Tuesday, February 24, 2009

God’s Good Gift of Sleep

Psalm 127 is a well-known passage of Scripture. The first half (1-2) emphasizes the necessity of God superintending our work if it is not to be in vain, while the second half (3-6) extols the blessing that children are, picturing them as arrows in a man's quiver. But tucked away at the end of verse two is a little appreciated line:

It is in vain that you rise up early

and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

for he gives to his beloved sleep.


What Solomon indicates here is that apart from the LORD's blessing of our labor, it is vain (cp. Eccl 1:1-18). But this last line also recognizes the good gift that sleep is to his people. When we rest our heads on the pillow at night, we are in effect implicitly trusting both the sovereignty and goodness of God. We are trusting his sovereignty because sleep is the cessation of our labor. It is us recognizing that whatever remains undone, God alone is sovereign over it. We are trusting his goodness in surrendering to the rest that our bodies need to enable us to function. It is us recognizing that we are not God.

If you're anything like me, it is easy for my mind to run wild at the end of the day as I lay in bed waiting to fall asleep. Often my mind turns to the things that did not get done, or what must get done for the next day. This can easily turn into sinful anxiety (cf. Matt 6:25-34). At the root of our anxiety is often the idol of control. Deep down we believe that we either have or must have control. And if we push that even further, it is at the root rebellion against the One who truly is Sovereign.

So tonight as you lie in bed, waiting for sleep to overtake you, and your mind turns to the things you did not get done, rest in the goodness and sovereignty of God. And then embrace sleep as God's good gift.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Idolatry in Christian Ministry

In my continuing study of Philippians, I have been working my way through Markus Bockmuehl's, The Epistle to the Philippians in the Black's New Testament Commentary. In speaking about some of his Christian brothers in Rome who were preaching Christ more boldly because of Paul's imprisonment, Paul writes In Philippians 1:17

"the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment." (NASB)

Sometimes one finds a one-liner that captures the essence of what the biblical text says. I found that statement in Bockmuehl's commentary when he writes:

"The robe of 'Christian ministry' cloaks many a shameless idolatry" (p. 80).

In this concise one-liner Bockmuehl identifies one of the most acceptable forms of idolatry in evangelicalism: ministry. In the name of serving the Lord far too many pastors, missionaries, professors and lay people are in fact furthering their own agendas for personal fulfillment and success. In a word, that is idolatry. It is placing ministry ahead of God himself, and it is so dangerous because on the outside it looks good.

Here in the context of Philippians 1:12-26 Paul provides the necessary corrective: to have as our highest aim the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So the question for each of us involved in ministry is this: do you care who gets the credit? Are you fine with others being recognized for their faithful gospel ministry while your own proclaiming of Christ remains under appreciated or recognized? What happens in your heart when someone else receives credit for something YOU did? Can you be content with rejoicing in the progress of the gospel rather than nursing resentment that you did not receive the recognition.

May we take seriously the admonition with which John closes his first letter:

Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21)