Friday, February 6, 2009

Hast That Wastes

There's this fellow I know who's always in a hurry. I've forgotten his name but I'll never forget his pace.

He's involved in everything that goes on down at the church: He's a chairman of committees, a leader of small groups, a teacher of small children, a whirlwind of pious fervor and activity. His life is full of bother and commotion. You can pick him out of any group: He's the one who wrings his hands every fifteen minutes or so; the one with a foot of tongue hanging out. Just being around him makes me tired.

But his hectic pace doesn't seem right to me. In the first place, I don't see Jesus running about like that. He was never in a hurry! He had an infinite job to do and only three and one-half years to do it, yet there's no trace of urgency in his work. He never seemed hassled or harried. Even when people made impossible demands on him, his manner was measured and slow.

Furthermore, Jesus didn't make it his practice to tell others to hurry. In fact, the only person he ever prodded into activity was Judas: "What you are about to do, do quickly," he said (Jn. 13:27).

I keep wondering, therefore, why my friend imposes this tyrannical routine upon himself. No one is driving him; the pressure seems to come from within. Perhaps his drivenness is in some way an atonement for a guilt-ridden ego, his sacrificial offering for the plagues of his past. Or perhaps he has something to prove-to his father, or God or to himself.

I don't know why my friend works so hard but I know why I'm inclined to do so: For some reason, much of my self-esteem is determined by what I do. That's why I get restless and unhappy when I'm inactive, and that's why I have to do more-far more than God or anyone else ever intended for me to do, far more than God designed my body to do. In fact, in my eccentric way, the busier I am the better I feel about myself. I feel best when I'm on the verge of exhaustion.

Jesus, on the other hand, didn't have to stay busy because he knew that God's children don't have to prove anything. They're been fully accepted in God's Beloved One. Even when they're doing nothing that seems to be significant, they are significant because they're dear to the Father. Jesus knew, and he teaches us to know, that our self-identity doesn't arise from what we do but from what we are-fully accepted and beloved children of God.

Once when Jesus' disciples returned from a mission and excitedly reported their success, he countered with the mild rebuke: "Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20). The disciples felt good about themselves because they had done well. And they had. But far better, Jesus observed, to get one's joy from the knowledge that we're special to God, that he knows our names and sees them written in his book!

The Bible everywhere teaches that God is under-whelmed by our best efforts and unimpressed with our most spectacular achievements. It's not what we do for him that matters nor should it matter much to us. What matters most is what we are to him.

The Father's words at Jesus' baptism are significant: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11). What had Jesus done? What had he accomplished that merited such unqualified acceptance and admiration? He hadn't yet delivered a sermon, delivered a sinner or done any of his so-called "mighty deeds." He had, in fact, done nothing we normally associate with greatness and the Father's "Well done!"

He was pleasing to the Father merely because he was God's beloved son. That's all.

And what's true of him is true of us as well. Our Father delights in us (Psalm 18:19). He loves us whether we're worthy or unworthy; whether we're faithful or unfaithful. He loves us without boundary or limit. No matter what we do or leave undone he cannot stop liking us.

And so, we don't have to do anything to feel good about ourselves; we don't always have to be in a hurry. We can run in the slow lane. We can make time for the peace of God to rule our hearts and minds. We can take an hour each day or a portion of a day each week to be alone with Him. We can take time to "howdy" with our friends and neighbors. We can take a day-off each week. We can take a vacation. We can miss a meeting or two. We can leave some tasks undone at the end of each day and go home. We can take time to talk and take long walks with our spouses and kids. We can hunt, fish and golf with our friends.[1]

Like Satchel Paige, when we work we can work hard, but when we sit, we can sit loose. We don't have to be dogged and driven by our work. We don't have to prove anything because we don't have anything left to prove. We're already approved. The good news is that of God's uplifting and everlasting acceptance.[2]


[1] All of which reminds me a conversation between Philipp Melanchthon and Martin Luther. Philipp: "Martin, this day we will discuss the governance of universe." Martin: "This day you and I will go fishing and leave governance of the universe to God."
[2] From my book on ministry principles, A Burden Shared.

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