Step 12- Day 31

4 Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. 5 You yourselves are being built like living stones into a spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 2:4-5

Getting through this last year of devotionals hasn’t really been easy on anyone, I’m sure.  For me, it’s the first time I’ve attempted to do anything like this and it was (and is) a steep learning curve.  It probably took me 3 or 4 months to feel settled in terms of what I was trying to accomplish with the devotionals and how I was going to go about trying to do that.  If you’ve been working through the 12 steps for the first time, or are simply making a conscious effort to go through them again, or are simply reading the devotionals without a concerted effort to do the steps, I suspect they’ve presented some challenges.  Amidst all the difficulties that come with trying to re-learn the way we want to live and how we want to accomplish that, I hope that we’ve been able to maintain some awareness of the fact that God is at work in us.

When we start living a different way we might experience a lot of things. We might be rejected by humans who simply don’t understand why we’re making different choices.  This rejection may come at the hands of coworkers, friends, or family members who have only ever seen us live one way.  Regardless, we know that God’s perspective is different.  He sees us as valuable.  And He’s using this process to mold us and shape us into a people who are set apart for doing His will.  In this way, we are being prepared to carry this message of hope to others, and being trained in how to practice these things in all of our affairs.  In spite of how difficult/challenging/hopeless this process can be, I hope that you can hang on to the idea that God is doing a powerful work within you.  And I hope that in knowing that, you can find some hope wherever you are in the recovery process and in life.

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Step 12- Day 30

19 Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. 20 This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore, with humility, set aside all moral filth and the growth of wickedness, and welcome the word planted deep inside you—the very word that is able to save you.

22 You must be doers of the word and not only hearers who mislead themselves. 23 Those who hear but don’t do the word are like those who look at their faces in a mirror. 24 They look at themselves, walk away, and immediately forget what they were like. 25 But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do.  James 1:19-25

Overall, I think this passage is about the importance of allowing our faith/belief to shape our actions/life in particular ways.  When I think about applying it to step 12, though, I think we could also talk about this passage in terms of “staying diligent”.  In a lot of the letters in the New Testament we see the writers say things to their audience like, “you guys used to do _______ so well, but you’ve slipped up, stay on your toes.”  Along these lines we see plenty of general instructions on how to live.

I think diligence is an important concept to keep in mind when it comes to step 12.  This may be an easy time in our recovery process to get complacent, to feel like we’ve accomplished something, to feel like we’ve “made it”.  Instead, step 12 tells us to stay diligent, to stick to the path, to keep finding ways to apply these principles to our lives.  If we don’t do that, we put ourselves at risk.  Step 12 isn’t just about passing on all of our knowledge and experience because we don’t need help anymore.  It’s about realizing that we learn just as much from those behind us in the process as they do from us.  We remember what we used to be like, we recognize our old patterns, we see the areas in which we are weak or susceptible to temptation.

As you think about working step 12, don’t take a sigh of relief.  Don’t allow yourself to be comfortable.  Don’t sit back and take a break from the hard work.  Stay alert, and recognize how fragile recovery can be.  Allow the hard work you’ve done to keep informing how you think and you live.

In this way, you will maintain your status as a “doer of the word” and will keep yourself from becoming “only” a “hearer”.

Step 12- Day 29

23 A person’s steps are made secure by the Lord

    when they delight in his way.

24 Though they trip up, they won’t be thrown down,

    because the Lord holds their hand.  Psalm 37:23-24

One of the questions I wonder about when it comes to dedicating my life to living out the steps in a Godly way is, “How do I know I’m doing it right?”  In a way, we addressed the question a little bit last month in discussions about discerning God’s will and what not.  But to me, that is a very real question.  How can I have any confidence that I actually am living out the steps in a way that is both pleasing to God and loving towards others?

In a way, I think this is a good concern to have.  It will keep us diligent and motivated to constantly re-evaluate ourselves and how we’re living.  Be that as it may, if we’re looking for some confidence that we’re “doing the right thing”, perhaps we can find some from looking at this verse in Psalm 37.  When we make that choice to follow God, to delight in His way of living, rather than all the other ways we might live, then He secures our steps.  He guides us.  He makes sure we don’t veer far off the path.  Do we have responsibility in this?  Sure.  We have to do our part in committing to living in this way.  But once we’ve done that, we can maintain confidence in God’s guidance along the path to Him.

We might trip, but we won’t be thrown down.  There will be times when we stumble.  We’re never going to get everything “just right”.  We won’t be perfect.  But God is there to hold our hands, to pick us back up, and to set us back on the path.

Getting to step 12 is not the end of the journey, it’s a shift in our focus during the journey.  When we reach step 12, we haven’t “figured everything out”, although we may have figured out some things that help us turn our lives around.  We haven’t gotten to the end of anything, we’ve arrived at a new beginning.  At this new starting point we have the opportunity to continue journeying towards God while helping others with the same process.  Along this journey, we might stumble, but God is here to hold our hands and to guide us.  The 12th step offers us a whole new set of challenges about how to live life, but fortunately we can have confidence that God will guide us through these challenges and draw us closer to Him.

Step 12- Day 28

3 Because of the grace that God gave me, I can say to each one of you: don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think. Instead, be reasonable since God has measured out a portion of faith to each one of you. 4 We have many parts in one body, but the parts don’t all have the same function. 5 In the same way, though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other. 6 We have different gifts that are consistent with God’s grace that has been given to us. If your gift is prophecy, you should prophesy in proportion to your faith. 7 If your gift is service, devote yourself to serving. If your gift is teaching, devote yourself to teaching. 8 If your gift is encouragement, devote yourself to encouraging. The one giving should do it with no strings attached. The leader should lead with passion. The one showing mercy should be cheerful.  Romans 12:3-8

I like this passage for a lot of reasons.  Growing up in the church, participating in various churches and ministries throughout my life, I’ve noticed a tendency to, in a sense, be “jealous” of people with certain “gifts”.  Usually I’m jealous of people who have a “warmer” disposition than I have, people who are more welcoming, gregarious, personable.  I always kind of want to be the person that makes people feel welcomed and at home, but when it comes to actually delivering in those moments I can’t really think of anything to say.  Other times I get jealous of people who are more natural public speakers, sometimes I get jealous of people who are smarter than me, sometimes I’m jealous of people who seem to love doing the task-oriented detail things that I find to be quite a bother.

When I see this passage, though, I remember that we all bring something to the table.  Some people are going to naturally gravitate towards hospitality, some are going to excel at teaching, some are going to be great encouragers.  I am reminded in reading this that one person’s gifts are no better than another’s, they are simply different.  In this way, each person brings something to the table that they can contribute for the betterment of the whole group.

As we think about step 12, and what it means to carry this message to others and practice the steps in all our affairs, we may want to spend some time considering the ways in which we are gifted.  Sometimes we learn our gifts by accident, we see an area of need and we step up to the table to fill it.  Sometimes we know these things already.  As we get to the point in the process where we start to think about “giving back”, we might also want to think about what exactly is the best way for us to do that.

What are your gifts/strengths?  How can you use those to help carry the message to others?

Step 12- Day 27

There are persons for companionship,

    but then there are friends who are more loyal than family.  Proverbs 18:24

We all have different notions of what it means to be a friend to someone.  I suspect this looks different at different points in life.  When we’re kids, we play with people who like the same activities we like, or maybe just the same toys we like.  When we’re in middle school and high school we probably gravitate towards people who look like us and think a little bit like us.  At every level, we tend to pick friends we enjoy.  On the one hand, this isn’t wrong, and it’s perfectly natural.  One the other hand, this is kind of a selfish way to go about picking friends.  Not everyone who needs our friendship is going to be someone we enjoy.  When we think about step 12 and we think about practicing these steps in all of our affairs I suspect this extends to friendship, which is more than a relationship.  Friendship is also a concept, and something that we embody as we practice living a Godly way in accordance with how the 12 steps guide us.  When we begin to practice this, we make ourselves open and available to friendship with those who need it as we recognize how impossible it is to manage our recovery on our own, isolated from community.

This is the kind of distinction we see here in this verse in Proverbs.  There are certain types of people in the world that will provide us with companionship.  That’s a good thing, there’s nothing wrong with being a companion.  But then there are friends who are more loyal than family.  In order for us to be a proper community, in order to embody the principles we teach and in order to live out the 12 steps in all our affairs we need to be willing to be the types of friends who are more loyal than family.  We may not always have natural companionship with everyone in our community, but, if we’re willing to empty ourselves, willing to humble ourselves, perhaps we can muster some loyalty for those in our community who need it, even when we don’t want to give it.

Something to think about: What does it mean for us to be friends to the friendless?  How can we practice being loyal to those who are not “natural” companions?  Where do we start this process?

Step 12- Day 26

8 Daniel decided that he wouldn’t pollute himself with the king’s rations or the royal wine, and he appealed to the chief official in hopes that he wouldn’t have to do so. 9 Now God had established faithful loyalty between Daniel and the chief official; 10 but the chief official said to Daniel, “I’m afraid of my master, the king, who has mandated what you are to eat and drink. What will happen if he sees your faces looking thinner than the other young men in your group? The king will have my head because of you!”

11 So Daniel spoke to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Why not test your servants for ten days? You could give us a diet of vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance to the appearance of the young men who eat the king’s food. Then deal with your servants according to what you see.”

14 The guard decided to go along with their plan and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. 16 So the guard kept taking away their rations and the wine they were supposed to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 17 And God gave knowledge, mastery of all literature, and wisdom to these four men. Daniel himself gained understanding of every type of vision and dream.  Daniel 1:8-17

One of the things we’ve talked about a lot over the last few months is this idea of “reflecting God” in our lives.  We’re supposed to be little mirrors and God shines His light down on us and we reflect it to others.  We do this by living in distinctive ways, ways that say to the world, “I belong to God.”  As we’ve seen in a variety of passages, this means acting in love, with gentleness and humility while giving up things like sexual immorality.  This is the same kind of thing we see with Daniel.  Daniel is a perfect representation of his community, God’s people.  He and his compatriots behave in ways that set them apart from the rest of the world and, in that way, point others to God.  This story helps solidify Daniel and his friends’ reputations with the king.  The king found no one as good as these men and consulted them in all matters.  The king found them more trustworthy and reliable than all the others he looked to for counsel.

I think that this distinctiveness is part of what we strive for in living out step 12.  We don’t succumb to the customs around us simply because these options are available.  Daniel could have taken the “king’s rations or the royal wine” but instead sought to eat in the way God had taught, and this paid off.  When we’re at our jobs we certainly have the option to step on others to get ahead, or to throw others under the bus at times so we stay in the boss’ good graces.  Or, we could be distinctive and take responsibility for our actions.  We’re always going to have opportunities to act like everyone else and no one will blame us for that.  God calls for something different, and the 12 steps teach us how to live in that distinctively new way.

Step 12- Day 25

Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort in love, any sharing in the Spirit, any sympathy, 2 complete my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, being united, and agreeing with each other. 3 Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. 4 Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. 5 Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:

6 Though he was in the form of God,

        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.

7 But he emptied himself

        by taking the form of a slave

        and by becoming like human beings.

When he found himself in the form of a human,

8         he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,

        even death on a cross.  Philippians 2:1-8

If we’re to try to figure out what it means to put the 12 steps to practice in all of our affairs, in every aspect of life, it seems to me we’re left with the question hanging, “How do we do this?”  It seems to me that one of Paul’s answers (there are many answers to this question, here’s just one) is to “imitate Jesus”.  But Jesus said and did an awful lot, so how do we narrow down what that means?  Or, what are some important aspects of Jesus’ life that we can use as starting points in our imitation of him?

One of the things we can note in this passage is how Jesus “emptied himself”.  He allowed himself to be humbled in order to do God’s work.  He did not hang on to the fact that, in reality, he was much more than human.  No, he set himself before God in complete humble obedience to God’s purposes, no matter what the consequences.

One of my friends once told me that relationships (all kinds, friendship, romantic, whatever) were all about people learning to manage each other’s selfishness.  His point was that we are all selfish beings, and we all desire to “have our way”, but we can learn to stifle or suppress such urges for the sake of others.  In that way, relationships are all about navigating each other’s demands.  I think that he was quite right about that, but what we see in this passage is that this is not the mentality that Jesus has.  He’s not in the business of promoting self but, instead, he does the opposite.  He empties himself.  In other words, he submits himself before God.