I’m making an effort to keep up with a couple of daily devotionals (three, actually) in an effort to really immerse myself in the Bible this year. Not as an intellectual exercise, and not even to make me a better teacher/writer; but more to see if I can rediscover a sense of wonder when it comes to the Bible. I’ve gotten – to be painfully honest – a bit smug about how well I know the Scriptures. I feel like I’ve read it all and know it pretty darn well, which translates into a contempt for actually reading it.
If you’ve ever tried a daily reading plan (or two, or thirty), then you’ve most likely run across the great temptation: to just buzz through the text as quickly as possible. The faster you read, the faster you can finish, and the faster you can say, “I did my daily reading today! Aren’t I so good?” It’s a struggle to make yourself slow down, take the time necessary to really think about what you’re reading, and let the story come to the fore. After all, there’s been 247 new Tweets since you started reading; what if one of them has a really good link?
So today, during my battle with the speed-reading demon, I noticed that one of the commentaries for my New Testament daily reading made note of the two disciples in Matthew 8:19 & 21 that promised to follow Jesus after taking care of a few things. In essence the commentator said we might actually applaud these men for their efforts at following Jesus despite their hardships, but in reality, they made shallow pledges to do something they had neither the power nor the inclination to do.
“I’ll follow you wherever,” one shouted. Jesus reminded him that the journey would be long, painful, and without comfortable accommodations.
“Let me bury my father, and then I’m all yours!” another promised. Jesus said that the dead bury their own, and that his disciples focus on life.
I’m not up for breaking these two snippets down, so I’ll just tell you the two thoughts that struck me: first, we too often applaud the small efforts of others as a way of garnering applause for the small efforts of ourselves. Basically, a lot of people who profess faith in Christ, in salvation by grace through faith, applaud and approve lives that rely more on intent and action than grace and faith.
“Once I kick this addiction, I’m all God’s.”
“As soon as I can get the bills paid off, I’m going to really get into church.”
“I have so much I need to learn. I’m not sure how God could use me.”
From a human perspective, these are noble thoughts. From a faith perspective, these are lies. And when we applaud and approve of these lies, we give a standing ovation to the damned. Better the honest truth: Christ calls you as you are, not as you wish to be.
Which leads to my second thought: it is the daily submission in even the slightest of tasks that Christ uses to make us into who we can be. I know; sounds like a have-cake-and-eat-it statement, but follow me here.
If I don’t make excuses, but honestly confess my frailties and need for Jesus to Him, and thereby become His servant and adopted son, then my willingness and gratitude to be obedient to Him each day will transform me into His vision for me.
I can’t work myself into His good graces; but His grace makes me work.
Maybe my life offers a better illustration: lately, I’ve been feeling this overwhelming desire to write a book and really see it through to publication. Not out of vanity, but because I genuinely feel like it’s what I’m made to do. Instead of sitting down at the keyboard and just writing, though, I’ve been wasting time and energy trying to accomplish the tasks that come after the book is written. I’ve been worried about whether or not I should have an MFA, or should attend a specific Writer’s Worshop, or if I’m building the right kind of Twitter connections with agents and publishers, instead of just putting my head down everyday and banging out pages until the book is finished.
I’m trying make my work seem worth publishing instead of writing.
Too many people are trying to make themselves seem worth saving instead of just being saved. That’s a little old-school Southern Baptist, I suppose, but it’s true.
I guess what I’ve taken away from today is that I can quit trying to be something I’m not yet, and just trust in being what I am. You can too. If we do that, we’ll save ourselves the hurt of applauding failure and begin embracing hope.