At What Cost? (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 15, 2015)

I am happy with where I am now, professionally. I absolutely love teaching college students and exploring my research ideas. My schedule is such that most mornings, I’m able to take my younger kids to school, and I even have time to run errands in the middle of the day now & then. I didn’t land my dream job overnight, though; my current success came at a large personal cost. In total, I spent about 10 years of my life in college, and I’m still paying off loans from grad school. I didn’t watch TV for about four years, because I needed every moment of free time in the evenings to study and write. I tried not to miss any big events, but some play time with my kids was also sacrificed during those years when I needed to work late or study.

All that is to say: there’s a cost to be paid in pursuit of our life-goals. Honestly, the same could be said for our spiritual lives. We’ve been working on a new song for the worship team recently, and one of the lines says, “Take it all, take it all, my life in your hands.” Every time I sing those words, I’m reminded of what it costs to follow Jesus. It’s not about having an emotional experience at church or camp; it’s about letting Jesus have total control of every aspect of your life.

In Luke 14:25-33, Jesus had a very frank conversation with a large crowd of wannabe disciples. They wanted to come along for the ride, but he needed them to understand that following him would be costly. Verse 26 often gets misinterpreted as Jesus advocating that we should hate our parents and siblings, but that’s not what he’s saying. I believe what he’s trying to communicate is that we are to have so much dedication to him that our relationships with everyone else – and our view of ourselves – pale in comparison.

The question is: What are you willing to sacrifice? What amount of free time, financial resources, mental energy, and elbow grease are you willing to put on the line to follow Jesus? Following Jesus is truly rewarding, but like the earlier analogy of my job, it takes effort and commitment to bring it to fruition. Proverbs 20:25 (NLT) warns, “Don’t trap yourself by making a rash promise to God and only later counting the cost.” If you are going to sing a song like “My Heart is Yours” or “I Surrender All,” then you need to mean it.

Gifts are for Using (Prayer Devotional for the week of November 8, 2015)

My little brother and I fell in love with a pair of soft & cuddly plush puppets at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo one year when we were young. They were puppies, and if you held them in the crook of your arm, it looked realistic (in our imaginations, that is!). I liked the brown one, and he wanted the black one. Our parents surprised us with the pups as a gift, and we played make-believe games with those puppets for years. I still have mine to this day.

 

Think about some of the favorite gifts you have received in your life. The gifts that come to my mind are things that I wore, used, consumed, or played with. I can’t think of any gift that I ever left in its wrapping paper, unopened. The simple act of accepting a gift involves action.

 

The Bible says that God has equipped each of us, as believers in Christ, with spiritual gifts (see Ephesians 4:7, Romans 12:6a, 1 Peter 4:10). These aren’t just things to keep tucked away for a rainy day; we should be putting them into practice. 1 Corinthians 12:7 (NLT) says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.” Some gifts are to be used within the church, while others are for sharing with unbelievers, as well. None of the gifts are just for our own enjoyment, and none are intended to be hidden away.

 

Later in that same chapter, Paul uses the human body as an example of how our gifts are supposed to work in tandem with each other. It wouldn’t do much good if all of us were eyeballs, would it? We often talk in church-ese about being “the hands and feet of Jesus,” but if no one serves in a behind-the-scenes role as the brain or heart, then the hands and feet can’t get very far.

 

If you have never taken a spiritual gifts inventory, then it’s a useful (and perhaps revealing!) exercise. Confession: I used to feel put out that I always score high in Administration, because that sounded awfully dull. But then, God opened doors of opportunity for me to lead and serve in different capacities that were a good fit for me, and I was able to use my gifts in ways I hadn’t realized before. I encourage you to be open to however the Lord has equipped you, and give back to him by way of service to your church family and community.

To Know God (Prayer Devotional for the week of September 20, 2015)

Is knowledge enough to get us through life? I would argue that it is not. Let’s use an example that is near & dear to me, since my eldest just got his license: driving a car. You can study the handbook provided by the DMV office; you can memorize every motor vehicle regulation in your state; you can even get practice on a simulation machine. But, any of you who already have your driver’s license know that none of those things compare to actually getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and driving yourself.

 

Why, then, would we expect our spiritual lives to be any different? Simply attending church now & then or saying, “Bless you” when someone sneezes is not the same as having a genuine relationship with Christ. On occasions when I’ve had the chance to share my faith, I can remember several times when someone would respond, “Yeah, I believe in God.” Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but James 2:19 tells us that even the demons believe that much, and they tremble in fear at the name of the Lord. In fact, Luke 4:41 goes so far as to say that the demons even understand that Jesus is the Christ! They know everything they need to know about the Lord, so what’s the problem?

 

Just believing in God and even believing that Jesus is the Messiah is not enough. That knowledge has to make a journey from your brain to your heart. Romans 1:21 is a good example – it says that although the people knew God, they neither gave him honor nor thanks. In other words, the knowledge was all in their heads, and not in their hearts. The Common English Bible translation puts it this way: “their foolish hearts were darkened.”

 

God wants us to know him, and not just know about him. You know the difference … think about your spouse and/or your very best friend. That person really knows you; in fact, he or she probably knows what you are thinking before you even say a word. They don’t just know facts about you, but they know your heart. God has written us a very lengthy love letter, and he wants us to know his heart.