The Measure of Accomplishment

I’ve written several resumes over the course of my career. I assure you, none of them have looked remotely like the Apostle Paul’s.

Years ago, I taught resume writing as part of a college English class curriculum. But I never suggested that my students to do anything that even close to what Paul did on his.

In the church, I once served on a pastoral search committee. I looked at dozens of resumes of pastors. And believe me, there were none there like the Apostle Paul’s. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my church would not have hired Paul based on his resume.

What is so different about Paul’s resume, you may wonder? Didn’t he have an impressive education, noteworthy connections, and remarkable accomplishments in church planting, evangelism, spiritual mentoring, communications, and cross-cultural ministry?

Yes, absolutely. If Paul had wanted to, he could have written a dazzling resume that would have resulted in people fighting over him.

But those “accomplishments” meant nothing to Paul. What counted to him was what he had suffered for the sake of Christ. These are the things, he said, that qualified him to represent Jesus. These are the things that proved he was truly a servant of God.

Here’s what Paul wrote on his “resume”:

As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

When I read his words again recently, I was humbled and deeply moved. What have I suffered for the cause of Christ? What rights have I put aside in order to serve His people? Jesus said that “‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). If that is the measure, what evidence is there, then, that I am truly Jesus’s servant?

As I invited the Holy Spirit to search me on these things, He helped me to see that my service for Jesus has had a price. Though I haven’t suffered beatings for Him, I have certainly encountered troubles, hard work, and not a few sleepless nights, along with some of the other difficulties that come with the ministry territory. His reminders reassured me.

However, the greater take away for me is this that God’s way of evaluating our ministry success—whether vocational or avocational—is very different than ours. If in the course of representing Jesus we suffer misunderstandings, lack of appreciation, long hours, low pay, or any of the other ups and downs that go with being His servant, we should not automatically think we’re doing something wrong. The very opposite may be true. God may be saying, “Look! See how much like Jesus they are?”

 

 

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Willing to Be Inconvenienced

I have this habit of writing prayers in my journal and then forgetting I wrote them. God is taking me to task about this. I’ll share one recent example.

A few weeks ago, my morning Scripture reading was in 2 Corinthians. I read about how Jesus, who had been rich, became poor so that by His poverty, we might become rich (8:9).

As I meditated on Jesus, His humility and servant-heart, I saw how far short I fall from His example. So I confessed it. I wrote my prayer in my journal. I wrote how I do not like to be inconvenienced. I don’t necessarily enjoy putting myself aside for the sake of someone else. I asked God to change me, to give me a heart that is willing to give up so that others may gain.

And then I closed my journal and went to work. I didn’t give it a second thought.

The next day—yes, the very next day—I received an email from someone reaching out on behalf of her friend. What her friend needed was something I supposed I could do, but frankly, I didn’t want to do it. It felt like a kind of big ask. One I had no experience in. It was out of my comfort zone, and would stretch me more than I wished to be stretched. I wasn’t obligated to this person in any way—it was just a friend of a friend—so I dismissed the request.

I’m kind of slow sometimes.

Anyway, a few days went by. But that email—which I remind you, I was in no way obligated to—kept returning to mind. I was annoyed. Finally, while driving home from work one evening, I asked God about it.

“Why does that email keep nagging me, Father?” I asked, utterly clueless.

Well, remember the prayer you prayed the other day . . . ?” He began. I can only imagine how amused He must have been.

That was all He needed to say. Instantly, the whole thing came back to me. Embarrassed, I assured Him I remembered. As soon as I got home, I found my journal and re-read what I’d written. Oh my goodness, it was one of the clearest answers to prayer I’d experienced in a long time! I wanted God to make me willing to be inconvenienced and voila! Less than 24 hours later, He dropped an opportunity neatly in my lap.

“Okay, God, I get it. I’ll do it. You don’t have to say anything more.”

And so begins a new adventure for me. I don’t know how it all will work out. But I’m not worried. God answered my prayer. Obviously He has made plans about all this. His plans are always good, so I choose to trust Him.

But I will say this—if you ever ask God to change your heart about something, well, make sure you’re ready for the answer. Apparently that’s a kind of prayer that He loves to answer!

 

When I Feel Too Responsible

If you’ve ever been married,

Or had children,

Or been a caregiver  . .  .

If you’re a teacher,

a pastor,

Or leader of any kind . . .

Basically, if you have ever worked with anyone else in the pursuit of any worthy goal, you have probably felt what I am about to describe.

You have probably felt responsible. You have probably felt like the outcome depended on you.

And if things didn’t go as well as you’d hoped, you might have felt tempted to one or more of the following:

  • Beat up yourself
  • Control or manipulate
  • Blame or defend
  • Become depressed
  • Enable or become co-dependent

How do I know this?

Yup. Been there. Done that.

Recently I was praying with someone about this sort of thing. As we were praying, the familiar “Serenity Prayer” came to mind. I couldn’t remember how it went exactly, so I looked it up. I was surprised to find part to it that I don’t remember ever seeing before. Here is both the familiar part and the part that was new to me.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity

the things that cannot be changed,

Courage to change the things

which should be changed,

and the Wisdom to distinguish

the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,

Enjoying one moment at a time,

Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,

Taking, as Jesus did,

This sinful world as it is,

Not as I would have it,

Trusting that You will make all things right,

If I surrender to Your will,

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,

And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

Amen.*

The part that really stuck out to me was this: “Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right.”

Isn’t  that profound?

Jesus, perfect as He was, did not panic because the world was sinful. He didn’t rush in to fix everything (though He, unlike me, actually could have!) He also didn’t make things miserable for people who wouldn’t do what they were supposed to do. He didn’t nag or manipulate or get all passive-aggressive. He didn’t wring His hands. He didn’t control or push. And He didn’t despair. Instead, He accepted people as they were, loved them, and entrusted them to His Father.

I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to find the rest of the “Serenity Prayer”—but  I’m glad I did. I think it is going to be one of my go-to prayers for all those times when things aren’t going as I’d hoped they would and I feel responsible.

 

*Attributed, in various versions, to Reinhold Niebuhr

“Tirelessly Pester God”

Has anyone else found themselves praying more urgently these days for God’s kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven?”

The messier our world—including (especially?) our nation—becomes, the more relevant this familiar part of the Lord’s Prayer seems to me.

The morning news depresses me. People’s political rantings on social media wear me out. I have no incentive to vote this November.

But my motivation to pray for God’s kingdom to come has increased. And God seems to be encouraging me in this.

The other day I was looking for a passage in Isaiah when my eyes accidentally landed on the “wrong” verse instead. I was reading a new Bible translation, The Voice, and this is what I read:

Tirelessly pester God—give Him no rest—until He reestablishes Jerusalem and makes it worthy of praise throughout the whole world.

Traditional translations say it a bit more formally, but the intent is the same: “Give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth” (NIV).

Can you imagine a parent inviting his kids to pester him? To give him no rest? To “give him no peace” (MSG) until He does something for them? I certainly never said that to my son. But God says it to us. And I, for one, want to take Him up on it.

Revelation 11:15 says that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” And one day God promises to make a new heaven, a new earth, and a new Jerusalem where He will live among His redeemed people (Revelation 21:1-3).

I’ve spent too much energy hand-wringing and kvetching over the status of things in our current political scene. It’s time to concentrate that energy on “pestering God” to bring His kingdom to earth and establish His reign.

What do you think?

 

The Offering We Get to Eat

Jesus perplexes me sometimes. I’ll give you an example. If you’d been there, what would you have thought when He said,

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. … This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. … Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. (John 6:51, 54)

If I had been in His audience that day, I would have scratched my head in befuddlement. In fact, many of Jesus’s followers deserted Him when He said that. They simply had no category for that kind of talk.

But I’m a questioner. If I’d been there, I think I would have asked Him to explain. Even now, when I read His perplexing words in Scripture, I still ask Him to explain. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked, “Jesus, what did You actually mean by that?” while reading Scripture, I’d be a wealthy woman.

So, I think maybe Jesus has been giving me some insight into this bewildering passage recently. And it’s really pretty cool. You’ll have to stick with me and follow closely, but if you do, I think you’ll agree it will be worth it. Here goes:

  • Hebrews 10 tells us that Jesus’s one-time sacrifice replaced all the sacrifices required under the Old Covenant. Do you have any idea how many sacrifices that is? You don’t have time for me to list them all. I’ll just tell you that it’s no exaggeration to say that more than 1,000 animals were sacrificed every year (see Numbers 28–29).
  • Besides the holy day sacrifices (Passover, Day of Atonement, and so on), there were five different kinds of sacrifices the people made to God. Two of these were obligatory—the sin offering and the guilt (or “trespass”) offering.
  • But three of the five were voluntary: the burnt, grain, and peace offerings. These were made out of pure love and devotion to God (see Leviticus 1–7).

Still with me? I hope so because it starts to get really interesting now …

  • Among these voluntary offerings, the peace offering was unique and special. An animal from the herd was roasted to perfection. Instead of being consumed by fire as most sacrifices were, however, the meat was divided into three parts: one for God, one for the priest, and one for the person who had offered it. It was eaten at a festive meal. It was considered to be a fellowship offering—communion, if you will.

Are you still tracking with me? Any bells going off yet?

Jesus is our peace, right? We know that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him” (Isaiah 53:5). We also know that “in Christ Jesus [we] who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:13-14). What we may not realize is that Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, is not only our atoning sacrifice (which was entirely burned and could not be eaten), but He is also our peace offering. Through Him not only are our sins forgiven, but we have fellowship with God. We are invited to enjoy a meal with Jesus, at His table.

Our almighty, holy God has always wanted fellowship with us. In the Old Testament He shared a meal with His people through the peace offering. A lamb, goat, or bull died, and sinners were given temporary access into God’s presence. But in the New Testament, Jesus, our once-for-all sacrifice, gives us that access, 24/7.

What the Holy Spirit is teaching me about the peace offering makes the Lord’s table even more meaningful to me. Jesus’s insistence that I eat His flesh, His body, makes more sense to me now. He invites me to join Him in eating from the peace offering. He wants enjoy fellowship with me, and He gave Himself as a sacrifice so He could!

Are you still reading? If you’ve followed to the end, I hope that you also will enjoy an even greater sense of Jesus’s love and friendship the next time you participate in the Lord’s Table. Will you let me know?