Each year we are graded on our performance, simplified into bullet points that we are told extensively will dictate the path of our career and promotion-ability. It is a nerve-racking place to exist, to always be working towards quantification of your existence in an organization, and it isn’t just in the military, it’s everywhere. We are all being sized up by others, and we desire for others to like us and tell us how worthy we are. We cease living with reckless faith and begin to hedge our bets, becoming everyone under the sun except who it is that God desires us to be. All the while losing faith, compromising righteousness…miserably. It doesn’t seem to work for us.
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” Romans 14:17-18
Contextually, this verse is at the end of a paragraph where Paul is exhorting the Romans that it is “better to not eat a food or drink a drink or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (v.21). It is referring to the practice of eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, a practice commonplace for those in pagan Roman religions, out of which these new Christians were emerging. As an expression of faith they are avoiding eating anything that had been sacrificed to idols, yet Paul is telling them that “all food is clean” with the caveat that “it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble” (v.20).
I put all of that information out there to acknowledge anyone who might feel that I was taking the meaning of verses 17-18 out of context as I explain how I happened upon it this morning. And in light of other passages in the canon, I believe that what the Spirit enlightened me with this morning is both orthodox and in line with the canon.
“Be careful to follow every command I (God) am giving you today, so that you may live and increase and may enter and possess the land the Lord promised on oath to your ancestors. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Deuteronomy 8:1-3
As I was travelling on the way here, and devoting some quiet time to allow God to renew my heart in preparation for the mission, I felt prompted to make a commitment of giving my Fridays over to God in prayer and fasting. Specifically, to pray for the peace of Afghanistan in the same manner that Jeremiah encourages the exiles with his letter of consolation to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile [and to] pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (29:7). This verse is from a passage very close to my heart, for it is situated in a letter written to people who are essentially ‘strangers in a strange land.’
And so it was this morning, that I found myself in Ghan Chapel (our quiet little chapel on Multinational Base Tarin Kowt) submitting myself to a focused time of worship, reflection and prayer (in that order). Let me say this is no small feat for me. Corie would be the first to tell you that my quiet times are inconsistent at best. Regular prayer, nope. Bible reading, did enough of that in seminary. That is generally how I manage most of my days, getting by on sheer talent alone. And I am trying to realize that at some point, talent is going to run out.
And as I picked up my iPad after prayer and flipped open the Kindle version of Francis Chan’s Forgotten God, I read the chapter on living a life dependent on the presence and power of the Holy Spirit…instead of sheer talent. It wasn’t huge conviction, but so encouraging as a reminder to invite Him in to do “exceedingly more than I can ask or imagine.” And as the chapter concluded with “…for the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Spirit” I sat and thought about how I desire a life of impeccable character and competence (righteousness), of unshakable faith in the plans and will of God (peace) and overflowing with appreciation for the wonderfulness of His Kingdom on earth (joy). And the little hunger pains from a grumbling, empty stomach were overshadowed by a deeper hunger for a life that isn’t lived on talent alone.
“And all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory, and I realize just how beautiful you are and how great your affections are for me.”
Most importantly, though, it addresses the deeply embedded anxiety that lives and breeds in the military, “human approval.” Each year we are graded on our performance, simplified into bullet points that we are told extensively will dictate the path of our career and promotion-ability. It is a nerve-racking place to exist, to always be working towards quantification of your existence in an organization, and it isn’t just in the military, it’s everywhere. We are all being sized up by others, and we desire for others to like us and tell us how worthy we are. We cease living with reckless faith and begin to hedge our bets, becoming everyone under the sun except who it is that God desires us to be. All the while losing faith, compromising righteousness…miserably. It doesn’t seem to work for us.
So my invitation is this, one day of fasting and prayer each week. Not because fasting makes you more righteous. I feigned to even mention that this is a prompting for me, because it may not be a prompting for you and I don’t want to stand up in some “yay me” manner that I must be doing something right. Trust me when I tell you that if we looked at Spirituality like Monopoly, I feel like I am camping out on Mediterranean Avenue. I am just trying to openly and vulnerably share what I feel is a good way ahead in this war and in our country. If we are not praying that our home, our country, and our families are peaceful and prosperous, how will they ever be? This is not to say that prayer is for the purpose of avoiding a difficult life, but is a means towards living peacefully in the midst of a warzone.