John 12:8 “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”
There are some things we will always have, both good and bad, but Jesus overcomes all things. He is more important than the best and the worst that we experience. We devote our time and energy to those things that have the greatest impact on our lives. We see sickness and health, wealth and poverty. All these things have a great impact on us for good or bad, and all of them can, by their impact, distract us from Christ. The essence of our relationship with Christ is that while all these things affect us at different levels we need to deal with Christ first and all other things through Him, not before or after Him.
The sequence of events in how we deal with any occasion in our lives determines the impact they have on us for Christ.
Occasionally, in some form or another the question is asked of me, “With all that you have been through why do you hold on to your faith?”
I think the answer to that question lies in what my priorities have become. I simply cannot bear to imagine my life without my faith. I’ve been there and done that. I have changed too much to go back and find satisfaction in a world without God. It would be barren and lifeless. I can no longer tolerate the world’s value system. I think about what offends God and I care about it. These things were once the furthest things from my mind. At the same time I have also reached a point where, while I love, fear and respect God, I have also come to understand that He allows questions. He allows challenges from us, for that is how we learn submission to Him. He can overcome any challenge. It is we who fear challenges to God, because we fear that He cannot meet them. We apply our own limits to God which automatically makes Him inadequate for our needs.
In his book “Reaching for the Invisible God.” Philip Yancey quotes Kathleen Norris.
“One so often hears people say, “I just can’t handle it”, when they reject a biblical image of God as Father, as Mother, as Lord or Judge; God as lover, as angry or jealous, God on a cross. I find this choice of words revealing, however real the pain they reflect: if we seek a God we can “handle”, that will be exactly what we get. A God we can manipulate, suspiciously like ourselves, the wideness of whose mercy we’ve cut down to size”.
In ancient times it was common practice for a farmer to worship gods that were representative of the things he had to deal with. Hence there were gods of the soil, of the sun, the rain, the harvest. He sacrificed to it in the way he saw fit and made up his own priestly rules. His god’s influence ended at his property line.
By cutting God down to a “manageable” size we attempt to make Him into someone who is our individual ideal of “enough” to satisfy our personal needs. Yet God, being limitless, is more than enough; our need, also being limitless, can never be filled by a god of our own making.
I don’t love God enough.
I don’t love my wife enough.
I don’t love my children enough.
It can never be “enough” when the source that satisfies your need is limitless.
A limitless source supplies a continuous need. A limitless source will also provide a limitless means of expression. There is always more available to give through Christ.
We are the Beloved of God. We must never desire less than He offers us. We must not maintain a minimal faith.
When our faith reaches a point where we have had “enough” then we have begun the slow and painful spiral down to death. A real faith recognizes that there is never “enough” to satisfy our thirst. True faith is never satisfied. It always searches for one more thing to believe, one more wonderful piece of evidence that proves for me once again that God loves me.
Sometimes that search takes us into areas of our lives that we would rather not go.
In the midst of my selfishness and pride I discover that my humility gives me value. In the midst of my anger I find that a peaceful heart will accomplish more.
In the midst of all my wonderful “Christian Activities/Ministries”, I find exhaustion that forces my dependence on Christ.
In the aftermath of a cruel and bloody crucifixion, I find the pearl of the Resurrection. The latter is not possible without the former.
Sometimes the greatest treasures are the ones left unused and forgotten in the corner of the attic, covered with dust. They are the things of my childhood that were left behind with the advent of “maturity” in my social lexicon.
Many times when I am helping to care for some of the children in our church nursery, I will attempt to get them interested in some of the toys in the arsenal. Sometimes they can be a pretty hard sell, but most of the time there is something that will catch their fancy. In the process of using a random toy to catch their attention I have to admit that it gets my attention instead. Sometimes I use a particular toy to get their attention because it’s a toy I want to play with. I keep thinking to myself, “Why didn’t we have toys like this when I was a kid?” (Although I have to admit that if Elmo doesn’t shut up soon he’s gonna get his batteries yanked.) And for a little while I give up the weightier theological/social/important matters that occupy my thoughts and try to pretend that I barely know how to walk. I try to learn all over again instead of rehashing the same old information. The “big” things will all still be there when I get back to myself, because “You will always have the (fill in the blank)…” But Christ is bigger.
My priority then is to become the child Christ called me to be. To regain some of the purity of spirit that I had before I was influenced by the rest of the world. When Christ called us to be like children, I don’t think he necessarily meant for us to be blindly trusting. He wants us to trust Him completely, but He wants us to come to Him with no regard for the limitations this world would place on our relationship to Him.
When the children wanted to be near Jesus the adults were trying to hold them back. He told the adults to let them come.
“Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.” Matthew 19:13-15. If there was one sound that I had to think of that inspires joy in me I would have to say it is the sound of a child who is just learning that he or she has a voice. They have not yet learned to form words. Every sound they make is an experiment. Every sound is the embodiment of wonder. God knows what kids are like, and He enjoys it. Children are capable of understanding the intimacy that God desires to have with us while still acknowledging Him as the Creator of all things. Children first want to be loved. Christ first wants to love us.
Be like a child.
I want Him to enjoy my presence as well, and so I attempt to be the kind of person He is making me to be.
Our lives take on a weird cycle. We start out as children wanting to be adults so we can do more, and then we become adults who want to be children so someone else can take all the responsibility and we can go back to enjoying life.
Christ calls us to exactly that life, but the joy of life He desires for us is based on Him rather than the empty, selfish pursuits of the world. By the world’s standards we need “things” and “stuff” to be “happy”. We must be “visible” and “prominent”. And when we have bought all the “things”, and got all the “stuff”, and become “visible” and “prominent”, we find ourselves withered, dried up, and lifeless, dying for nothing.
The world wants me to have a relationship with Christ on its terms not on God’s terms. The world doesn’t want to actually know anything about our relationship with God. It’s enough for them to know I have that relationship as long as they don’t have to hear it. That’s enough for them.
It’s not enough for God. God is not silent about what He wants from us. “You will always have the …”, but you have God first. He wants you more than any need anyone else has, and your satisfaction in life will be greater when you seek out His desires for you before your own, or the world’s.
I don’t always want to do that though. Sometimes my desires are in direct opposition to my faith. Sometimes I collide with my faith, and it shakes me to my core. Because while I am fickle and flit to and fro amongst all the “things/stuff/values/…garbage” that the world offers, my faith being a gift of God, remains firmly fixed on God. I drift further and further from it at times, but I remain attached with this “spiritual rubber band” called my conscience that can only stretch so far before all of my justifications for doing the things I do can’t be stretched any further and I get yanked back to that rock hard and fast. I collide with my faith. After I have slammed into it and the stars have cleared from my eyes I finally get back on top and realize, “Wow! The view is so much better from here!”
It’s much easier to see the benefit of my faith in the aftermath of a crisis than in the midst of it, but it’s always what I hold on to the hardest in the difficult moments. Anything else would crumble beneath me. I know this from experience.
So now instead of trying to be a child of this world, I strive to be a child of the next sitting in the lap of the God of Wonder…
©Dan Bode 2004