April 1, 2008 § 2 Comments
Reading through Paul’s letters to the churches—that Paul who was the least of the apostles but was called as a minister of the Gospel to make known the great grace also given to him—I am struck by the notable absence of direction concerning things that take up real time. The battlefield is the mind and heart. It isn’t flesh and blood against which we war. There is little to no direction from Paul or any of the other writers of the New Testament about what we are to do. Their instructions are directed toward who we are to be.
All the exhortations and the high calling of our faith, all the promises and every mystery of God and godliness, can be and must be applied to any sector of society and every occupation within which we find ourselves, whether through our pursuit of God-given passions or the necessity and proactivity of our circumstances. A humanistic viewpoint might assert that we all have to spend our wearisome days doing something to keep us fed and clothed and respectable, and so we might as well do something we enjoy. That sounds a lot like Ecclesiastes, too. Find meaning in your work: but to do that you must kick it into gear yourself and get yours, because no one else cares. There isn’t anyone who’s going to promote you unless it’s you.
And then we encounter our Shepherd. We look up and find there’s a Lover inviting us to a banqueting table. Somehow, some way as we try to catch up with the story that seems like it’s many chapters ahead of us (and we’re dyslexic), the Storyteller Himself smiles up at us through an unlikely Word. He meets us at the kitchen sink, in a puddle of our own tears, or in the wishy-washiness of someone else’s heart breaking ours. He says, It’s okay. I’m here. That’s what He always says. I’ve got you now. I always have. With a Voice that sounds surprisingly like home, He calls our hearts and says, I made you. I delight in the way I made you. I don’t want you to be like this other person. Be you. Let Me love you. And love Me as yourself, fully yourself.
For example, I have a strange love of farming. I don’t know what to do with it. But I love it. For me, there is nothing like being outside under the blazing sun planting seeds, pulling weeds, watering by hand with an unruly hose, and pulling gorgeous, organic squash off the vine. There is no literature more delightful to me than landscaping books full of fresh ideas or books about new methods of bringing sustainable agriculture to Africa. I love the smell of a greenhouse.
I could try to convince my heart that this seed of joy must die and be pounded into the ground and I could go get a job as an accountant. And my friends with expensive accounting degrees that inexplicably love numbers and find the order of perfectly balanced books exhilarating could pound their gifts into the ground. They have to try hard not to shake their fingers at a harsh taskmaster that makes them go into the fields and live the simple life. But what is drudgery to them is almost-guilty pleasure to me.
On a more pointed note, I could try to convince myself that the spiritual, pleasing thing to do—the high calling—is to raise support and spend my days in an auditorium, praying ceaselessly and going into the depths of the unsearchable scripture. It seems so indisputable, that I would find favor with God if I gave up all my loves and personality and relationships to seek Him fulltime. I will do it, if He says it. There is an ache in my heart to be the heroine of my life, and if the heroine is an intercessory missionary, then that’s who I want to be. But, somehow, the more I get to know Him, the less I believe all the mantras I’ve heard so long about “giving up my life” to serve God. However all those preachers meant it, I interpreted this circumstantially.
What it means, I’m beginning to be convinced, is my flesh, my sin nature, and all that which is opposed to God. I have loved sin. I have hated what He loves. So have you. And our struggle is to die to that natural inclination and become vivaciously alive to the Spirit of God living inside us, working mightily within us to will and do His good pleasure. In that way, oh, how I want to give up my own ideas of life to serve this beautiful One who became the Servant of all! Then the radical lifestyle of prayer, fasting, giving, and serving becomes a flow, a true river springing from a pure heart. ‘Radical’ ceases to be boxed-in as a synonym for ‘full-time minister,’ whether that means youth pastor, intercessor, worship leader, or missionary. ‘Radical’ is defined by the interior life, the core beliefs of the heart and the communion with God that takes place where no one else has entrance.