When Less is More

“There is a paradox here: the less busy we are, the more free we are to do the essentially Christian acts. The less we hassle ourselves and one another with jobs, lists, and endless moralistic housecleaning, the more focused we become for truly productive lives of creation and vocation.”

Today is Wednesday, the sixth of April, 2022, in the fifth week of Lent.

Peace be with you.

Day 23,400

I’m a little late getting started, this morning. I slept later than usual, and decided, upon awaking, to go to the library to be in the staff group photo that was being taken. That happened at 9:25. Then I stopped for donuts for everyone on the way home.

In the meantime, C had an appointment with her foot surgeon who confirmed that she has broken another toe. This time, it’s the big toe on her right foot. As it turns out, the little toe still hasn’t healed properly, so she is supposed to wear her boot for four weeks. I’m thinking we need to bubble wrap all of the furniture.

In case you think I’m being mean, she is in on this joke.

There isn’t much else on the agenda for today, so on to the devotional.

TODAY’S DEVOTIONAL AND PRAYERS

"God of grace and truth,
make me whole,
a person of integrity who heals and makes peace.
I pray for eyes that see what's best in others,
a graceful and candid mouth,
hands that never twist but hold up truth,
a heart that aims to encourage,
and feet that pursue my neighbor's best.
Amen."
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; 
give thanks to him and praise his name. 
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; 
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
(Psalms 100:4-5 NIV)

Today I am grateful:

1. for the family of good folks at the Hurst Public Library, such a delight to work with them
2. for the "mission" that I have, to love God and love people
3. that the kingdom of God is not "a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17)
4. that less really is more in the Christian life
5. for the writings and lessons of Eugene Peterson

The prayer word for today is “mission.” Here is another word that has a lot of different meanings, not all of which bring about positive thoughts in my brain. The word “mission” has been thrown around by the church and has gotten to be rather cliché, in my opinion. It became a kind of catch-all to mean all evangelism efforts, as well as a thing that the church is “on.”

In the reading for today, the header is a quote from Maya Angelou. “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” I rather like that.

I suppose everyone has a “mission” of some kind. Some of them are self-appointed, and, perhaps, some are God-appointed. Some of us may not have a clue what our “mission” is. When I was in seminary (yes, I went to seminary), I was always amused at the number of guys (mostly guys, there were a few women, because, you know, Southern Baptists don’t exactly cotton to women preachers) who came from states like Alabama and Georgia, and had pretty much decided that that was where they were going back to when they graduated. Their “mission,” in their mind, was predetermined.

At sixty-four years old, I have struggled with “mission” for most of my life. I believe I have come down to this: (oh, no, is he going to say that thing about “two jobs” again??) My mission, and I have chosen to accept it, is to love God and love people. It is to display that love of God to as many people as I can in the time that I have left on this earth.

My mission does not concern politics. I have political opinions . . . who doesn’t? But they are not relevant to this forum, and will not be discussed on this forum.

My mission does not concern removing sin and evil from the world. Frankly, I do not believe that anyone other than God has that mission.

My mission is not “evangelism,” as defined by the current “church” in our culture. Contrary to what some folks have been led to believe, the Bible does NOT tell me that I’m supposed to “share Christ with everyone I meet.” I would love for someone to give me that chapter and verse. And it hurts my soul to see the lack of love that exists in many peoples’ efforts to be “evangelists.” It almost reminds me of Jonah.

If you’re not familiar with that one, read the book in the Old Testament. Jonah hated the Ninevites. He didn’t want them to be “saved.” He wanted to watch them burn. He was actually angry when they listened to his warning, which he didn’t want to give them, in the first place, which is why he got swallowed by the big fish (which was not a whale, by the way).

My mission is all about love. If, in displaying that love, I manage to bring someone alongside me in this journey of following Christ, all the better. My desire is to show them the love that God has for them by loving them.

(From Pray a Word a Day)

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.”
(Luke 12:22 NIV)

This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.
(Jeremiah 9:23-24 NIV)

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
(Romans 14:17 NIV)

Okay, let’s revisit that “mission.” This time, in light of some words by Eugene Peterson.

As we grow up, from childhood, we learn to do things. We learn to take care of ourselves, feed ourselves, tie our shoes (some of us), and so on. Then we learn how to help around the house by doing chores like taking out the trash, doing dishes, making beds, sharing toys (some of us), and so on.

Somehow, we have managed to mistakenly assume that the Christian life is the same. “God helps those who help themselves” is frequently quoted as being something that is in the Bible. It is not. But being a Christian, being a true Christian, “means letting God take care of us, totally.” Unfortunately, we try to figure out what we can do to “help” (that is in quotes because my human efforts seldom “help” God with anything). We think that, as we mature as Christians, we will take on more responsibility, “getting busier and busier in the Lord’s service.”

This is a very humanistic attitude, and runs rampant in the modern church.

“What we find, though, is that as we become practiced in the practices of prayer and worship and trust and love, we are more and more receivers and our lives are experienced as gifts, as grace.

“There is a paradox here: the less busy we are, the more free we are to do the essentially Christian acts. The less we hassle ourselves and one another with jobs, lists, and endless moralistic housecleaning, the more focused we become for truly productive lives of creation and vocation.

“The less we do, the more we find our Lord the Spirit doing in and through us.”

Sadly, having served in many local churches, through my adult life, I have seen tasks and jobs and lists being forced on people. Even if the church leadership didn’t have a clear vision of what they should be doing, they would make something up, rather than wait on God to move. The more I observed this, the sadder I got, and the more disenchanted I became with the institution.

As Peterson has so aptly pointed out, we need to do less to be able to do more. That’s quite the paradox. But there really are times when we need to “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And, in that being still, we listen, we pray, we contemplate and meditate, and then we do the real work of the kingdom which is . . .

You guessed it.

Father, help us to get this. Your Church, in general, especially in the USA, really needs to grasp these concepts. We make ourselves so busy, “doing Your work” (at least that’s what we think we’re doing), that we can’t see the real “work” that needs to be done. The oppression keeps on, the poor stay poor, the hungry stay hungry, and the homeless stay homeless, all because we get so hyper focused on issues that, while they may be important, in truth are not our concerns, our worries. You have given us our tasks. You have shown us what we need to do, and it’s right there in black and white. But we, just like the Pharisees of Jesus’s day, think we have to “help” You by making up more stuff.

God, forgive us, and help us, and have mercy.

Help me to do a better job of loving You and loving people. I have my own issues that I have to struggle with, and one of those is that I have a hard time loving people that I see spreading hate in this world. But I’m supposed to love them, too, and even myself have said that if you hate the haters, you’re just another hater. So help me, Lord.

I thank You for the “mission” that You have given me, even though it’s not so different from the basic mission of every Christian on the planet. Help us all to fulfill it.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:8 ESV)

Grace and peace, friends.