Sunday, September 09, 2007

How healthy is your vineyard?

by Buddy Owens
source: RWMT

God is not looking for servants. He is looking for sons who will join him in the family business.

Buddy Owens, pastor of spiritual growth at Saddleback



Not long ago I had two separate conversations with two different people who said the same thing. One is a man, the other is a woman. One is Presbyterian, the other is Assemblies of God. They each were worship leaders in churches that were experiencing great renewal. And they each said to me: "I wish what is happening in my church was happening in my life." Sad to say, their sentiment is not uncommon in the ministry.

In Song of Songs 1:6, the beloved laments: "My brothers have made me tend their vineyards, but I have neglected my own." Her words ring so true, and remind me of my two friends – and of myself.

If I'm not careful, the joy of service turns so easily into the drudgery of duty, and before I know it, I have replaced intimacy with responsibility. I fill my life with activities when God wants to fill it with himself. More meetings, more projects, more hours spent at work serving my master. All of these things are worthy of my time and effort. But as I learned from the Parable of the Prodigal, God is not looking for servants. He is looking for sons who will join him in the family business.

The frustration mounts. The emptiness deepens. I become restless and dissatisfied. I occupy myself with more activity – but that's just digging the hole deeper. Like the older brother in Jesus' parable who cried out, All these years I have been slaving for you!, my "being" is soon overshadowed by my "doing."

When I center my spiritual identity on the work of the ministry rather than centering myself in the presence of the Father, my passions change. My old passion for God is replaced by a new passion for service. Its rewards are more measurable and often more gratifying: acclaim, a sense of achievement and importance. I feed this new passion, and by doing so, starve the old one. The result is that I begin to measure my spiritual maturity by the load I carry rather than the freedom I enjoy.

But when religious activity takes the place of spiritual intimacy, my heart begins to harden and I end up – as the beloved lamented – having spent my energies tending my brothers' vineyards while my own vineyard has been neglected. The result is burnout, jealousy for the spiritual intimacy that others experience, and a longing for a taste from the spiritual feast that others have enjoyed at Jesus' feet while I was slaving away in the kitchen.

I justify my negligence with a Martha mentality that if someone else isn't working as hard as I am, then what they need is a good swift kick in the pants from the Lord – when what I really want is to be sitting at Jesus' feet myself. The fear is that if I sit at his feet, nothing will get done. But the truth is that if I don't sit at his feet, nothing I do will matter in the long run. Like my two friends, I will miss out on the blessing of God's presence, and God will miss out on the pleasure of my company.

Sounds audacious, doesn't it? That God would miss out on the pleasure of anybody's company? But think about this: Why would God invite you into his presence if he didn't want to be in yours? He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden" (Matt. 11:28), and "Come to me that your soul may live, and I will make an everlasting covenant with you" (Isa. 55:3). Is his invitation only for our benefit, or is it also somehow for God's benefit? After all, the Bible says, "The Lord delights in those who fear him" (Ps. 147:11).

The dilemma is this: the "God-shaped void" that Pascal wrote about does not disappear. It gets larger. It's an appetite that, once awakened, grows into an all-consuming passion. We cannot get enough of God's presence because God continually makes more room for himself. He expands his sphere of influence with each encounter. Our capacity for true spiritual fulfillment enlarges with every fulfilling experience, until we reach the place where we say with the psalmist: "My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere" (Ps. 84:2, 10).
The fear is that if I sit at Jesus' feet, nothing will get done. But the truth is that if I don't sit at his feet, nothing I do will matter in the long run.

Buddy Owens, pastor of spiritual growth at Saddleback


It is then that we are ready for ministry because we are driven not by our talents, or our need for recognition, or even our sense of duty, but by our desperation for more of God and his glory.

The question I must ask is: What pleasure am I denying myself, and God for that matter, by allowing other, lesser pursuits to occupy my time? What God-encounters am I missing?

Some of our dearest friends whom we love the most live 10 minutes away, but we see them only once or twice a year. Why? Because there is always something else: something pressing, something necessary, something other. So the friendship gets moved to the back-burner. After all, they're only 10 minutes away – there will be other times. But you and I know that those other times grow fewer and farther between. And we suffer the loss of joy-filled moments that could have been.  

How many moments have I missed with the Father because something else was more pressing? How many memories will never be created? How many appointments with God have I missed because "something came up"?

So let me ask you a couple of questions: When was the last time you talked to God, not because you needed something, but simply out of friendship? When was the last time you spent time in the Word, not for the sake of public ministry, but for the sake of personal renewal? What is your identity in Christ? Do you see yourself as a servant working for your master, or as a son working with your father? Your point of view will make all the difference in the world.

As you go about the business of tending your brothers' vineyards this week, don't forget to tend your own.


  Article by Buddy Owens
Buddy Owens is pastor of spiritual growth at Saddleback Church in California. He is also the author of The Way of a Worshiper: Discover the Secret to Friendship with God.


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