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Just do it (spiritual formation on the run)

Paul Long

 
Busy - busy - super busy. More than busy - also stressed ... so re-centering time! This is a chapter in which my ramblings are long overdue ... :-)


JUST DO IT
Chapter 28 of Alex Tang's Spiritual Formation on the Run

First the chapter, then my ramblings ...

I have always been fascinated by the Desert Fathers and Mothers
who lived in the fourth century. These men and women left behind everything they had to live in the hostile deserts of Egypt, and later Syria and Palestine. The desert is a deadly, unforgiving environment. In the day, the sun bakes the land mercilessly while the nights are freezing cold. Yet these people left behind comfortable, secure lives and loved ones to live alone in the desert. They moved there to fight the demons in the desert, and the demons within themselves. Like Jesus' temptation in the desert, these elders sought the purifying furnace of the desert to encounter God. Though we are separated by 1500 years, cultural, social and linguistic differences, the teachings and sayings of these elders have much to teach us.


A brother said to Abba Poemen, "If I give my brother a little bread or something else, what happens when the demons spoil these gifts by telling me that it was only done in order to please people?" The old man said to him, "Even if it is done to please people, we are still obliged to offer what we can." He told the following parable.


"Two farmers lived in the same town. One of them sowed and reaped only a small and poor crop, while the other did not even take the trouble to sow and, as a result, reaped absolutely nothing. If a famine comes upon them, which of the two will find something to live on?" The brother replied, "The one who reaped the small poor crop:' The old man said to him, "So it is with us: we sow a little poor grain, so that we will not die of hunger."


Abba Poemen has given us two important lessons on serving or ministry. First is that no matter what we do, it will always come out of impure motives because of our fallen nature. There is no such thing as pure altruism. Everything we do will be tainted by our sinful nature. Somehow, pride and a desire for power, glory and affirmation will dog our every action. Does this mean we do not do anything? Abba Poemen said even if our motives are impure, we still need to serve others. This reminds me of the disciples who complained to Jesus that some people were baptising people in His Name. Jesus' answer is illuminating - so what, they are also doing God's work! (paraphrased Mark 9:38-39)


The second lesson is that we have to sow even if the harvest will be meagre. In the parable, Abba Poemen did not elaborate on the soil condition in the town. The soil must have been so infertile that the second farmer did not even bother to sow. Yet the elder said, "So it is with us: we sow a little poor grain, so that we will not die of hunger." There are times when our service seems to fall on such hard ground. For all that we put into our labours, the outcome is so discouraging. We became frustrated because we do not see the fruit of our labour. Those whom we serve do not appreciate us. Our loved ones misunderstand our calling. We burn ourselves out in an effort to generate "results." As we look at our own service or ministry situations, we maybe tempted to give up like the second farmer. Jeremiah, often known as the "weeping prophet;' never did see the fruit of his labour. In spite of his preaching, his people refused to repent and he saw the destruction of his beloved country. Yet Jeremiah persisted until the end. Explorer and missionary Dr David Livingstone made one convert in all his years of hard work in darkest Africa. Yet his explorations opened the way for others to follow, and the years after his death saw the opening of Africa to see the Light.


Abba Poemen's message is simple: Just serve the Lord as faithfully as you can. Sometimes we can be so hung up on the whys and wherefores that we lose sight of our calling. We are called to be faithful servants.
 

 
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WARNING! The following ramblings meanders even more than usual ...

 
I think one of the problems I have (that many will identify with) is that it is hard for me to say NO. I tend to say YES quite readily, and then much farther down the road (from hindsight) I wonder if it would have been wiser to have said NO. 

 
What's good is that I have generally figured out the areas where I will almost always say YES to. So at least since I know, I can be more aware - theoretically that is. But maddeningly this is not necessarily the case! Perhaps it is not the wisest thing to do to share what they are! LOL But perhaps just two as some elaboration   is needed for this post to make sense.... The first is opportunities that will open doors for kingdom related work. And the second is when good friends ask for help. So now you know two, so please don't abuse this knowledge! :-) The trouble is of course that even those two general areas cover a vast variety of situations and really, it is hard to say NO in these two areas.

 
An additional problem I have with saying YES is that the more I do, the harder I work and more involved I become, the more the chances of becoming over worked, stressed out, distracted and / or misunderstood. Yes, even in what would seem clearly to be doing positive things and God's work. My list of "good things" I have done and am doing (or trying to do) that is causing me stress gets longer each year. :-( 

 
My problem is compounded further in that it is frustrating for me that often for all my best intentions, there are  some situations where my motives are questioned (rather unfairly). Just makes me want to give up. Sound advice that many will give is to ignore your critics ... Easier said than done as my God given temperament is such that I have a tendency to OVER-REFLECT. criticisms stay in my system for a long time. What is good is that if properly considered, analysed and prayed over, there will always be opportunities for improvement and spiritual growth. What is bad is ... hmmm do i even need to spell this out? :-)

 
I would have preferred a chapter titled. JUST DON'T DO IT! A chapter that will give me more reasons to pack up my bags and join a monastery or something like that! Problem is, of course, joining a monastery will present a different set of challenges where the basic issues of life will present themselves in a new form.

 
I have a love hate relationship with the phrase "JUST DO IT". :-)  Not because I have anything against Nike, but it reminds me of the title of one of my own sermons that will not let me go - a sermon on the Good Samaritan. And of course after months of abiding this chapter, it keeps coming back to my mind (oh foolish me to keep a file on this topic on my desktop as a reminder that it is a project that is still pending :-)) Then of course I had to preach a sermon last week on The Lost Sheep and Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10) ... and guess what my next sermon is on? The Prodigal Son *sigh* :-)

 
Okay, what has helped me. First is that no matter what we do, it will always come out of impure motives because of our fallen nature. Somehow, pride and a desire for power, glory and affirmation will dog our every action.

 
That is liberating (though it sounds strange) - and I am currently listening (and re-listening) in my car the Pastor to Pastor CDs on Personal Holiness.... (oh the irony). I struggle so much with the reasons why I serve. Why I say YES. I want my service, my relationships to be pure and unconditional. Yet I don't want to fall into the trap of substituting works and service for grace. It is liberating because I think I finally get it (hope there is no relapse! :-)).

It's okay to want to set an example for others. It's not necessarily pride - though a bit of pride is in a way involved.

It's okay to blog about my life and joys and successes, and to preach using positive personal lessons I am learning .Yes, there is the danger of becoming puffed up but it is also truth in real life. It's okay for me to be tired and discouraged and  even a bit grumpy (occasionally). It's part of being a flawed human, and it's okay as long as I also repent and learn and grow to be a better person in Christ.

It's okay for me to grab hold of the many opportunities that have the potential to further the kingdom of God. Yes, even positions that put me into positions of greater authority than I am fully comfortable with. It is a good thing to be willing to serve in such positions when one enters with a deep awareness and fear the temptation of power and glory. 

The second lesson is that we have to sow even if the harvest will be meagre.

 
It can be discouraging to plod on and not receive encouragement. It is worse when the silence is only broken by criticism and negativity. But the harvest imagery is so precious.  Galatians 6:9-10 has been in my mind a lot the last few years.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. 

 
BTW, there is a connection between Galatians 6:9-10 and the areas in which I tend to say YES ...

 
After nearly 20 years in full time vocational ministry, I look back and see many failed projects, but just as many successful ones. Not necessarily successful in terms of the original goals but definitely successful in terms of relationships built. These may have been by products but I see these now as the most significant. 
I need to keep this in mind in the many current projects / activities I have said YES to. I need to remember my calling and focus is built around Christ and to be people oriented.

 
Abba Poemen's message is simple: Just serve the Lord as faithfully as you can. Sometimes we can be so hung up on the whys and wherefores that we lose sight of our calling. We are called to be faithful servants.

               

"treat, heal, and comfort always"

 "spiritual forming disciples of Jesus Christ with informed minds, hearts on fire and contemplative in actions"  

 

     
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