Hey everyone, let me start this post by apologizing for how long it has been since the last one. With getting engaged and youth retreats and sickness and a wedding, I blinked and two months had passed! But, I am rededicating this blog as a top priority. I’m excited to reconnect with you all!
Spiritual disciplines are designed to help rebuild our relationship with God. But there is an important part of that relationship that is often overlooked – how we relate to God’s creation. Just like songwriters pour a part of themselves into their lyrics and artists pour a part of themselves onto their canvases, God has poured part of Himself into His creation.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
As human beings, we are reflections of God. Part of God was instilled within us when we were created. We are supposed to reflect God: His love, His light, His hope. We are all children of God. Every person you meet has a part of God in them. No matter how much they have tried to bury it, He is still within them. When we interact with them, we are also interacting with a part of God.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will gather before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me”
Then the rightous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirst and you gave me nothing drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothing or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
First and foremost we must understand that one of the main purposes of this verse is to show the importance of helping the poor (not just poor in regards to money, but to circumstance as well). Jesus’ ministry was all about restoration, and taking care of the needy, and bringing in the marginalized. He strongly emphasizes that here. But when he compares helping the needy to helping him, I do not think it was just a figure of speech. He very intentionally stated it in that way for two reasons. 1) He wanted to catch the attention of his followers. 2) He was reminding his followers that his Father, our Father, lives within all of us. How we treat others is a reflection of how we treat God. If we treat his creations with respect we are showing Him respect. If we show no respect to His creations, we are showing Him that we do not respect Him. How we interact with God’s creation is an important part of our relationship with Him.
But it is not just how we interact with people that affects our relationship with God, it is also how we interact with the rest of the world around us.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
God has created the world to proclaim His glory. Everything around us points to Him. The beauty of a sunrise. The power of the seas. The gentle breeze rustling the leaves. All of creation displays God.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of me who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
When we disregard, disrespect, and ignore God’s creation, we are refusing to listen to the world that is praising His name. We talked in the last post about the importance of community and how worship does not just involve us and God, it also involves other people in our lives because we come together with them to worship God. We also worship alongside the world around us. As the mountains and rivers praise God, we also praise Him alongside them. To ignore their worship of God is to refuse to worship with them. This breaks the shalom that God intended.
When we kill, destroy, and ravish God’s creation, we are, as Paul pointed out, “supress[ing] the truth by [our] wickedness.” Creation’s worship is a testimony to us of God’s glory and power. To destroy and defile creation is to suppress the truth of creation’s testimony. It is to silence knowledge about God.
Outward spiritual disciplines help us connect to God by connecting with the people and the world around us. They also let us live out the parts of God that are reflected in each of us.
The first outward discipline I want us to discuss is service. Service is one of the ways we feed/clothe/visit others and thus feed/clothe/visit God. It is all about how we act towards other people. Service acts as a way to remind us to constantly live a life that helps others.
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”
Here we see how important service is. Jesus knew he only had hours to live and he thought it was important to serve his disciples. He stops in the middle of a meal, his last meal, to wash his disciples’ feet. Why? Why was service so important?
Service is one of the ways that we bring forth the kingdom of God. Service is an act of love towards others, and thus towards God. It is following the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.1
Our culture revolves around wanting to be served. Most of us strive for, or at least dream of, being our own boss. We don’t want to work under someone, we want people to work under us.
But our love is shown by what others do for us. God’s love does not shine through us by others serving us. God’s love shines through you when you serve others; when you place someone’s needs, wants, or desires above your own.
Great love is shown through sacrificial acts. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for others.”2 We are called to step down, off of our high horses, and connect with people by valuing them.
That is the root of service. When you serve someone you show them that you value, appreciate, and respect them. You humanize them. You state that you are not superior to them. In doing this we restore the shalom that God intended us to live in.
Service is rooted in seeing others as God sees them; not as people that can be used, but as people who can be loved. It is only when we can see others and recognize that their needs are as important as our own that we can begin to serve them. When we become entangled in our own wants and needs, the worlds of others become hidden to us. When we are the center of our lives, a veil hides everyone else from our sight. When we place God at the center of our lives, he illuminates those around us, their needs, their hopes, their desires. It is through our connection with God that we can best understand those around us because we do not approach them for our own gain, we approach them for God.
Below are some questions and ideas for you to reflect upon to help reorient yourselves to a servant mindset.
- Are you more inclined to serve or to be served?
- When is the last time you have served someone?
- What does it feel like to be served by someone else? To be fully loved by someone in the same way that they love themself?
- Add this prayer to the beginning of your day: Lord, you are the giver of all things. You know when your children are in need and you know how and when to best fulfill that need. Give me your eyes to see the needs of others around me. Give me your wisdom so I can best fill their needs. Give me your heart so that I have the desire to serve your children, my brothers and sisters. In the name of your son, whose life of service I strive to exemplify, Amen.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
These verses point to the idea of Simplicity, of shedding of excess, of being content with little. Simplicity might be, in today’s culture, one of the most difficult disciplines to practice. Our culture is obsessed with stuff. We are defined and judged by how much we have, how much money we make, how nice our car is, how big our house is. Our place in society is largely determined by the amount of stuff we have.
The societal placement by stuff we have is out of control. It has gotten to the point where those in low-income housing will spend money on iPhones and gaming consoles and nice cars instead of on food. They do this so they don’t feel as poor. They do this so they can fit into society. They do this to feel human in today’s culture.
Our physical stuff is not the only thing that we use to measure our success and importance. The amount of things we have to do in our day plays a large factor into our status too. Many of us cram our schedules with as many things as possible until we have no time to breathe. It can sometimes seem that having nothing to do and nothing planned is unproductive and wasteful. There is a saying that I heard a lot growing up: If the devil can’t make you bad he’ll make you busy. There is a lot of merit in that. It is so easy to get caught up with what we have or what we are doing that we forget to think about God, or about other people.
When so many things are pulling for our attention, life gets messy and complicated. It can be hard to prioritize or to say no or to let go. The root of simplicity is placing God first and understanding that we don’t need all of the things and experiences that we want. What we need is God, and everything else falls after Him.
I am not saying that you need to live your life like a monk and give away all you have. I am saying that you should live with a mindset where you are honestly willing to give away all that you have. With this mindset, simplicity breeds generosity. When you realize and truly take to heart the knowledge that all you need is God, it becomes much easier to give things to those who are in need. The one truly eternal thing is our relationship with God. He is the thing that stays with us forever. Everything else fades.
Below are some questions and tasks to help bring simplicity into your life.
- In what ways have the ‘more is better’ mentality shaped your life?
- Is your identity found in what you own and what you do?
- Who would you be if all of these were gone?
- What one item or activity would be the hardest for you to give up? Why?
- List 5 small ways that you could practice simplicity in your life today.
Outward disciplines are great ways to connect to God by being intentional about how you interact with the people and the world around you. As we begin to respect what God has created, a new respect for Him begins to blossom. The next blog post will discuss one-on-one ways of connecting with God. Keep an eye open for Part 3 where we will be discussing inward disciplines!
1 Matthew 22:39
2 1 John 3:16
Feel free to comment with any thoughts, ideas, or questions! I would love to hear what you think!