My church is going through a time of transition. From founding pastor leaving to interim pastor arriving, to we don’t know yet. The process for the congregation started last fall and coincided with my decision to go back to school. The tandem personal and corporate journey has been a blessing at times and also seemed overwhelming at times.
A few months ago we as a congregation were encouraged to remember the goodness of God in a symbolic way. In the back of the church was a basket of rocks and a bunch of sharpies. We were to choose a rock and write on it a triumph or a blessing for which we were praising God and wanted to remember – a message on our ebenezers if you will. I Sam 7:12.
I chose a smooth rock that had a bit of a chip in it, but looked like a good writing surface. I took a sharpie and the word that came to my mind was growth. So I wrote growth on the rock and in keeping with ancient OT tradition, put it in my purse.
The last few months for me have been a time of trial; a sunburn that was my own dumb fault, a pulled leg muscle that is the mockery of turning forty, and a car accident that was someone else’s dumb fault. Not one of them was a massive life changing event or obstacle insurmountable, but the rapid succession of struggle seemed to be too much. Resources of time, money, and mental preparation, were redirected from all the summer projects I needed to get done before school starts to healing and finding another car.
The sunburn forced me to hibernate in front of a fan for a week and think about the damage that can be done from a day of fun in the sun. I saw it as a metaphor for so many things and a call to use wisdom and not shut out the voice that tells you what you already know to be true regardless of what feelings are telling you.
As that healed, I pulled the muscle in my calf and it forced me to slow down, be humbled by such a ridiculous thing, and learn to ask for help. To know some people have to deal with this situation for far longer or even a lifetime made me thankful mine was temporary and burdened for those who cannot escape immobility.
And then the accident happened and proved again you can do everything right and still need to clean up the messes of those who don’t. The reward system we want to be true isn’t. But we are to do the right thing because it is the right thing, and not because we are guaranteed an easy time. Also, Jesus take the wheel is not just a song as evidenced by spinning 360 not hitting anything and stopping perfectly within the turning lane facing the original direction. He was with me in that car and there were no injuries aside from whiplash.
So it’s been a little nutsy cuckoo. As things finally started to quiet down I did a regroup and organized things from the car, apartment, and of my purse full of all the important information I needed to carry with me. As I reached in the bottom of the purse, I found the rock and I noticed the chip seems to be getting bigger. The word is still plainly seen, but about a fifth of the rock is missing.
I thought it fitting and ironic a rock with the word growth on it is getting smaller. I thought of the last few weeks where it seems one thing after another keeps happening, all feeling like a loss of some kind. Sometimes things need to be taken away before they can be restored.
For years I have prayed with my hands open after hearing from a friend the concept of living life with an open hand. When I pray with my hands open it is a physical manifestation of a spiritual posture toward God and a discipline because I don’t always want to be open to loss. I mean the prayer when I say take out what doesn’t need to be there and put in what needs to be there. Only I’m more hopeful He will put more in than remove. And yet, I found myself in a season of coerced purging.
I felt a bit like the rock, I had a season of growth in my life, but at the expense of loss. And that is where God does His wonders. The things I have thought about and learned and relearned over the last month would not have happened otherwise. The number of small miracles I have seen; the witnessing of what it means when God can do exceedingly above all that I ask or think (Eph. 3:20) have been one blessing after another. And I have seen the humor God has to provide a replacement car the same model of the totaled car, two years newer, way nicer, and for it to cost less than when I bought the other one.
Growth is not linear. Sometimes loss leads to lessons that provide a blessing and grow us in ways we would never choose. Even so, God is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:2), and sometimes the driver of our car.
No decries. No decrees. No desires granted. No dreams fulfilled.
We need to repent because Christ died, while we were sinners. He took our punishment, our death, our sins. He took that on Him. God put our sin on His Son so that we may know Him, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
And now, we must repent, have a change in our mind, if you will, and put on Christ. We must put on Christ not because He is going to fix our relationships, take care of our depression, stand for black lives, give us a great business idea, make it alright between our co-workers and managers, heal that hip or shoulder that has nagged us for years, or have someone pay for our groceries in a time when we really need that $72.88 for something else.
We need to repent and put on Christ, have the mind of Christ so that we may know Him, ” the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent,” as it is written in John 17.
For far too long, we have lived off that magic prayer at some youth meeting or holiday service and believed that if we do good here and there, we were saved.
Like the lepers, we were slowly dying without ever knowing it and thought that our separation was because only God understood us but in truth, God separated us so that we would never infect others of our unrepentant sins. “You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
It is time to put first things first. Make the main things the plain things and the plain things the main things. We need to learn of God’s ways and follow Christ. Put away our dreams, our visions, our plans, our clocks, our calendars, our life coach’s strategies and “…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, water, clothes, i.e. the basics to live] will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).