A Parting Blessing
Ditch the Scolding Bias?
Slow Learners in Advent
Remembrance and Recovery: A Thanksgiving Exercise
I once had a quirky unemotional vision. A waking dream. I wondered for years if it was a function of an overactive imagination or a spicy lunch. I’ve always said that since God made me, he knows how low he has to aim to get me right between the eyes. Still, if this was a message from God it somehow missed me.
Our Israel group had fanned out all over the Mount of Beatitudes to spend a treasured half-hour reading, pondering, praying for a fresh word from the teachings of Jesus. I sat on a low stone wall and as I thought and prayed, I fixed my gaze on Mt. Arbel, the sheer cliff that towers over the beginning of the road from the Sea of Galilee to Nazareth. Jesus must have walked under it many times.
I remember feeling a little disappointed. No particular insights came my way. Yet just before I had to leave I saw it, a little imaginary drama unfolded. It was as though some spot on the top of Arbel was suddenly magnified, allowing me to see a scene too far away for me to have actually observed it.
I envisioned a little cat-like animal, young and scrawny, lying on its belly facing me. Between its front paws was some delicate morsel, and it was about to eat. Suddenly, moving fast and seemingly coming from out of nowhere, some other creature whizzed by, grabbing the young animal’s meal and making off with it. The animal’s expression was unforgettable. It was pained, mystified, quizzical, and hungry.
That was it. I struggled in the time remaining to understand what such a scenario could mean for me. What was God saying, if anything? I ruminated about that picture for a long time and, no particular insight forthcoming, I eventually forgot it.
Years later, I was stopped at a traffic light in Jacksonville and as I waited for my left turn arrow I was praying about a particular situation in the church. This whole scene came vividly back to mind, along with a seeming interpretation from John 4:34, where Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.” I had the strongest sense that this was a picture of the church. And if the church, or the saints in the West, were weary and anemic it was because we were missing the kind of nourishment that obedience was for Jesus and is intended to be for us.
The quiet of COVID has been an opportunity to take stock. The COVID season gave us some gifts as well as heartbreaks. I took a slow inventory of our path as disciples, the Lord’s work in our lives. It’s been startlingly true that the challenges of obedience that God has set before us, without fail became gifts to us. Yet it seldom seems that way on the front end.
When God begins to speak to our spirits, inviting a response, we can turn away, get distracted, and justify or excuse ourselves. We avoid him, drown out his voice. When we do obey God, we too often obey grudgingly, motivated by guilt, obligation, fear, or shame, and we are left confused, hungry, and empty. The enemy is stealing our nourishing meal.
Neil is fond of saying that if you start to button your shirt on the wrong button, no button will be right thereafter. This is where our face to face friendship with God is so important. It’s the first button! We are held inside the loving embrace of the Father and the Son (John 17:26). Everything faithfulness requires is also a gift of love, unshackling us in some way from our own misguided desires.
Frequently when the Holy Spirit begins to stir us to obey him in some area, the instruction appears to us to represent a subtraction. It forecasts a loss to our hearts. In fact though, it is an offering of treasure.
I’m my own exhibit A. When the Lord began to challenge me about my relationship with nightly wine, I fought long and hard to resist him. I excused, justified, and avoided. I could never have imagined the exhilaration I now feel on the other end of that apparent loss. The Lord was loving me by troubling me. Wine is now reserved for celebrations of his faithfulness (Isaiah 25:6) and I have gratefully received my life back from the Friend and Father who’s been trying to give me this gift of freedom, through obedience, for so long.
When Jesus called his first fishermen disciples, they had to leave their nets to follow him. The obedience, and the loss, was a door to both temporal and eternal joy.
When Paul stopped “kicking against the goads” (Acts 26:14) and relinquished his identity as a “Pharisee of the Pharisees” to become a true child of God the Son, it looked like the loss of his very identity. Instead, it was life forever.
We still have an enemy who prowls like a lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8)… ready to snatch our food away. He seeks to thwart our obedience, because when we turn our backs on God we turn our backs on life itself, our food, our nourishment. Face to face with the Father we start with the right button. We know we are the Lord’s beloved, and all his commands are invitations to blessing.
Has the Lord troubled you with an invitation to obedience in some area? Get face to face with him. Don’t let the enemy steal your meal! What one step could you take to get moving? As my friend David Pileggi* says, “It’s hard to drive a parked car.”
*David Pileggi is rector of Christ Church in Jerusalem. https://www.christchurchjerusalem.org/