Last night, I was asked to share my testimony with the Navigators fellowship at Bowie State University. I shared, but departed greatly from my prepared comments, so I’m writing an abridged version of my thoughts here. A few points of background to start:
1.) The Navigators is a Christian organization emphasizing one to one discipleship. On campus, new members and new believers start out in introductory small groups, then progress to smaller, life-sharing relationships facilitated by more senior students and Nav interns. The campus ministry is led and directed by a Nav missionary.
2.) Bowie State is an HBCU in Bowie, MD. I love HBCUs, having attended one, and I was so excited to have been a part of that fellowship last night. The students are dedicated and colorful. I missed the expressiveness and rhythm that was the background of my Howard life, and I had a taste of that back last night.
Let’s go now to the thoughts:
So, it should be apparent now that Rev. Osaze and I are good friends and he is one of my role models. Let me say something here that I say to myself on the way to the classes I teach that I’d first heard on one of his albums: “Dear Lord, if anything’s said of me, help them to forget it; if anything is said of you, help them to remember it. Bring glory to yourself in Jesus’ name.”
There is a hip hop artist who sings a song that resonates very much with my life. Da T.R.U.T.H. has a song, “My Story,” with a lyric that goes something like this: “I ain’t got no horror story, God kept me in my youth I give Him all the glory!”
When I first heard this song, I realized that we often enthusiastically seek God when we are deep in trials, especially trials that attend poverty, poor choices, and poor discipline. We ask God to remove from us the vicissitudes of abuse and structural violence, and hold those who survive such madness in special esteem. Overcoming trials gives us special purpose, but when the trials are removed, what purpose motivates us?
I realized that I had this problem, because I’d be ashamed that I didn’t come through anything major or have any drama in my life. And I see around me in the fellowships I’m in almost an apology for God’s material blessings and protection over their lives. How ironic that we always ask for God’s protection, then treat His provisions with contempt! This contempt is the reason poorer communities are full of faith, while wealthier ones forsake God and trust in their riches.
But when God keeps you, what will you do? You must solve this dilemma now. It is urgent, don’t wait! God gives wealth and provision so you can focus on Him and fix your gaze on Him. What is the purpose of life when you’ve all you want and need? Where can you go to get a large enough vision for a blessed life? You must resolve to see God.
[a brief aside, that last sentence is so much more important when your life revolves around ideas… being convinced is not the same as being convicted. more on this some other time]
If you do not resolve this motivation in your heart, you risk glorifying the struggle without a vision for your time of blessing. The Biblical account of Israel’s history testifies to this truth repeatedly. If you trust in God, he’s there. But without a vision for our blessed times, we perish despite our resources. Trust in wealth, he withdraws. One of the clearest examples of this in the Scripture is Israel’s national state of affairs when the priest Samuel was called. At that time, Israel had enjoyed 400 years of freedom from Egypt, and had failed to trust God. On the contrary everyone “did what was right in his own eyes.” Consequently, God had not been speaking for some time… [Samuel 3:1 (ESV) “Now the young man Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.”]
As I said earlier, we see this withdrawal in our lives. We do not hear God speak, or tangibly feel his presence. As a result, if you feel that you have the resources to make it through your circumstances, you see no need for God. In short, Poor=religious:Rich=self reliance.
But why is it that we don’t hear from God, when we know that He is always there? The short answer: We don’t invest in God. Consider some common choices we make that reflect our priorities: “Have you ever taken a vacation day away from work to pray or read the Bible?” “Have you ever been late to a business meeting because you were in prayer or reflection?” “Have you ever sacrificed time with work or hobbies to get just a little more time with God?” [When evaluating priorities, apply this to other things we also claim are important to us… like our wives, kids, etc…]
Investing in God does not mean just “spending quite time” with Him. Rather, investing in God is planned, intentionally structured Bible reading, querying, reflection, meditation, and prayer. It requires a lifetime of dedication, the results of which many may not see in this lifetime. We often marvel at the spiritual fortitude of those who have mastered spiritual investment, but rarely desire the transformational benefit of God’s full presence enough to make the requisite sacrifices.
I believe that we are not necessarily creatures of habit more than we are creatures of investment. If you follow this blog, you know that I am a new engineering professor who is training for a 10-mile race. This is approximately 1.7x my distance PR at the time I chose to run. If I am to be successful, making a habit of running everyday will not suffice. Making planned investments in consistent training, rest, and diet will. Another example is my friend Tylon training as an amateur bodybuilder. When I first met Ty, he was slim and totally unimposing. Now, folks ask him what his secret is for “getting big.” He has made planned investments in his training, rest schedule for each muscle group, and careful approach to his diet over the past 8 years. The difference between investment and habit is planning and intention over long periods of time. Investments are non-linear in their returns, and operate according to systems dynamics that make them highly sensitive to small changes in inputs and sometimes path dependent. According to this definition, ask yourself what you are currently investing in?
Last semester when I was starting as a professor, I asked myself “What am I consistent in?” “What am I investing for?” I noticed for me, it was nothing! Not physical endurance, not academic excellence, not my family, and certainly not God. It is hard to invest in God because we cant see Him, and He controls the reward. He reveals Himself, or dwells with us at His initiative. Investing in God requires planned and structured approaches to study of the Scriptures, study of history and philosophy, and, most importantly, structured time in solitude and prayerful meditation. Not only that, but building on the non-linear reality of good investments, God never entrusts His presence in individuals who do not invest in Him over long periods of time. I realized that I was losing a lot of time and spiritual power not seeking God just for God. It is hard to invest in God, yes. But if we don’t, what are we really saying we want from Him?