Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don't impose it on others. You're fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you're not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you're out of line. If the way you live isn't consistent with what you believe, then it's wrong. (Romans 14:22-23 The Message)
I kind of doubt if I am in this situation alone. Paul admonishes us to spend some time focusing on our own relationship with God. Why? As we take our eyes off of what we think OTHERS have done wrong and let them rest rightly on how well we are doing living out our beliefs, we often find we are falling short of our beliefs. There is a problem with the congruence between the two. Instead of focusing on those issues of "congruence" in others, we are asked to look at our own.
Not the most popular message, huh? Not the most comfortable one either. The benefits of keeping "right focus" in our lives are really what Paul hand in mind as he admonishes us here.
1. Keep the focus on God. There is much to be said about "cultivating" relationship with God, but here are only a few benefits of "cultivation" which come from the perspective of farming land. First, it keeps down the growth of weeds! I used to pick the weeds for some elderly ladies in a neighborhood where I lived. I would arrive in the morning, looking up at hillsides of long natural grasses and dandelions springing up through the ice-plant which acted as the erosion barrier on the hillside behind their homes. By midday, when I'd take in lunch, I'd sit and admire the half-day's accomplishment of half a hillside plucked free of weeds. What a pretty sight it was. Jesus taught a parable about the wheat and the tares (weeds). Over the course of time, when the weeds were not plucked up, they overtook the wheat and stunted the growth of the good stuff. The same thing happens in us. Second, it loosens the soil so things can actually soak in. God knows we need a little "loosening up" of the soil of our hearts. Things just don't soak in very well when we are so hard-hearted, huh? Last, the soil which is cultivated allows the entry of the seed. The work of breaking up the soil is important to its receptivity of the seed. As I plucked up the weeds, the soil was being loosened around the ice-plant vines. They were now free to spread and fill in. They were what provided protection from the erosion of the late summer rains which could otherwise bring a devastating mudslide to these hillsides. The same holds true with our hearts.
2. Keep the focus on being consistent in our own behavior, not on the inconsistencies in another's. It is the concept Jesus taught about trying to focus on the splinter in the other guy's eye when we have a log in our own. We try so hard to take the focus off us, but it is hard to "look around" the log, isn't it? When there is a consistency between behavior and belief, we find the splinter becomes less significant - maybe because it is taking all our attention to just allow God to deal with the log we are carrying around! Nothing speaks more clearly about God's grace than another seeing God's action in our lives to change the things in us which are inconsistent with our proclaimed beliefs. Actions do indeed speak louder than any words!
3. Model what we believe. Much more is impacted by what we model than in what we say. This is the toughest lesson to learn, though. When we have mastered this one, we talk less and walk more!
Just some ideas for developing "congruence" today. The starting point is in the cultivating of the "right stuff". Once the cultivating is underway, the other stuff begins to fall into place. Have a great day allowing the Holy Spirit to "plow" the fields of your heart, mind and spirit!