Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ (American, 1937?-), "O Root" (from the "O Antiphons" series). Of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Tags: Tree of Jesse. Source: http://csjstpaul.org/ansgar_holmbergs_o_antiphon_paintings.aspx; http://yokeofchrist.blogspot.com/2010/12/o-root-of-jesse.html

Day 1: God at the Center

Jack was raised in a Christian home, and he and Laura are members of a nondenominational church today. “Yeah, we are members. But I bet the other members wouldn’t recognize me if I showed up next Sunday. I haven’t been to church in more than six months,  and I have taken the family only three times in the past two years.

Jack’s faith and his church were formative in his life. He even admits they were his most important influences. Yet despite his back-ground and beliefs, for all practical purposes Jack has left the church. He continued, “Sometimes I get so frustrated with my schedule and so filled with guilt about my neglect of spiritual matters that I cry out to God and ask Him where He is. I feel guilty watching my three sons grow up without church being a part of their lives. I keep asking God for help, but I guess I just need to slow down and listen to Him. I know I’m looking for God in all the wrong places.”

What do you think has caused Jack to drift away from God?  Have you remained connected to God through the years, or have you also drifted away?

The fourth area of focus in the simple life is your relationship with God. Like Jack, you can be very successful in life but miss out on what’s most important. Or you can take steps now to place God at the center of your life and let Him bring your priorities into focus.

Scripture teaches us, “The fool says in his heart, ‘God does not exist’ (Ps. 14:1). Apparently, most of those we surveyed agreed. You can see from the statistics that most said they were Christians. Only 2 percent were either agnostics (persons who claim neither faith nor disbelief in God) or atheists (persons who deny that God exists).

Survey Statistics

80% say they are Christians.

7% hold to some other religious belief

11% believe in God but have no preferred religious system.

2% are agnostics or atheists.

69% say they need to spend more time on spiritual matters.

90% feel it’s important for them anal their families to have a spiritual foundation.

80% agree it’s important to live by biblical values.

80% try to provide good spiritual leadership in their families.

How do Americans feel about their relationships with God? Most respondents said they need to spend more time on spiritual matters.

A large majority surveyed also felt it is important for them and their families to have a spiritual foundation and to live by biblical values. And the majority indicated they try to provide good spiritual leadership in their families. Yet most of these same people said they aren’t making enough room in their lives for God.

In short, there is a big discrepancy in these people’s lives between desire and reality. Between knowing what is right and following through with action. Between saying that God is their priority and making Him their priority.

Most respondents said their priorities are mixed up and messed up. Most of them realized they need a simpler life that puts God in his rightful place-at the center of their lives. So it’s time for a change. Clarity is the first step in doing that.

Do you feel that you need to spend more time with God?

If so, what is preventing you?

Recall Jack’s story. He knew he wanted to put God back at the center of his life. He knew he needed to provide spiritual leadership for his wife and three sons. He made his intentions specific in this mission statement:

I plan to put God back into my life. I will start with some modest goals like reading my Bible 15 minutes a day, taking my family to Church, and talking about spiritual matters with my family at least once a week.

Notice that Jack’s statement included three simple actions he was willing to take:

Reading his Bible daily

Taking his family to church

Talking about spiritual matters with his family

Of course, growing closer to God isn’t a magic formula. It’s possible to read the Bible, go to church, and talk about spiritual matters and still not have God at the center of your life.

When Jesus walked this earth, he recognized that someone could have all the outward manifestations of spirituality and still be distant from God. In fact, he often encountered such a group of people. They were called Pharisees.

The name Pharisee means separated ones. There were probably a few thousand Pharisees in Jesus’ time. These guys refrained from any defilement and rigorously kept the Old Testament laws. The Pharisees added other traditions to ensure their obedience to the law. They had dietary rituals. They had rituals of purity at meals. To keep the Sabbath holy, they had a set of rules for the work that could be done on the Sabbath.

The strict traditions of the Pharisees caused some of them to be legalistic. Instead of emphasizing internal change, they externalized God’s law. They relied on different types of external obedience in their attempts to get closer to God.

These guys didn’t make Jesus happy. On the contrary, he was disgusted with them. Just listen to an excerpt of his denunciation of the Pharisees: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites. You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matt. 23:27-28).

Why did Jesus accuse the Pharisees of being hypocrites?

A checklist of good works doesn’t bring someone closer to God unless those actions come from the heart of someone who truly desires to put God at the center of his or her life. In fact, if we have a desire to get closer to God, and we have no actions that move us in that direction we are probably not getting closer to God. The Bible clearly says, “Faith if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” (James. 2:17)

Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed indicated they really wanted to move closer to God. But desire without specificity typically leads nowhere. So I’m aren’t proposing that you just have outward manifestations of religion like the Pharisees. Instead, I’m are proposing that you plan concrete actions that will demonstrate your inner desire for a close walk with God. Writing a mission statement will help you do that.

Before writing your mission statement, indicate some actions you are already taking to get closer to God.

Have a regular prayer time

Regularly read and/or study the Bible

Faithfully attend church

Minister to others by serving

Share your faith story

Other:

You don’t get closer to God just by going through a checklist of items. But you may need to take actions to move closer to God because little or nothing is happening in your life to help you grow spiritually.

As you think about what to include in your mission statement, remember these points.

You must have a desire to grow closer to God. If you see this exercise as a legalistic checklist, you have completely missed the point. Write only what you know in your heart you need and want to do.

You must be intentional about following this mission statement. It can’t be just an idea or a concept. It must be a plan or a process for making progress. Then ask God to help you carry it out. “I plan to show love to God” is not a mission statement. “I plan to show love to God by spending 30 minutes a day in prayer” includes a plan.

The statement should be a starting point. Your goals should be realistic and attainable.

Write your mission statement for developing a closer relationship with God.

In the surveys they heard from hundreds of people that they wanted a simple life closer to God. And they had specific ideas about what that meant. Tomorrow we will discuss the three biggest steps they wanted to take.

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