I hope you were able to see or hear Jurie’s sermon Sunday morning, and that it spoke to your heart. It certainly spoke to mine!
Although we’re in a series about Jonah, the primary scripture for this week’s sermon was John chapter 15. In that chapter, Jesus gives three parables about things that are lost:
The lost sheep wandered away, going from blade to blade of grass. The lost coin was lost because… well… its owner lost it. And the lost son, out of his rebelliousness and selfishness, chose to run away. But each of these stories ends with the lost thing being found.
Jurie talked about the “hierarchy of lostness” Jesus describes in this chapter. The lost sheep wasn’t very smart and just kinda wandered off, but it wasn’t a willful act of neglect or choice. The coin’s owner just didn’t pay attention. She probably should’ve been more careful, but we all understand that distractions come along and sometimes we don’t pay enough attention. But the Prodigal Son… he was just naughty. He made a willful, disobedient, ungrateful choice. Of course, the point at the end of these stories is that God can (and wants to) restore the lost sheep of the world, the lost coins, AND the Prodigal Sons.
As Jurie was speaking, though, my heart was convicted about the first two causes of lost-ness: circumstances and neglect.
It’s nearing the end of January, and most of us have thought through possible New Year’s resolutions and tossed them out already, either before we got started working on them, or shortly thereafter. Popular thinking says that it takes 21 days to form a habit, but that is old psychology. Really, habits are something cultivated daily, and if we lapse on a good, hard-won habit, we often have to fight our way back to making it a habit again.
In mid-November I went to the dentist. They said that I have a couple of “thinning spots” on my enamel, and that if I use fluoride mouthwash daily, they’ll stabilize (thus avoiding cavities & more dental work). I dutifully purchased said mouthwash and began rinsing with it every night. This time, I’ve stuck with it for two months… minus a day or two. This is the third or fourth time I’ve tried to cultivate the mouthwash habit. It took me about 7 different starts ’til the flossing habit finally stuck, but maybe the mouthwash habit will come about easier. Still, it takes a whole 60 seconds of swishing before bed every night! When I’m so tired. Maybe I can skip just this once… or twice… or…
I’m the sort of person who will cultivate a habit religiously for two or four or six months, and then I decide I deserve a little break, and next thing I know I don’t even remember why I started the habit in the first place. Or I remember how hard it was to discipline myself into the habit and just don’t think I have the willpower to start up again.
Getting lost or staying lost, in the John 15 sense, can be almost like forming a habit. For that matter, so can getting or staying found. Here’s how it works. First, I’m a lost soul who doesn’t know Jesus. Then, I meet Him and fall in love and devote my life to Him. I re-order my identity toward “child of God,” instead of “daughter of my parents,” or “employee of Organization X,” or “mom,” or “chemist.” I live in that identity and thrive there for some time until the newness of it wears off. Then, life circumstances draw me away from my new identity, and I find myself wound up in the worries of day-to-day life. I begin losing the thought-patterns that align me with God’s will for my life because… well… life got hard for a while. Even when the circumstances get better and life gets easier, it’s possible that I won’t begin pursuing my relationship with the Lord the way I had before things got hard. Why?
For me, the “circumstances” issue isn’t even as great as the “neglect” issue. I literally get in patterns of, “aww, maybe tomorrow” until the still, small voice calling me to lean into my relationship with Jesus becomes almost inaudibly faint.
When Jurie was describing the “hierarchy of lost-ness,” I was convicted to examine my own mindset, and I realized that I rarely sit in the “circumstances” or “neglect” area very long. What happens to me is that I may have a day when circumstances draw me away from the things I do to draw near to the Lord, and then the next day I think, “Meh, that wasn’t so bad, and I do still have a lot to do to recover,” and then the next day, I just make the choice to continue wandering. When Jesus comes to pursue me in “lost sheep mode,” sometimes I even find myself ducking and weaving to keep Him from catching up with me. I have to laugh… consider the little lost lamb who is literally inches from a wolf’s maw, ducking and weaving away from the shepherd, as though the shepherd were the threat! Sheep can be really dumb.
Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying that if you don’t check all the boxes every day, you’re about to get eaten. All relationships ebb and flow, as do our schedules. It’s not like missing a day of your morning quiet time, or prayer at mealtime, or whatever boxes you like to check, is going to ruin all your good habits. For that matter, I think part of the problem is that we think of Spiritual Disciplines as boxes to check. I’m just raising a flag to say, “Hey you! Have you reached out to Jesus today? How’s that relationship going? Is it your turn to call Him up or schedule a coffee date? Don’t let Him get too ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ OK? It’s too easy for us to do in our human relationships; don’t let it happen to the most important relationship you have!”
Also, call your mom.
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