As usual, I was doing several things at once. One day last week, I raced up the stairs in my home when panic overtook me. I had misplaced my phone. I checked the bedside table; I rummaged through my office, lifting papers and books. I returned downstairs to wander, again, through the kitchen, the living room, and the dining area. I gathered my senses for a moment. All the while I was searching, I was speaking with my daughter on the phone that was pressed against my left ear. 🙂
This is more than mere absent-mindedness. When I was a child, “multi-tasking” was a list of chores I received on a Saturday morning. Today, the options, complications and obligations of a typical day easily drive us to distraction. The pressures of “auto-pilot” living are hard enough on relationships with friends and loved ones, but the perilous threat we face is the neglect of a Presence of Christ in our lives. Presence is more than our service or testimony. It is a tangible power; it is a nearness and availability of Christ in us to family, friends and strangers we encounter. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives lifts us up out of dead works to serve the Living God.
In this last post in the “Closer to God” series, I’d like to talk about the challenges all of us have in walking nearer to God. Drawing closer to God demands the consistent recognition of His presence on a moment by moment basis. I call it Christian Mindfulness; quite simply, it’s learning to walk with God in the midst of any amount of pressure or distraction. It’s an evolution in our faith that teaches us our roles as servants, friends and children of God.
The Servant Obeys & Fears
As a servant, I need only know that I have a responsibility to hear God and obey His instructions. I will gain a reward or punishment based on the faithfulness with which I perform my responsibilities. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the story of three servants entrusted with varying levels of accountability.
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. He gave five bags of silver to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.” (Matthew 25:14 NLT).
When the master returned, the servant that was given five bags of silver had gained five more; he received a reward. The individual that was given two bags of silver increased by another two bags; he received a reward. It was only the servant that received one bag of silver that fell short of his master’s expectations and had reason to fear.
All of us fulfill the role of servant, regardless of how long we walk with God. Throughout the Old Testament, Moses is referred to as the “servant of God.” Likewise, Paul consistently refers to himself as a “servant of God” throughout the epistles. Paul acknowledges the Lord will judge his faithfulness.
“Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God;” (II Corinthians 5:9-11 NASB).
God holds our life and breath in His hands; He expects obedience. We will always maintain a fear of God in the sense that we stand in awe of His majesty and want to please Him. However, fear, as a servant fears his master, is not a complete description of the mature follower of Christ. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Proverbs 1:7). Yet, fear is only the beginning; it is not the end of the knowledge of God. The Christian who knows God only through fear is spiritually stunted. Such an individual will always struggle in receiving the grace and love of God.
The Friend Listens & Trusts
James refers to Abraham as the “Friend of God.” (James 2:23). He is quoting a phrase from Isaiah,
“But you, Israel, My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, Descendant of Abraham My friend,” (Isaiah 42:8).
The word “friend” implies an intimacy developed over time. Friendships occur as we share conversations and experiences. There is an exchange of goodwill. There is a deepening trust and fondness as we learn to understand one another. Friendship is a considerably higher order of relationship than that of a master and a servant.
In many ways, though, the relationship between master and servant might seem preferable to that of a friend. If you’re like me, many times you’ve encountered a decision and wished God would just tell you what to do. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? Welcome to friendship. Friends influence one another but don’t necessarily tell each other what to do. They talk; they question. They share ideas; they encourage. I believe difficult decisions come into our lives for the purpose of drawing us closer to God, as friends. If you’re sincere in reaching out to Him, your Friend will extend His influence and help you find your way.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB).
As Jesus was facing His Crucifixion, he spoke with the men that had traveled with Him faithfully through His three-year ministry. He said,
“No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15 NASB).
The years of ministry and fellowship bonded the hearts of Jesus and His disciples. These men grew from merely obeying orders to reach a point where they could begin to understand the purposes of God. As we truly grow closer to God, His friendship is a rich reward. Prayer ceases to be a “grocery list” of things we want or need and becomes the conversation God desired from the beginning.
The Child Loves & Inherits
How often have we prayed, “Our Father who art in heaven?” When speaking of God’s love and concern for us, Jesus never uses the terms, “My Master” or “My Friend” who is in heaven. In fact, that sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Jesus consistently teaches that the highest level of fellowship to which we can attain is with “Our Father” in heaven.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13 NLT).
It’s a fact. If we have received Jesus, we have been given the right to become children of God. Think about that for a moment. Isn’t it interesting that our status as God’s children is described as a “right to become?” I’m not talking about perfection by works… far from it. Something in us dramatically feared God while we were dead in sin. Our transformation as God’s children is as shocking as it is miraculous. Perhaps we weren’t whisked from the altar directly to heaven because we needed to get to know God as our Father, rather than our Judge.
“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:14-16 NLT).
The idea that the indescribably awesome, all-powerful Creator of this universe would accept us as His children is too much for our weak minds to embrace. Our hearts are new; but our old understanding struggles fiercely with the change. It takes a “walk” with Jesus for us to grow into the revelation that, in Christ, we are seated at the right hand of God our Father.
“But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4-7 NLT).
The Right to Become Children of God
This walk that give us the opportunity to grow closer to God comes with risks. It’s easy to be distracted from moving forward with God. Now, more than ever, we are tempted to settle for the false comfort of a changeless life. The eternal fact remains that Jesus has given us the right to become children of God. The decision to draw closer to Jesus, to possessing a real Presence of God in our lives, hinges upon our choice to claim that right on a daily basis. Christianity is not a spiritual state in which we find ourselves. It’s called a “walk” with God for good reason. We can be more than God’s servants. Through Jesus we can grow into more than God’s friends. We have been given the right to become children of God. We claim that right by growing closer to God every day.