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Sabbath: A Day Set Apart

Sabbath: A Day Set Apart

In the Christian tradition of my early formative years, one day each week was uniquely different. That day was Sunday.  As a farming family, we got out of our work clothes, put on our Sunday best, crammed into our car and made our way to a small country church. After church we had a scrumptious family dinner, and unlike many of the farmers nearby, my father would do only essential farm work in tending to our animals. I remember my mom saying to me, “As Christians, Sunday is our Sabbath, a day of rest.”

Sadly, in the years following my childhood the weekly rhythm of a Sabbath day was in many ways lost. Looking back I realize there were several blinding factors that contributed to Sabbath neglect in my life, including overcorrecting Sabbath legalism, a penchant toward workaholism, and perhaps most surprising, was my pastoral calling. When I became a pastor Sunday became a workday and another day of the week was not intentionally and diligently set aside and protected for Sabbath rest. The good news is after years of neglect, building a more consistent Sabbath rhythm in my life has become increasingly important and life giving. I also believe that a weekly Sabbath rhythm is really important for the flourishing and formation of every apprentice of Jesus. So what is the big deal about a weekly Sabbath day? Why a Sabbath day?

 

Why A Sabbath Day?

 

Let’s take a look at what the Bible says regarding the Sabbath. Sabbath is a Hebrew word that means rest, tranquility, peace and delight.  A Sabbath day is actually built into the very fabric of original creation, described for us in the very first book in the Bible. After original creation, before sin and death entered God’s good world, God rested on the seventh day. In Genesis chapter 2 we read,  “And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done. And he rested on the seventh day from all his work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy…”

In his classic book entitled, The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us that embedded in creation design is the truth that we were created in time, but with more than time in mind. Sabbath points us to eternity deeply planted in our hearts. Heschel writes,

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

The importance of six days of work and one day of rest was anchored not only in the gracious rhythms of creation design but also reinforced to God’s covenant people in the giving of the Ten Commandments. In the book of Exodus we read that the fourth commandment set apart the seventh day of the week. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy (set apart). The Bible recounts how God’s covenant people tragically corrupted the inherent goodness of the Sabbath day. The problem was that God’s covenant people lost sight of the big picture of Sabbath. They made Sabbath about adherence to a bunch of soul-suffocating religious rules, to the point of virtual absurdity. Instead of the Sabbath pointing to the pursuit of a growing intimacy with God, it became a soul-suffocating yoke of works righteousness seeking to merit favor with God. Rather than a day of joy and restful delight, it became 24 hours of prideful self-righteous nit-picky drudgery. But Messiah Jesus made it clear that he was Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus framed Sabbath not first and foremost as a day we set aside each week as good and life-giving as that is, but ultimately Himself as the one and only Son of God we know and are deeply known by. The Sabbath ultimately points us to a person, the person of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. The New Testament writer of Hebrews reminds us Jesus is our Sabbath rest. Through saving and life-giving faith in Jesus our Lord and Savior “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” This Sabbath rest Jesus invites us to experience as we put on his yoke of apprenticeship. It is in his yoke we find true Sabbath rest for our souls. It is this Sabbath rest that woos us to our future ultimate rest in the New Heavens and New Earth. When we carve out a Sabbath day from our busy and distracted lives, it allows the fresh and hopeful breezes of eternity to blow in our longing hearts. Sabbath rest is an appetizer for heaven. So how do we better experience a weekly Sabbath?

 

How Do We Experience A Weekly Sabbath?

 

How do we live more fully into a day set apart each week? For many of us that day will be Sunday. Whatever day you choose, let me offer six suggestions that I trust will be helpful, life- giving and healing for you and those you love.

First, block off in your calendar a weekly day for Sabbath. For many of us our week is overly scheduled so if we do not plan ahead, our Sabbath day will get crowded out. Let others around you know what your Sabbath day is and ask them to respect that commitment.

Second, embrace a technology fast. Minimize the distractions that come from screen time whether that is your phone or computer. I know many today who literally put their smartphones in a drawer for their Sabbath day. If you are married and have children, make this commitment as an entire family. It may sound difficult, but if you will practice this discipline the relational and wellbeing rewards will be soon evident.

Third, avoid any work related matters and emails. A true emergency may demand your immediate attention, but avoid any work related matters that are not of an emergency nature. Plan ahead as much as possible to cover work responsibilities so that a day of rest will not compromise the importance God places on the stewardship of your paid and unpaid work.

Fourth, embrace a slower pace of unscheduled unhurried time. Enjoy extended conversations, relaxing meals and fun activities with those closest to you. Allow for spontaneity in your day.

Fifth, spend an extended time with God. If your Sabbath is Sunday make attendance at corporate worship a priority, but also carve out some personal time to read the Scriptures, to listen to God’s voice and pray.

Sixth, put yourself in the path of beauty. For many, the healing aspect of beauty is found in extended walks in nature or enjoying nature in some way. For others it may be reading a book, playing or listening to music, enjoying an art museum, making a craft of some kind or playing a round of golf on a manicured golf course. In what place or activity do you feel God’s pleasure? One of the greatest gifts of Sabbath is experiencing God’s delight in you as his cherished beloved.

 

Our daily work matters, but our weekly Sabbath rest matters, too. Perhaps more than many of us realize. I love how Abraham Joshua Heschel prompts us to embrace Sabbath’s good and life- giving creation design.

 

“Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. “

What Psalm 131 Teaches Us About Humility and Rest

What Psalm 131 Teaches Us About Humility and Rest

My heart is not proud, Lord,

    my eyes are not haughty;

I do not concern myself with great matters

    or things too wonderful for me.

But I have calmed and quieted myself,

    I am like a weaned child with its mother;

    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord

both now and forevermore.   Psalm 131:1-3 NIV

 

There is something about Psalm 131 that has spoken to me over the past few years. It’s a psalm for those Brennan Manning describes at the beginning of his book The Ragamuffin Gospel: “It is for inconsistent, unsteady disciples whose cheese is falling off their cracker. It is for poor, weak, sinful men and women with hereditary faults and limited talents.” It’s a psalm for me.

Psalm 131 isn’t for the super spiritual…it’s a psalm that guides the Christians who need the help returning to a place of humility and rest in God over and over again. It’s also a psalm that reminds us to reorient all of our hopes and center them around a different kind of Hope. 

There are a total of 15 psalms of ascents, which were to be sung as the Israelites ascended or made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for annual festivals. Psalm 131, one of four psalms of ascents attributed to David himself, is the second shortest psalm in the book of Psalms. Here’s how David starts this tri-versed song:

Verse 1: “My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; 

When I first read this verse I was confused. It’s almost that David is proudly declaring that he’s not proud! Well, that’s in fact what the early church father Jerome thought; in essence, he figured David was proud of himself for being humble. The church fathers typically have lovely insights, but in this case, to be puffed up about one’s own humility is an oxymoron. You can’t be prideful about being humble; that’s just pride, too. 

I don’t think that’s what is happening here. David is not prideful about being humble. Instead, what David is doing is speaking to his own heart. He’s telling something to his soul, and at the same time, vocalizing it to God. Ultimately, he’s recognizing that his heart has adopted an inner posture of humility. 

This becomes more clear as David keeps going: “my eyes are not haughty.” This isn’t haughty like a hottie. Haughty means puffed up. Vain. Arrogance. David is really just saying, “I don’t look down upon others. I don’t feel the need to be better than others anymore. I don’t feel the need to compare myself to others to make myself feel better anymore. I don’t feel the need to compete for attention anymore.” David is putting words to an inner disposition. For whatever reason, whatever the circumstance, he’s been pushed out of a posture of pride and into a posture of humility. 

He goes on. “I do not concern myself with great matters…”

Great matters. When I think of great matters, I think of the big questions of life that we all have. Why does this happen and not this? Why does this person get cancer and this person doesn’t? Why does this person get promoted or get this chance, and this person doesn’t? Big questions. These questions take a toll on us because life is not fair. We can’t predict life, and therefore it befuddles us. We can’t come up with a reliable pattern. 

What David is saying here encompases the big theological questions, too. How is it that I can have a choice, and yet God holds me accountable for my choices? Nothing surprises God and at the same time everything is in His sovereign will…how can that possibly be? 

Christians have been studying these things intensely for hundreds of years, and so for some theological questions we have helpful answers. Simultaneously, what David is effectively saying is something very simple: “I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have all the things figured out and you know what? I can’t. I can’t explain everything.”   

In the past few years of my life, I’ve resonated with this verse. Sometimes it’s a relief to not have to explain the world. Sometimes it’s a relief to not have to try to make sense of everything. Many times I have tried to make sense of everything to the point it just wears me out. But, I’ve gotten older and experienced more of life, I’ve come to realize that we really do live in a fractured world. It’s a broken world, and you know what? I don’t need to be perpetually surprised by that. 

David continues: “or things too wonderful for me.” This really means, “things beyond myself.” Things beyond yourself. 

Job says something very similar at the end of the book that carries his name. After everything happens, after all the hardship goes down, Job finds himself wanting to put God on trial for the things he has experienced. In a wild turn of events, God shows up to court, and He has some questions for Job. Job’s response to those questions goes like this: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.

There is something in this verse about embracing our limitations. Can we embrace our limitations? Or is that shameful for us? 

In the United States, we aren’t comfortable with limitations. We are always supposed to take on more and do more….more is always better. We really like the passage, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” We get tattoos of that one don’t we? How many people are getting tattoos of this verse in Psalm 131? 

Again, I’ve been put in situations when I’ve had to learn to understand that I have limitations: emotionally, physically, and even intellectually. I was always a really good student and I got into the number one ranked university when I graduated from high school. However, when I got to seminary, I remember sitting in a classroom with other graduate students and thinking that I was not the smartest person in the room and I couldn’t even pretend that I was. For whatever reason, I felt ashamed about that. Over time, I had to learn to ask myself an important question.  Can I embrace my limitations and actually be okay with them? 

Can you embrace your limitations? Are you constantly comparing yourself to those around you? Are you competing with your friends or coworkers? Are you looking on Instagram and Facebook, seeing the lives of some of your friends, and feeling jealous about their ability to travel or have the freedom they do? Can you embrace the limits of time you have in one day? 

There’s relief and joy found in embracing who we are, how God has gifted us, where He has placed us, and what He has given us. All of those are bound with some limitations…and there’s a recognition here that these limitations are actually good.

David has learned to choose this posture of rest, and he says it like this: “I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.”

He carries on in the second verse: “I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” 

I’ve never had a child (shocker…I’m a 30 year old man living in a one bedroom apartment in River Market). But from what I know about it, weaning is a long, painful process. Weaning is basically teaching the child that their mom isn’t just a giant milk machine, which can result in the child just crying and crying incessantly. But it’s a process that ends in the calm, resignation of the weaned child and its mother. So the image we are supposed to get here is the image of an exhausted, calmed, trusting child, resting on its mother’s chest. 

Here’s the jump. In our dependence on God, we tend to see Him as a giant milk machine in the sky. Sometimes we say oh God I just wish you’d do this. Just change this for me. If only you’d make X happen, then I’d be ok. I think at times those prayers are totally fine. But there also comes a point in our lives where God says to us:

“You know that thing that I’ve given you before, well I’m not going to give it to you anymore. It’s time to grow up. You have to learn to let go of that. Why? Because I want something even better for you. I want you to want me for me. I don’t want you to want me only for the stuff I give you.” 

This maturation process is always difficult. There are times my prayer life has looked like crying, complaining, and just a lot of frustration. These times, painful and long as they can be, always end up with me in calm resignation. I once again find myself resting in the arms of my Father. 

What David is getting at here is a bit of what I think St John of the Cross writes about in The Dark Night of the Soul. The dark night of the soul is a period that feels like abandonment but is actually a progression into the fellowship of God. This is a part of what it looks like to mature as Christians. When God doesn’t meet our immediate need in the way we want, or our plan A doesn’t work out, we are challenged to learn a new kind of dependence and hope. 

The journey of the Christian faith always comes back to hope, and our psalm ends with a call to hope, too. 

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” 

For David, hope is only found in one place. In the Lord. There is a hope that will never fail us. Our plans will fail us. Our jobs. Our friends. Our own bodies. But there’s one place that we can put our hope that will never fail us. 

We have limitations, but there is One who doesn’t have limitations. We try to make sense of the world and can’t, but there is One in whom and for whom all makes sense. We are the ones who struggle with self-centeredness, pride, self-pity, and all that comes with trying to do things completely on our own, but there is One, who is always waiting for us to return and rest our heads on His chest. 

Friends, our hope is in the Lord. David reminds himself, and the people of God not to forget where real hope lies. 

“O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” 

Where’s your hope? Do you need rest? There’s Someone eagerly waiting for you to rest your head on His chest. He’s always there, and He always beckons you to himself. 

Lessons from My Elbow

Lessons from My Elbow

 

About a year ago I seriously injured my elbow when I slipped and hit it on a door frame at a local restaurant. A normal human being with a level of intelligence just slightly higher than a dung beetle would have realized the need to rest in order to heal from such an injury. I clearly did not possess said level of intelligence. 

Not only did I refuse to go to the doctor for several months, I continued to go to the gym, lift weights, and work on finishing our basement. All of that served to compound my elbow problems to the point that I developed lateral epicondylitis, otherwise known as tennis elbow. And yes, I had to google that.

The pain had reached such a level that I had to stop exercising and take a break from the basement project. This was not easy for me to accept because I had to face the fact that I had limitations and that I couldn’t do everything. And that is a hard lesson for someone who has an inflated ego and an exaggerated view of their capabilities.

My desires and attempts to work through the pain were not driven by necessity. They were driven by self-sufficiency. In other words, I didn’t need to remain on my exercise routine, and I didn’t need to finish the basement right away.

I did feel as though my worth and identity was wrapped up in my accomplishments. My aim of validating my significance through my achievements is what resulted in me being forced to rest.  

During this time of “forced” rest, I remember reading in Romans 4 and I came across a verse that felt like it was bolded, underlined, italicized, and highlighted just for me. They were words I had undoubtedly read several times throughout my life, but somehow I saw them for the first time. The context is Paul speaking about the faith of Abraham and he says:

He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19-21)

There was something about that phrase in verse 19 that just struck me afresh. Yes, Abraham was fully aware of God’s limitless power and unshakable promises. But he was also fully aware of his own limitations and deficiencies. He knew how old he was, how impossible the promise of a son was, and how incapable he was to accomplish any of this. Yet this was precisely what allowed him to see his life and circumstances in a way that didn’t lead him to despair. 

He knew what he could do and he did it faithfully. He left his home, he followed God, and obeyed his commands. But he also knew what he couldn’t do and he trusted God to fill in the gaps.

If we only look to ourselves or rely on our own abilities, skills, and talents, then this will either inflate our ego to where we say “I got this” or deflate our joy to where we ask “what’s the point of this?” In my life these two are closely related. My joy deflates because I try to do everything and I quickly learn that I can’t. That is why we have to look at our limits and God’s promises simultaneously.

Knowing and leaning into our limits and limitations is not a practice of self-pity that leads to failure and frustration. It is a practice of self-discovery that leads to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Leaning into our limitations is an opportunity for us to trust God and watch Him bring life from barren wombs, so to speak.

When it comes to rest, we will learn how to do it the easy way or the hard way. We will either rest through establishing intentional habits and rhythms, or we will rest out of sheer necessity due to exhaustion of some kind. Our limitations will either prime us to receive God’s gift of rest, or they will cause us to push forward until we are forced to rest.

Which way do you want to learn how to rest?

Can This Last? Sabbath & COVID-19

Can This Last? Sabbath & COVID-19

“So, how are you?” Have you found, as I have, that many people answer this simple question in the same way? “Busy!” Life can throw a lot our way. On top of that, we can contribute to our struggle by filling up what little free time we might have with more stuff. Now I make no judgments on how you fill that time. I would guess a strong case could be made for that stuff being really good stuff. I know I can argue this for my own stuff really well. The question is not if it’s good stuff, but how much is too much, and when should I say “No more!”

I have been challenged in recent months with a barrage of thoughts on the subjects of rest, sabbath, pace, spiritual disciplines, and how all of these things are lived out, practiced, and embodied in my life. It started over a year ago with books, articles, and podcasts. Little “drips” that were all saying the same things – “Alan, is your life focused on the right thing? Are you really living the life that Jesus has in mind? You seem to be busy, but you don’t seem to rest much.” 

I think I’ve always struggled with the idea of rest because I am a “doer.” I like getting things done (and I really like the book Getting Things Done and a hundred other life-hack type books that help me be more efficient and get more stuff done). I like seeing items on my to-do list get checkmarks. I love what I do vocationally and that drives me to work hard. Basically, everything in my life screams “Go fast! Do more!” To be honest, I think I have found my identity in this for a long time.

Then, in the midst of the struggle going on inside my heart and mind—the battle between “do more” and “rest more,”—one of my kids came home from college and asked a heart-felt, but piercing question. “Why did we not practice sabbath as a family growing up?” That may be a hard question for anyone to hear from their kid, but for a pastor, that was really challenging. I’m supposed to be good at this kind of thing and while I think we tried to honor the sabbath by making church a priority, we obviously failed at actually slowing down and resting on the sabbath and observing it in any sort of biblical sense.

Can you relate? I’m guessing (or hoping) you can.

So, at this point, in our new COVID-19 induced time of “slow,” I think I am grateful for a change of pace. It is in the “slow” that I am more ready and willing to focus on and hear the still small voice of God.

In his book The Attentive Life Leighton Ford points out “the ‘burning bushes’ in our path are signs planted in our life, opportunities to listen and pay attention. How often does God put signs out that we miss because our life is filled with so much stuff?” 

I am also wondering how to make this “slow” or change of pace last. How will this not just be a phase we go through? How will I not allow the 127 things on my weekly calendar resume control once our quarantine is over? How will I teach my children to rest and not allow the myriad of activities they have the opportunity to participate in to take over their life and mine? How can I learn to rest more in the goodness of my Savior? How can I “observe the sabbath and keep it holy”? Again, Leighton Ford suggests “[we tend to think] it is the crazy pace of our lives that is killing us when really it’s our inattention to our deepest desire, the desire for God.” I would suggest it is the crazy pace of our lives that is a major contributor to our inattention to God.

Will you join me in praying for something different in the future? Will you join me in seeking to capitalize on our current circumstances and use it to learn a new rhythm? Will you join me in creating new family habits and new family traditions? Ones that are centered on and grounded in Scripture, not culture? Will you join me in being able to answer the question of “How are you?” with something other than “busy”?

 

NOTE: If you want one resource that may help point you down this path of questioning, I recommend John Mark Comer’s book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. It is one of many contributors that have helped in my struggle.

What Kind of Bread Are You Eating?

What Kind of Bread Are You Eating?

I would like to share some thoughts on the godliness of gluten and the holiness of whole grain wheat. Ok not really. But that could be an interesting blog post. 

This question comes from the words of verse 2 in Psalm 127 which unfortunately tends to get overlooked by its more popular brother verse 1. Let’s look at both brothers side by side. 

Psalm 127:1–2
Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep. (ESV)

I believe that the psalmist is writing these words as a way to guard the hearts of his readers from the dangers of meaningless work on one hand and idolatrous work on the other. All of us work in some way, shape, or form. And whether that work is paid or unpaid, we all find ourselves tempted at times to expect too little or expect too much from our work. 

Let me explain.

There is a direct correlation between the meaning we find in what we do and how clearly we understand why we do it. We will always struggle with the “what” of our work if we don’t have a clear “why” for our work. And the fuzzier the “why” is, the more frustrated the “what” becomes.

There are many days and even weeks when it feels as though verse 2 is describing my work habits. I am busy, I am working a lot, I am exhausted, my task list is a mile long, and my inbox feels like an overflowing toilet…in more ways than one. But it seems as though the metaphorical “bread” I am eating in the work I do is just making me less satisfied and more anxious. And that’s because too often it feels like my work is in vain.

The word “vain” in verse 2 is typically translated as worthless or meaningless. But it really means “that which lacks purpose, intention, or aim.” When we find ourselves feeling as though the work we do is meaningless, it may not be because we have the wrong calling. Perhaps it’s because we have failed to see our work as a calling in the first place.

Professor Amy Wrzeniewski at the Yale School of Management puts it this way:

“People who see their work as a calling are significantly more satisfied with their jobs. They’re significantly more satisfied with their lives. They’re more engaged in what it is that they’re doing and tend to be better performers regardless of what the work is.”

When our work is just work and not a calling, then we shouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves lacking purpose, intention, or aim in our Monday life. And we shouldn’t be surprised when that leads to us eating the “bread of anxious toil.” Again, the fuzzier the “why” is, the more frustrated the “what” becomes.

That phrase “anxious toil” is the same root word used to describe the pains brought about by the curses in Genesis 3 specifically around work. And it is often translated as the word sorrow.

What this means is that if our work is causing us sorrow, it may not be because our work is meaningless. Perhaps it is because we are struggling to see God in our work and how God is at work through our work.

Remember, the curses came because humanity chose to live and work in a world where they didn’t need God. And a world in which we love and work without needing God is a world that produces the bread of anxious toil.

So how do we avoid eating the bread of anxious toil on Monday and instead eat the bread of worshipful work?

Trust that God is at work in your work with your work

Remember, the psalmist begins by saying that “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” When we work without a real belief that God is present and active in and through our work, then we will find ourselves eating the bread of anxious toil. But when we enter into our Monday life with a posture of prayer that seeks to be attentive to God’s presence in our work, then we are more likely to find ourselves worshiping as we work.

Do you pray over your work? Do you ask God to establish the work of your hands (Psalm 90:17)? Do you trust that God will use your work for His purposes?

Receive God’s gift of rest from your work

Notice how verse 2 ends. “He gives to his beloved sleep.” One of the surefire ways to avoid eating the bread of anxious toil is to receive God’s gift of rest. Rest allows us to trust God and be rejuvenated in our work. It’s an intentional way for us to slow down and tell ourselves that we can’t do everything. But it also allows us the chance to step back from the “what” of our work to reflect upon the “why” of our work. 

At various times in our life we find ourselves somewhere on the spectrum of expecting too much or too little from our work. If we don’t see that God is truly present in and working through our work, then we will expect far too little from what we find ourselves doing on Monday. If we don’t receive God’s gift of rest, then we will expect too much from our work. The flourishing life that we all long to live is found in the sweet spot of trusting and resting. Then, and only then, will we keep ourselves from eating the bread of anxious toil.

We all eat bread on Monday. What kind of bread are you eating?

 

See better…live better: Jeremiah

“Every human being is involved in a desperate
attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.”

Richard Powers.

I do not know who Richard Powers is or why he wrote this, but he is right about me. If I get to be in charge of things, especially my life, I will most certainly narrate my story away from conflict. Away from risk. Away from pain. Away from suffering. Toward comfort. Toward ease. Toward safety.

This creates a significant problem for me, especially if I want to have anything to do with God. Spend about two seconds reading the Bible or looking at the world, and it is painfully obvious: God is investing very little energy into narrating anyone’s story toward safety.

Think about the implications of this. God wants something for you, for me, other than safety. This means that all of the energy I am spending trying to get somewhere safe is a waste. God is narrating the direction of my life away from safety, away from comfort, and toward somewhere else.

Where? Where is God taking me? Where does God want to take you?

That question is why Jeremiah has become the prophet guiding me in my current life. God forced Jeremiah into a life he didn’t want; a hard life, a life of suffering and persecution. A life where the primary thing Jeremiah had to do was tell his city—including his friends and his family—that one day they were going to be destroyed. They had abandoned God, so God was abandoning them.

Not surprisingly, Jeremiah offers to quit the vision of life God has for him many times. Fortunately for us, God told Jeremiah to write down these moments, to record his life and his prayers so that we could listen in on what happens between Jeremiah and God when Jeremiah tries to grab control of his life and narrate his story into a place of safety.

My favorite moment is in Jeremiah 12:5. Jeremiah is ready to quit the hard, painful, difficult life God has put in front of him. So God asks Jeremiah a question:

So Jeremiah, if you’re worn out in this footrace with men,

What makes you think you can race against horses?

It’s such a God question.

Jeremiah is just trying to keep it together. His life is hard—people want to kill him. The people he lives with hate him. His hometown is embarrassed by him. And on top of all this, he knows the city he loves—Jerusalem—will be destroyed one day. War and violence are coming. Jeremiah is limping along, struggling to walk, to stay on his feet. And so God asks Jeremiah another simple question—one question that is simple, but which we rarely ask ourselves:

Jeremiah…what do you want? Do you want it easy? Do you want it safe? Do you just want to limp along in life, like everybody else? Do you want to embrace mediocrity?

Or do you want salvation? Do you want to run with horses?

Again, I come back to Richard Powers’ statement: “Every human being is involved in a desperate attempt to narrate himself into a safe place.” And all the human beings said, “Amen.”

That is my problem. Because salvation, in the Christian sense, is not about becoming a moderately improved human being. It is not about sinning slightly less than I used to sin. God calls us to something impossible. Not to struggle along, limping in life. Rather, He calls us to a life that runs with horses.

Most days, I don’t want that. When I think about the life ahead of me, a life filled with challenges I never asked for and don’t want, I want to quit. I want out.

Then I hear God’s question to Jeremiah turn to me. Tim, if you are ready to give up in this footrace with men, how are you ever going to live the life I have for you? How are you going to become the person I am going to make you intoa person who will run with horses?  

Don’t you want to be someone who can run with horses? I really hope your life’s ambition is not to be like everybody else, to find a safe and easy life and never put anything on the line. I hope you want to grow and become the kind of person only God could make you.

The place to start is to understand where God is taking us, and it is not to safety. God is not creating in us a slightly improved human being. He is not making us slightly less judgmental or prideful. No, God has a far more significant vision in mind for us. C.S. Lewis laid out God’s vision for who we are to become:

God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature…

And apparently, a way God produces that in us—in me, in you, in Jeremiah—is by narrating our lives into danger. Into suffering. Into pain. It is in the places where we would never narrate our stories that we get our wings. It is in those places God teaches us to not just run a little faster but to begin to run with the speed of horses.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]