I was detailing my tractor this week. Well actually it’s not mine; it’s the tractor I drive for cultivating. I got the pressure washer and cleaned it all up on the outside, then pulled all the tools and the mat out, vacuumed and then washed literally everything down, including the seats. I even took a scrub brush to the floor and pedals and then finally polished the windows so you can hardly tell they’re there.
If you were my mother you would be amazed right now. Cleaning was never a passion of mine. When I had to clean anything growing up I would typically look for the short cuts and hope it was good enough. Many times mom called me back and told me I had to do it again, and I’m sure I have no idea how often she just let me go and fixed the job herself. I was sinning because I was living to please myself.
The truth is I’m still not passionate about cleaning. (I’m happy to cook if Wendy will clean up after me.) But I am passionate about serving God and, even though it took a long time, I finally get that serving God, in fact worship, isn’t just in preaching and singing and so on, it’s also in the mundane things like cleaning.
Now I can just hear you clean-freaks, perfectionist types, and workaholics shouting “amen!” but hang on a second. Even though your natural bent is more socially acceptable and respected, if your motivation to do a good job comes just from you natural tendency you are still living to please yourself and therefore sinning.
As I reflected on my own transformation I recognized the key to this which applies to every personality type and tendency. I didn’t change because someone pointed out that a lazy job wasn’t God pleasing. I know because I was told this. But there is no power to change in simple knowledge. The change actually came without me consciously making an effort to change. It happened when my desire for Jesus overcame my desire to please myself. What I do isn’t the focus, loving Jesus is. And that affects everything I do.
Take some time to read or re-read Romans 7:15-8:14 but broaden your understanding of sin from simply doing bad things to include doing anything that is self-motivated instead of Christ-motivated. I know that’s rather overwhelming, but remember the power is not in the knowledge of what is sinful, it’s only in Jesus.
In Isaiah 55 God declares that his thoughts and ways are as distinct and different from our thoughts and ways as the sky is high above the earth. This is not so much a condemnation as a promise that to the extent that we turn from our own thoughts and wisdom and inclinations, ALL of which are wicked and unrighteous, he will give to us his thoughts and lead us in his ways.
Whew! That’s a load. I think a story is in order to help unpack some of this.
In ’92 while living next door to my brother, Eric, at a Bible Camp near Caroline, we took on two thoroughbred geldings that weren’t good enough for the track. They belonged to my younger brother but he’d moved and had nowhere to keep them. Coming off the track Cisco and Sundance were somewhat broke but had never seen anything like the bush country around Caroline, so we had some work to do. One of the challenges they had never encountered was moving water.
We were coming back from a short ride and to get back to the corrals we needed to cross a creek or else go a long way around to the road. I was on Sundance and he crossed with only a little hesitance. Cisco was not nearly as certain this was the best way home. He certainly wanted to get across as Sundance was there and the corrals just beyond that, in his mind stepping into that water was foolhardy and would end up in certain disaster.
Eric kept his nose pointed at the creek, and though Cisco did everything he could to turn aside to find a way around, Eric continued to gently encourage him to step into the creek. Cisco sniffed and snorted at the water, and pawed and splashed it, but would not take that step. You could see how much he wanted to be across, but struggled to accept Eric’s thoughts and ways ahead of his own.
It wasn’t until he submitted his will to Eric’s that he finally crossed the creek. Of course he tried to do it all in one giant leap which still only got them half way and ended up with a great deal of splashing, but he did it.
Our biggest struggle isn’t knowing or doing God’s will. Our biggest struggle is trusting God enough to submit my will to his. When I do his thoughts and his ways become his gift to me.
Being a pastor was never what you’d call a dream of mine. Preaching was the thing that intimidated me most. It wasn’t getting up in front of people, I’d been doing that my whole life, it was the thought of having something worthwhile to say every week for the next six months and beyond. But I’ve discovered that if I depend on God he is always faithful in providing. So you’d think that after almost 16 years of preaching I’d have this figured out, but this week I had to learn that lesson all over again.
I’ve been preaching through the book of Isaiah and this week we came to chapter 54 which is very allegorical. I read and re-read and cross referenced and all the stuff I normally do but was really struggling to understand what God was saying, both in the big picture and in application to us. So what are we all taught to do when we come up against a problem? Try harder! So I worked and chewed on it till I had squeezed out a lesson and what that meant for us. But honestly, it felt forced. It was Biblically sound, but it had no life in it.
Then Sunday morning as part of my everyday focus time with God I read this in My Utmost For His Highest by Oswald Chambers: “Do we really know anything about the indwelling of the risen life of Jesus? The evidence that we do is that His Word is becoming understandable to us . . . (but) our own unyielding and headstrong opinions will effectively prevent God from revealing anything to us.” In other words God’s spirit, who is literally living in everyone who is a Jesus follower, will guide us through the Bible, teaching us both to understand what is written and how it applies to our individual and collective situations. The problem is our own “unyielding and headstrong opinions” get in the way.
When I finally acknowledged and asked forgiveness for trying to understand this chapter through my own understanding and wisdom, the passage just opened up and so much insight came I wasn’t sure how I could fit it all in one sermon.
Now listen. This is not just for pastors. This relationship with God is offered to anyone who will simply admit their need of it and ask for it. It is still a process, because God won’t give you more than you can bear all at once, but he will give you all that you need.