The day God had a very good weekend

There are some who believe God winds up the world like a toy and then lets it run wild. I am not one of these people. I could easily be accused of seeing the Sovereign behind every wildflower and the Divine radiating, palpable, from the least, the least likely, and the left-behind. These are the places I look for Jesus—and inevitably, he shows up.

Last summer, my husband and I sat around a Sunday School class, all circle-like, a crew made up of our newly-believing Bible class combined with a class designed for those whom the world so often calls "special." They are special indeed.  Some of these times were so sweet that you wanted to eat them up with a spoon. This particular Sunday, it felt like we were given extra chocolate sprinkles, that there was even a cherry on top. 

One of the guys with deep brown beautiful skin offered to pray for all the class's requests—to take it all before the throne. Word on the street—or in the church—was that Ricky was an expert pray-er, though I had never personally observed this myself. Up to this point, I only knew that I called Ricky by the name Mark for months before someone corrected my mistake, though he never seemed to mind. I also knew he was partial to powdered doughnut holes, because I would occasionally glimpse telltale signs around his mouth. That is all. And then, he prayed.

It was the most beautiful of conversations. He was respectful and earnest and experienced and engaged. I don't believe he forgot a one of the requests that had been mentioned. The moment felt so holy, so stripped bare of pretense and pretending with God that it felt like it would be appropriate to take off our shoes.

But the thing that made the prayer so memorable, all these months later, was that as he prayed, Ricky would occasionally pause to say, "And I hope you have a good weekend, God.”

As if God and he were out for coffee or they were about to hang up the phone after a really great conversation, he would say, "I hope you have a good weekend."

Which in my feeble translation may mean, “It’s so nice to be talking with you, God. I hope you like this prayer, that all is well with you. And I want you to know I like talking with you.”

And when he was done I knew I didn’t want it to end. I wanted Ricky to pray all hour and we could forget the Sunday School lesson and all. But instead a lady stood in the center of the room holding a picture of a golden calf, and many of us danced around her like we were the Israelites, the wayward ones who forgot how to worship and to pray to the true God. It makes me think that we substitute things for real communion with our heavenly Father all the time, when really he wants us to be candid. He wants us to delight in him. He wants us to encourage him to have a good day or a good weekend; never mind that he is the master of time and timeless. That He himself created time. He wants to hear from us in our language, and when it is offered purely, I am convinced the prayers always get through.

Your turn: share a story where you felt God delighted in someone or some situation. Go!

Listening

(Congratulations to commenter Monica Brand, who won an autographed copy of the book Refuse to Do Nothing.) Formation Fridays are for you, dear one: explore old and new ways to be beautifully formed into the image of Jesus. Because He calls you Beloved, the One that He loves, the One that he delights in.

"There is much I can do for you, Lord!" I say, tapping my foot, to-do list in hand, type-A personality in tow.

The response: absolute silence, deafening.

"Remember the high D & high S I scored on the DISC profile, Father?? I'm thinking a leadership position filled with about 50% people interaction would be perfect for ME, don't you agree?"

*Crickets.* The heavens are silent. Circumstances close in. Future uncertain. 

Perhaps I should try listening. That "be still and know that I am..." stuff. Why does it take a life so-outside-of-my-control to bring me to a place of sitting at his feet? 

"Few things are needed—or indeed only one," Jesus said. "Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." (Luke 10:42 NIV)

The Savior of the world inverted the social order to praise Mary of Bethany for in essence, being a female disciple—and I cannot come to him, sit at his feet, and listen? I cannot take him up on his lavish invitation? I cannot hear his voice because my own is so loud and insistent?

Where is the duct tape when I need it?

***

A few months ago at a spiritual retreat, one of the directors shared her journey into the spiritual disciplines. She talked of her meeting with a spiritual director, and how this person encouraged her that she had done everything "right" in working for God, but that she now needed to celebrate with God, to enjoy him. When praying, to literally sit in God's presence and bask in his love.

Her response: "Does that count?" Does that count for what? she said at the retreat session. Or to put it a different way: who is counting anyway? You? God?

The retreat director, Pastor and author Sharon Garlough Brown gave us a suggestion on how we might listen to our heavenly Father.

She suggested we sit quietly with God and ask this question: "Lord, what do you think of when you think of me?"

I dare you to try it. Be quiet for as long as it takes to actually hear something. (Most likely not an audible voice, of course, but a quiet nudge.)

If the voice is condemning and harsh and critical, you are not hearing from Jesus. He is redemptive, loving, kind, and insistent on you knowing you are His Beloved. But if the voice speaks with challenging truth and love and quiets you and reminds you of your value in the eyes of Almighty God, you might be hearing from the God of the universe.

I am still working on doing this regularly, because when I do, inevitably I begin to believe that He loves me unreservedly, and pursues me passionately, and cares for me tenderly. Life recenters, horrible disappointment coming into focus, into balance with all the good gifts I have received.

But the hardest part of this whole darn thing is just learning to be quiet. Once I am quiet, I want to listen. Abba, I say in a small, childlike voice, I want to know: What do you think of when you think of me?

Your turn: What keeps you from listening to God's voice? What fruit emerges when you hear from him?

When Jesus Exaggerates, part 2

Many Wednesdays, I'll be taking an "underneath-the-hood" look at Scripture, pushing us to go deeper and to read the Bible for what it is, not for what we want it to be. Last week, in part 1, we looked at how we sometimes misinterpret the words of Jesus when he exaggerates. Specifically, we saw that when Jesus makes a statement of physical or logical impossibility in the gospels, all is not literal—neither should it be taken as such. We also discovered that Jesus exaggerates often to make a point to his hearers, hearers in a very different culture and time than ours.

This week, we shine a spotlight on what's happening when something Jesus says contradicts something else he has said. We'll continue to draw examples from the fabulous book pictured here, Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament. (No, I am not exaggerating re: its fabulousness. It's probably even worth the $23.47 they make you pay for this paperback on amazon.) 

Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament

Here's a question that stumps many: "Why does Jesus ask us to pray in secret  (Matthew 6:6) while also giving us the very-corporate Lord's Prayer? (v. 9-13)"

Have you ever heard someone say they don't do public prayer because of what Jesus says in Matthew 6:6? I have; but at the time it struck me more as an excuse for not wanting to volunteer to pray than solid biblical exegesis.

Try this on for size: the evangelist who wrote the book of Matthew clearly did not mean for the two concepts to contradict, though they are in the same passage. Most likely, he took the intended meaning behind verse 6 to indicate that "personal prayer is not for show or for the applause of people but rather is a private matter between the believer and God."

Still not convinced? Then what about considering the fact that Jesus and other good Jews met regularly in synagogues with prayers incorporated into public services?

When you take the whole of the biblical witness and life of Jesus into account, you see that: A statement which conflicts with what Jesus says elsewhere may contain exaggeration. It is also true that a statement which conflicts with the behavior of Jesus elsewhere may contain exaggeration:

  • In Luke 14:26, Jesus supposedly endorses hatred of one's parents and family. 
  • Then we witness him entrusting care of his mother to the beloved disciple upon his death (John 19:26-27) and we remember that as a young man "he went down with [his parents] and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them" (Luke 2:51).

We read his words, watch his actions, and seek to let Jesus say what he intends to say, not what we want to hear. In this case, Jesus appears to be encouraging his disciples to count the cost of following him; sometimes this will mean that they lose their family ties. But this doesn't cancel out their responsibility to care for their families and to love and to submit to them.

My two cents: Jesus was a profound communicator who used a plethora of rhetorical techniques to make his point to his original audience in their everyday context.

2,000 years later, in our earnest efforts to discover his truth, we've often squeezed the beauty, metaphor and exaggeration out of his sayings so that we can "follow him to the point."

In so doing, we've often missed the point entirely! Combine fundamentalism with a lack of knowledge of the culture of Jesus day and you get some pretty wacky interpretations of Scripture. Let Jesus say whatever he meant to say with whatever kind of exaggeration he meant to use in the original hearers' context, and you are treading on life-giving truth.

It's like mining for gold. This is the kind of stuff that still surprises and delights me, day after day, though I've been in the church all my life. And that makes serious study worth the effort.

(Next week: Jesus on divorce. Oh, yes, we're going there. Was Jesus using overstatement when he spoke about divorce in Mark 10:2-12? And if we're missing something he was referring to when we read Scripture, what does it mean for us today? Deep waters next Wednesday.)

Comments: Can you name a saying or teaching of Jesus in which you have wondered if he is exaggerating?