Thursday, March 20, 2008

Appropriate Smallness: Part 2

[Number nineteen in a series]

I am continuing to look at Chapter 7 ("Appropriate Smallness: The Practice of Servanthood") of John Ortberg's The Life You've Always Wanted. The study questions are from the back of the book, and were written by Kevin G. Harney.

The book is about spiritual disciplines. The most important thing I have gotten from the book about spiritual disciplines in general is that we should not do them just so we can check them off a list. They are not a barometer of spirituality or a way to earn favor with God. They are a way to enable the transformation God wants to make in your life.

Appropriate Smallness

If you want to be your own god, you have to settle for living in a tiny universe where there is room for only one person. Your world could grow infinitely bigger if you were only willing to become, in the words of a friend of mine, "appropriately small." -- John Ortberg

IV. A Life of Servanthood: How do we enter a life of servanthood?
  1. The Ministry of the Mundane
    Jesus took a little child in his arms and said, in effect, "Here's your ministry. Give yourselves to those who can bring you no status or clout. Just help people. You need this little child. You need to help this little child, not just for her sake, but more for your sake. For if you don't, your whole life will be thrown away on an idiotic contest to see who is the greatest. But if you serve her - often and well and cheerfully and out of the limelight - then the day may come when you do it without thinking, 'What a wonderful thing I've done.' Then you will begin serving naturally, effortlessly, for the joy of it. Then you will begin to understand how life in the kingdom works." -- John Ortberg
  2. The Ministry of Being Interrupted
    Another form of service might be called the ministry of availability. In the Russian church certain people called poustinikki would devote themselves to a life of prayer. They would withdraw to the desert (poustinia) and live in solitude, but not in isolation. (The Russian word for solitude means "being with everybody.") By custom, "the latch was always off the door" as a sign of availability, according to Tilden Edwards. "The poustinik's priority at any time was his neighbor's need (which might stretch beyond prayer and counsel to physical labor, as at harvest time)."
  3. Embracing Our Weaknesses and Limitations
    "Why do you choose to be so busy?" he persisted, which made me uncomfortable because then I had to think about it. The only honest answer was that, more than anything else, I was running on grandiosity. I was afraid that if I declined opportunities, they would stop coming, and if opportunities stopped coming I would be less important, and if I were less important, that would be terrible . . . As a result of this encounter I developed a small "personal schedule group," with a covenant that we would not take on any added commitments in life without discussing them with each other and with our families first. The covenant also gave us full permission to talk not only about our schedules but also the motives behind our activities.

  4. Question 6: John talks about how we can be swept into busyness and get our motors running too fast. Respond to one of the following questions that apply to you:

    • If your RPMs are too slow, what needs to happen to help you pick up the pace?

    • If you feel your RPMs are at a good place, what can you do to be sure you maintain health and balance and not get revved up too fast?

    • If your RPMs are hitting the red line and danger zone, what can you do to slow down and find restored health and balance in your life?

    Question 7: If you could form a personal schedule team made up of people who care about you, know you, and would speak honestly to you, what kind of evaluation do you think they would make if they reviewed your schedule from the past month? What might they tell you to stop? What might they encourage you to begin?

  5. The Ministry of "Holding Your Tongue"
    Perhaps the least practiced form of servanthood today is what Bonhoeffer called "the ministry of holding one's tongue."
    Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words . . . It must be a decisive rule of every Christian fellowship that each individual is prohibited from saying much that occurs to him.
    This behavior flies in the face of the conventional wisdom today, when saying "everything that occurs to you" is taken as an essential component of mental health. But sometimes this "ministry of the closed mouth" is a victory for the kingdom
  6. The Ministry of "Bearing"
    We are called to bear each other's burdens. Sometimes this may involve praying for another's need, or trying to comfort someone in pain. But at times it may feel as if an entire relationship is burden¬some. I may need to "bear with" people until I learn to love them. . . The ministry of bearing with one another is more than simply tolerating difficult people. It is also learning to hear God speak through them. It is learning to be "for" them. It is learning that the difficult person I have most to deal with is me. . . . "Bearing with them" does not require becoming best friends, but means learning to wish them well, releasing our right to hurt them back, coming to experience our common standing before the Cross.
Group Prayer Direction: Read Mark 10:45 again. Pray for God to give each of your small-group members a growing desire to serve in humble secrecy. Pray for the heart of Jesus when it comes to your acts of service.

Living the Life: What is an example of the ministry of the mundane that you can offer in one of the following areas this week?
  • In a friendship

  • In the work place

  • In your home

  • In your neighborhood

  • In your church
Take a moment and identify one or two simple chores, tasks, or jobs that you know (and others may know) you really don't enjoy. What might you learn if you commit to one of these tasks on a regular basis for the coming months, seeking the Spirit's leading in your life as you enter into these simple tasks?

Personal Reflection:What can you do to keep the latch off your door and make yourself more available to others in how you do the following:

  • Schedule your day

  • Project approachability and availability

  • Set up your home, office, and other places people connect with you
Additional Small Group Questions:
  1. Not only can vanity strike in the secular parts of life, it can hit at the core of our spiritual life. What are some signs or indicators that spiritual pride is creeping in?

  2. Read Luke 18:9-14. What is Jesus teaching us about the condition of our heart in relation to our actions?

  3. Have a member of your small group read the possible responses to a sincere compliment (see Part 1). What does genuine and authentic humility look like? What does false humility look like and how can you tell the dif¬ference?

  4. Read the Bonhoeffer quote above. Tell about a time you should have held your tongue, but failed to. What were some of the repercussions? Tell about a time you did hold your tongue and had the wisdom and self-control to be silent. What did God accomplish through your silence?

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly