USE THE GIFT YOU HAVE RECEIVED
USE THE GIFT YOU HAVE RECEIVED
The following is a summary from a speech in Assentoft Free Church on Sunday 6 November 2022.
What we gather around is not “just” the truths we find in the Bible. The deeper question is, do we accept them and live them out? Do we practice them? Everything we read and hear in the Bible is true, but there’s such a big difference between whether it’s something we take to heart and live out. Are the truths a gift we’ve been given that sits on the shelf, or do we unwrap the gift and use it ? “I’m so glad I got the gift!:” we can stand there and say; the following year it is still there on the shelf. That is my theme today – that we use what we have been given. That we see what we have been given. It’s something we can all do. More presence in life through more presence in Jesus.
What would you spend 86,400 on?
Let’s imagine that someone who loves you very much puts 86,400 into your account every single day. It is a lot of money. The only criterion is that before the day is over you must have used them all. What would you use them for if it were you? Anything you don’t use, you lose. Let’s try to convert the 86,400 into seconds. By tomorrow, at the exact same time, 86,400 seconds will have passed. What will you use them for? You won’t get them back. You can’t say “I’d like to save some of them for later”. Time goes by. The Bible says you can spend your time on whatever you want. Not everything is beneficial to you. So what is it that is beneficial for us to spend our time on?
Past, future, present
I don’t know if you are a bit like me. Sometimes I think: “Oh, I’m sorry I spent time on that”. Other times I am a little too efficient in the use of my time and get a lot out of it. I am focused on the fact that sometimes it can be really nice to waste time. Do not get me wrong. The fact that I’m not in a hurry with anything. That I just am.
How do you feel about being present in the moment? Right now? We have a past and a future. Time that has been, and something to come. AND then there is the present – where we are now. Where do you spend most of your attention? On something that has been, that has happened, that we regret, we are sorry about, or that is painful and has affected us and has been a part of our lives? Is it in the future, the hope for what is to come – a better time? Are we present in the present, right here and now?
God’s name is Yahweh – I am. He is your present-day God. He is also alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. I think there is something fascinating about opening our eyes to this “I am,” right now – not just in some future that awaits us. No, right now is the presence of God! Now I don’t know what your life situation is. Is it stress and hustle and bustle or maybe joy and anticipation? We can put many words to how we feel. Matt. 11:28 says: “Come to me, all you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (speaker’s emphasis, ed.).
It is one thing that we know the verse, but do we take the truth to heart? Are we weary and carrying heavy burdens? Do we come to Him and give Him a chance to really carry our burdens and take them from us? Or is it just some truth that we don’t use, a gift that we don’t unwrap? I have studied theology for many years, read my Bible and gone to church, but the practicality of taking the truths to heart and meditating on God’s word – letting God’s word marinate in me. That is what is so enormously liberating. When you simply lie down, you marinate yourself so that you emphatically make it seep in, and absorb the truths.
Rejoice in the Lord
In Philippians 4:4 I think there is a very provocative sentence. It starts with “Rejoice!” Oh, it’s “nice” to get that verse sometimes, especially when you’re absolutely not feeling like rejoicing. You may be in a dark or sad mood depending on how your day is going so far. The whole sentence is: “Rejoice in the Lord:” Don’t just rejoice in yourself and all the happiness and abundance that you have, but rejoice in the Lord. We must remember that this is Philippians. Sometimes I think: “well, good for you. You can easily say that. What about those who are having a hard time?”
I wonder, though, how it looked like for Paul when he wrote this letter. He was in prison and not as we know it today. Imagine how his living situation has been sitting there in such a cold, damp basement without good bathing or hygiene conditions. When people came and received letters from him or had conversations with him, he was probably not so clean and well-groomed.
He says rejoice in the Lord, not a joy we must find in ourselves. Regardless of what has happened during the year, and whatever misery may come upon us, globally with crises, famine, energy crises, all sorts of different pains we can be in with illnesses, deficiencies and lack, it is an easily bought, cheap truth that Paul represents. It is a God’s truth. God says: “Rejoice in me. Take my yoke upon you, which is beneficial, come to me with all that you struggle with.”
Some of the happiest people I have met, have been in the most tragic circumstances, e.g. in a refugee camp in Northern Tanzania. People had lived there for eight – ten years, had fled from everything, family members had been killed and they experienced periods of famine. I wanted to offer a word of encouragement, but the one being encouraged was me. What was preached at the camp was precisely the joy we have in the Lord Jesus, not the joy we have in ourselves or in our circumstances. That’s when it dawned on me! We can be happy even if we are not rich, young or healthy, even if we are not in good circumstances.
Present with Jesus
The thing about being present with Jesus and being able to be present with those we are with all day long, that is again an exercise, and I want to make it practical. For the truths we know, we can just open our Bible, but how do we transfer them? I am deeply interested in that. I have been looking into an old Jesuit tradition. I think we can learn a lot from people who have gone before us, and I don’t think the newest stuff in our backpack is necessarily the best. In this Jesuit practice there are five steps. They call it something as provocative and challenging as an exam. It’s about examining, i.e. looking carefully at something, twice a day. It is intended as a practical inspirational tool, not something legalistic which one must live up to:
- When I look at the past and present, where do I see God’s work in my life? Am I present enough to actually register what is happening right around me? Sometimes we become so focused on the future, but do we see God where we are now?
- I count and speak out the blessings that God has given me. We can practice counting our blessings. It’s crazy what that means in practice!
- I am aware of my feelings. Maybe I’m feeling a little sad and down. It could also be that I feel happy and encouraged. It doesn’t change the truth of God and who he is, but it helps to remind me that I am small and he is big.
- I choose one of the day’s experiences and spend time on it. It can be a situation or attention to a person I met who had a hard time or was challenged. Then I pray for him orher and take that person seriously. It is about us not just being isolated in ourselves, but having eyes for those around us and the world we are in. So we are present.
- I remind myself that God will also be faithful towards my next exam – regardless of what I will be facing.
There is hope
Let us remember that Paul was in prison while he wrote these truths. They are not cheap, so whatever your and my situation is today, there is hope. No matter what needs are around us, there is hope. I typically carry some kind of small box with me. It reminds me to be present in the moment. During my everyday life, there are many things I open up to, one meeting after another. Because every single time there is something new, I open up, but when do I close it down and put away again? When do I get to move on from where I am to the next thing so I get to finish one meeting, so I’m present when the next one starts. Maybe we know it when we get home from work and have to be present with our family. Can we just put our work away and be present? Sometimes we need to put a lid on the box and then leave things there.
We have a happy message for ourselves, but also for the world around us. It is my wish that we can accept it, live in the joy of the Lord and his peace and be present in our lives. The presence with Jesus gives presence in our lives.