Friday, May 29, 2009

The Talk of Heaven

My favorite #2 daughter said something to me today that is patently untrue, completely unsupported Biblically, and was definitely very biased hyperbole. But it made me cry and soothed an ache I'd been secretly nursing since the day before (she had no idea of that) because she had a true and valid point.

I bought her a book by John MacArthur for her birthday called Twelve Ordinary Men and Twelve Extraordinary Women. (I do take issue with the idea that the women get to be called "extraordinary." They were just as ordinary as the men were! Maybe he applied that adjective only because they tend to be overlooked as important representatives of faith. But still…)

So, we we've been doing a little tag-team reading. Of course, one of the first ordinary men John MacArthur examines is the disciple, Peter, and it turns out Peter was quite a leader. JMA writes,

But with all his brashness, Peter had the raw material from which a leader could be made. Better to work with a man like that than to try to motivate someone who is always passive and hesitant. As the familiar saying goes, it is much easier to tone down a fanatic than to resurrect a corpse. Some people have to be dragged tediously in any forward direction. Not Peter. He always wanted to move ahead. He wanted to know what he didn't know. He wanted to understand what he didn't understand. He was the first to ask questions and the first to try to answer questions. He was a man who always took the initiative, seized the moment, and charged ahead. That's the stuff of leadership. (p. 43)

Good for Peter, bad for me. I've never fancied myself a leader by any definition. I am, without a doubt, the antithesis of a leader, and, for the most part, I've always been okay with that. That is, until I read this paragraph. Passive and hesitant? Yep, that's me, and for my effort I'm compared to a corpse. Dislike change of any sort? Yep, that's me too, which leaves me needing to be "dragged tediously in any forward direction." Inquisitive? No way. I'm content to let things be what they are without the compulsion to understand them or change them. I never take the initiative, have never seized a moment and make it an iron-clad rule of life to never charge ahead, unless it's with VISA.

Incidentally, neither have I ever been so rude as to discredit anyone for having leadership qualities, as those with said qualities seem duty-bound to discredit those of us without them. I once worked for a company that took all its employees off-site one day for a personality analysis seminar. I don't remember exactly when we answered the requisite endless stream of questions – maybe we had already answered the questions beforehand -- but I do remember having the personalized graphs and tabulations all ready for us. And after many assurances that promotions and performance reviews would not be based on the results (which itself aroused suspicions), they put the "ideal" personality model up on the overhead projector so we could all see where we fell short and how we should try to change ourselves. I was flabbergasted. It takes a lot to outdo me when it comes to being dumb about people, but they managed it on that day.

I'm going to give John MacArthur the benefit of the doubt and assume he wasn't denying the beauty of all the personalities God created just because he extolled the leadership qualities in Peter. But I have to admit that this paragraph bumped around in the vast empty caverns of my cranium for a few days like an unwelcome guest, causing me to question how God could ever use the likes of introverted and unsocial me to glorify Himself.

That unwelcome and deceptive guest would probably have left all of its own accord and been happily forgotten, except that it found a friend. I happened to run into and exchange pleasantries with an old acquaintance at Home Depot the other day. She had been involved in Women's Ministries at my church at the same time I was, and when that group disbanded all the members found places to serve elsewhere in the church that seem to suit their gifts. Well, all except me. My service right now is in an area in which I am not gifted and don't like very much. My "gifts" don't seem to be very much in demand, leaving me actually a little suspicious that they don't really exist. Maybe it's had something to do with not taking the initiative, not seizing the moment, and not charging ahead, but that turn of events (along with a sordid history of the same) left me with a nagging sense of uselessness that I have studiously ignored over the years. Running into this gal, however, caused these "happy" (tongue in cheek) thoughts to resurface, where they immediately befriended the "happy" thoughts from JMA's paragraph about Peter. Having found each other, they frolicked about and made much more noise in my head than I'd like to admit.

I apologize for subjecting you to the dirty laundry of my soul. But it is necessary for you to know my frame of mind if you are going to appreciate my reaction to what #2-daughter said.

It turns out, and I've known this, that she herself has struggled on and off with the banality of my life. In other words, she doesn't want to be like me. She wants to do "more" with her life than graduate from college, and then throw all her studies away to be a stay-at-home mom. My understanding is (and I qualify this because I might not be getting all the nuances of her thinking just right – but this is my understanding of it), that in light of this dilemma, she was impressed by something she read in a book called The Heavenly Man, by Paul Hattaway.

The Heavenly Man is a biography of Brother Yun, an illiterate Chinese peasant who became a Christian through a remarkable conversion, and how he went on to share the Gospel to thousands of other Chinese peasants, establishing underground churches throughout the country. It's also the story of his dicey relationship with the Communist Chinese government, who, shall we say… frowned on his activities. At one point in the book he knows that God is telling him to run away, and fast. But he ignores God because he doesn't want to leave the work he's doing in that city. His wife wakes him up in the night with another urgent appeal to leave right away. But he refuses to go. As a result he is indeed caught, imprisoned, beaten and tortured.

Eventually, he is miraculously rescued from this imprisonment, which is a story I'll leave for you to discover yourself, since you're undoubtedly opening another window even now to order the book online. But the lesson he learns from this is that God does not want his work as much as He wants him, his heart, his worship, his obedience. He learned that he had been making an idol of the work God gave him to do; that he was loving the work more than he was loving God Himself.

Well, #2-daughter very astutely applied this lesson to herself and her waffling thoughts about what she wants her future to look like. She says, "For example, take you, Mom." And I'm thinking, here we go again – more about me and my loser self. (Even good teenagers are hard, aren't they?) But she says – are you ready? She says, "I think you're the talk of heaven. You've kept your marriage together for 20 years, you've raised four great kids, and you remain passionate in your walk with the Lord."

The talk of heaven. Isn't that silly and wonderful, both at the same time? She has no idea how all my insides erupted into tears when she said that. (Only a few threatened to spill over.) I went from useless to the Kingdom, to being the talk of heaven. Affirmed by my teenager, of all people, so there must be some truth in it!

But do you see what I mean? It isn't really true. I'm not the talk of heaven. But she, I believe, was coming to the understanding that the Christian walk is about doing the work God has laid out for us. Not building some glorious shrine in His name with our work or service or sacrifice. It's about keeping our eyes and our hearts fixed on His face, about walking step by step where He tells us to go, doing what He tells us to do. I believe that's what I have done with my life, and the result is not remarkable in a worldly sense. But I trust, I hope, God has been pleased. I want to please Him more than I want to build something glorious in His name.

Within an hour or so of this conversation I happened to read John 17, where Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. And I was struck by verse 4 where Jesus says, "I glorified You on earth, having accomplished the work that You gave me to do."

That's all I want from this life. I want to glorify God on this earth. And I want to accomplish the work He has given me to do. Not anyone else's work, not any work I dream up for myself, not the hallowed "achievement of personal goals" so my life can be fulfilling. I want to accomplish the work He has given me to do.

With that in mind, with my eyes fixed on His wonderful face, with my ears attuned to His quiet voice, all my personal inadequacies become irrelevant, don't they? What a relief! That is freedom.

So let my personality assessment graph be lopsided, let me possess ZERO qualities of a leader, let me not find a place in my church. I'm too busy to worry about that – my plate is full with the work God has given me to do, and it takes all my focus to do it well.

Thank you, Lord!

12 comments:

  1. Great blog: Here's a side-note:
    In my opinion, other than spiritual apathy, the trickiest trap the Devil has laid out for Christians is the mindset of measuring their walk with the Lord by their accomplishments. We have so much respect and reverence for those spiritual giants like Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, or George Mueller, who spent their lives doing radical things for the Lord. Although I'm sure they were great Christians, and do well deserve the title of spiritual giants, we often look at people like them and honor only their works. Their radical lives/work, however, should not be solely why they are exemplary Christians. Do not strive to be radical--instead, strive to have their surrendered hearts, their spiritual discipline, and their willingness to obey. It is the heart behind the work--no matter the work--that is so precious to God.

    --Daughter #2

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  2. Is a half truth only half right or all wrong? We should ask Joel Osteen...Like making a disease without a cure, so can a half truth so easily kill us. I know where your heart is Bev but it came out wrong in my opinion, nevertheless I love your response and where your heart is. Lets not be decieved though. Faith without works is useless (James 2:20). This is not saying works create faith but instead proves that faith motivates works(motivates is the wrong word though because the works should come as natural as breathing...This although incompletely paraphrased without any disclaimers is the heart behind the message). Perhaps we will not see the fruits of our labor eg Jeremiah but the faith inspired works neverthe less bears fruit. On that note let's think about when Jesus said "My burden is light". At the same time "consider the cost" (Luke 14:25-33). That should take your head for a spin or two.
    Much love.

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  3. Little do you realize, Allor family, that the way you banter about biblical truths among one another like dinner table conversation makes us feel like spiritual midgets…so there

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  4. Ha! You're funny, Jim. And you know us too well to too impressed with our spirituality! :)

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  7. Hello,

    I just read your blog and I found it quite interesting!
    The world did not esteem the Savior of the World, He appeared like a common man without any majesty... only by God's grace did we ever come to embrace Him!
    We may not have "personality-plus" nor all the skills people are most interested in, but ultimately where do all gifts come from? The answer: Simply put; thee most creative and only God, namely: Jesus =).
    So, who is to say who can qualify for anything?... is it people who didn't recognize the Savior of the World?
    God saw fit to create us for His glory...He didn't create us inadequately for that. So keep glorifying Him with everything!



    God Bless you!

    btw...I've been repeatedly deleting this same comment b/c i thought i worded it wrong...oops!

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  8. Thank you, Lil laid down lover of Christ, for your wise and insightful comments! You are so right about that! God saw fit to create us for His glory, so who are we to question His ideas of how we were put together? We are completely adequate for the work He has purposed for us to do on this earth.

    Thank you for reading that LONG, long blog post. I didn't realize how long it was until I came back to respond to your sweet comment. I hope you'll visit again!

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  9. I would just like to say WOW:) Let the words of my mouth and the medatations of my heart be pleasing in your sight Lord, pleasing in your sight. I think you have done this well done good and faithful servent.

    Jesus follower

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  10. Very interesting post. It does sound like you are the talk of Heaven. :) There are going to be a lot of surprises there.

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