Awhile ago, I went with my Bible study group to a painting class. I have to tell you right now, art and I are not friends. As one artist sagely noted while grimacing at my misguided attempt to draw a beach scene, “Well, you have other gifts.” Truer words have never been spoken, and yet, I signed up for a painting class anyway. It was a lovely scene, a graceful willow overhanging a still pond…dappled sunlight falling lightly through the leaves. I took one look at this portrait of sublime serenity and thought, you’ve got to be kidding!
90 minutes into the class, I was ready to be finished with the entire project. I had used all of my mental reserves to painstakingly craft a semi-shaded grassy embankment from which my graceful willow would spring. But, there were so many details involved in painting grass that I just did not have the energy or ambition to do anything else. And so, when it came time to create the wispy willows of the willow tree, I didn’t do my best. To be fair, I thought the instructor said to make tiny dots along the canvas for the willow branches. However, I was restless and tired and didn’t want to be paining willow leaves all night. So, instead of clarifying the instructions and copying the proper form, I did this.
When the instructor came over to inspect our work, his response was less than encouraging. In fact, when a friend repeated what we thought his instructions were, his response was, and I quote, “I most certainly didn’t tell you to do THAT!” Instead of wispy willow branches lazily skimming the surface of a pond, I had Medusa’s head on a purple tree trunk. In my rush to be finished with a task that was tiring, I ended up with a useless painting I’m too embarrassed to even throw into the trash.
As I contemplate my Medusa-willow, I can’t help but reflect on the instructor’s exclamation, and my own heedless desire to forego process for finished product. In my rush to be done, I did a poor job, and the instructor made it abundantly clear that my work should in no way be considered a reflection of his teachings.
How often, do you think, we Jesus followers rush through the process of living by faith and mistake or misrepresent Jesus’ actual teaching? Do you feel like, sometimes, Jesus is echoes the sentiments of the art instructor? Does Jesus ever say to us, “I most certainly didn’t tell you do to THAT!”?
If we’re honest, I think the answer is a resounding YES! The truth is, we all sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The process by which we grow in our faith is long–a lifetime–and requires a lot of focus, a lot of effort, and a lot of intentionality. John says that when we run ahead of Christ, then we, in essence, run away from God. When we run ahead of Christ, we miss important details. The masterpiece of God’s creation within us becomes a bit of a mess. And, while God can absolutely redeem and restore it, wouldn’t it be better if we just followed instructions the first time? Proverbs tells us that God will teach us well, but we have to follow those teachings. But, how do we live that out? How to we go about living this Jesus life on a practical day to day basis?
First, I think we have to bathe our decisions in prayer, both the large and small. Most of us understand the need to seek God’s wisdom when it comes to major life decisions. But, I believe that seeking God’s wisdom in the small decisions can help us to better hear God’s voice in the midst of those major decisions. For example, sometimes I ask God if I can have a cookie. I know, it sounds crazy. But, here’s what I’ve found. If I go to God in prayer about a cookie, then he and I can have a conversation about the nature of the desire for the cookie. Is it really just about a cookie? Or is it about meeting a deeper emotional need? Going to God about a cookie can lead to deeper self-reflection and awareness. Moreover, if I can train myself to seek God for something as mundane and non-life-altering as a cookie, then I’m prepared to go to him when something truly life-altering comes my way.
Second, we need to clarify information by regularly reading Scripture. Scripture is God breathed. In the stories of faith, we find wisdom and guidance for our own faith journey. God’s Word is a lamp for our feet; a light for our path (Psalm 119). God’s Word shows us how to live. It reminds us that when we’re really frustrated at inefficiency in a place of business, that those serving (or not serving) us are children of God whom we are called to love and snapping at them will not improve the service (or lack thereof). God’s Word reminds us that we are to have compassion for the oppressed, not condemnation. We are to seek justice, even when the world seems unrepairably unjust. God’s Word is instruction, and that instruction leads us on the pathway to life.
And so, my friends, this week I challenge you to seek God’s input. Seek his wisdom in matters both big and small. Then, follow his instructions, even when you really just want to be finished with the whole process.
Blessings and Peace,