Monday, November 28, 2011

Finding Quiet

     Every day it seems I wonder about the tension between service and solitude. Between programs and prostrating ourselves before God. Between work and worship. I'm welcoming this season of quiet. While I've been through the season of frenzied service (stayed much longer than I'd like to admit) I'm now finding I miss the sense of accomplishment that comes with a full calendar.

     I see that God is drawing me to a quiet, peaceful place. Deep down I know that He is here, that I'm not missing His call in any way. But the lure of the good stuff that fills up our days is tough to shake. I wonder, could I be doing more? Am I doing all I can?

     Suddenly, out of nowhere, my heart aches in thoughts of not "doing" enough for God. Back to my knees in prayer, I find comfort in knowing that if God wanted me to do more, when I seek Him on this matter, He would clearly tell me to get to work. Instead, He says, "rest, my child." So, quiet finds me once again, and my soul is quieted by His peace.

     It's funny how I deceive myself into thinking I'm not doing anything worthwhile. How easliy I can totally lose sight of the fact that I'm in seminary full time. And, that I'm teaching Sunday school. And, that I'm raising a son, loving a husband, and learning to create a home environment that is settled; learning to keep the chaos of the world from entering the threshold in any way. Yet, in the subtle ways of the enemy, my mind is drawn to the criticism of the clucking voices the world. The competitiveness of human nature. Fighting off the shortcomings of a frail esteem, looking to external validation instead of internal confidence in the One who overcomes it all.

      In prayer, I've spent many conversations with God asking if I'm missing something. If I'm being lazy, quitting, or just disobedient. Yet, in His still small voice, I hear the Lord whispering to my spirit, "you aren't missing it, you're finally getting it!" Getting it. Thank you, Lord for helping me better understand who You are, and who I am in You.

     Whatever I thought was important is laid aside to find what is most important to God. What titles, accomplishments, status and pride-driven plans were in place before are laid at His feet. Gladly. I'm quietly waiting for Jesus to take my best, mold it and shape it into His best for my life.

     Yes, I pray there are certain roles He will allow to continue in my life. Particular projects and lanes of ministry. But to ask Him to bless what I've put in place seems tragic. Trivial, really. Why would I ask the God of all creation to bless what I, His feeble creation, could conjure up for grandeur? Sad, really. Yet, in the human mind, this seems sensible. Like something we not only deserve to do, but should demand of our God. As if He has any obligation to bless the work of man's hands.

     No, I'm clinging to the truth that He will bless what is in His will. He will further His kingdom according to His perfect plan. All I ask is He allow me to come along. To follow Him and join in the work He is doing. Whatever it looks like. Whether anyone else ever sees the work of my hands, or if it is in obscurity. Because nothing is unseen to God, and He is the audience I crave.

     What will that look like in my life? Sweetness. Perfect submission. Not a five year plan and a perfect business model, but obedience that spells out the next step of working out my salvation. Of following hard after God. Of a commitment that will work harder than I've ever worked, persevere at a level I've never gone, and love deeper than I ever thought I could.

     And, of a life that has the gospel permeating every step. Of sharing the gospel through a peaceful life that is curious to a hurried world. Of a messed up, unpolished person who has the glow of a perfect Savior. A simple one who confounds the wise. One who has received grace, and extends that grace to others.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


The tension between ministry and marketing can be enough to drive a writer crazy. After all, we have a message to share, and we want to lead others to Christ. But, in that process, there comes a point where we have to tell others about ourselves, the book, and ask them to purchase our work. Which one do you prefer? Marketing or message? This kind of tension is a good thing, if it leads us to re-evaluation and a renewed commitment to finding balance in our ministry. We need to have a commitment to both, but finding the sweet spot is key.

If the Shoe Fits

Sometimes marketing and ministry work together and feels comfortable, like slipping into our favorite shoes. We have a conversation with someone, and in the most natural way, it shifts to our ministry, and we have the opportunity to celebrate what God is allowing us to do. They leave the encounter with an excitement, a recognition of God's presence, and a desire to read what our heart has spilled out on the page.

But, other times, it's like stuffing our toes into that pair of high heels that look great, but make us walk with a limp. You know, the times when our conversation shifts to a more obnoxious, "look at me" routine of pitiful "buy my book" pleas. The moments where the audience is silently begging to just get to the end of the sales pitch, so we'll get over ourselves, while at the same time we're hurrying to kick off the source of our own throbbing pain. The moments when we know the listener would rather be cleaning a closet than listening to our self-promotion.

Waves of Adoration and Defeat

I have to admit, I realize God used a season in my past to prepare me for the writing life. See, I was a crafter. Did craft shows. Filled a U-Haul with my wares, set up my booth, and endured the continual sea of people, extending their waves of rejection and affirmation as they passed by my tables. At the time, I had no idea God would call me to ministry, or to speaking and writing. All I knew was that invariably, some would reject the work of my hands, while others would praise it. What a fruitful training ground.

Now, as one who has traded in the U-Haul for the printing press and conference stage, I experience the same waves of adoration and defeat. Maybe people like what I have to say. Maybe I step on their spiritual toes. Either way, I press on, focusing on whether what I did brought glory to God. And, maybe, just maybe, I get to lead them to the Savior who has captivated my soul with His love. Those are the moments I live for; those are the times I feel Him smile down on me, and wrap me in His affirming love.

Finding the Sweet Spot

So, where's the balance? How do we achieve that perfect fit between pinchy, pushy marketing and the comfort of a pure heart? How do we learn to ride the waves, whichever way they lead, unmoved by anything other than the Father's whisper?

I wish I knew the perfect answer. I struggle with this more than I'd like to admit. This is a common issue with Christ-followers in ministry, and one that is an unending heart check for us all. Who's getting the glory? Us? God? For me, my downfall is that I'd rather people know Jesus than know my name, or what I've done. So, marketing my "brand" suffers. Which, by the way, in the end won't do much for your success in publishing.

And, on the flip side, if God has called us, shouldn't we work hard, and do everything we can in order to see what He has ordained succeeds? Yes, I believe we are called by God, and called to work hard. We should produce excellent work. Be a worker of excellence. Succeed.

And, in this, is the tension. Somewhere between His glory and our excellence we find the sweet spot. The place where His Spirit leads readers to our books, and people to our conferences, all while He is able to have His way with each one. The place where we find our perfect fit, then get out of the way.

Jennifer Devlin

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Jesus Needs Me...Or Does He?

"Jesus needs me this I know, for my culture tells me so..."

Are these the words to our beloved song from childhood? Unfortunately somewhere between the snack time, sing-a-long, and real life, we add a few of our own lyrics to the tune of our faith.

Jesus needs us?
Does He?

I propose that our faith gets turned upside down every time we make this subtle shift in our approach to spirituality.

Jesus doesn’t need us, He loves us. He wants to be in relationship with us. Nothing we can do will get Jesus to love us more. He has loved us with His perfect, unending, unfailing love, since the beginning of creation. He loves you as much as He will ever love you. Right now. Whether you check those busy blocks or not.

And, if we get this through our thick skulls, and into our hearts, the deeds that show up in our life will be based on our love for Him. Not our desire for perfection, acceptance, or approval. Our fruit will be our worship to God. Not the works of the flesh.

Do we stop serving? Absolutely not. I agree with James that faith without works is dead. I agree that we should help our brothers and sisters in need. But it is so easy to twist our heart attitude into thinking we can give Jesus some lip service and a handout, and He’ll like us more. No. He’s looking at our heart motivations. Why are we doing this thing? Who are we doing it for? If I do something solely for the purpose of being popular, perfect, accepted, or to make myself feel good (a personal pat on the back for helping that poor, helpless soul is a clear indicator of this) then I miss the point of serving with the love of Christ.

In recent years, Christian circles have been buzzing with the all-too-important phrase “needs based ministry”. In an attempt to get people out of the pews and into the world for Jesus, we’ve tried to convince our fellow Christ followers that the missions we do, the ministries we engage in, must be meeting the needs of the world around us. The movement is expanding into every need. Every activity. Everywhere, in every way. Everything from food, to housing, to oil changes, to hair cuts. Parties and candy. Sports and games. All good stuff, but Lord help us if we try to do all this to get Jesus to like us more; or simply because we think Jesus needs us to do it. Like He couldn’t fill the needs of people without us. When done right, the gospel is shared, and the people we meet will get more than a neat activity or helpful hand. They will receive the hope of Christ. Even if we don’t share the entire gospel message, God will know if we’re sharing His love or checking a self-made spiritual block. And in our right heart attitude, and only then, does any of our work glorify God.

In fulfilling this grandiose plan, often times we meet flesh needs, forsaking the most important need of all – spiritual regeneration and sanctification.

To me, this is the plumb line, the true measure of whether we’re doing it out of our love for Christ and a motivation to see others come into relationship with Jesus Christ. Are we more concerned with the stuff we’re giving out, or the spiritual condition of those who receive? If we give a cup of water in Jesus’ Name, we give it in His message, in the hope that they will recognize and receive the Living Water. Otherwise, we’ve only satisfied a fleeting sense of thirst.

I do believe spiritual conditions are a greater need. I also agree with my critics, who are at this instant are arguing with me in their minds about how we can’t share Jesus unless we meet “them” where they are. I agree. If they are hungry, they won’t listen unless their tummies are full. If they have other basic needs, they may not hear what you say about Jesus unless you show them the love of Jesus. Agreed.

But, there’s got to be a balance somewhere in our approach. I’ve seen this needs-based theology played out far too many times with humanitarian efforts being the extent of our meeting. Where the assumption that just because we’re wearing a Christian t-shirt, or we tell “them” we are from a particular church, then our outreach for Christ has been effective. In that way, I highly disagree that we’ve met the needs of others in a biblical way.

Friend, the “them” aren’t just a project. They are a lost and hurting people who will certainly perish if they don’t know Jesus. And, as Paul told the Romans, if no one tells them, how can they receive? The miracle of the Great Commission is that God allows us, His people, to be a part of the process. Not because we are super great servants; but because we should be a people who can’t possibly contain the hope we have inside us. Because we should be sharing the excitement we have about Jesus everywhere we go. Even when we give someone a glass of water. Why?

Because we do it in His Name.
For His glory.

When Jesus fed the multitudes, He did so because He had been teaching the people, or they had been following Him for miles; seeking Him. The people had been listening to Jesus teaching and got hungry. When Jesus healed, there were times He healed a single person in a crowd of many in need, as a tangible example of His power. He left others untouched. Why? I think it’s an example for us that it isn’t our job to try to fix everything – just what Jesus leads us to do. Obedience is key, and glorifying God is always the goal. Jesus’ central motive was giving glory to God, and proclaiming the hope of salvation.

When the early church heard that some of the widows from their own flock (fellow believers) were not being fed, some were appointed to answer this need, in order that those charged with the job of sharing the gospel could do so without being distracted. And, please notice, this was an assignment for feeding those within the church, not a humanitarian effort to feed all who are hungry. I believe God will call us to feed, clothe, help, serve and love, but we’ve got to be ever mindful to do exactly what He has called; not what we make up our programs to do.

I know, you may be thinking I sound like a heartless, uncompassionate person who is squelching the love of God. But look, if we get bogged down by trying to be a social justice organization that tries to meet the needs of all, we will lose out on the opportunity to effectively reach some. We will be so worn out from trying to keep up with our own wonderful plans that we won’t have time to hear from God about His distinct plan for us personally and collectively. We’ll put more emphasis on the program and process, and become more of an institution. We’ll lose our focus on letting God lead us through His Spirit, obediently following His every call. We’ll get into the destructive thought process of thinking that Jesus will only love us if we do all this stuff He obviously “needs” us to do.

Does He need us?

Seems to me, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit did just fine at Creation. They did perfectly well at Calvary and the Resurrection. They have brought forth leaders to show us how to be followers of Christ, including Paul who was forbidden by God on numerous occasions to follow his own travel plans. God has also revealed that persecution will come to those who truly follow His plans. The Trinity has given us hope that at the end of the day, at the end of the story, they won’t need us to help them defeat the devil.

God’s got all that covered.

What does He ask of us?

Repent and believe. Submit, obey, and be in relationship with Him. Love the church and the world like He loves us. Not because He needs us to, but because we are able to through our relationship with Him. As an outpouring of worship.

I propose that if we truly understand this concept, our service will not be draining. Or defeating. Or leaving us empty. We’ll know that it’s ok to stay in the lane God has created for us. Competition will fade. Contentment will come. Our destructive need to control others and gain power will go away. Our reputation won’t matter. Our resume won’t count. Our best efforts for success won’t even be a glimmer in our minds, because all our thoughts will be surrounded by one thought, “Am I glorifying God in this?”

We won’t care if we’re famous, popular, or promoted. All that will matter is that Jesus loves us, and our hearts will be set on living in light of that, however it is expressed.

I think that if we got this right, our effectiveness would increase. Instead of getting less done for the kingdom, our churches and families would function in a healthy manner, and we would better focus our time on the things God has equipped us to do. We would no longer feel bullied or badgered to be all, do all, or go with the flow of toxic busy-ness. We’d be free to live as the creation God made us (what a thought) and we’d understand the importance of Sabbath rest, true worship, and true witness. Best of all, we’d be reminded that Jesus loves us, because the Bible tells us so.

(C) 2010 Jennifer Devlin

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