A Parable

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The man’s life was pleasant.  So too was his worship.  The two always go together.

God was not pleased.  So He allowed the man’s life to become unpleasant.  The man responded at once with shock.  “How can this be?  How could this happen in my life?”

Beneath the shock, the man was smug.  But he could not see it.  He thought it was trust.  “This will soon pass.  God is faithful.  Life will again be pleasant.”  His worship remained shallow.

God was not pleased.  So He allowed more unpleasant things to happen in the man’s life.

The man tried hard to handle his frustrations well, like someone who trusted God.  “I will be patient,” he resolved.  But he didn’t notice that his efforts to be patient grew out of the conviction that a pleasant life was his due.  He did not hear his own heart saying, “If I’m patient, God will make things pleasant again.  That’s His job.”

His worship became a way to convince God to restore his pleasant life.  God was not pleased.  So He pulled back His hedge of protection around the man a little farther.  The man’s life became miserable.  The man got angry.  God seemed unmoved, indifferent, uncaring.  Heaven’s door slammed shut.  The man knew he could not pry it open.  He could only think of better days – not of better days coming, but of better days before, days that no longer were and that showed no signs of returning.

His highest dreams were a return to those days, to the pleasant life he once knew, when he felt what he had called joy.  He could not imagine a higher dream than going backward to what once was.  But he knew life never moved backward.  Adults never become children again.  Old people never recover the energy of their most productive years.

So he lost hope.  God had withdrawn His blessing, and there was no indication He would change His mind.  The man fell into depression.  His worship stopped.  God was not pleased.

So He released the forces of hell into the man’s life.  Temptations that formerly were manageable now became irresistible.  The pain of living was so great that the pleasure the temptations afforded, relief really, seemed reasonable and necessary.  But after the pleasure came a new kind of pain, a kind of pain that covered his soul with a fog that not even the brightest sun could penetrate.

The man could see only his pain.  He could not see God.  He thought he could, but the god he saw was one whose job it was to relieve pain.  He could imagine this god, but he could not find him.  He addressed the only god he knew.  He begged for help.  Beneath his words of pleading he could almost hear what his heart was saying, “You OWE me help.  I will never believe I deserved all this to happen.  This pain is not my fault – it’s yours.”

His worship had always taken the form of a demand, but now the demand was so obvious the man could almost recognize it.  God was not pleased.  So He let the struggles continue.  And God allowed new troubles to come into the man’s life.

In the part of the man’s heart that dreamed his greatest dreams, he had been certain he would never have to face these new troubles that were now in his life.  For years, he had said in his heart (without actually hearing it), “THAT could never happen to me.  If it did, my life would be over.  If THAT happened, I’d have no choice but to conclude that God isn’t good.  I would have to dismiss God.  And no one, not even God, could fault me.”

But still the man could not hear his heart speak.  What he could hear was a seductive voice that made the worst temptation he had ever faced – to lose hope in God 0 seem noble, bravely defiant, the only way left for the man to find himself.

The battle waxed hot.  But a flicker of hope remained.  The man held on to his faith.  Even as he did, he could not hear his heart saying, “I have every right to give up on my faith.  But i’m choosing the truly noble way.  I still believe in You.  I still believe You’re there and that my highest hopes for joy – whatever hopes are left – life with you.  Does THAT impress you?  If not, my God, what does?”

His worship was more desperate than ever.  But it was still proud.  God was not pleased.

So He allowed the man’s trials to continue and his pain to remain unabated.  God kept His distance from the man.  He provided no comfort, no tangible reason to hope.  It was difficult for God not to make everything better in the man’s life.  It was even more difficult for Him not to appear directly to the man and assure him of His presence.  But He didn’t.  God had a greater dream for the man than a return to a pleasant life.  He wanted the man to find true joy.  He longed to restore the man’s hope for what mattered most.  But still the man did not know what that was.

The fog around the man’s soul thickened until he could feel it, like walls closing in.  All that was left was mystery; there was fear certainly, even terror, but more acute was the sense of mystery, the mystery of a bad life and a good God.  Where was He?  When the man became most aware of his need for God, God disappeared.  It made no sense.  Was God there or not?  If He was, did He care?  Or didn’t He?

The man could not give up on God.  He remembered Jacob.  So he began to fight.  But he fought in the dark, a darkness so deep that he could no longer see his dreams of a pleasant life.  In deep darkness, you cannot see.  But you can hear.  He could hear for the first time what he heart was saying.  “Bless me!” he cried.  From his deepest soul, he could hear words reflecting a resolve that would not let go of God.

“Bless me!  Not because I am good, but because You are good.  Bless me!  Not because I deserve Your blessing, but because it is Your nature to bless.  You really can’t help Yourself.  I appeal not to who I am.  You owe me nothing, I appeal only to who You are.”

He still saw his pain.  But now he saw God.  And the cry for blessing was no longer a demand for a pleasant life.  He was a cry for whatever God wanted to do, for whoever He was.  The man felt something different.  It was the beginning of humility.  But the very fact of what it was kept him from seeing what it was.

The man had forgotten himself and discovered his desire for God.  He did not find God right away, but he had hope, hope that he might experience what his soul most deeply longed for.

The he saw it.  Fresh water bubbled up from a spring in the desert of his soul, and he saw it.  It was a new dream.  He could see its contours take shape.  It was a dream of actually knowing God and representing Him in an unpleasant world.  The dream took on a specific focus; he saw how he could know God and represent God to others in a way that was his way and not someone else’s.  It felt like coming home.

He realized immediately that his power to speak on behalf of God to others in the midst of their unpleasant lives depended on his speaking from the midst of his own unpleasantness.  He had never before felt grateful for his troubles.  His suffering became to him a doorway into God’s heart.  He shared God’s pain in His great project of redemption.  Suffering together for a single cause made him feel closer to God.

A new thought occurred to him.  “I will join with whatever forces are opposed to the root of this unpleasantness.  I will ally with goodness against evil.  I will not wait to see more clearly; what my hand finds to do, I will do.  But I will stay close to the spring.  My soul is thirsty.  A pleasant life is not water for my soul; whatever comes from God – whoever God is – this is the only true water.  And it is enough.”

The man worshipped God, and God was pleased.  So God kept the water bubbling up out of the spring in the man’s soul.  When the man didn’t drink every morning from that spring or return every evening to drink again, his thirst became intolerable.  Some things in his life got better.  Some things stayed the same.  Some things got worse.

But the man was dreaming new dreams, greater dreams than a pleasant life.  And he found the courage to pursue them.  He was now a man with hope, and his hope brought joy.

God was very pleased.  So was the man.

— exerpt from Shattered Dreams by Larry Crabb

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Without Thanks

“Does he [the master] thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants;we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:9-10


lord-have-mercyI’ve been using a reading plan to go through the New Testament every day, but sometimes a passage in my reading strikes me so hard, I’m forced to sit and meditate on it for a couple days.  This is one of them. The overwhelming attitude of our culture seems to expect more reward and payback for less work and investment.  I constantly encounter people who don’t want to do anything to earn it, yet they somehow want to obtain all the money, respect, food, relationships, and kudos they desire.  What makes even less sense to me than physical laziness is emotional or relational laziness.  People act like it’s their right to be trusted without actually doing the work it takes to keep their word or be honest.  People act like it’s their right to be forgiven without ever owning or even acknowledging their mistakes, much less repenting or making up for them.  People act like it’s their right to be respected without them ever actually doing anything for it.  People want their needs and feelings to be considered, without ever giving thought to the needs or feelings of others.  And to top it all off, their only excuse for not working for these things is that they “don’t feel like it.”  I’m not even kidding.  And this from people who say they’re followers of Christ!

I just…have they even read the Bible?  ::HMMMPH::

While it seems like genuine and humble work-ethics (working hard without an attitude of entitlement) are hard to come by, I am assured that it is the path that God laid out for us.  That as Christians, it is a mark of our difference from the world.  A mark of true integrity, work-ethic, and humility is so incredibly rare, it can’t help but be noticed.  God doesn’t just expect us to be obedient in our actions, he expects us to be obedient in our hearts, attitudes, motives, words, and certainly relationships.  And those are just the basics.  That’s the mothers’ milk…and we aren’t going to get a cookie every time we do what we’re supposed to do to begin with.  Nor should we expect to.

We have basic duties as adults and as Christians that are just… basic.  But we live in a culture that expects over the top kudos and praise for doing, well, absolutely nothing.  Being honest and having integrity (keeping our word, owning and repenting of our mistakes, etc) is simply the basics of what it means to live as a Christian.  It’s no more exceptional or reward-worthy than a grown adult going to the bathroom.  It’s just…what you do. I honestly see so many people drenched in this lazy, prideful, entitlement attitude that I can legitimately see them standing before God’s throne, with full-blown pride and arrogance, saying, “Look at everything I did, God.  Isn’t it great?”  And I honestly think they’ll expect a huge grin and pat on the back from God.  But according to Matthew 7:22-23, they’re going to have their world turned upside down when God replies something to the effect of, “I’m sorry, do I know you?  Get away from me, you’re evil.”  In contrast, the humble person spends their whole lives giving all they have and working to be obedient to God’s word with all their strength (often times without the slightest hint of acknowledgement…much less reward) and they still reach God’s throne in holy terror, knowing it was never enough to actually earn a reward.

The latter…I think that’s where God’s grace is found.  Not in the arrogant “hey look at me, aren’t I awesome?” attitude or the “It’s okay, I can be lazy and selfish because God already forgave me and I don’t have to do anything now” attitude.  No no.  Face on the floor.  Holy repentance.  And the ever-present, ever-pervading truth that we are unworthy servants, obliged to do all that is commanded.  Without thanks.