Sunday, January 08, 2012

My word for 2012

I have read a number of blogs and challenges in the the last few days about choosing a single word to represent the hopes and wishes and goals for the new year. I certainly like that idea far better than resolutions that are made and broken within days. I stopped making resolutions years ago. Last year I did an art piece at called it "The Year of Being Content." For the most part, that concept did work itself out in my daily life. Even thought I was busy, I didn't wish for more than I had, I was grateful for most days, and content with the experiences I shared with my friends and family.

In the last days, I have considered what my word might be for 2012. Within the last 24 hours, two different sources led me to consider the word "dissipate" as the opposite of what I wanted to do. One sermon preached by John Wesley (1703-1791) complimented a sermon by John Herring (Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, 8 January 2012) and by the end of the day, I knew my word for 2012: connected.

When my friend, Bryan Black, chose "Do less, Be more" as his status on Facebook the other day, my first thought was about Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus. Luke 10 tells how Jesus stopped to teach at their house near Jerusalem. Martha, being the good hostess, worked to prepare food fitting for a rabbi and for those who traveled with him. Mary, however, sat at his feet, listening to his teachings. (Dr. Herring aptly noted that a woman seated in the same room as a rabbi was not standard behavior for women of that day. That Jesus allowed her to sit there was an example of how he elevated the status of women.) Martha, whose intentions were good, complained that Mary was not doing her fair share of the work.  Jesus rebuked her saying that Mary had chosen the better thing. 

This brought me back to Bryan's status and the link he shared with me to Wesley's sermon on dissipation:

6. And even as much serving dissipated the thoughts of Martha, and distracted her from attending to her Lord's words, so a thousand things which daily occur are apt to dissipate our thoughts, and distract us from attending to His voice who is continually speaking to our hearts: I mean, to all that listen to his voice. We are encompassed on all sides with persons and things that tend to draw us from our centre. Indeed, every creature, if we are not continually on our guard, will draw us from our Creator. The whole visible world, all we see, hear, or touch, all the objects either of our senses or understanding, have a tendency to dissipate our thoughts from the invisible world; and to distract our minds from attending to Him who is both the Author and End of our being.

I can so relate to Martha. She wasn't doing anything wrong, but in pursuing the good, she missed the best. Her focus was pulled out of connection with Jesus, and scattered by all the tasks set before her, tasks expected of her by her society and culture. How often to I get carried away by the tasks before me? Do I keep myself from being connected to my Lord and to true fellowship with my brothers and sisters by a routine that is busy at best and chaotic at worst?

The natural man often fills his days with good things: humanitarian endeavors, goodness to family, loyalty to friends, and other admirable qualities. But in the midst of all that, he is still alienated from God. That tendency toward dissipation is only mastered by the Holy Spirit's leading to sit at the Master's feet and listen. To be still and know God is counter to everything our current culture demands. 

10. But so far as any one yields to this temptation, so far he is dissipated. The original word properly signifies to disperse, or scatter. So the sun dissipates, that is, scatters, the clouds; the wind dissipates, or scatters, the dust; and, by an easy metaphor, our thoughts are said to be dissipated, when they are irregularly scattered up and down. In like manner, our desires are dissipated, when they are unhinged from God, their proper centre, and scattered to and fro among the poor, perishing, unsatisfying things of the world. And, indeed, it may be said of every man that is a stranger to the grace of God, that all his passions are dissipated, --

"Unhinged from God." Isn't that just the perfect phrase for most of Christendom today? Unhinged, disconnected, scattered.... We DO the right things. We SAY the right things. We show up to church. We may even tithe. (Okay, probably not. Statistics show that fewer than ten percent of American Christians actually tithe.) In any case, even those of us who call Jesus "Lord" find that we are mostly unhinged from God on a regular basis. We love the experience of connection during events and retreats, but when the mundane reality of life re-establishes itself,  we are quickly scattered once again. It's not that we don't care, but that we, like Martha, get busy with doing and forget about being. Being quiet with God. Being still.

12. Hence we may easily learn what is the proper, direct meaning of that common expression, -- a dissipated man. He is a man that is separated from God; that is disunited from his centre, whether this be occasioned by hurry of business, by seeking honour or preferment, or by fondness for diversions, for silly pleasures, so called, or for any trifle under the sun. The vulgar, it is true, commonly confine this character to those who are violently attached to women, gaming, drinking; to dancing, balls, races, or the poor, childish diversion of "running foxes and hares out of breath." But it equally belongs to the serious fool who forgets God by a close attention to any worldly employment, suppose it were of the most elegant or the most important kind. A man may be as much dissipated from God by the study of the mathematics or astronomy, as by fondness for cards or hounds. Whoever is habitually inattentive to the presence and will of his Creator, he is a dissipated man.

I like this section of Wesley's sermon. Our church culture tends to look at a word like "dissipation" and equate it with "sins."  If we don't smoke or drink or dance (or go with those who do), we pat ourselves on our Pharisaical backs and applaud our righteousness. However, we (and I am more guilty than most) often become "serious fools" who forget God in all sorts of elegant and laudable pursuits. Working with humanitarian efforts or feeding the poor or teaching the young or caring for a family--these are noble efforts, but if they distract us from relationship with God, they are no less sinful than less honorable activities. Ouch. 

So what is the solution? How do I, in 2012, maintain a commitment to be connected? Wesley, of course, has a brilliant solution:

20. It was from a full conviction of the absolute necessity there is of a Christian's setting the Lord always before him that a set of young gentlemen in Oxford, who, many years ago, used to spend most of their evenings together, in order to assist each other in working out their salvation, placed that question first in their scheme of daily self-examination: "Have I been simple and recollected in all I said or did?" Have I been simple? -- That is, setting the Lord always before me, and doing everything with a single view of pleasing him? --Recollected? -- that is, quickly gathering in my scattered thoughts; recovering my simplicity, if I had been in any wise drawn from it by men, or devils, or my own evil heart? By this means they were preserved from dissipation, and were enabled, each of them, to say, "By the grace of God, this one thing I do: (at least, it is my constant aim) I see God, I love God, I serve God. I glorify him with my body and with my spirit."

To be free from dissipation and to be truly connected requires an active accountability of my days. "Have I been simple?" It's such an easy question to ask, but the implications are profound. My activities are not the problem that leaves me "unhinged." Rather, it is the focus of those activities. Where are my thoughts as I do what I do? Do I work so that HE is glorified? Do I sing that HE is honored? Do I serve my family, my friends, my church for HIS  sake? This must be my constant motivation: HIS glory, HIS renown, HIS fame. In that, there is connection with HIM, and from that, connection with others.

Let this year be one where I am fully connected in my relationship with the Lord, and after that, in my relationships with others, and then (and only then) with the things that I do.

 Quotes taken from John Wesley's Sermon 79 on "Dissipation"


Pamela K said...

I am going to search for more of this great man's sermons. I hadn't realised that they were available.

Connectivity is an admirable aim for 2012 Stephanie, I am already in awe of your lifestyle! I shall spend some time pondering my 'single-word' for 2012 now.

(Good luck with the CS Lewis course too.)

Tehwan said...

How you have blessed me with what you wrote. Thank you.