Do any of you other moms find yourselves “nesting” for the start of a new school year? This is the second year I’ve noticed that a certain panic strikes shortly before the kids return to school and suddenly I’m obsessed with being organized, prepared, and GETTING MY LIFE BACK IN ORDER. My aversion to structure during the summertime lasts for a couple of months and then I abruptly hit the point where I’M DONE and ready to bring back some order to the chaos. Even though the routine of busy school-life and sports seasons isn’t an altogether easy adjustment, I still hunger for it when the time comes around.
That organizational frenzy I go into here at the end of every summer? Part of it involves looking ahead at my calendar and evaluating activities and commitments for the new school year. And as I ponder those possibilities, I pray for clarity on what my priorities need to be this coming year. My common cry these last few weeks is, “Lord, where do you want my focus this year?” In regard to living on mission, I’m simply asking God, “Where do you want me?”
Spending most of my Bible study time this summer in the book of Titus, I love what I’ve been learning. Pressed on my mind and heart lately is the beautiful interweaving of faith and works – what God has done and what we do in response – and I’ve been encouraged to readdress my heart’s motives in pursuing godly living. Anything less than gratitude for His grace isn’t going to cut it. I love how the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible study notes describes this truth –
“The external conformity urged by the legalizers merely papers over hearts of idolatry (seeking to gain God’s benefits by human efforts)…The gospel ‘trains our hearts’ to pursue righteousness and to be zealous for good works (2:11-12)…Only a profound experience with God’s grace transforms the heart.”
And as I look ahead to this new school year and ponder ministry opportunities and looming big decisions, thoughts from the third chapter of Titus keep swirling in my head. That one chapter addresses “good works” three different times, each mention instructive in its own way, and I’m asking God to make sense of how these principles should guide me in decision-making and schedule-filling.
1.) As Paul lists the behaviors Titus is to remind the people in his church to exhibit, he urges them “to be ready for every good work” (verse 1).
READINESS. The idea of being prepared, ready to do good works, has recently hit me in a fresh way as I’ve been surrounded by people in crisis. It’s clear I’m positioned and called to help, to walk with them in their need. A dear friend of mine is walking an unfathomable road, her eight-month old baby recently diagnosed with leukemia. My heart has been heavy, broken for their hurt. But it seems whenever a crisis strikes in close proximity to me that there’s never just one. People ALL around are suffering, and this month I found myself delivering meals to three different people in less than one week, all because of cancer, serious sickness/surgery, and death. All of this has served as a sharp reminder that I can’t be present in people’s lives during times like that unless I have some flexibility in my schedule. Crisis is never planned, and responding to it requires some margin of time on my calendar. Examining my readiness for good works prompts me to ask God, “How can I develop a ministry of availability?” I can’t ask Him to use me in hurting people’s lives and then crowd my calendar so that I can’t say yes when the needs arise.
Another aspect of the readiness mentioned in Titus 3:1 speaks to my willingness to do WHATEVER God has planned. “Ready for EVERY good work…” it says, warning me not to put my foot down in refusal to anything He may want to move me toward. But I’ve known obedience that bursts out of a heart wrecked by guilt, and I don’t want to go back there. What I desire is for God to so overwhelm my heart with the gospel that I long to share it in more places, for my fears to be disintegrated by the love of God in Christ Jesus for my poor soul. Lord, bring me to that place and help me to want it more and more.
2.) After beautifully describing the gospel in verses 4-7, Paul teaches them to be driven by it to “be careful to devote themselves to good works” (verse 8).
CAREFUL DEVOTION. Developing a ministry of availability is important, but I realize there are some good works I just won’t do if I’m not intentional in doing them. For me, this looks like commitment to certain ministry endeavors. Creating a margin of time for unexpected ministry doesn’t mean all of the planned roles and responsibilities need to go. I crave discernment into which ones are for me in this season, and that’s why I’m praying. The committed roles are often the discipline I need to serve well.
I sense His leading: be ready for all, devoted to some.
3.) Paul wraps up this letter with an admonition to “learn to devote themselves to good works” (verse 14).
LEARNING. Cultivating a heart of readiness and devotion to do good works isn’t something we just know how to do; it requires learning, and when does that not come by a process? Prayer is essential in figuring these things out, but I can’t forget that it will also involve my mind. And what is the learning context for the recipients of this letter? Perhaps…EACH OTHER?
Situated right inside Paul’s closing lines where he names the individuals in the church Titus shepherds, this instruction seems to be highlighting a community of believers, people dependent on God’s Word but together learning with each other how to grow in these things. I’m challenged to consider who I’m inviting into these decision-making processes and what wisdom God sends me through the insight and experiences they share.
And as I wait….
Here in this waiting place, I remind myself that He is faithfully working things out and has already gone before me to prepare the path.