Because life is a series of edits

That’s Not Natural

In Seminary on September 4, 2007 at 7:06 am

I started the first of my seminary reading this past weekend in preparation for my classes beginning this week. I’m taking two night classes that meet once a week and total five credit hours: Tuesday night’s class is Educational Foundations; Thursday night’s class is Ministry Leadership. Both look to be a fair amount of work on top of everything else, but at least it’s mostly reading and writing (as opposed to translating and exegeting).

In the Leadership Handbook of Management and Administration (one of the lamest-named book series on the planet edited by James D. Berkley), James Earl Massey penned some challenging words in chapter 3, titled “Our Responsibility to God”:

“Those concerned about godliness will naturally seek methods for creating and sustaining openness to God. They will give themselves to planned times of prayer, corporate worship, open dialogue with other believers, the devotional study of Scripture, and moments of meditation. These methods of openness are really creative responses to the initiative God has shown in sharing his gracious Presence with us. Each of these methods helps us to sense the Holy and stimulate us to receive the vitality that is available to us by the grace of God.”

Naturally? For whatever reason and as long as I can remember, everything listed above mostly happened (and still does) by way of a lot of work. I’m not sure what this means, other than I’ve probably spent way too much time trying to figure out what is or isn’t godliness, instead of “naturally” gravitating toward it in some form or fashion.

Of course, the problem with a paragraph like the one above is that it is presented as an idealistic summary statement rather than understood as a realistic progression toward a goal. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed seasons in which one or more of the aforementioned elements was in play, but all of them all of the time, not so much (and rarely “naturally”).

Massey goes on to say:

“The point is that we, with our specialized knowledge of God and leadership positions and spiritual skills, can fall victim to a false sense of security. We must remember that in teaching others about God, we must know God ourselves; that in calling others to faith, we must be believers, too; that in feeding others, we must eat of the food that will nourish our souls as well. Like everyone else, we too need help to grow spiritually.”

I resonate much more with this statement, probably because I feel the hypocrisy described within it on an everyday basis. There’s no worse feeling in the world than teaching what you are not necessarily experiencing at the moment; or asking of others what you yourself seem unwilling or unable to give at the time; or serving others when it is you yourself who want or need to be served.

I don’t want it to be this way, but sometimes it is. All I have is the hope that grace will somehow cover me (again) in the interim, and that what seems so unnatural in the past and present may somehow become less so in the future.

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  1. I resonate with both of Massey’s paragraphs above. Within my own life what Massey has described has been the case; but I have also observed much the same thing in the lives of those I’ve had the privilege to serve in pastoral ministry. What I understand Massey to be saying (and what I’ve seen and experienced) is that a love relationship with God flows just as naturally for “those concerned about godliness” as did my desire to be in relationship and have times of being together with the woman I would eventually marry.

    When a person’s heart-felt desire is godliness (ergo relationship with God), he/she will find and make the time int be in communion with God. Likewise, when I began dating my future spouse, I was also working several hours away, in the process of completing an M.A. program, and preparing for pastoral ministry. And yet, no one thought it strange (in fact to most it seemed natural) that I also found time to spend time with the person I was to marry.

    Was it work sometimes? Sure–but it didn’t seem like it at the time. But work is also natural–preordained in the beginning of Genesis!! :-) As with everything else, when something begins our primary purpose (making money, love, power, or godliness), we will find ways and the time to have it happen.

  2. Wow, sorry about some of the typos above. Also in the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention that during times in my life that I was not making time for devotional reading, meditation, prayer, etc; I (personally) was not “concerned about godliness.” My concern(s) were on other things. Thus, I also find some conviction in Massey’s words, which I suspect is a good thing.

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