This week's "thought" comes to you from Gary Thomas in a new book I just picked up the other day. It's called "Sacred Pathways" and is actually very beneficial in helping earnest Christians to understand each other. He covers nine "sacred pathways" that Christians follow in their pursuit of God and worship of God. There is the Naturalist, the Sensate, the Traditionalist, the Ascetic, the Activist, the Caregiver, the Enthusiast, the Contemplative, and the Intellectual. And as any good author should, he points out both the blessings, biblical grounds, and also dangers of each path.
It's helpful in understanding your brothers and sisters in Christ who worship the same Jesus, but do so in various different (not wrong) ways. In that sense, it not only offers a chance for greater understanding but greater unity among earnest believers in Jesus who differ in their approach to God and their service for Him. This excerpt is from the second chapter, before getting into the nine different pathways. Enjoy.
Where is your Gethsemane?
"The Garden of Gethsemane holds a sacred place in faith history. It is the hallowed piece of ground on which Jesus prayed just before he was arrested. Churches don't normally talk about Gethsemane apart from Passion Week, but the reason Gethsemane had such a monumental role in the famous week, is precisely because it had such a huge and formative role in Jesus' life prior to Passion Week. John 18:2, in speaking of Gethsemane, says: "Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had OFTEN met there with the disciples." Luke backs this up: "Jesus went out AS USUAL to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed Him." It wasn't an accident that Judas found Jesus in the garden. The betrayer naturally thought, "Where is Jesus most likely to be found?" He felt certain that Jesus would seek solace in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he was right.
Jesus had used the garden on numerous occasions to meet with his Father -- to gain spiritual strength and to receive his marching orders... That's why Jesus went there to prepare for what was about to take place... In fact, Jesus went there every day of Passion Week: "Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night at the hill called the Mount of Olives" (Luke 21:37). The experience of Gethsemane, of course, is unique to him. None of us will ever have a moment like that. But in using this sacred space, Jesus leaves us an example to follow. When you need to hear from God, when you need to be strengthened by God, when you need to receive your marching orders from God, where do you go? ... Where is your Gethsemane? (Is it a garden, a room, a forest, a sanctuary?)
What I appreciate about using Gethsemane as a metaphor for meeting with God is that it portrays a vivid example of the balance between intimacy and mission, prayer and work. I can't think of Gethsemane without being moved by the intimate communion between Son and Father. On the other hand, this garden is also the scene of intense spiritual preparation for the most important work ever done. In a healthy Christian life, prayer and ministry go hand in hand. As we build intimacy with God in prayer, he communicates his love for us, but he also gives us our marching orders. In this way, prayer feeds our sense of mission and renews the urgency behind that mission. Likewise, Christian work -- whether it is evangelism, administration, teaching, discipleship, or something else -- reminds us of our need for God's strength and thus drives us further into prayer.
When we get too caught up in ministry and cut corners in our devotional time, the results can be disastrous. We begin to minister with the wrong motivations, risk losing our passion, and often are tempted to make it all about us instead of all about God. Dr. Wayne Grudem experienced a glimpse of this while working on the final translation of the ESV (English Standard Version) of the Bible. A dozen scholars from around the world gathered in Cambridge, England, to do the final polish of the translation. They worked nine hour days discussing the remaining tricky passages, voting on final word choices, and completing the project. Informal discussions often stretched into the evening as scholars contemplated the next day's work. Wayne said he started getting up a little later each day, taking away time from prayer.
Many people might not see the danger in this. After all, Wayne was spending the entire day studying and discussing the Bible! What was the big deal if, for a rather short season, he allowed his prayer life to drift a little? According to Wayne, it became a very big deal. After God convicted him for not giving prayer its due, Wayne wrote in his journal about the spiritual sickness that followed from not tending to his heart: "pride, talking about myself a lot, inwardly hoping people would praise me, lack of love for friends, irritability, a general inward feeling of unease, self-reliance, and no peace." These are the classic signs of drifting from God.
Wayne was devoted to a very pleasing work -- translating the Bible -- but even the act of translating the Bible can leave us spiritually empty if we ignore building intimacy with God through prayer. The image of Gethsemane reminds me that I need to tend to my heart. When I give God the opportunity to speak into my heart, he motivates me to work -- for the RIGHT reasons. Working diligently, I'm reminded of my need to receive acceptance, favor, and strength from God. In this way, prayer and ministry together become a spiraling upward staircase of devotion."
In my time on the mission field in Honduras, I met with many missionaries who came to speak with me because they had lost all affectional connection to God. Call it burnout, call it depression, call it a phase, after speaking with them it became clear that for most, they were so busy serving God that they lost touch with God. They skipped their prayer time, devotional time, and other times of contemplation and private worship, and it resulted in the need to step back and set those things as a daily priority.
As one of my professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary once told us in his class: "Don't ever think that as pastors, just because you are in the Bible, studying Scripture, and preparing lessons and sermons on Gospel truth, that you can count that as your personal time with God. No, you need to nurture your own soul for you, and not in your time of preparing material for others." I didn't understand the difference then. I do now. He was right. As Corrie Ten Boom once rightly pointed out, "If the devil cannot make us bad, he will make us busy." Too busy to set aside personal quiet time with our God.
Living in the Grace of Jesus, Pastor Jeff