Moving Past Navel-Gazing

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Christians are consumed with one overriding question: “How’m I doin’?” I am constantly taught, both directly and indirectly, that my sanctification (growing in my faith) is an ongoing process in which I am vitally involved, and it demands my constant attention. Church attendance, Bible reading, obedience to God’s law and various other disciplines I can do are presented as absolutely essential to my continued growth in the faith in order for me to become a mature Christian, i.e., become more and more righteous and less and less sinful.

However, It is impossible not to continually wonder, check, and evaluate my progress in this huge self-sanctification endeavor, which in itself is a totally consuming process. The tragedy of this scenario is that it is a gigantic waste of one’s time and energy, and it sidetracks me from what God saved me and then called me to do. I am trapped in the useless activity of navel-gazing. In this process, the answer to the question “How’m I doin’?” depends on whether I am a Pharisee (“I am a wonderful example for everyone else”), a Wanna-be Pharisee (“Not too good. I gotta try harder”) or a Rebel (“Terrible, and I don’t give a _ _ _ _”).

Make no mistake, church attendance, Bible reading, and obedience to God’s law are certainly not useless activities, but they are never, ever a means by which I grow in my faith; they are always a result of that growth. This means I go to church when I can’t stay away, read my Bible when I can’t put it down, and obey God’s law when I can’t wait to find out what my Heavenly Father wants me to do so I can go do it! The means of my sanctification is ALWAYS and ONLY the faith of a little child who leaves all that growth business to his daddy..

So, when I am on the path of learning to be like a little child, as we discussed last week, God is always renewing my mind to think a whole new way—by faith and not by the law—and that is a lifelong process.

At some point in that process of renewal, I will eventually raise my gaze from examining the creases and dimples in my navel, quit worrying about the lent that seems to accumulate there every day, and be able to leave myself and my spiritual condition with God. I suddenly find myself thinking for the first time, “Daddy, what do you do all day? Could I go to work with you today and see what you do there?”

To me, this is not a theoretical example, but a page from my own life, vividly imprinted in my memory. In the years immediately following World War II, my family lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma, then called “The Oil Capital of the World.” My father worked in the oil industry with Seismograph Service Corporation, an oil exploration firm. He directed all domestic drilling crews, some 40 in number.

I was in early elementary school at the time, an only child who idolized his daddy. One day he took me to work, I am sure in response to my incessant questioning—“What do you do at work, Daddy?”

I can still remember, some 70 years later, watching him sit at his desk, answering a few scattered phone calls with long periods of time when he seemed to be doing nothing but just talking to me with his feet up on his desk. I finally said to him, “Daddy, you aren’t doing anything. What real work do you do?” and I remember his answer. “Son, I am paid for what I know, not what I do.”

For a little boy who desperately wanted to be just like his daddy. the answer was not anything I could really sink my teeth into. As I have thought of that incident over the years, it has illustrated for me a very cogent truth: all little boys want to do what Daddy does, say what Daddy says and think like Daddy thinks, unless or until we drive them away from us by misusing the law and not living by grace in our dealings with them.

At some point, when we genuinely begin to see God as He is—a loving Heavenly Father who is making no demands but is simply loving us, disciplining us, and training us as His little children, whether or not we had such a father ourselves—we will find ourselves wanting to join Him “at work” and do what He is doing. Let me share an example of how that happens.

Imagine the owner of a multi-million-dollar-a-year mechanical heating and air-conditioning corporation who had a son whom he loved very much. When the son was a little boy, this father took him to work with him, just as did my father, and later gave him a job after school sweeping up, emptying trash cans and doing other little, odd jobs around the plant. In high school, he worked full-time in the warehouse loading trucks in the summer, and later, before his senior year, he was on an installation crew doing the job of an adult.

Unbeknownst to this young son, he had been, naturally and spontaneously, captured by his father’s vision for the company and its future. When he went to college he majored in mechanical engineering, working every summer for his father in progressively more responsible positions, eventually becoming a foreman, leading a group of older men.

Upon graduation from college, he went to graduate school in business management, recognizing the importance of an understanding of the business side of the company. He absorbed a whole range of new ideas that he was able to bring back, and his father assimilated them into his company, with the result that the business thrived and doubled in its net worth in a few short years.

This young man became a project manager, then Chief Operating Officer, as his father, the owner of the company, gradually moved toward retirement. When the father suddenly passed away of a heart attack, the business, now owned and managed by his son, didn’t skip a beat.

How does this example apply to us going to work with God in His family business? What is His family business? How do I know what my role will be?. If you are ready to cease your navel-gazing, you are ready for next week’s posting.

However, you may not be quite ready yet, and, if not, don’t worry in the least, because you can know you are right on schedule. God has a personalized  timetable for every one of His children, and He alone knows when it is time to give each of them more responsibility in the business. We all must learn the lesson a little child teaches us in order to be ready to contribute: dependence and not independence, weakness and not strength, “Yes, Daddy” and not “Why, Daddy?”

If you are ready, next week we’ll find out how God will do so in your life.

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