Making Room for God
When I was in Kenya and training Sunday school teachers, a lot of people arrived about 2 hours late, which made following the schedule almost impossible. After experiencing the same thing in every single circuit (which is like a presbytery in our system), I added another session, the following quarter; time management! Time management is a challenge to a lot of people, including me. To complement my weakness of time management, I learned to almost compulsively make a list. I learned from preparing the time management session that we need to sort out our priorities so that even if we can’t do everything on the list, we can at least achieve the important ones.
Today, I would like to ask all of us the question: “Do we have time and space for God in our lives”? When we make our “to do” list in our head (or on a paper), is God and God’s work included? Or are we too busy for God? It’s all about setting the priority; deciding what is important to us.
Today, we read a very serious and dark gospel story. It includes the talk about taking up one’s cross and losing one’s life. A lot of Christians use these verses as a metaphor for what we go through in life; but during the time Mark’s gospel was written, it was no metaphor. It was a dark time of persecution for Christians; they got killed just by professing their faith. When Jesus in Mark’s gospel says “whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” or “whoever desires to save his life will lose it”, he means them literally. Following Jesus meant risking one’s life. If one denies Christ out of fear, one might save one’s life in this world but will be denied access to God’s eternal kingdom. So following Jesus was literally a matter of life and death, and a lot of followers chose to be faithful and risk death; talk about priorities in life! This is the author of Mark’s gospel telling his audience to pick their priorities wisely. The brave ones were willing to die for their faith in Jesus.
Now think about us for whom this story is a metaphor because, praise be to God, we are not living in such a dark time! In Mark’s time, the followers of Jesus chose to follow Jesus risking their lives. Did they care about making more money and buying a bigger house? Or putting their children through the best education system? Doing laundry or cooking gourmet meal? Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying these things are useless or sinful. But we need to ask ourselves, “are these things so important that we can’t spare time and space for God in our lives”?
Last Sunday, we learned that faith is about having complete trust in God through building an intimate relationship. We learned that this complete faith will give us peace, and we won’t have to worry about every little thing in life. This is possible when we put God as our priority. The Bible is full of passages that teach us that if we put God and God’s work first, God will take care of our needs. We read from the book of Isaiah today. It says, “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong”.
When Satan temped Jesus in the wilderness with all the good things in life, Jesus said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’”. In Matthew 5:24, Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth”. This is about choosing priorities. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Do not worry for God knows all your needs. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”. This is the ultimate lesson we should learn about deciding priorities in our life; if we seek God first, and serve God and God’s people in our world, God will take care of our needs. This truth is also embedded in the ultimate prayer that Jesus taught; the Lord’s Prayer. I’m not sure if you’ve ever noticed it while saying it thousand times, but this prayer is divided into two sections; the first part asks for God’s will (“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done”), and the second, our personal needs (“Give us this day our daily bread”). Put God’s purposes first, then our needs will be met.
Are we too busy with our worldly businesses to spare time for God? Do we not have time to have a relationship with God? If so, that means we have our priorities wrong. According to my experience, when I’m too busy taking care of my businesses to spend time with God, I tend to lose focus. I become more productive and focused when I spend time with God first, even though I have less time for other things; this is how I know that God should be our priority and everything else will follow. There are different ways of spending time with God. We all know that we can meet God through prayer and meditation. There are a lot of different ways to pray, through which we can build a relationship with God; for example, silent prayer, intercessory prayer, supplication, short sentence prayer (a.k.a. chanting). We will have a chance to learn about all these spiritual practices in the future so I won’t elaborate right now (as I said last Sunday, to be continued).
Today, I urge you to spend time with God every day because this is how we build an intimate relationship with anyone. Think of God and recognize God’s presence in our lives. Spend time with God through prayers, meditations, and reading of sacred texts, for example. But that’s not all; we all need to think of how to serve God and follow the teachings of Christ, because being God’s people and living as God’s people are mutually exclusive. If we have a relationship with God, God will inspire us to go out and do God’s will. I pray that we will build an intimate relationship with God and let us be lead out into the world with God’s love and compassion in our hearts. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim