step forward towards you" I was drawn the image of a chess game with God. Except less of a game of "my king wants to kill your king" and more "the king wants to reunite with His image" kind of thing. Alright, the metaphor isn't perfect but stick with me here.
Chess is a wonderful game of strategy that I also happen to be awful at. But here is what I do know about it. Some pieces can move a few pieces at a time, some can only move sideways, some can move vertically, some can move diagonally, and the horses can do crazy L moves. The queen is terrifying and the king is mostly useless. But here is what I also know about chess: you can only move one move at a time and cannot move again until your opponent has made a move.
If I imagine my relationship with God as a great game of chess I have to reflect on what each of those pieces mean. First, there are are lot of things in the way between the King and I. James is a book more about action than thoughts so let's stick with that. Sometimes the actions I take in my spiritual walk are timid and mostly mundane, like a pawn. This isn't a bad thing necessarily as many of the more significant pieces in chess can't move until there is a path clear for them to do so. In other words, get those pawns out of the way! I think the same is true for our faith. We cannot expect a person new to faith to make some drastic life change or some huge step in their discipleship. Someones first visit to a church cannot end with them leading a Bible study on the same Sunday. Someones first giving can't automatically turn into a beyond 10% tithe. These steps of discipleship are slow and they begin with first being willing to make a move - even if that move is just taking one step forward with a pawn.
But, my fear is for many people in their walk with God they get frustrated that it feels as if they aren't getting closer to God or that God has given up on them. This can never be true. My discernment on this is whether or not that person, perhaps you, that feels frustrated by your status with God is waiting for God's turn in this chess game only to realize it's actually your turn. God cannot move another piece and come closer to you until you move another one first. In more practical terms - maybe you've stopped reading the Bible as much since our collective journey to read it together. Maybe you've stopped daily prayer exercises. Maybe you haven't been to a Bible study in a while. Maybe you slowed or stopped your giving. Maybe you've pulled back from volunteering or serving on a team. I don't think we can ever go backwards in our faith and so it's not like you've reset your chess board, but, your game might feel frozen in time. Take a moment to evaluate like our spiritual practice for the day suggests: do you feel closer or farther from God at this time? Why? What pieces do you still have on your board? Pawns? Perhaps all of those are gone now and you're left with the pieces that can make big moves. That's exciting! What's holding you back from making that big move? Doubt? Fear? Needing a partner to go with you? Take time to pray on how you can go deeper in your discipleship and get a little closer to God. God hasn't given up on you - ever - you just need to complete your turn! God will get closer - always.
Praying the Hymns
I'm pretty sure I forgot to actually include the song on Wednesday....oops. But today I shall include it! I think a hymn that perfectly captures the idea of this devotional is "Nearer, My God, to Thee." I invite you to join in mind, body, and spirit. I'll chat with you again on Sunday for worship and another blog Monday/Tuesday. :)