September 21, 2017
This week on the blog: some reflections on what happens when God forces you to take a Sabbath even when you don’t want to.
One of the things I’ve learned in my time as a disciple of Jesus and as a pastor is that God can be a fairly stubborn fellow. You might know something about this. From my experience, both in my life and in the lives of people I’ve talked to, when God wants to get your attention, he’s going to get it. The question is at which point you’re going to start listening.
I remember when I graduated from Prairie Bible College (woot!) and we were considering what our next step was as a family. I knew that God was telling me to go to grad school, but I had a lot of reasonable-sounding reasons excuses not to. And so I tried to make a deal with him. Instead of doing that, how about I go into full-time vocational ministry? That’s a good thing, right? Sure, it’s not the obedient thing, but how could anyone fault me for it?
That’s when I learned that it’s possible to work as a pastor and yet be in rebellion against God.
Unsurprisingly (at least when I look back on it), my ministry wasn’t as fruitful as I had anticipated it to be. Sure, there was some good fruit, and God is using a lot of the connections I made then even today, but that was an act of his grace in spite of my actions, not because of my obedience.
The rest of the story is too long to relate here, but suffice it to say that God didn’t accept my deal, and he made it increasingly difficult for me to ignore him as he constantly turned up the volume and asked me, “Are you listening now?”
It doesn’t compare to being swallowed whole by a huge fish and then spit back out, but it’s the closest I’d ever like to get to that reality.
My disobedience was costly to me and to my family. I went through a bunch of unnecessary pain that was entirely self-inflicted, and that I could have opted out of had I just been willing to listen in the first place.
Fast-forward about 8 years, and you’d think I would have learned my lesson, right? Well, maybe not so much.
I have a particular leadership style that isn’t everyone’s, but it’s what God has equipped me to do: I’m a lead-by-example kind of person who is far less comfortable delegating tasks to others than leading the charge myself. Sometimes that’s an asset because people see me putting my hand to the plough alongside them; other times it’s a liability because the reality is that you need oarsmen as much as you need helmsmen (and hopefully that nautical metaphor makes sense).
The bottom line is this: if something needs to get done, I want to be the person giving the most effort to it of anyone, because that’s what leadership looks like to me. I’m not saying that’s what leadership is, period—it’s just the style that come pre-installed in my operating system (I’m hoping the switch to a technological metaphor will help those who were lost on the previous nautical one).
As you know if you were at Parkland last weekend, we just completed a fairly extensive renovation project, and it looks amazing. Many of you gave serious amounts of time and energy to the project, and for that I’m very grateful.
As you might expect from what I said above, I also put a lot of time into the project. I’m not saying that to pump my own tires—in fact, it’s actually the opposite. We put a fairly ambitious timeline on the project, and we knew it was going to be a lot of work, but we also knew that it could be done. So we worked.
I knew I was exhausted, but I ignored it (there I go again). I made it through Sunday, but at about 11:25 I completely crashed. I barely made it through the last few songs—in fact, I don’t even remember if we actually played them. I was done. It made for a highly unpleasant Sunday and Monday, and that’s as much detail as I’ll go into.
I had needed rest, but I had refused to give it to myself, and I had a lot of reasonable-sounding reasons excuses not to. There was a deadline, and taking time to rest would mean that maybe the project wouldn’t be done on time, and that would be disappointing for a whole bunch of people. No, I’m going to keep pushing, and I’ll just rest when it’s over.
I tried to make a deal with God, but he didn’t accept it.
Nor should he have.
When Jesus talked about the Sabbath, he said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. God doesn’t insist on the necessity of rest because he wants to make our lives more difficult. He insists on the necessity of rest because he knows what’s best for us.
Like many things in the kingdom, we can choose whether we’ll listen or not. We can be stubborn. But if we make that choice, we need to be prepared to reckon with a God who is even more stubborn.
And it’s not because he’s mean. It’s because he loves us too much to let us bring ourselves to harm. He doesn’t sit idly by while we decide that we know what’s best for us.
He never has. Even in the Garden of Eden, when we first decided we didn’t want to listen, he stubbornly insisted that he would fix our sin problem. And he did. We can still choose to ignore the solution, but God pursues us in love and puts the story of the gospel in our faces every day. It’s in the sun and the rain; in the daytime bustle and the nighttime quiet; in the joy and in the sorrow; in the laughter and the pain.
And as a church, our job is to represent God to culture by speaking his voice and proclaiming his kingdom. God has called us to be stubborn in our pursuit of people, to show them lovingly yet relentlessly the grace and mercy of God poured out in the blood of Jesus.
Just like he did, and still does.