Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Serious Side of Life

“…be ye therefore sober” (1 Peter 4:7)

I have been memorizing the book of 1 Timothy and have been delighted as the Word of God has come alive in my prayer life, my conversations with others, and in my reading the whole of scripture solely from hiding this large passage in my heart.

The Holy Spirit is our teacher and He promises to use God’s Word to exhort, train, convict, comfort, and change us. All Scripture, Paul tells us, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). According to these verses, God’s Word is the means we have for equipping ourselves adequately in order to be well-prepared—efficient and perfectly fit for whatever we may face in this life or the life to come! I desire to be prepared.

I have found that the first three chapters of 1 Timothy alone carry with them the proper tools for whatever I may encounter: it has shown me how to better pray for others, how to glorify the God Who called me, how to witness, how to defend the gospel, how to confidently stand upon the truth, what my purpose is as a believer, how to combat sin, how to worship, how to define false doctrine and what to do with it, what not to think upon, how to conduct myself in the presence of others and in the presence of the Lord, and more specifically, as a woman, how to live in a manner that pleases my Creator. These chapters expound upon the character and judgment of God—revealing His love, longsuffering, mercy, divinity, authority, wisdom, immortality, faithfulness to man, and incredible sacrifice. And, as if that is not all, memorizing this passage has increased my commitment to Christ—the Redeemer of my soul. It has stirred within me a deeper passion to see lost men brought to the knowledge of the truth. And it has instilled within me a greater love for the Holy Scriptures—a greater hunger and thirst for the things of God.

One word that continues to jump out of the book of 1 Timothy is the word sober! For men in leadership, this attribute is an absolute…but it is also commanded to be seen in their wives as well—and in chapter 2, women who adorn themselves in it bring glory to their God, beauty to their person, and order to the Assembly! It is understood that all women, married or single, must place higher attention upon dressing themselves in sobriety (“in silence”) than in jewelry or costly attire. Young men are equally exhorted to bring their minds under the subjection of such a discipline. In other words, the Spirit seems to say to my heart, this is of utmost importance to every believer—every elder, pastor, man, husband, wife, woman, boy, or girl. “Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord” (Zechariah 2:13).

I am finding that sobriety focuses my mind on the eternal, motivates a quiet spirit (and a reason to close my mouth), and adds intense passion to my prayers. To be sober, is to be serious.

The idea of being sober is confirmed through many of Paul’s letters and the apostle Peter; the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah (and others); and through Jesus Christ Himself.

The challenge that I continue to receive from the Spirit as I meditate on this letter to Timothy is “how much time are you giving to learning and putting into practice what it means to be sober?” And then the question arises from that challenge: and WHAT exactly does it mean to be sober?

The Strong’s Concordance defines the word sober as: “sound in mind, self-controlled, moderate in opinion or passion, discreet, temperate, abstinence from wine, circumspect. To discipline, to correct, to teach.”

Webster’s definition backs up the Greek language and gives further insight into how we may live this word out practically: “marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character and demeanor. Unhurried, calm. Marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness. Showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice. Well-balanced, restrained, rational.”

The idea of teaching our mind to be circumspect, controlled, and calm is wonderful. Who would not want to be all of those things at all times? The trouble lies not in the wish “to be”, but in the will to carry out such a desire. For that requires thought, time, and training. Discipline always involves training…a boot camp, so to speak, on being still before the presence of our Almighty God. In order to begin to “be sober” I will begin to feel restraint, correction, a possible heaviness…and I must not resist. To be sober does not mean we are comfortable. In fact, to be sober can be quite opposite our idea of comfort!

I must reckon with the reality that sobriety means being serious about all things. It is not a dissenting on humorous dialogue, pleasure, side-splitting laughter, or fun and games…! Laughter is, by God's definition, the best medicine! I love to laugh! But we are not to leave sobriety at home when we are off to be jolly! We must always take it with us. Sobriety is moderation—in all things. It is not forgoing the utmost pleasures of this life (pleasure was His idea) but it is allowing for tears—allowing your heart to fill with the knowledge of a lost soul or another's pain—and having the ability to step away from pleasure in order to meet those needs. It is letting the Lord stir His emotions inside of you
. It is learning to recognize sin—and grieve over it—in your own life or in the life of another. It is hating that which God hates! It is self-control—recognizing when you have fed your flesh enough! It is the ability to say, “Enough!” It is learning to be steady in your reactions and responses, and firm in that which you believe. It is consistency in your walk! It is a desire to feed on Christ MORE than the desires of your own heart—finding yourself needing Him more than your fun or your friends or your most earnest desires. And it is engaging yourself (your time, your energy, your passions) in those things that God loves—evangelism, exhortation, discipleship, service, prayer.

First of all it will require a saying “no” to some things in order to clear our calendar. We are not saying “no” to sin necessarily…we are just saying “no” to some activity that might be filling a valuable slot of time with lesser things! If we are to teach our mind to be sober we must make room for it. It will require periods of time. Sobriety does not just happen through quick daily reading of His Word. Although it doesn’t have to be a full blown inductive study every time we open our Bible, we must seek to create opportunities for digging deeper in the treasure of God’s Word. This will work best if we have a plan, a specific time, a passage, a notebook, and a heart content to wait upon our God!

Second, it will require a willingness to engage in prayer. “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).

We need to be asking our Savior, the Man of Sorrows, to burden us with that which burdens Him. He is looking for disciples willing and ready to stay awake and pray along side their Master. I am often asleep with Peter, James, and John—not because I don't want to stay awake—but because I am not attentive to the Spirit. I say that I care about His desires and want to please Him but I find myself unable to “keep my eyes open”. Why? I think it is because in reality what I say is far from the truth
I really DO want my "sleep" more than the burden of prayer and the energy I must pour out in communicating to the Father.

I wonder...if those 3 friends of our Lord had purposed to stay awake that night in the garden, and helped each other do so, might they have succeeded? I wonder…if they had strained to hear what their Master was saying just "a stone's throw away," would they have been overwhelmed by Jesus’ emotionally disturbed pleas, obvious burden, and loud cry of utter surrender? Do you think that hearing such deep agony might have arrested their attention and driven sleep from their eyelids? Even without a full understanding of what was going on, I think those men would have been praying—praying for their friend in obvious pain and turmoil of spirit, and for themselves—that God would give them a greater knowledge as to what was happening.

That is what I desire—to actually hear the plea of God, to feel the beat of His heart through His Word, to sense His burden, to see His tears, to be overwhelmed by the need, and to not be able to shake that reality from my mind
to not be lethargic regarding realityso much so, that it will drive me to pray.

Jesus, we are told, lives to make intercession. That is what He does, all day, every day...! And He is asking us to pray with Him.

“Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober…let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (1Thessalonians 5:6, 8).

And third, sobriety comes with great humility! Being sober is being willing to take last place. It is willing to work hard and long even if no one is paying a lick of attention to your accomplishments for the
Kingdom of Heaven. It is focusing completely on Christ while you are on His mission! So often our eyes are turned to what we are doing (compared to what others are doing) and we quickly forget this important principle.

We far to easily dissect another believer’s actions and motives compared to our own (not compared to the Word of God). We become concerned with petty details which rob our spirit of sobriety (even when we are not aware of it)—consumed with how another's lack of help effects us negatively, how individuals replace our way of doing things, how the ministry is wearing us out, how someone is being elevated while we are being shoved under the carpet, how we are misunderstood, how we are persecuted, how we are having to pull all the weight ourselves, etc… Do these comments sound familiar!? In ministry we are tempted to look at all the joys and trials, all the happy, helpful people, and all the people that get on our nerves more than we look up at our Commander! When we are busy looking at everyone else it is because we are totally turned SELFWARD! Self is a barrier to sobriety.

In Romans 12:3, Paul reminds believers to guard against this form of pride, this indiscreet behavior: “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.”

We must consider others more highly than ourselves.
We must turn away from self completely! This is an important part of being sober-minded. I believe this sin can easily creep in and invade our heart masked as a multitude of well-justified thoughts. Let us be careful to moderate every single frustration and bring it under the subjection of Christ, who “thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant…and being found as a man, he humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). In the end (and even now because of eternity) all the pettiness does not matter!

To be sober is to remember Christ above all things. It is to take Him with you everywhere you go…whether it is to church, or to witness, or to dinner with a friend, or outside to play! He will teach us how to moderate our actions and bring every passion under control. He will help us see people as either lost or saved and therefore give us the knowledge that will motivate a boldness to share Christ. He will show us what to watch, read, who to spend time with, where to walk, what to pray, how to serve, what to think upon, how to be content. He will gain further access into our hearts, giving us a greater desire to know Him. The more time you spend with Jesus, the more intimately He will share His thoughts with you. It is from those incredibly rich times you spend with Jesus that practical application for your life will flow! It is from those times that your prayer life will increase…because you have now experienced the Savior sharing His burden with you. And you must carry it well!

The more this desire for sobriety grows in my heart and mind, the greater I am aware of how far I am from obtaining it. Let us strive together to be like Christ completely, “exhorting one another: and so much the more as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews
10:25). I urge you to memorize a portion of scripture—it is an excellent way to discipline your mind and your free time.

To be sober is to keep our eyes fixed firmly on heaven and keep before our face the image of eternity—we are to “love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8) and to pay utmost attention to the little time we have left. Jesus will come again and receive up into glory only those who have called upon His name! To be sober is to desire that which your Savior desires and He “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ…But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer…Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1Peter 1:13. 4:7, 5:8).