Take on the Tough Stuff

tough stuff

Here’s how it works:

The Lord commands.  You hear.

If you don’t dismiss it, you still hesitate.

You negotiate.

Finally you obey.

Partially.

Even if in total, you obey with great difficulty.

Some scars remain.

And then you’re different, spiritual in a certain sense beyond what you could churn up through typical devotions and works and theological studies.  It’s not that those latter things don’t count…they do.  They facilitate slow-drip spirituality through discipline.  But your specific struggle is different.  It triggers a flood of spiritual renewal through pain.

The path you took to get to the Lord’s will meandered for a bit, stopped, then started, stalled, then drifted.  Finally, it headed lamb-like to the cross, resigned to the will of God.  Obedience to Christ doesn’t usually happen with vector precision.

Jesus said, “…a man had two sons.  And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went.  And he went to the other son and said the same.  And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go” (Matt. 21:28-29).  Jesus was making another point here, but we can’t help but see the often shaky route the human soul takes when it comes to obedience.

Obedience by itself is a cruel taskmaster.  It’s like the office chair in my study when the WD-40 has worn off of it.  The slightest movement causes the bearings and joints to squall like dying cats.  The sound of metal on metal reminds me that trying to do things—even obeying God—without the grace of God, will feel like the worst kind of legalism.

I will cry and groan and complain about how God isn’t fair.  This price isn’t reasonable.  In fact, it’s impossible, says the person struggling with same-sex attraction.  Impossible, says the person who has been abusing alcohol since twelve years of age.  Impossible, says the career businessman called away from a seven-figure income to a lower five-figure ministry life.  “Impossible” is the most popular word in the human vocabulary when the Lord commands us and we see no power to obey except what lies in our own bankrupt reserves.

Yes, you have to love Him in order to obey Him.  You can’t give yourself to somebody you don’t love.  But here’s the qualifier:  You can’t love somebody you don’t know.  During your crisis moment, the most urgent question in the entire world is “How Big is Your Christ?”

When you consider Him, what do you see?  What do you know of Him?  For the first time in your life you may realize He’s hardly bigger than the bearded, sandaled figure of your Sunday school lessons.  And yet there He is, asking you for the moon.   Wow.  Is He even worth that kind of sacrifice?

I always kidded my daughter when she was young, telling her not to worry, since I would pick out a husband for her.  “I have the just the man for you—a shrimp boat captain in the Gulf of Mexico. You don’t know him, but you have to love, honor and obey him.  His name is Charlie.”  Funny, but this is the Christian life of many believers—trying to obey someone they barely love.  Trying to love someone they barely know.

Love doesn’t happen by accident, although the way we speak of it makes it sound that way.  We don’t “fall” in love as though we were standing somewhere and a trap door opened under us.  Love has to be cultivated.  For instance, it comes through the exercise of intellect, looking at and sizing up someone—considering them, watching them, knowing them.

In terms of Jesus, we see Him prophesied and prefigured in the Old Testament, appearing in the New Testament, dying, rising, ascending and then indwelling us.  The Holy Spirit gives us eyes to see all of these awesome things with an appreciation that grows by the day.  We talk to Him, and bring Him troubles and questions, which He answers.   We make decisions in His favor, strengthening the bonds of loyalty.  We say yes to Him daily, in a multitude of small ways.  His stature and influence grows.    We’re cultivating our love for Him.

Then one day, He tells us it’s time to move a mountain.   Don’t ask if it’s reasonable.  Don’t ask if you’re strong enough.

You know someone who specializes in the impossible.

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