A friend mine recently walked away from his family and the church he was leading. This friend had graduated from Bible College and had dedicated his life to serving the Lord. Thankfully, his story isn’t over yet.
Here’s the thing about my friend though: as he has made these choices, and as he walking this path which is destructive both to his family and his own soul, he has not ceased believing that the core truths of Christianity are true.
In other words: it is possible to believe the right things, and yet not do the right things.
In 1 Kings 18, we see an example of this with both King Ahab and the people of Israel. They knew what God wanted them to do, yet they didn’t do it. Why not? There were several reasons, including fear and pride, but underlying these things is a question about what you truly love and desire.
Augustine argued that the things which defines a person more than anything else, is not merely what they believe to be true (as important as this certainly is), but what they love and desire. Sin, he explained, can be understood as “disordered love,” and the way to change a person, therefore, is to change what they love.
The good news, is that you can cultivate love and desire for things through the practice of forming habits and doing actions. This is the role of spiritual disciplines in our lives. See: The Role of Habits in Transformation.
In this video, Mike and I discuss this and other ideas related to the importance of desires, not just beliefs, in our spiritual life and walk with God:
The Bible uses a few terms to describe what a relationship with God looks like, and how it is to work in practice. Some of these terms imply movement, such as walking with God (Genesis 5:22, 6:9, 17:1; Luke 1:5).
There are other terms however, which at first glance appear passive. A further look into these terms reveals that they actually imply action:
Wait on the Lord
The word “wait” conjures up thoughts of waiting at government offices, hospital waiting rooms, or waiting for Christmas to come. All of these are passive actions: you have no control over the outcome, and many times these experiences of waiting sap our energy. Waiting for 2 hours at the DMV can be exhausting, even if you spend the whole time sitting in one place and not moving.
However, to “wait on the Lord” is not a completely passive action. The word “wait” in Hebrew is the word Qavahwhich means “to hope” or “to expect.” It can also be translated “to bind up,” or “gather together.”
While on the one hand, the outcome is out of your control, you are not completely passive nor inactive; you are doing something because you know the God who controls the outcome.
It is in this way that Isaiah the Prophet could say,
“Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)
Whereas in many cases waiting can be an exhausting and energy-sapping experience, waiting on the Lord, Isaiah tells us, actually renews your strength and invigorates!
It is in this sense that the Psalm-writer says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.” (Psalm 130:5) This is not the waiting of passive inaction, but the hopeful expectation of trusting in God’s word and God’s promises.
Abide in Christ
At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:5,8-9)
To abide means “to remain, to dwell.” In the picture of a vine and its branches, the branch has to merely stay attached to the vine.
Yet, while on the outside it may not appear that there is any movement involved in the branch abiding in the vine, under the surface there is movement of nutrients from one to the other, providing life, health, and growth, which is seen by the fact that this abiding produces something: fruit.
For us to abide in Christ, on the one hand, involves not moving away from Christ, but the actions of abiding are anything but passive. Another definition of abide is to adhere to a pattern of life. Practically speaking, abiding in Christ requires intentional action to pursue fellowship with God.
These intentional actions by which you abide in Christ are also referred to by the term spiritual disciplines, things like prayer, studying the Scriptures, fellowship with other believers, generosity and giving, and more.
In 2 Peter chapter 1, Peter urges the believers to “make every effort” to add to their faith: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5), stating that these things help us not to fall, and they help us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)
The outcome may ultimately be the Lord’s work in us, but we are invited to participate in working out what God has worked into us, and we get to participate in cultivating our own spiritual growth.
May we be those who trust in, wait up, and abide in the Lord Jesus, not passively – but actively. May we be those who work out our own salvation, knowing that it is God who works in us to will and do to His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)
One of Aesop’s fables tells the story of a man who found a goose who laid golden eggs. Every morning, he went and found another golden egg that the goose had laid, until one day he became greedy, and decided to cut the goose open so he could get more golden eggs. Of course, by doing so, not only did he not get any extra golden eggs, but he also ceased getting the daily eggs he had previously received, since the goose was now dead.
The point of the fable, Aesop said, is that greed often overreaches itself. However, like with most parables, there are several applicable truths packed into this very short story.
Many of the best things are acquired indirectly
The golden eggs in the story represent a desired outcome: something you want. For you, that might mean spiritual growth in your relationship with God, it might mean increased knowledge of the Bible or theology. It might mean deep and meaningful friendships, developing a skill, or increasing your success in your work. It might be making an impact on the world around you.
But what this fable illustrates for us, is that whatever the “golden egg” is for you, it is usually acquired indirectly. When the man in the story pursued the golden eggs directly, seeking to bypass the goose, he ended up with nothing, and killed the thing which gave him that which he wanted.
CS Lewis writes about how friendship works in a similar way. Friendship, he points out, must be about something else other than the friendship itself. The basis of a friendship is that both people are committed to and passionate about something beyond their friendship. “This is why,” Lewis says, “those pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any.” “Those who have nothing can share nothing,” he points out, and concludes: “those who are going nowhere can have no fellow travelers.” (The Four Loves, ch. 4)
The same is true of spiritual growth. To quote from John Piper: “Doctrine is the fuel for worship.” The way to grow, the way towards deeper worship, is indirect: it is through getting to know more about who God is and what He has done and will do, which fuels growth and worship.
If you’ve ever met someone who is purposefully seeking to “climb the ladder” or make a name for themselves in an organization or community, it often backfires, because it is seen as off-putting and self-serving. On the other hand, those who make a practice of genuinely and faithfully serving others will not remain anonymous for very long.
If you want to keep getting “golden eggs”, then make sure you feed the “goose”
The goose in the fable is the thing which you must “feed” in order to get the desired results.
If your goal is spiritual growth, then to “feed the goose” means to do those things which will result in spiritual growth, e.g. reading the Bible, prayer, attending worship services, joining a community group.
At White Fields, something our leadership has done is develop a plan that guides us in doing the qualitative activities which we believe will lead to our desired outcome (our vision): to build and foster a passionate, engaged and spiritually healthy Christian community to influence and bless Longmont and beyond. The way we go about doing this (our mission) is by making disciples of Jesus Christ through teaching the Word of God, engaging in the mission of God, and raising up leaders. In order to accomplish that mission, we have tried to determine what things we should be doing, which will lead to those outcomes.
The same is true on a personal level: a few years ago, after a doctor visit in which I was told I was pre-diabetic, I decided I wanted to get in better shape. Since running seemed to give the best return on investment, I decided to do that. Rather than setting weight-loss goals, I’ve set running goals, knowing that if I run a certain amount, whether I lose weight or not, I will be in better shape.
Make sure that the “golden eggs” you’re after are godly and aligned with God’s heart and will for your life, and then determine what the “goose” is that will produce that outcome, and feed that goose.
Moving beyond good intentions and wishful thinking
I have found that using my calendar is the best way to make sure I’m feeding the “goose”.
Reading through the Bible in a year is a great goal, as is family devotional time and committed church attendance. However, if you don’t use your calendar to block out times for those things, they won’t often move beyond the realm of good intentions. I have found that by putting things in my calendar, I am able to prioritize things according to my values, rather than being a slave to the “tyranny of the urgent.”
May God lead you, as you seek Him, to determine the right “golden eggs” to pursue, the right way to “feed the goose” and the ability to be intentional in doing so.