January 18, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Luke 6)

Submitted by James C. from Gracepoint San Diego Church

Shriveled hand, shriveled hearts
Here, we have a man with a shriveled hand, certainly an unfortunate situation that should’ve evoked compassion from others. But when the Pharisees looked at this man, what came to their minds was not the suffering that this man had faced because of his handicap or any compassionate feelings toward him, but they mainly saw him as an opportunity to trap their adversary, Jesus. Later, when Jesus healed this man and restored his hand, the only response of the Pharisees was that they were furious that their plan had failed and that Jesus had showed them up. In this, we see that they did not have much regard for this man’s humanity, but instead only had their own political agenda in mind. The suffering of this man and the sense of helplessness and sorrow he’d felt weighed very little to them, but what was more important was that their scheming to take down their rival Jesus. In this way, we really see the lack of compassion in their hearts and how their hearts are so shriveled so as to not be able to react to this man’s suffering but only see him as a pawn in their competition with Jesus.

Although this is an unusual situation compared to what I normally find myself in, this kind of disregard of others and focus only on my own agenda is not so unfamiliar for me. Especially when in a context where I feel like I’m in competition with someone else, there are times when I find myself viewing others not so much in terms of their humanity but only in terms of how they help me to get ahead or compare favorably with others. I remember times when I felt competitive with some peers, how I viewed other peers not as fellow brothers whom I want to care for, but just as people whom I can consider to be on my side to make me feel more important socially. Even with my leaders, I viewed them not so much as older Christians whom I wanted to learn from, but merely as people whose favor I could gain to make me feel more important in the context of our community. In those times, I’m not really caring for these people but are just viewing them as pawns in my own striving to get ahead of others. Another way that I can have a shriveled heart is if I view the people I’m ministering to mainly as indicators of my spiritual performance to boost my ego rather than people whom God has entrusted for me to care for. Because of my performance-oriented tendency, this attitude can seep in even in the midst of me trying to be faithful. If I am not careful, I can approach even ministry as just another task where I’m evaluated by the results, and I can even see spiritual growth or setbacks of the people I’m ministering to as indicators of my spiritual performance. To view people this way is such an unloving attitude to have and it degrades the humanity of the people that God has entrusted to me, and it is just driven by my pride and ego. Yet, it is such an easy thing for me to fall into if I’m just approaching Christian life and ministry as an area that I’m supposed to get “good” at and perform well in. I really have to take warning from the example of the Pharisees, of how far this kind of attitude can get, such that their only response to the precious healing of this man is anger. I really need to check my heart often to see if I’m really viewing others as just projects or pawns in my ego war, or as precious people that God has entrusted to me.

Purpose of the Sabbath
The Pharisees had such a misunderstanding of the purpose of the Sabbath. Although at one point they probably started off with a desire to honor God by keeping themselves free of distractions on this day of worship and reflection, we see that it has degenerated into mostly just rule-keeping and they did not appreciate the heart behind the Sabbath. Here, they were much more interested in Jesus’ blindly abiding by their misguided interpretation of “no work being done” by not even engaging in acts of healing. They thought that on the Sabbath, it was much more important to care about externally following their rules rather the healing of this man.

Jesus here asks what is lawful on the Sabbath, whether to save life or to destroy it? When we turn our focus and thoughts on him, it should naturally lead us to become people who are interested in saving and preserving life as well. So, this day of worship is a day when we can draw close to God and learn to share in his compassionate heart for people. It starts from personally relating and connecting to this God of mercy and grace, and from there to let his character and concerns rub off on us. The Pharisees could turn this personal relationship with God into just a mechanic following of human rules. How did they get to this point? Perhaps spiritual life grew something routine for them and they started to go through the motions without engaging their hearts. After all, after you do the same things for a long time, what was once challenging and took effort does become easier. Perhaps this is how spiritual life was like for them, and as they merely went through the motions more and more, they disengaged their hearts and even when it came to this day that was set aside for learning God’s heart, they just paid attention to superficial appearances and external behavior. It probably took a long time for their whole religion to get to this state, but this kind of movement is something that I can relate to as well. As I get older, it becomes easier just to go through the motions without engaging my heart as much as before and I can manufacture the same behavior with less effort. And in a way, the temptation to just approach spiritual life with a focus on the externalities can really take a life of its own, without me actually connecting with God through the same spiritual activities that I’ve done before. I can just be satisfied with the fact that I’m doing all the right things and being at the right places, without really being fully there and having my heart actually be engaged with God and with what’s going on. And when that happens, I can really start to have a twisted understanding of what spiritual life is all about, that it’s more about me doing the right behaviors rather than relating to the living God.

PERSONAL PRAYER
Dear Lord, it’s really sobering to see the example of the Pharisees and how they strayed so far from what a relationship with you should look like. How did they allow their hearts to slip so far away from You such that they view spiritual life as following rules and others as merely pawns in their own ego wars? Yet, in so many ways I see that I can have the same tendencies as well, when I fail to properly engage my heart before You and just mechanically approach Christian life or focus more on how I appear on the outside or how I “perform” spiritually. Please have mercy on me that I would not wander to such a point. Please help me to be honest in how I approach You and have those times of heart checks when I can really check my attitude towards You, that Christian life would not be just another thing I’m supposed to do well in and feel good about myself, but that it can really be me genuinely relating to a living God who has shown me mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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Submitted by Tony C. from Gracepoint San Diego Church

Reflection Questions
Luke 6:1-4
•Have there been occasions in which I rigidly followed rules and in so doing failed to love others?
One thing that always comes to mind when I think of following rules rigidly was how I used to treat house cleaning as something that was mandatory which everyone should show up for. I thought it would only be fair if everyone took part in the cleaning. Since house cleaning was scheduled every week on the same day and time, not knowing that there was house cleaning should not be an excuse.

After cleaning, eating a household meal together was something that we did. Being so wrapped up in the thought that that person didn’t show up for cleaning, I remember there would be times when I didn’t even consider leaving a plate behind for them. As I look back, I realized how I never thought about the things that they were probably struggling with. With one brother, I knew that he wasn’t doing very well in school; perhaps he was just so bummed out with his performance at school that he wasn’t in the mood to clean. Maybe if I was more loving towards that housemate by saving a plate of dinner for him, he would have cheered up more and would’ve been more apologetic about his absence.

•What is the difference between the Pharisees’ and Jesus’ approach to the Sabbath?
For the Pharisees, the Sabbath was a duty they felt obligated to fulfill, as it was a way in which they could show to others their spirituality and devotion to God. For Jesus, he did not approach the Sabbath as a day in which he would refrain from doing anything. All he knew was that there was a man with a shriveled hand standing before him who had been suffering from this handicap for years, and it was an opportunity for Jesus to love this person by healing him.

•Are there ways in which my approach to spiritual life is similar to the Pharisees?

There are times when I get so caught up with the things that I feel like I need to do and get done in order to keep up an image of being spiritual and obedient to God that I miss out on opportunities to love others when the opportunity presents itself. I remember as an undergrad, I used to not want to spend time with my peers because I wanted to read a good Christian book. And as a working person now, there are times when I would do my devotionals or church related things and not take part in doing little things to express care and love to others, such as cleaning up the house or cooking for my housemate who have had a long day at work.

Luke 6:8
•How would a person with a withered hand normally feel about standing “in front of everyone”?
A person with a withered hand would probably feel very embarrassed and singled out as he stood in front of everyone. He knew that he was different from everyone else; throughout his life, he probably had many experiences where people gave him the look of pity or disgust that made him feel insecure and made him want to withdraw from others.

•What areas of my life are “withered”? What do I need to do to receive healing in these areas?
The withered areas of my life are the areas in which I would feel very embarrassed if I were to get called out for them. These are the sins that I want to ignore and hope that others would not address or confront me about. But in order for me to receive healing in these areas, I need to be willing to endure through the painful process of confession. It is through confession that I am able to acknowledge my true sinful condition, desire forgiveness through Christ, and begin the process of healing.

Luke 6:12-13
•Note what Jesus did before the choosing of the twelve apostles. What can I learn from Jesus’ example?
Before the choosing of the twelve apostles, Jesus “went out to the mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” For Jesus, he understood the spiritual battle that he was in and what the twelve apostles would face, and that perhaps made him pray all the more intensely. And as I recognize more and more just how real the spiritual battle is, I need to all the more pray for the people that I am ministering or reaching out to. I need to recognize that it is through my dependence on God, and not on my own experiences and competence, that I am able to engage in this spiritual battle against Satan.

Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text, or upon reflection over recent events in your life.

Dear Heavenly Father, I pray in the midst of serving and being obedient to you that I would not be someone who is going to miss out on the opportunity to love others when the opportunity presents itself. And as I learn from today the kind of humble attitude that the man with the shriveled hand had, I pray that I too would not allow my pride to cause me to not want to come before you to confess my sins and shame so that I may begin the process of healing in the areas of my character flaws and sins.

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