the weblog of Alan Knox

It’s just a thing…

Posted by on May 20, 2007 in discipleship | 24 comments

I should be writing about the Saturday evening meeting with other believers at our house. I may write about that later, but for now, I’m thinking about a discussion that I had with my wife Saturday morning.

We talked about how easy it is to “play” being a Christian, even among friends like those who would come to our house in just a few hours. We talked about some of our struggles with our relationship with God. We talked about wanting to hide those struggles so that others will not know about them (we are supposed to be a pastor and a pastor’s wife, after all). We talked about how difficult it is sometimes to study Scripture. We talked about times when our prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling.

Then, my wife, Margaret, said something very powerful for me. She said (paraphrasing), “Sometimes, I get tired of talking about the church. Sometimes, I need to talk about God – who He is and what He’s done – so that I can understand Him. I need to know God more before I think about what He wants to do with the church.”

She thought that I was going to be upset about this, because she knows how much I love the church and how much I love to study the church. Of course, my love and concern for the church derives from my love and understanding of God, but that is beside the point.

She was surprised when I agreed with her. Our understanding and relationship with God must come before our understanding of the church.

I think it was at this point that I realized something very important. My wife and I have been involved with organized local churches for many, many years. When have been involved with children and youth ministries, Sunday school classes, men and women’s ministries, Sunday morning activities, Sunday night activities, prayer meetings, evangelism programs, service programs, preaching, teaching, singing, planning, organizing, fund raising… almost every (perhaps every) aspect of organizing and running a local church.

But, for the first time in our lives, we have had to ask ourselves what God wants from us. Before, we have always been told what God wants from us, and we have been challenged, encouraged, urged, influenced, and cajoled into being involved and committed with local church ministries, all the while being promised that this is what God wants from us and commands us to do. The people who were telling us this believed with all their hear that this is what God wanted from them and from us. We did not have time to stop and ask if this is truly what God wants from us, because we were so busy doing things.

We were so busy doing things…

And, that’s just what they were… things. This is what I realized this morning while I was talking with my wife. We had been so busy doing things for so long that we had almost forgotten that God is not interesting in things. God is interested in us and other people… relationships.

Don’t misunderstand me… I don’t think these things were designed as things. But, they became things. Things to do. Things to prepare. Things to instruct. Things to follow. Things to believe. Things to support. Things to finance. Things…

We should teach other believers… but teaching can become a thing. We should preach the gospel… but preaching can become a thing. We should meet with other believers… but Sunday morning events (and Saturday evenings spent with friends) can become a thing.

Even quiet times… devotional times… prayer times… can become things. And things are not God.

A church that meets in a building near us was having a fund raiser. We had brunswick stew there for lunch. The people were raising money to pay for chairs and tables for their new fellowship hall. Several times they pointed out to us how nice their new fellowship hall was. My wife and I looked around the fellowship hall, and then looked at one another. “It’s just a thing.”


24 Comments

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  1. 5-20-2007

    I was comfortable in living in San Diego when I finally asked God “what do you want from me” and I did not like the answer (and no He did not speak to me :) ) but I knew He was calling me to go back home and take over my dad’s church. I spent a year praying and asking God to make sure it was not my emotions, a mid-life life change etc. Everything fell in place and we moved back to El Paso in Jan 06. I have been preaching for a little over a year now and I love talking about God. I am always talking about God and I love it. I am finally understanding so much what it means to follow Christ. Has it been easy? No. Will it ever? No, but I will preach Christ and talk about God wants with us. Great post!

  2. 5-20-2007

    Alan,

    At last! An honest elder! I have no words with which to tell you how this blog blessed me. I’ve been waiting a long time to hear these words from any man in ministry. Only God can give a man/woman courage to make these admissions to Himself, themselves and others.

  3. 5-20-2007

    Alan -

    This is a great post! And well written. This, too, is where we are … seeking God … period. But it has taken a lot of time and heartache to get here. And I am really enjoying “here” actually. I could have written this …

    Peace…
    ~Heather

  4. 5-20-2007

    Alan,
    As Heather said, this is exactly where we are right now. Since we’ve stepped back from the “things” we were doing in the organized church, I’m actually seeking out relationships with people that would otherwise never go to a church building. And God has been opening the door to build these new relationships.

    Honestly, when we were so busy doing/supporting “things” in the church, I wanted to be interested in this kind of ministry, but I didn’t need another “obligation”. I never really “bothered” to get involved in other people’s lives like I am today. I was just saturated with church stuff…”things”.

    Like you said, I do love the church. But I’m enjoying his new perspective that God has given me. I would never have learned these things inside the 4 walls…I didn’t have time to. Perhaps the point of this “season” is having this new perspective. I agree with you that the organized church never intended for the “things” to become what they have.

    Blessings to you…
    Brandon

  5. 5-20-2007

    Excellent post, Alan. It’s so easy to substitute things for God. I once coined a phrase: “You might be doing the things of God and not be doing the will of God.”

    Even if it’s someone else’s calling from God, it doesn’t make it automatically right for us to do it.

    Lord help us all look past the “things” and worship God in spirit and in truth.

  6. 5-20-2007

    This is a really wonderful post.
    I think a lot of Christian groups have fallen into the very thing you discuss here. That is, their focus in on the church, and not on Christ.
    I was helped by a brother’s sharing one time likening Christ and the church to the love between a husband and a wife (as in Ephesians 5). The wife loves her husband, and the husband loves his wife (and lays down his life for her, as Christ did for the church). If the wife is consumed with thoughts about herself, then something is wrong, and there is no room for her husband in her heart. Similarly, the husband should be saved from his selfishness, and love his wife.
    Don’t you think that the church would be built up in a healthier way if Christians spent less time looking at themselves, and more time looking at their wonderful Lord, Savior, and Husband?

  7. 5-20-2007

    If you don’t mind my commenting again, I wanted to mention something related to your previous post (the comments weren’t enabled). You mentioned the verse in Matthew: “Go and work in the vineyard.”
    It seems to me that this verse is much more meaningful if it’s understood to refer to the words of the Lord in John 15: “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” That is, to work in the vineyard is to help the believers (the branches) abide in Christ (the vine), so that they “bear much fruit.” This is the real work of the Lord, helping people abide in Him. Ironically, sometimes the work of the Lord can become a distraction (as you discuss here). The focus in the vineyard should always be the growth of the vine, who includes many branches.

  8. 5-20-2007

    Good post Alan.

    But, for the first time in our lives, we have had to ask ourselves what God wants from us. Before, we have always been told what God wants from us, and we have been challenged, encouraged, urged, influenced, and cajoled into being involved and committed with local church ministries, all the while being promised that this is what God wants from us and commands us to do. The people who were telling us this believed with all their hear that this is what God wanted from them and from us. We did not have time to stop and ask if this is truly what God wants from us, because we were so busy doing things.
    Wow!

    Sometimes we are so busy doing God’s work that we forget about what it actually means to know God. What is so ironic is that many times this even includes the set/formal times that we spend with God, be it devotional time, quiet time, prayer time, Bible reading time. Sometimes we are so busy making sure that we “punch the clock” that we totally miss God. This is where I think in many cases Bible reading has become a substitute for God. It is so easy to measure a chapter or section of the Bible that I have found myself many times getting to the end of my “required reading” and realizing that I wasn’t any closer to sensing God’s presence or knowing Him more. Why are we so addicted to measuring our spirituality? Why do we feel tha we have to “punch the clock” for God? What really is a relationship with God and what does it look like?

  9. 5-20-2007

    First off, thanks to Heather
    for linking to this blog!  I’ve added your blog to my subscription list.

    This particular post is eerily similar to an article I wrote for my church.  Eerie in a very good way!  I see a lot of busyness going on all around me.  A lot of busy Martha’s, running around serving Jesus, and not necessarily very many Mary’s, sitting at His feet, listening to what He is actually saying and actually getting to know the Person.  I by no means mean to imply that I’ve got the sitting part down pat (!), but during the past few years I’ve been letting go of a lot of the ‘busyness’ and I’ve been doing more and more sitting and listening.  Life has changed for the better! 

    If you’d care to read my article, I posted it on my blog: 

    Rest and Simplicity
    .

  10. 5-20-2007

    More of the illustration of Mary and more of the relationship God is calling us all to! Yes! Rest! Jubilee! Come to me. Less of me and more of Him.

  11. 5-20-2007

    Juan,

    Thank you for sharing part of your story. I’m sure you have found – as I have – that even preaching and teaching can become a thing. I think the key is to always teach/preach from a relationship with God toward and into a relationship with others.

    Aussie John,

    As an elder, I don’t think of myself as different from other believers. I think that others should be honest and open about their struggles, so I should be also. If someone wants a perfect (or seemingly perfect) elder, then I’m not him. I’m glad this blessed you… you’ve certainly blessed me.

    Heather,

    Thank you linking to my blog again. I am enjoying being “here” also, although at times it is uncomfortable without all the things.

    Brandon,

    I’ve always been taught (verbally) that “busy-ness” does not equal relationship. But, I’ve always been taught (by example) that “busy-ness” does equal relationship. I’m hoping that I will be successful to teach both verbally and by example that “busy-ness” does not equal relationship.

    Steve,

    I second your prayer: “Lord help us all look past the “things” and worship God in spirit and in truth.”

    Anonymous,

    Thank you for the comment, and thank you for letting me know that comments were not enabled on my previous post. I’m not sure what happened, but I’ve corrected that.

    I do believe that church activities and organizational matters can get in the way of our relationship with God. I also believe that the church (that is, the people) should never get in the way of our relationship with God. In fact, many times our relationship with God is demonstrated through our relationships with other people.

    Raborn,

    It’s good to see you around here again. Thank you for the comment. I agree that the “punch the clock” attitude distracts us from God himself. You’ve asked some great questions – especially about measuring spirituality – that have started me thinking through other things.

    jsbreeze,

    Welcome to my bog and thank you for subscribing. I hope you will take part in the comments as we encourage one another. I haven’t had a chance to read your article yet, but I will.

    Bryan,

    I was not thinking of Mary vs. Matha when I read this, but it may be applicable. I’m glad that you have continually called us to being “Marys”.

    -Alan

  12. 5-20-2007

    Powerful post, Alan–Thank you so much for letting us look into your window this morning. Too often, we close the curtains in our lives and let people think that we are something that we are not. I needed that reminder. Even the “things of God” are just “things” without Him.
    Kat

  13. 5-20-2007

    Powerful post, Alan–Thank you so much for letting us look into your window this morning. Too often, we close the curtains in our lives and let people think that we are something that we are not. I needed that reminder. Even the “things of God” are just “things” without Him.
    Kat

  14. 5-20-2007

    Powerful post, Alan–Thank you so much for letting us look into your window this morning. Too often, we close the curtains in our lives and let people think that we are something that we are not. I needed that reminder. Even the “things of God” are just “things” without Him.
    Kat

  15. 5-20-2007

    Powerful post, Alan–Thank you so much for letting us look into your window this morning. Too often, we close the curtains in our lives and let people think that we are something that we are not. I needed that reminder. Even the “things of God” are just “things” without Him.
    Kat

  16. 5-20-2007

    Powerful post, Alan–Thank you so much for letting us look into your window this morning. Too often, we close the curtains in our lives and let people think that we are something that we are not. I needed that reminder. Even the “things of God” are just “things” without Him.
    Kat

  17. 5-20-2007

    Powerful post, Alan–Thank you so much for letting us look into your window this morning. Too often, we close the curtains in our lives and let people think that we are something that we are not. I needed that reminder. Even the “things of God” are just “things” without Him.
    Kat

  18. 5-20-2007

    Powerful post, Alan–Thank you so much for letting us look into your window this morning. Too often, we close the curtains in our lives and let people think that we are something that we are not. I needed that reminder. Even the “things of God” are just “things” without Him.
    Kat

  19. 5-20-2007

    Alan,

    Well said! As one who was involved in just about every ministry in the church, too (if the doors were open, I was there), this post echoes many of my thoughts of late. I have been blessed and convicted. Thank you, and may God bless you and your wife as you seek Him for what He wants from you.

    Mary

  20. 5-20-2007

    Kat,

    My wife and I were just talking about the openness of this post. Actually, this post is somewhat general, which shows just how little we actually reveal about ourselves. But, we’re learning…

    Mary,

    Thank you for the encouragement and the blessing that you offered myself and my wife. We need it.

    -Alan

  21. 5-10-2011

    Wonderful. St. John of the Cross in The Dark Night of the Soul says essentially the same thing, and of course the book of Job has parallels as well. Job’s friends liked to tell him about God, and they talked all around Him, but only Job recognized the elephant in the room and spoke directly to God.

    It’s fascinating how insidious and pervasive original sin is, that we become attached to the very things that would lead us to God rather than being attached to God Himself.

  22. 5-10-2011

    Brian,

    Yes, it’s easy to get caught up in the “things” of God and miss God himself. According to Jesus, we can even study Scripture and miss him.

    -Alan

  23. 5-10-2011

    Alan, obviously this is true. The story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus should tell us that.

  24. 6-28-2013

    A couple of weeks ago we decided to not have our normal (2nd/4th Mondays) meeting for that fortnight. I fretted on cancelling it, and that night in bed I got spoken to, about being religious – ie “having to have” that particular style of meeting, (lunch and fellowship). A case of slipping into “doing our thing”. :)
    PS We all finished up meeting for a coffee at one of the local coffee shops – great fellowship!! :)