12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. (The Message)
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.
God will change us “from the inside out” as we seek him and his will for us above all else (Mt.6:33). But God will not change us without us! It the relational Paul has been pushing us toward all Lent in this text. In this relational thing between God and humanity it's always a two-way street. Not an equal two-way street to be sure. God is always the first and primary partner who initiates, establishes, and sustains this relationship. But our response and participation is equally necessary in the way it is between any two friends. When we give ourselves to someone else in friendship or love a network of reciprocal obligations is created. Both sides must interact in good faith for the relationship to be genuine.
That's why Paul immediately turns from “fix your attention on God” to “Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it.” The relationship God established with us in Christ holds both these aspects together. Our quick and obedient response to what God wants from us is precisely the way he changes us from the inside out. God changes us. He really changes us. Such that we want now nothing more than than to be with God and live as his people.
But we are slow learners. Otherwise Paul would not have had to admonish his readers as he does here. We get distracted easily and readily find reasons not to what God wants us to do promptly. It may well be this vulnerability to distraction is not just a weakness of our flesh but a tactic of our enemy to diminish or derail our discipleship. At least C. S. Lewis thinks so. He has displayed this conviction literarily in his wise and witty classic The Screwtape Letters. A senior tempter, Screwtape, instructing his nephew Wormwood on the art of spiritual seduction has this to say about deflecting his patient from following a nudge from God. Beyond the immediate setting of the letter the tactics Screwtape advises are paradigmatic, I believe, of the “flaming arrows of the evil one” (Eph.6:16), he uses against us in every area of life.
“But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. the enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what he says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been his line for when I said 'Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning', the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added 'Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind', he was already half way to the door. once he was in the street the battle was won. I showed him a newsboy shouting the midday paper, and a no. 73 bus going past, and before he reached the bottom of the steps I had got into him an unalterable conviction that, whatever odd ideas might come into a man’s head when he was shut up alone with his books, a healthy dose of 'real life' (by which he meant the bus and the newsboy) was enough to show him that all 'that sort of thing' just couldn’t be true. he knew he’d had a narrow escape and in later years was fond of talking about 'that inarticulate sense for actuality which is our ultimate safeguard against the aberrations of mere logic'. he is now safe in our father’s house. You begin to see the point? Thanks to processes which we set at work in them centuries ago, they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things. above all, do not attempt to use science (I mean, the real sciences) as a defence against Christianity. they will positively encourage him to think about realities he can’t touch and see. there have been sad cases among the modern physicists. if he must dabble in science, keep him on economics and sociology; don’t let him get away from that invaluable 'real life'. but the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is 'the results of modern investigation'. Do remember you are there to fuddle him. From the way some of you young fiends talk, anyone would suppose it was our job to teach!”
Paul well knows of tactics. Doubtless he's experienced them himself. That's why he exhorts us to “Just do it!” when responding to God. There is a “use it or lose it” quality at work here. If we do not “do it” before long there will be other matters ready to claim our attention and response, other reasons entertained for not doing it at the moment. The “Yes, But” syndrome (or is it sindrome?) will soon overtake those who hesitate. You know it, don't you? That moment we feel convicted or called to do something for God it doesn't take long for us to think “Yes, Lord, I should do that. I want to do that. But (reason why I can't, won't or shouldn't do it now).
What this hesitation to do God's will means, whether from human weakness and/or satanic suggestion, is that we have not fully fixed our attention on God. And rooting us in a place where we can hold the attention and response Paul calls for here is a key aspect of the journey of Lent.