How do we learn to be disciplined in what we set our hearts and minds on but always be open to what God wants to do in us and through us each day? It’s so easy to put expectations on ourselves for what we should be spending our time on. However, this can sometimes make us too busy for the needs of friends, family, and even time with the Lord. We fill our days with work and activities and always have a to do list and it’s easy to get caught up in our own ideas of productiveness and time well spent. How do we practice discipline to do good and healthy things with our time and also always be open to what God would have us do or be during the day? What do you do when you have planned something, but then a friend calls and needs wisdom and a good listener? What if you’re next to someone at work who seems personally upset, do you keep getting your work done, or do you take time to show care and concern towards him or her? How do you balance discipline and openness to the moment and movement of the Holy Spirit?
The crowded coffee shop was the perfect place to disappear for a while. I had a 10-page research paper due in 46 hours, and I knew I needed laser focus to get it all done. I ordered a latte and settled into an inconspicuous corner seat. Setting out my Bible, a few commentaries on Ephesians, and a pair of headphones, I readied myself to escape the present world and play the theologian. In Ephesians, I read, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing…” I looked up. A man sat at the table next to me, holding a mug in his left hand and a newspaper in his right. He laid the newspaper flat when he saw me look up. I furrowed my eyebrows, hoping concentration would keep him at bay, but he looked at my Bible and leaned forward.
“Are you going to school for that?” he asked, gesturing towards the open book.
Adrenaline shot through me; I didn’t want to encourage the interruption, and I didn’t have time for a gospel presentation. “Yeah, I am. Biola requires a Bible minor.”
He nodded, scraping against the stubble on his cheek. “I went to church a few times when I was a kid, but I never could figure out what it was all about.”
This was the optimum evangelism moment, the open door for a conversation with a curious soul. But I had a paper to write and could feel my time slipping away in our exchange.
I am not alone in experiencing the conflict between responsibilities and responsiveness to the Spirit’s leading. Once we embrace the Christian life, we are faced with the daunting task of finding balance. Colossians 3 instructs us to be diligent in everything we do, but elsewhere in the Bible (Galatians 5), we are taught to follow the Spirit. How can we reconcile these biblical commands? By evaluating the motivation of our hearts in every circumstance, we can align ourselves with the will of God in everything we do, trusting that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6)—in his way and his timing.
How do you balance discipline and openness to the moment and movement of the Holy Spirit?
Society tells us that success depends upon our education, career, appearance, and belongings. This attitude pervades the church in America, telling us that in order to glorify God, we need the best jobs, the best positions, the best clothes, so we can “contextualize” our message. Though it isn’t wrong to pursue our passions to bring God glory, this excuse is often self-deceit—we like fitting in as much as anyone.
With our hazy motivations directing us, we often put school, work, and the various time-commitments that clutter our calendars as first priority in our lives—and hearts. We fear that failure to achieve will mean failure to matter. We worry, and wallow in self-pity, when things don’t go our way, forgetting we have an almighty God on our side. He has promised to provide for our needs and to glorify us with Christ.
We have a faith problem. We do not completely believe that God has a plan for us. We do not fully embrace his power and authority. Instead, we doubt that he will use both failures and successes for his glory. For whatever reason, many of us believe that God can only use us if we are perfect. However, the Bible certainly debunks this notion.
God appointed David as king of Israel after Saul disobeyed God’s decrees. David had very little to recommend him for the position, but God chose him, accepting all the human flaws inevitably attached to the young man. God placed David at the head of an entire nation, transforming him from a shepherd boy into a great, powerful king. David did not always honor God’s commands. He is perhaps the most infamous sinner of all time, having his sin documented and analyzed throughout the world for centuries. When David committed adultery with Bathsheba, he not only offended God’s law for the sanctity of marriage, but he murdered a man to cover his guilt. Still, God worked through David, bringing the Messiah to Israel through his line. If God can glorify himself through such public, shameful sin, he will surely be faithful to do the same in us when we fail by the world’s standards.
God gives us responsibilities but calls us to always be listening for his voice, to be ready for change.
A few weeks ago, I sat in a classroom full of overachieving college students and heard a young man describe his hectic schedule—leading worship at his church and at school, balancing his class schedule, and maintaining a deep relationship with God. He confessed his deep desire to ignore everything around him, including God, and get his work done. But God pursued his heart continually. This student mentioned moments when God called him to set aside his carefully planned schedule and be present with him. “You’re never too busy for God to work through you,” he said. How true that is; our priorities are never more important than what God prompts us to do.
Responsibilities are not wrong in themselves, but the minute we fixate on these and let them rule our lives and determine our identities, they become a dangerous distraction from a reverential faith. God gives us responsibilities but calls us to always be listening for his voice, to be ready for change. Our complete reliance on his voice keeps us humble, acknowledging that we do not know our path, nor can we direct our future, but God sustains us, shapes us, and leads us in everything.
It isn’t enough to acknowledge our faith problem; we must confront it with action. Psalm 46:10 begins, “Be still, and know that I am God.” To know he is God means to understand who he claims to be in the Bible: Protector, Provider, Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, Judge, Love, and the beginning and end. We need to spend time getting to know God, learning his commands, his people, and his revealed plan. Yet this knowledge is not the end of our purpose; we must believe in him. He doesn’t just say, “Be still and know me.” He commands, “Know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” God beckons us to trust him when we know him, because no matter what we do, whether we fail miserably or succeed brilliantly, he will be glorified!
For this reason, Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” We must trust that God truly is who he claims to be. And if we trust that he is truthful, we know that we can depend on him to be faithful to us when Philippians 1 says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” God cares about the responsibilities he gives us; otherwise, he wouldn’t give them. But he wants us to put him first, to worship our Creator and not the creation. He wants us to be willing to inconvenience ourselves sometimes, to risk looking bad or getting in a tight spot, because we trust him completely. Francis Chan writes in his book Crazy Love: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.” This echoes Paul in Philippians, who says, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” This is the way we will learn the balance: remembering that everything we gain on this earth will fade away, but God endures forever. We must address our faith problem by getting to know God, putting our trust in him, and committing ourselves to his service alone. We serve a great God whom we can trust with every detail when it comes to his glory—even last minute papers.