Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Growth Comes to the Desert

This has not been one of the hottest summers on record, however, many states have experienced a record number of forest fires as hundreds of thousands of acres of trees and more than a dozen men and women have been consumed by fire. These fires have been fueled by heat, lack of sustained moisture, high winds, dead wood and brush decaying on the forest floor. I’ve often pondered whether or not the sustained preventative clearing of this decay would help to eliminate forest fires. Ironically, this year also marks the 55th anniversary of Smokey the Bear whose characteristic words were, “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires.” This summer appears representative of a decade characterized by rapid change, chaotic world and domestic events and personal crises. As a society, we have become focused on solving crises and emphasizing diversity as a foundation to the solutions. On a personal level, we have become problem focused people seeking solutions for the symptoms of chaos. Plainly, we have become a people who spend more time, energy and resources putting out fires than we do clearing the undercover that fuels them. It is my experience that this external chaos has led many Christians to a state of uncertainty, depression, reduced energy and a diffuse focus. This is exemplified by chaotic marriages and families with lives segmented into roles and functions with little time, energy or desire for relationship with God or with one another. Many families have become like police scanners, vigilantly searching the various frequency bands so that they can stem off or react to the next crisis or problem. The result is families that are distant emotionally. Families, couples and individuals are prone to medicate their inner void with worldly obsessions that borrow into psyche and soul, only to further enlarge the spiritual desert with hot temperatures, strong winds and even more decaying elements on the floors of our lives. With this sobering and somewhat discouraging description of the general direction in which our societal and personal lives are headed; what hope is there? Where is the focal point? Where is the order in the chaos? Where is God in the desert? From a secular model it resides in that fifty year old adage, “Only you can prevent forest fires.” From a Christian perspective the answer lies in Deuteronomy 6:1-14, “Only you can be diligent in obedience to God and set an example for your family. Only you can allow God’s presence, His power and His promises to bring growth in the spiritual dry places of your life.” The principle of nurturing for growth is universal and timeless; however, it is a truth which all of us must regularly focus in order facilitate growth. None of us have “arrived” when it comes to developing Godly families and honoring Him through family worship. With so many family worship resources available to us today, we should have the most God honoring families and be the holiest society in the history of the world. The fact is that we are not and our families are not. The answer does not lie in more knowledge, more programs or even more books. All these can be very helpful as well as being overwhelming. The answer lies in slowing down and saying “no” to some things and some people like our children’s teachers, coaches, Sunday school teachers and youth pastors. Sometimes we need to be saying “no” to the requests of our senior pastors, church boards and committees. The answer does not lie in isolating oneself and family from God’s people, but rather in spending less time “doing God’s work” and spending more time “being God’s people.” The answer lies in spending more time seeking, relating and obeying God than in activity for God. God reinforced this principle to me through our commitment to tithing the first fruits of our income unto Him. When Lynn and I were first married (37 years ago) we had several discussions, disagreements and even arguments over giving money to the church. At the age of 21, I was a card carrying member of the $2 a week club. Several years later we both accepted Christ as Savior and we began to revisit our commitment to giving. Only then, through the power of the Holy Spirit, giving a tithe came from the heart as a response of love. For 25 years we have given unto God in this way and have sought to be good example to our two children. Recently our only daughter was married and in the course of a conversation mentioned that she and her husband decided they wanted to begin tithing unto the Lord. Upon hearing there decision, I was almost brought to tears and continue to be humbled by their decision and pronouncement. I thank God that this response of love to His love was “caught” by our daughter and her husband much earlier in their marriage than what we experienced (no thanks to my pride and stubbornness). This is one example of a modeling principle found in Deuteronomy 6: 4-8 (NASB),

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Another example of spiritual growth being caught (modeled by parents) was relayed by a angry adolescent who was having major difficulties with her parents. She continued to be at odds with them for years, but throughout her alienation never forgot the picture of seeing her parent kneeling in their bedroom every morning praying for her and the rest of their family. This for her was the focal point that began to bring some order in the midst of her personal chaos. It is an aspect of family worship in which she and her husband continue today. Praying as a couple has not been easy in our marriage. Both Lynn and I accepted Christ into our lives as Savior on the same day 3 1/2 years after we were married. I was employed as a youth director in a metropolitan Detroit church where we both grew up. After our conversion experience I began to try and teach Lynn the Bible and force-feed devotional times. This went over like a lead balloon as I discovered the fallacy of trying to change her, versus seeking to love her. I began to slowly learn that I did not (and still don’t) have the power to change anyone but me. We have not arrived in the area of couple or family worship, but we are still willing and growing. My experience has been that family worship has become more meaningful as our relationship has matured. As I have continued to allow God to challenge and change me, he has modeled that love relationship with me (1 John 4) and I continue to seek to love Lynn as “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it.” One event that helped to shape our deepening walk with the Lord took place through a local church where we were attending and working 20 years ago. This church began a program of household dedication and witness to their community by inviting their members and attenders to nail up on the front doors of their homes a small metal plaque that has Joshua 24:15 written out on it, “As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.” As Deuteronomy 6:7 challenges, “And you shall write them on the door posts of your house and on your gates.” This was the beginning of our public display that said we were committing our household and our family to God. Whether you are single, married or have children, the focal point of worship is you and me. We must continue to grow in our love and worship relationship with Jesus Christ if we expect to have meaningful individual, couple or family devotions. The growth in the desert begins through nurturing our own devotional lives with God and allowing Him to bring the desert to bloom.

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