of sweat and solitude: lesson two

Lesson Two: Knowledge Mandates Action

Having already spent a summer in Montana, I was more familiar with the work schedule and came better prepared this year: I packed fewer books. One book I badly wanted to read was "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer. Honestly, I read it nearly every day during every free moment, and I still only read 100 pages - this was no vacation!

I had plans to read this book to fill my head with knowledge, somehow making it easier to "keep in step with the Spirit." Listen closely to the quick, sharp lessons I learned when I first opened this book:
We need to ask ourselves: what is my ultimate aim and object in occupying my mind with these things? What do I intend to do with my knowledge about God, once I have got it? For the fact that we have to face is this: that if we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us. It will make us proud and conceited. The very greatness of the subject-matter will intoxicate us, and we shall come to think of ourselves as a cut above other Christians because of our interest in it and grasp of it; and we shall look down on those whose theological ideas seem to us crude and inadequate, and dismiss them as very poor specimens...[1 Cor. 8:1]...To be preoccupied with theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception...[The psalmist] wanted to understand God's truth in order that his heart might respond to it and his life be conformed to it. [pp. 17-18]
Knowledge mandates action. Shoot. I wanted to fill myself with knowledge, and change nothing about the way I lived! I wanted to just get smarter! But it's fitting to learn lesson two immediately after lesson one. Consider: the Spirit is leading, and I know it. And if I know it, then I am mandated to act on it, by keeping in step with Him!

James succinctly writes, "Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves," [1:22] and concludes, "So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, to him it is sin." [4:17]

This lesson rocked me. No longer did I attempt to fill myself in order to satisfy my self-righteous, self-deceptive need to know about God. I genuinely wanted to act upon my meager, but hungry knowledge of God. And that changed everything...

Looking back, I am surprised and amazed that God was teaching me these lessons in this order...because He wasn't done with me yet.


of sweat and solitude: lesson one

Lesson One: Keep In Step

Prior to leaving for Montana, I had pushed through the end of a book that radically changed the way I view the work of the Holy Spirit, and in fact, even His person: "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan.

I have heard the Spirit preached, and even memorized the fruit of the Spirit and the verse that immediately follows: "If we live by the Spirit, then let us keep in step with the Spirit..." (Gal. 5) But I had never actually thought about what it might mean to "keep in step." Nor had I understood why I got irritated when people would talk about "God's will for my life" or delay action, because they were waiting for God's 10-year-plan to be revealed. I just knew it didn't feel...right. And now I know why that way of thinking aggravates me, and I understand a little more what it means to "keep in step."

Two things.

1. Keeping in step is complete and immediate obedience. God doesn't show people his whole plan for their life. He just doesn't work that way. If I kept waiting for "God's will for my life" to be revealed before I ever acted or did anything I deemed "risky," I would never do anything. Consider the life of Abraham. God told him to pack up and move-that was it. What did Abraham do? He packed up and moved. And he did so without sitting in his tent waiting to be shown: where he was going, how long he must travel, where he would sleep, how he would survive, what the costs/benefits would be, what would happen to his retirement, etc. To keep in step means to follow completely and immediately. Abraham moved all-the-way, and did so right away. If you are in step with the Spirit, don't worry about God's will for your life-you are automatically doing God's will! Don't use God's will as a cop out: keep in step.

2. Keeping in step is synchronized and supernatural. Have you ever followed someone on the beach, and tried to put your feet in their footprints, though you are so close behind you're filling the footprint they just made? It's hard. But it's synchronized. The same foot. The same place. The same stride. The same time their next foot lands. Your movements should be the same. The way your body even sways should be the same. In keeping in step with the Spirit, you're not the leader-you're the follower. But you're not a mile behind hopping around, hoping that you're running in the right set of footprints. You're completely and immediately following his every move. [That is probably sufficient labor on that illustration. Just one of my thoughts.]

But there is something supernatural about keeping in step with the Spirit. When you are acting in the Spirit's power, in the Spirit's timing, people cannot explain the supernatural results. The success of the endeavor no longer is attributed to the character or charisma of you, but rather, is all directly pointed to God. Because it just doesn't make sense! (Acts 4:13.) If people can rationally explain away successes by your virtue or valor, then the glory is yours, not God's, and it's not a God-honoring endeavor. But, if, by faith to follow and grace to keep in step, the Spirit acts supernaturally and you get to be a part, then the glory is all his, and God is honored.

My conclusion, then, was this: if the Spirit leads, then I must follow. If I really live by the Spirit, I will keep in step.

That freaked me out. How do I know where He's leading, and if it's even Him?! Well, I wasn't too worried, because I brought lots of sermons, and some killer books. And then I began to learn lesson number two.


of sweat and solitude: introduction

Two words came to mind when I thought of the lessons learned and the two months spent on the ranch in Eastern Montana this summer: sweat and solitude. I couldn't employ one without the other, for it would tell only half the story.

This summer was drenched in sweat. Summer in Wibaux, MT is hot and the labor is heavy. I have now spent two full summers ranching with my granddad, and have grown to appreciate hard work. Eight am to eight pm every day, all day. Hot, dirty, long, busy. Overheating tractors. Broken air-conditioner. Shadeless, cloudless afternoons. Alone, this element to my ranching experience would suggest that there would be no time or energy to do anything other than work [and the work never ends.] However, that is only half the story.

This summer was soaked in solitude. The opportunity to steal away from populated busy-ness is rare, but God blessed me with that this summer. Though working long hours every day, many of those hours were spent without speaking a word. Many of those hours were spent without hearing a word. Many of those hours were spent without seeing a single soul. Many of those hours were spent listening to God's Word proclaimed through wise, godly men. Many of those hours were spent in prayer begging for grace. Many of those hours were spent examining my life. Alone, this other element to my ranching experience would suggest that I got no work done at all. But this, too, is only half the story.

By grace, in sweat was solitude.

There are 4 discreet and simultaneous lessons I learned this summer, each of which earns its own exposition. And these lessons were wrought by time spent saturated in sweat and solitude.