Christian Living

Why You’re Too Busy to Skip Your Quiet Time

As I’ve mentioned, I’m working my way through Priscilla Shirer’s Bible study on the Sabbath called Breathe. And I’m really enjoying it–she’s got a LOT packed into the four weeks of homework!

In week three, she has this great phrase: “Take care of God’s business. Let Him take care of yours.” The section is on the Israelites in Exodus 16 and how when God instituted the Sabbath they were out in the desert and had been commanded to gather manna. It’s pretty amazing! God tells them to gather 1 omer per person per day and when they go out to gather, they find that no matter how much or how little they gathered, it still ends up to an omer per person in their household. Makes you wonder if the Israelites were all scratching their heads come time to measure the manna.

The other neat thing about this passage is that the Israelites are commanded to gather a double portion the day before the Sabbath. Priscilla argues that the people spent the same amount of time gathering as they did any other day and it just ended up being twice as much. I’m not familiar enough with the passage to agree or disagree, but I do believe that God gives us enough time to accomplish the things He’s called us to do and that He can definitely double our effectiveness.

Anyway! So in this section, she talks about how when we honor God with a Sabbath, He makes sure everything else works out okay time-wise. You see this principle in Matt. 6:33 where Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (NASB) The idea being that we focus on God and He takes care of our needs.

This is definitely something I’ve seen happen in my own life, particularly with my morning quiet time. Before I had children, I had a very inconsistent quiet time. After my first daughter was born, I was overwhelmed–there never seemed to be enough time in the day. A Bible study I was doing challenged me to start having a daily quiet time and see what God would do. To my shock, I discovered that the days when I did have a quiet time would go so much smoother. I’d get more done. I’d be less stressed about it. I remember one particularly crazy day when we had to get up early to leave for a trip and I told my husband that I had way too many things to do that day to skip my quiet time. 🙂

The reality is we’re all too busy–it’s part of American culture. We’re too busy. And I hear that excuse so often when people explain to me why they don’t actually have a regular quiet time. But I’m here to tell you that when you give God the first part of your day, He works out everything else. Do your quiet time and you won’t be too busy to have a quiet time because God will fill in the gaps with your house, your kids, your job, etc., etc.

The reality of our situation is that we’re all too busy to skip our quiet times.

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To Push on the Rock ~ Chapter 9 (El Fin!)

“I’ve never heard someone talk about ministry like this.” Will picked up a handful of rocks and sifted them through his fingers. “When I wanted to do ministry, I never thought it would be this hard, this vulnerable. I didn’t think about hurting or harming the people I preached to, or sharing myself. I just thought about preaching, the thing itself”—he gave a little laugh—“and the results, of course. Now, I don’t know. I don’t know what I should be doing. I don’t know if I even want to do any ministry.”

Moses gave him a compassionate look. “It’s a lot to take in. At the end of the day though, you only have to answer one question.”

“Really? All that death and suffering and weakness can be boiled down to one question?”

Moses nodded. “Do you want to follow Jesus or not?”

“I already said yes to that question the day I told God that I wanted Jesus’ death to pay for my sin,” Will said, his brow creased in a puzzled frown.

“Solomon said yes at the beginning of his life too.(174) But life is not lived in a moment,” Moses said, holding Will’s gaze. “Life is lived moment by moment from the day you’re born to the day you die. And following Jesus is not done in a single moment. Every moment you have to decide. Don’t put it off.”

Will tried to imagine preaching or building the bridge. Follow Jesus, yes, but build a bridge . . . or even preach . . . .

“You can’t follow and lead at the same time,” Moses said. “If you follow, it means you go wherever God leads you.”

Will made a face. “I know. I know. It just seems so overwhelming.”

“Is it overwhelming to follow God in this moment?”

“If that means sitting here, not exactly, although I’m not a fan of this hole.”

“Neither am I. I’m truly sorry that we ended up out here. It’s another place pride has taken me that I didn’t want to go. I hope you can learn from my sin. Following God is far from easy, and it’s often painful, and it may not be where you want to go, but He always takes you where you really need to go. Don’t—” his face paled—“don’t make the same mistakes I have. I know I was going about it the wrong way, but that’s really all I was trying to do tonight. I have regrets that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. I’d hate for you to end up carrying the same ones.”

Will gave a slight nod. He’d seen the depth of Moses’ drive when Moses had followed him out here. “Can I ask what happened? What did you do, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Moses’ mouth went dry. “I waited to obey. And, well, you know from my book that even when I began to obey with my hands, I refused to obey with my heart.”

“Everybody sins—” Will began.

Moses slashed a hand downwards. “I know that. You think I don’t know that? But imagine you found out that someone died because they couldn’t get to a doctor in time because you didn’t build your bridge. Imagine how you’d feel then.”

“Someone died because you waited to obey?” Will asked, his eyes wide.

Moses looked down. “I don’t know. I don’t know what the cost was. I know that my obedience has often had larger ripples than I ever dreamed of. I know that disobedience has done the same.” He raised his gaze to meet Will’s. “Please. Please don’t wait.”

Will stared at him. Something seemed off somehow. He didn’t even know what it was. He’d felt uncomfortable before when Moses had talked about his regrets. He’d assumed it was just discomfort with the depth of Moses’ emotion, but now it almost felt like talking to two different people. He didn’t know how to talk to this person, the man who was consumed with regret. He hesitated. “Can I say something?”

“Go ahead,” Moses said.

“Something seems wrong about what you just said. What about you arguing that Paul’s sin made him the perfect man for the job? What about all that stuff you said about God’s love?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know what I mean. You just seem so—different when you talk about regret than when you talk about ministry. I always thought regret was a wasted emotion. You can’t change the past. Why bother agonizing over it?”

“I used to think that too, back when I was young and thoughtless, back before I’d come face-to-face with the consequences of my sin. Sometimes you just can’t help regret, and if it keeps you from making the same mistakes—”

“But what if it causes you to make new ones? I mean, look at what happened tonight.”

“It was my pride that got us here,” Moses said, his voice harsh.

Will ran a hand through his hair. “I thought you said you came out here because you wanted to keep me from making the same mistakes you did, because you didn’t want me to carry the same regrets.”

“I did. I do,” Moses said testily.

“I’m not trying to attack you. I just don’t understand,” Will said. How could he get through to Moses? “Wait! I have an idea. I’ll be you and you be me. No, I mean I’ll be me and you be you,” he said.

“I don’t follow.”

“Let’s imagine someone did die because I haven’t built my bridge.” Will could feel a shiver go through his soul. Please God, please don’t let that be true. “You be you talking about ministry. How does death, suffering, and weakness fit into my unbuilt bridge and the consequences?”

“It doesn’t. Not doing ministry is not ministry,” Moses said flatly.

Will gave him an exasperated look. “Please. Humor me. I know that your book has changed me. You wouldn’t have a book without your story, your mistakes. Shared suffering, remember? I might need to know this stuff for later.”

Moses glared at him. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you, boy! Obey now so you won’t have a later!”

Will’s eyes widened. Who was this man?

“Fine,” Moses said and calmed himself with visible effort. “Death. Not obeying is not dying to self. There’s no self-sacrifice in sin.”

“But what about in regret? Is there obedience in regret?”

“Paul says that godly sorrow leads to repentance—to change.(175) I know that I’ve changed because I don’t want to repeat the same regrets.”

Will tried to imagine how he’d feel years after he’d found out that his actions really had killed someone. He’d do things differently all right. And yet . . . “Lots of things have made me change. My father makes me do things differently all the time. Is change the only way to tell if you’ve repented?” Will asked.

“Depends on the type of change.”

“Even if I go home and build my bridge tomorrow, assuming that we get out of this hole, what do I do about the last six months? I can’t erase them. Is my lack of obedience going to wreck my life?” Will sat up straight as a thought hit him. “Wait a minute! That’s it!”

“What’s it?”

“Is it going to wreck my life?” Will said, enunciating each word. “In your book, you said destruction comes from sin and Satan. That’s what Jesus says in John 10:10, right?”

“So?”

“So, if regret destroys something, it can’t be from God!”

Moses stared at him. What was the boy trying to say? “I’m not sure I agree. Why do you think regret will destroy your life?”

“Look at you. You talk about your regret like it’s a heavy burden, and you’re afraid of repeating your mistakes.” He gasped. “Afraid. Suffering plus fear. That’s why your regret is so strong—because it’s bondage.”

Moses felt like his head was spinning. It was so much harder to argue with his own words. “I don’t—I’m not sure that that’s really accurate.”

“Okay. You’re the one who keeps talking about how God’s love changes things from the inside out. Where does love fit into regret?”

“Well, if I love God, then I’ll obey Him.”(176)

“How does that involve regret? I can obey without regret,” Will said, his voice full of challenge.

“Yes, but regret has made me zealous to obey. I know the weight of my actions, the consequences I’ll have to bear, and I don’t want to make the same mistakes. It’s like burning yourself on a hot stove—the pain of the burn reminds you to be careful with the stove. Regret is that pain.”

“Could there be two ways of handling the burn though? Tell me about fear and love. How can I handle the pain of the past six months with love?”

Moses threw his hands in the air. “You can’t change the past six months. If you add fear to that, you’ll try to do things differently. If you add love, you’ll try to do things differently.”

“So the same action, but the character of the act is totally different.” Will thought for a moment. “Suffering is a result of sin, right? My sin, my lack of obedience, caused suffering—that’s the consequences of sin.” He swallowed hard. Hopefully not too much suffering, although even a little suffering . . . Oh Lord, what have I done? “But didn’t you say that God is redeeming suffering?”

“I did.”

“So is He redeeming the consequences of my sin or not?”

“He is . . . .”

“So where’s the Gospel in regret?”

“I don’t know!” Moses raised his eyes to the heavens. “I don’t know. I’ve never thought about it from that angle before. Regret just is. It’s there, like being sad or lonely or tired or hungry. It’s how we’re made.”

“But the Gospel is in those things. I heard a sermon once about how our feelings point us towards the Gospel in some fashion. ‘Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted.’(177) God comforting our grief because of the Gospel. Our grief driving us to reach out for God’s comfort. ‘God sets the lonely in families.’(178) Through the Gospel, we become part of God’s family.(179) We’re never alone again. Being tired reminds us that we’re not made for a broken world. It can prompt us to think about eternity and whether we want the Gospel or not. Physical hunger is a metaphor for how our souls hunger for God.” He paused, then continued, “Where’s the Gospel in regret?”

“The cross means Jesus has paid for my sin, and He’s redeeming the suffering I’ve caused,” Moses said, keeping his voice even with an effort. “Regret calls me to count the cost of my sin, to remember how much Jesus paid.”

Will shook his head. “I don’t buy that. I see you counting the cost of your sin, but I haven’t seen anything about God redeeming the consequences of your sin—the suffering.”

Moses’ hands clenched convulsively, but he forced himself to stay seated. Will was just a boy—a boy who hadn’t had the kind of experiences he’d had.

“Back to my bridge,” Will continued. “Couldn’t God do that with my bridge? Couldn’t I ask Him to fill in the brokenness with His love, like kintsuko?”

“Kintsugi.” The kid had a point. God was in the business of redeeming suffering, and Will’s sin had caused suffering. Maybe it worked for other people—people whose sin hadn’t caused as much suffering as his had. He couldn’t tell anymore. He just knew he was so tired—tired of making the same mistakes over and over, tired of carrying his regrets, tired of trying to move past them. But that was him. Focus on Will. Do the job you’re supposed to do, he told himself. “I don’t see why not,” Moses said thoughtfully.

“And if God fills in the cracks, then I don’t have to worry about them anymore, do I?”

“I guess not.”

“And that would mean I could stop carrying it around, which means I don’t hang onto regret, right?”

“Theoretically.”

Will’s eyes narrowed. “Then why couldn’t you do that?”

Moses’ eyes slid closed. Will had no idea what he was talking about. He alone knew the depth of his sin. His plate wasn’t just cracked—it was shattered. “I don’t know. I’ll have to give it some thought.”

“Oh, I see. So what’s good for the pot isn’t good for the kettle? If God takes care of my sin, why would He treat your sin any differently?”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Moses said, slamming his hand down on his thigh. “I knew better. I knew I was sinning.” The muscles in his jaw tightened. “And sin has consequences.”

“You think I didn’t know better?” Will said. “I convinced myself that I was hallucinating, but in the end, I only came out into these damn mountains to get God off my back.” He took a deep breath. “Is the Gospel for you or not?”

“Just leave it alone, Will,” Moses ground out.

“No! Is the Gospel for you or not? I need to know! Because if it’s not for you, maybe it’s not for me. Maybe regret is the way to go. Maybe I have screwed up so badly that it can’t be fixed!” Will yelled.

Moses forced a smile. “Of course the Gospel is for me.”

“You don’t mean that. Or if you do, you only mean part of the Gospel—the part about getting to spend eternity with God, not the part about having full redemption of the suffering your sin caused, now, here, before God gets rid of sin and suffering forever.”

Moses pinched the bridge of his nose. Now was not the time for this. Not when he was too tired to keep a rein on his temper. “I’m tired, Will. Let’s talk about this later. You may be used to staying up all night, but I’m not. I’m not as young as I used to be.”

“Why are you doing this? How can part of the Gospel be true and not all of it? How can you pick and choose your truths? If it’s true, doesn’t it have to all be true?” Will picked up his Bible. “Doesn’t this have to be either all true or all false?”

“It’s true that the message is so integrated throughout the Bible that you can’t really cut out passages, if that’s what you’re getting at,”(180) Moses said. “Now can we talk about this later? Maybe we can catch a few winks before morning.”

“Then answer my question: does the whole Gospel apply to you or not?” Will demanded.

“Yes! Okay, yes! Are you happy now?”

“Then why are you so afraid of your sin?”

Moses turned away. Afraid of his sin! How dare that pup treat him this way! How dare he—Moses slumped, the anger ebbing out of him as reality hit his soul—how dare Will tell him the truth? He was afraid of his sin, afraid with every fiber of his being. That’s what came of not knowing what exactly the results of his sin were, but knowing they were probably disastrous. What if people had died as a direct result of his disobedience? Wasn’t that worth some regret? But then . . . Lord, I am afraid. I’m afraid of what I’ve done and not done. I’m afraid that I’ve ruined something. But is that really a bad thing? Isn’t regret just one of the consequences of my sin? Lord, show me. Will’s question echoed in the recesses of his mind: “Does the whole Gospel apply to you or not?” Why hadn’t he ever thought about it that way? Why hadn’t he ever seen that he didn’t accept the whole Gospel? If the Gospel applied to his regrets . . . Maybe this could be more than just for Will. Maybe this could be for him. Maybe the Gospel could change his regrets. Tears filled his throat. The Gospel could change his regrets. Love could change his regrets. He turned back to Will. “You’re right,” he said, forcing the words past the lump in his throat. “I am afraid.”

Will put a hand on Moses’ shoulder. “I need you. Tell me about regret.”

“Well, I think you’re right: regret is the right action, but the wrong motive, the plus fear instead of love,” Moses said quietly.

“And it seems like it does something,” Will added. “You almost seem like two different people—the man who believes in embodying the Gospel, who talks about love transforming every blessed thing, and the man who’s consumed with his regrets.”

“Hmm . . . . .” Moses forced himself to think about his regrets and then about God’s love. “I know when I think about my regrets, it’s like my sin happened yesterday. I guess I’ve dealt with that by trying not to think about it and trying to be someone who doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes.”

Will nodded. “Yeah, I don’t like thinking about my mistakes either. Who does?”

 ‘Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered,’ ”(181) Moses whispered. “David did. I mean, I don’t know that he liked thinking about his mistakes, but he sure liked thinking about God’s forgiveness. There’s real praise in Psalms 32 and 51, despite bearing the full weight of murdering Uriah and stealing Uriah’s wife.”(182) He stared into the fire. Why don’t I feel that? If God has forgiven me and redeemed the consequences of my sin . . . . He passed a hand over his eyes. “Maybe I’m too tired to think clearly right now, Will.”

“No, I think you’re on to something. Maybe it’s like your story? Don’t think about how you feel or what your experiences seem to be saying; start with what God says is true. Start with the Gospel. Maybe re-tell me what suffering does?” Will suggested.

“Why don’t you tell me?”

“Okay. Well—well—” Will fingered a piece of the broken branch. Where to start?

“I find it helps to think in terms of how God uses suffering generally and then in me and in my relationships with Him and others.”

“Okay,” Will said. He cleared his throat. This almost felt like a test to see how much he could actually remember. “God is using suffering to display His character to the world because it takes skill to turn something broken into something beautiful. It’s where the world is breaking so that’s where He’s mending. My sin and your sin is where He’s mending. He’s redeeming it from the inside out through love. He’s sifting the consequences so that only those He uses for good get through. I guess that means that I can trust Him to use the consequences of even my sin for good. So far, so good?”

“Sounds like you were listening.”

Will frowned. “Does regret fit into those ideas? It seems like regret doesn’t leave room for God to redeem anything.”

“You might have a point,” Moses said after a minute. “Regret is sort of like being in mourning your whole life, and the only way to avoid it is to deny your sin or to run away from the truth.”

“No wonder it feels like your sin happened yesterday! Regret must be keeping you, or at least a part of you, frozen in time, unable to heal. Maybe that’s the plus fear. Fear of moving on? Fear of making the same mistakes? Fear of what the consequences of your sin might be? If you never do anything, you’ll never do the same wrong thing.” Will stood up and began to pace out the four steps he could manage in the confined space. “Regret is fueled by fear and unbelief. Regret is pre-judging the consequences, deciding there’s no way for God to work them out for good, acting like we know the whole story, instead of waiting to see God’s perspective.”

Moses stared at him. Out of the mouth of babes, he thought wryly. “You’re right. I guess that part of me has been isolated. I never realized that I believed such opposing things,” he said.

“It’s like you said: things can look the same on the outside, but be totally different on the inside. Regret looks okay from the outside. It’s only on the inside where you can see the difference.”

“Indeed. You have been listening. Regret still seems like you’re doing something about your sin because you feel bad about it,” Moses mused. “However, that’s just a front; in reality, you’re not dealing with it. You’re not letting God transform it with His love, and you’re not growing in that area. I guess I needed you, Will. I’ve never had someone notice my inconsistency, probably because no one has churned up those things quite the way you have. Thanks for being the furnace.”

“I’m sorry—”

“I’m not. I needed this. I hope I never get too old or too stubborn to keep growing.”

“So what are you going to do?”

“Repent. Change what I’ve been doing. I’ve been in bondage to my sin for far too long.”

“But what does that look like? What is repentance?” Will rubbed a hand across his forehead. “I don’t mean to pry. I just have the feeling this is a lesson I need to know.”

“Well, it’s like you said: regret is fear-based. Because of it, I’ve let my sin define me. I’ve spent years trying to prove to myself that I wasn’t the man I’d been, the man who refused to listen and obey. I should have been listening to who God says I am. I should have been focusing on His love and His ability to work things for good, instead of focusing on myself and my sin. “

“Oh right! Like that p, q, therefore r thing.”

“Exactly.” Moses held Will’s gaze. “I’ve been like the Pharisees, driven by my fear and my pride and that’s why my ‘ministry’ to you was so destructive. I’m so sorry, Will. I was trying so hard to control you, to keep you from making the same mistakes and to atone for my own mistakes. I wasn’t loving you. Will you forgive me?”

Will sat down next to Moses. “Yes. Maybe God can fill in both of our mistakes with some of that kintsugi gold . . . .”

Moses patted Will’s hand. “I’m pretty sure He can if we surrender them to Him.”

“So what do I do? About my bridge, I mean. I may have hurt someone that I’ve never even met. How do I fix things when I don’t even know what needs fixed?”

“Same thing you’d do if you hurt someone you did know—repent, love, ask God what you should do, then listen and obey. True repentance involves change. You can’t keep on doing what you’ve been doing. I’m afraid you know what that means you’d have to do.”

Will sighed. “Go build my bridge.”

“Exactly.”

Will stared at the ground. It was the conclusion he’d already been coming to, but that didn’t make it any easier.

“I just had a thought,” Moses said.

“What?”

“Maybe it’s my propensity towards pride that’s at fault.”

“How so?”

“Regret has a lot of self in it. You know, in the past, I’ve always used the consequences of my obedience as the measure of how disastrous my disobedience was. But maybe that’s the wrong measure. I mean, sin is always a disaster, so I’m not trying to downplay my disobedience. But—well, obedience is empowered by God. My disobedience comes from me alone. I’ve been so convinced that I had the power to really mess up the world. Maybe my influence is a lot smaller than I want to believe.”

Will straightened. “Yeah. Yeah. And if God is sifting the consequences, redeeming even our sin, maybe He can work out my unbuilt bridge.”

“And maybe He can work out the consequences of my sin too,” Moses said softly.

Will took a deep breath. “I guess we won’t know unless we ask.”

“You’re right. I’ll go first.” Moses looked up at the sky. “God, thank You for sending this young man to teach an old dog new tricks. Forgive me for my fear and my unbelief, for trying to carry the weight of my sin day after day. God, I don’t know exactly how things should change, but You do. Show me if there’s anything I need to do about the damage I’ve caused. Thank You for making me human and small enough that I don’t have the power to make giant changes apart from You. Please fill in those breaks with Your love. Redeem the suffering my sin has caused. Change me. Reach into those places I’ve kept unchanged and make them reflect You. Thank You for Will. Please give him a rich ministry, full of the adventure of obeying You. Please get us out of this hole in Your own perfect time. In Jesus’ Name, amen.”

Will cleared his throat. “Um, Lord, You know that I’m scared. I’m scared to lose myself and go build that bridge. I’m scared not to build it. I’m scared that I’ve messed things up so badly that they can’t be fixed. I’m scared that I’ve hurt people permanently. But God, all this stuff we’ve been talking about with the Gospel and how You intervene in suffering—” his voice broke—“Please forgive me. Help me to be different. Change my heart to obey even when I don’t want to. Help me to build that bridge. And please, God, redeem the consequences of my sin. You are my only hope. Thank You for sending me out here to meet Moses. Please bless him and his ministry too. In Your Name, amen.”

Both men sniffed a moment.

Moses straightened, his load lighter than it had been in ages. The peace of God seemed almost a tangible thing here in this pit.

Will suddenly knew that it was going to be okay. God had nagged and dragged him into a corner—well, a hole—but for the first time, he knew things would be all right.

Moses gripped Will’s shoulder. “Thank you, son. You don’t know what this means to me.”

Will gave him a small smile. “I think I might have some idea. Thank you for writing your book and waiting for me and coming after me. Thank you for blazing the trail.”

“You’re welcome—although you know that it wasn’t really me. I would never have done all that if God hadn’t told me too—well, except for coming after you,” Moses added with a wink.

“Right. So now what?”

“Now we keep waiting. The sun’s up. After a while, it’ll be high in the sky, and then we’ll be able to see if there’s a way we can get ourselves out of this hole. If nothing else, eventually my wife will get worried. I imagine she’ll send someone to look for me. Whether they’ll find us or not is another matter.” Moses pulled his pack into his lap. “I think I might have some rations left from my last outing. Breakfast?”

“Your wife? Did you marry Rose?”

Moses smiled reminiscently. “No. It’s like I said in my story: Rose would never have been happy with a life of ministry. And looking back, I’m not sure that we really loved each other anyway. We thought we were in love, but my choice to follow God just showed that when push came to shove, our relationship couldn’t cut it. She actually did go on to marry Bob and move to the city. She got the things she wanted.”

“Wow. That must have really rankled.”

“Not once I came to terms with the idea of ministry as heart obedience. Rose would have kept me from being the man God designed me to be, from doing the good works He prepared in advance just for me. I have no regrets in that department,” Moses said with a twinkle. “My wife gave herself to God before we got married. She has her own ministry.”

“Huh. So being called to ministry doesn’t mean I’m doomed to singleness?”

“Nope, only if God blesses you with singleness. Marriage is a gift when you’re married to someone who can be your ally.(183) Singleness is a gift too—more time and energy to pour into your relationship with God and others.(184) More time for ministry. Just follow wherever God gifts you. I will say that I couldn’t have done my ministry if I hadn’t married someone with the same level of commitment to following God and the same understanding that ministry doesn’t always have immediate visible results.”

“So where did you find this woman?”

Moses grinned. “In a hole like this one. I married Tehya.”

“Tehya?”

Moses nodded.

“Wait. The Tehya? From your story?”

“Yup. Funny how that all worked out, isn’t it?”

Will stared at him. “So if you hadn’t obeyed—“

“I would have missed out on one of the biggest blessings I have in my life.” Moses shook his head. “Or maybe not. Maybe God would have filled in that crack and rescued her some other way and brought us together later. Who knows?”

“Moses! Moses! Where are you?” a feminine voice called.

Moses leveraged himself into a standing position. “Speaking of Tehya—” He cupped his hands around his mouth and looked up. “Down here, dear!”

(174) 1 Kings 3:1-15

(175) 2 Cor. 7:10

(176) John 14:21

(177) Matt. 5:4 NIV

(178) Ps. 68:6 NIV

(179) John 1:12-13

(180) 2 Tim. 3:16; Missler, Cosmic Codes, 308.

(181) Ps. 32:1 NIV

(182) Psalm 51 superscription; 2 Sam. 11

(183) Dan Allender, Intimate Allies, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1995). Jim & Sarah Sumner, Just How Married Do You Want to Be?: Practicing Oneness in Marriage (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008).

(184) 1 Cor. 7:1,7, 32-35

To Push on the Rock
By Elizabeth Frerichs
© Elizabeth Frerichs 2015

Uncategorized

To Push on the Rock ~ Chapter 8

So, for various and sundry reasons, I’m switching to post my latest book on here vs. Facebook where I was posting it. If you want to read the first seven chapters, they’re on my Facebook page.

Chapter 8

“All right, then what about weakness? How does that fit in?” Will asked.

Moses picked up a fist-sized rock. “What do you think? Impressed?”

“Um, impressed about what?”

“That I can lift this rock,” Moses said matter-of-factly.

Will raised his eyebrows. “Should I be?”

Moses gave him a half-smile. “I guess you aren’t. What if a mouse picked this up? Would you be impressed then?” he asked, waving the rock towards Will.

“Um, I think I’d be shocked. No mouse is actually strong enough to do that, so I’m not sure I’d believe it even if I saw it.”

“Well, that’s why Paul says that his weaknesses are actually strengths.”

“Because he likes strange mice?”

Moses laughed. “No, because God’s strength shines forth in our weakness. As God told Paul, ‘[His] grace is sufficient for [us], for [His] power is made perfect in weakness.’(144) Just like suffering strips away pretense and creates an opportunity for people to see Christ in us, weakness makes it clear that God is at work. People see the ‘mouse’ and how impossible it is for us to do what we’re doing. That gives us the opportunity to tell them that it is impossible for man, but that nothing is impossible for God.(145) Like Paul says, ‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ ”(146)

“So weakness proves that we’re not really the ones doing ministry. It makes us transparent. Is that it?”

“That’s part of it. God also uses weakness because ministry is more than just telling people about God—it’s reflecting Him.(147) And how He does ministry through us displays His character just as much, if not more, than what we do or say.”

“Huh?”

“It’s the difference between reading a description of this hole and looking at a model. Which brings you closer to understanding it?”

“Sitting down here for a night,” Will said wryly.

Moses chuckled. “Yes. There’s definitely an element of self-discovery that comes from experience.” He sobered. “But we can’t have a relationship with God for anyone else. We can’t sit in this hole, and then give that experience to someone else. They have to do their own self-discovery. However, we can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, encourage them in their journey.”

“Guess that means the model would be the way to go.”

“Right. Who we are and how we do ministry communicates God’s character in ways that what we say and do never could.”

“That sort of makes sense,” Will admitted. “Just like having my father gone all the time communicated more to me than all his sermons on the importance of family. But I’m still confused about how weakness accomplishes that. I thought God designed us with our strengths so that He could use them.”

“I’m not saying that He won’t use them,” Moses hurried to say. “I’m saying that God uses weakness to showcase who He is, to protect us, and to protect those around us.”

Will wondered where Moses was going to take this. Death and suffering had ended up going places he’d never imagined. Best to just go along for the ride. “Okay, so by using the mouse, God shows that He’s really strong. What else?”

“It’s not that simple. God shows that He’s strong beyond anything we can imagine—a different kind of strong; strong enough to accomplish things far beyond human ability, but also strong enough to do them through a human.”

“Hmm, I guess that is a different strong. I can’t help our horse carry anything more unless I take something in his place.”

“That’s a good analogy. God does carry things for us, but He does it from the inside, living in us.”(148)

Will shoved his hands in his pockets. “I’m not sure I like that idea.”

“Why do you say that?”

“God, in me. Knowing everything from the inside out—there’s nowhere to hide when God is always with you. There’s nowhere to run,” Will said quietly.

“There’s nowhere to run even when you don’t have the Holy Spirit inside of you—think about Jonah.(149) That’s simply the reality of God being transcendent, seeing everything all the time. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. After all, does God chase us down and hold us kicking and screaming? Does He force us to obey?”

“Sometimes. I definitely felt hounded to come out here,” Will muttered.

“Will, you of all people should know that God doesn’t force us to obey. Is your bridge built?”

“No . . . .”

“No. If God had forced you to obey, would it be built?”

“I suppose so.”

“I think so, unless of course it took longer than six months to build—that is how long you said God’s been telling you to build it, isn’t it?”

Will gave a slight nod.

“So your bridge would be built, and you’d probably be several projects in by now, but you’re not. God isn’t a stalker. God isn’t an enforcer. His presence in our lives doesn’t have to make us squirm. He gives us room to run from Him. That doesn’t mean we won’t be miserable if we run—a square peg getting shoved into a round hole would be miserable; living contrary to how we’re designed to live makes us miserable, and we’re designed to live in relationship with God. I think you can testify that running from God is not the way to find happiness.”

Will knew what Moses was getting at. After all, the only reason he’d come out into the mountains in the first place was to get God off his back. He couldn’t stand the nagging anymore. He supposed that he’d proven to himself that God wouldn’t force him to obey. No, God wouldn’t force; He would just make it very, very uncomfortable not to obey. Probably part of that implacable love. Will might not like the reality that there was nowhere to run from God, but it was reality. A sudden thought struck him. God knew where they were right now. Maybe God’s ever-presence could be comforting, at least under the right circumstances. “I think I see what you mean. So is that it? God uses our weakness to show people how strong He is?”

“That He’s strong enough to work from the inside. That implies something else about who God is. What do you think that that might be?”

“I don’t know. Something about how close He is to us?”

“Exactly. He knows us inside and out; He knows where we’re weak, and He still loves us, still chooses to use us.(150) We are known. Being known is one of the deep hungers of the human heart. What else?”

Being known. The words echoed in Will’s heart. Being known and accepted. Not having to live up to some standard in order to have worth. It still sounded too good to be true. He wasn’t sure anyone really knew him. Certainly not his parents. And yet, Moses was saying that his heavenly Father did know him. “It sounds so—intimate the way you’re describing it,” Will commented.

“Read Psalm 139 sometime. It is intimate. We’ve already talked about how, if God knows what we’re made of, He can orchestrate the perfect circumstances to help us grow, but there are other implications. For instance, if God is inside us and knows us inside and out, do you think He can forget us or ignore our pain?”

“I guess He couldn’t forget us. It’d be like me forgetting an arm or a leg, or an injury,” Will said, rubbing his aching neck. Sleeping on the ground and stress had certainly made it hard to forget or ignore. He sighed. “Lately, I just wish that God would forget me, but then there’ve been other times when I’ve been worried that He had forgotten me or didn’t care and that’s why things were going so badly in my life.”

“I love Isaiah 40:27-31. That’s where I go when I feel like God has forgotten me. God says, ‘Why do you say, O Jacob, and complain, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD; my cause is disregarded by my God”? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.’ ”(151) He took a deep breath. “God isn’t far away or uninvolved. His character is to be intimately present, intimately involved. And the way He uses weakness to display His power reminds us of that reality.”

Will recalled the time he’d taken apart his mother’s clock. She’d been less than happy about the whole thing, but he’d been amazed at how many bits and pieces there were, bits and pieces you couldn’t see from the outside. Taking apart death and suffering and weakness had so many more things inside than you could imagine from looking at the outside. Who would have thought that you could argue for intimacy with God based on weakness? “Weakness says a lot more than I’ve ever thought of . . . .”

“That’s one of the things that I love about studying God—there’s always more to learn, more to see, more than you expect to find. Weakness might not be something one would think to equate with God, but it’s integral to how He works, integral to showcasing His character. It’s stamped all over the Bible, all over God’s interactions with us. Jesus came as a human babe. Tiny. Helpless.”

“It really is amazing that God would choose to be a baby,” Will mused. “I guess it’s the both/and of the Messiah—that He came as a tiny, helpless baby and then He’ll come again as the conquering king. Wow, that’s just like you were talking about with suffering and death. God changes things from the inside out and from the outside in. He transforms suffering by suffering Himself and redeeming it bit by bit now, but then He will transform suffering by getting rid of it altogether in the future.”

Moses grinned. “Exactly.”

Will leaned back, trying to grasp the idea that had come to him. “That’s really something. Like you just said with weakness—it takes a special kind of strength to work through humans, but also to be strong enough to do more than a human can do. God is both kinds of strong. And He does both kinds of work: the delicate internal transformative work and the brute force external transformation—inside out, outside in.”

“Yup.”

Will felt like he should be taking notes or something to keep track of all the new ideas congregating in his brain. But he hadn’t brought any sort of paper with him. Maybe, if he was going to go on this journey with God, he should keep a notebook around in the future. For now . . . . Lord, please help me to remember the things I need to know later. Will realized he’d been silent for a minute or two and, bringing himself back to the present, he refocused on Moses. “So, weakness. What were you saying? Weakness protects us, or something like that?”

“How do you feel when you think about your weaknesses?”

“Weak . . . helpless . . . alone . . . embarrassed . . . .”

“Out of control then.”

“Yeah,” Will said. His gut clenched as he remembered how awful the helplessness felt. “I don’t like it.”

“You don’t like feeling out of control, but are you ever really in control?”

“Well—”

Moses quirked a look at him. “If you are, can you please get us out of this hole?”

Will opened his mouth, then shut it. “I guess not.”

“Nope. So who is in control?”

“What do you mean by ‘in control’?”

“Able to affect every situation, but not a puppeteer.”(152)

“Um, God. No one else comes to mind.”

“Right. So if you actually lived like you weren’t in control, how would your life change?”

Will considered. What would change if he really lived like he wasn’t in control? “I guess it’d be sort of pointless to try to control things. And I might be less stressed when I can’t control things—more accepting maybe. And I might pray more, rather than trying to force things to happen.”

“That makes sense. Although obviously that doesn’t mean that you sit at home and wait for things to change. Like we talked about earlier, our choices matter. We’re not victims. However, our range of influence is limited so, as Christians we plan and work, but hold those plans and work with an open hand so that God can change them.(153) What else would change? Think about ministry in particular.”

“Ministry in particular, huh? Well, if I wasn’t trying to force things, I guess that would go back to results—I can’t create change.”

“You’re doing great! Keep going,” Moses prodded.

“Well, if I can’t force change, then I have to rely on God,” Will said.

“Which, in my opinion, is one of the big reasons why God uses our weakness—He designed us for relationship with Him and weakness reminds us that we need Him.”

Will sat up straight. “Are you saying that God is using our weaknesses to force us into relationship? I thought you just got done telling me that God doesn’t force us!”

“I said He doesn’t force us to obey. Remind and force are two different things. Does it bother you when things come with an instruction manual?”

Will’s brow creased. “What do you mean?”

“Is it unfair of the manufacturer to give you an instruction manual?”

“No, they designed the thing. They’re just trying to make sure the consumer knows how it’s supposed to work.”

“They’re reminding you how it’s supposed to work. Does that make them the bad guy?”

“I don’t see how that’s related. God could have created us so we don’t need Him. He didn’t have to make us weak,” Will argued.

“Son, think about what you just said.”

“What? I just said that God could have created us so we don’t need Him.”

“Precisely—‘created.’ Suppose you created something beautiful—like a symphony. Does your symphony need you?”

“No, someone else could play it. Frankly, I can’t play any instruments anyway.”

“Can your symphony exist without you?” Moses persisted.

“Sure, lots of things are published posthumously.”

“But what if you never existed? Can someone else write your symphony note for note?

Will gave a half-shrug. “Maybe?”

Moses raised an eyebrow. “Maybe? Are you sure about that?”

“No?”

Moses flicked his gaze heavenward. “Music is an intensely personal expression. Is there anyone else exactly like you?”

“No, I guess not,” Will said.

“It’s a logical impossibility for the created to exist independently of the creator.”

“Huh. I guess when I was thinking about my symphony being published posthumously, I wasn’t thinking about if I’d never existed in the first place. When you put it that way, it actually makes sense.”

“Good. Let’s build on that: could God have created us so that we would never need Him?”

Will thought for a moment. Even if it was impossible for God to create anything that didn’t need Him, there was still something disturbing about man’s need for God—specifically, his need for God. It was one thing to need Him for existence and for salvation. It was something entirely different to need Him every moment of every day. “I guess not ‘never,’ but still, He could have created us to need Him less.”

“Does needing God force anyone to have a relationship with Him?”

 ‘Force?’ Maybe not force. I mean, if everyone is designed to need a relationship with God, and that need forced people to actually have a relationship, then everyone would have a relationship with Him, and not everyone does.”

“Remember that passage—Ezekiel 18? God pleads with people to turn to Him, but He doesn’t force them. God doesn’t force us to walk on our feet instead of our hands—but we’ll have fewer joint problems if we do.”

“Hmm.” Will’s forehead wrinkled. “So it’s more like a wake-up call? The difference between having an alarm and having someone come physically pull you out of bed? Basically, we still have a choice.”

“Exactly. No one has to have a relationship with God. No one has to be permanently separated from Him—to go to hell. God created hell as a place to quarantine sin since He can’t co-exist with sin and it’s destructive to us.(154) Heaven wouldn’t be heaven with sin around. Satan is doomed to go there, but God made sure that not a single human would be doomed to hell.(155) We each have a choice—will we hang onto our sin and go with it into hell, or will we give our sin to Jesus and go to heaven? We’re designed to be in relationship with God and we can let our weakness propel us deeper and deeper into that relationship—like the wind in a ship’s sails: turn the sails the right direction and the ship can take you where you want to go. We still decide how to position the sails, but positioned the right way, weakness can be a powerful force in helping us be the people we’re designed to be. It reminds us that we need God.”

“Doesn’t it seem kind of demeaning for Him to use weakness?”

“Demeaning how? To God? Or to us?”

Will shrugged. “I just know that I don’t like thinking about my weaknesses. I don’t like having them. I guess it’s like suffering—somehow it just feels wrong for God to use weakness. I’d rather not have any weaknesses, even if they can be useful.”

“Why don’t you like your weakness?” Moses asked.

“Why would I like it? Does anyone like being weak?”

“It hurts your pride when God uses your weaknesses instead of your strengths. Is that what you’re saying?”

Will thought for a moment. Was that what he was saying? At base, yes. God had given him strengths—shouldn’t that be where God worked? Why did God have to choose to use areas where he felt like a fool? Will scowled. Was God trying to make a fool of him? “Yeah. How’s a guy supposed to stand on his own two feet if God’s always putting us in situations where we’re off-balance?” Will asked indignantly.

“We’re not.”

“Pardon?”

“We’re not supposed to stand on our own two feet. There’s no pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps in Christianity.”

Will just stared at him.

 ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’(156) That’s the Gospel, Will: God doing for us what we can’t do for ourselves.”

“So?”

“So ministry isn’t just telling the Gospel—it’s embodying the Gospel.”

“Right.”

Moses fixed him with a piercing look. “Even if God only used your strengths, you can never do enough to fix your insecurity.”

Will threw his hands in the air. “I know, I know.”

It was obvious that Will was getting upset. Moses decided it was time to change tactics. “Have you ever heard of kintsugi?” he asked.

Will took a deep breath. Kintsugi? “No. Should I have?”

“Kintsugi is a Japanese art of pottery repair.”

“Pottery repair?” Will repeated, not sure that he’d heard correctly.

“There’s a Japanese philosophy that age and imperfection add interest and character to an object, thus those imperfections are cherished. In fact, rather than trying to hide them, kintsugi masters fill in the chips and cracks with gold to show them off.”(157)

Will held up a hand. “Wait. Let me get this straight—instead of throwing away broken dishes, the Japanese repair them with gold.”

“Yep.”

“Wow. That doesn’t even make any sense.”

“Why not?”

“The pottery is broken! It’d be much more sensible to just replace it. I can’t even imagine how expensive it is to repair it with gold.”

“But the imperfections are what make it unique,” Moses said. “Without them, there’s something sterile, almost soulless, in the sameness of plate after identical plate.”

“Maybe. Or maybe there’s something beautiful in the perfection of the sameness,” Will retorted. “I’d still prefer to just buy an unbroken plate.”

Moses chuckled. “It’s art. Think with the art side of your brain. Would you really want to buy twenty copies of the exact same painting, and then hang them up around your house for the rest of your life?”

“I guess not. I still think plates are a different matter.”

“I actually agree with you, as far as plates go—I like things to be neat and clean around me too, and having chipped plates feels a little messy somehow—however, we’re using plates to talk about people, not to talk about plates.”

“Fine. So if we’re talking about people, your point is that God didn’t design everyone to be exactly the same.”

“Yes, that’s part of it. But instead of accepting those differences, we try to be like everyone else—to be the plate without any cracks. We hide our weakness and flaws by projecting an image of perfection. We try to prove our worth to others and to ourselves. Do you see the problem with that approach?”

“We’re never good enough for some people,” Will said darkly.

“Beyond that.”

“Um . . . .”

Moses took pity on Will. “It’s a projection, not reality,” he said. “It takes energy to maintain. It keeps you isolated—”

“What? If people like you, you have more friends—not less.”

“But do people ever like you, or do they just like the projection?”

Will sighed gustily. “Probably the projection.”

“We know that God knit each of us together in our mother’s womb.(158) He designed us to be unique and uses our brokenness and weaknesses. Do you see how freeing that is?”

Will considered. “I guess. I still don’t like the idea of my weaknesses on display.”

“You may look at your weaknesses and just see the crack, but when other people look at them, they see something beautiful—the gold, the Holy Spirit shining through those cracks. Your flaws become a work of art. Do you see how different that is from pride?”

“Definitely. Putting imperfections on display is very different than hiding them.”

The corners of Moses’ mouth turned up. “That’s one way of putting it. Do you see how that actually deals with our insecurity, rather than just masking it?”

“I guess. I’m still not sure that I really want my insecurity dealt with by putting it on display . . . .”

“Yeah. Nobody ever said that ministry was easy. But, by letting God use our weaknesses, display our weaknesses, it fills in the insecurity—gets rid of the reason for it. We’re no longer riddled with cracks—we become riddled with gold. And that paves the way for us to accept ourselves the way we are.”

Riddled with gold. Or left broken if he protected his weakness from everyone, including God. He could be safe from fighting his insecurity, but the cost . . . . Will dragged in a breath. It was steep. Definitely something to think about—later, much later, if they ever got out of this hole. He frowned. “Accept ourselves the way we are? Isn’t that contrary to all your forced growth stuff?”

Moses grimaced. “God is always calling us into deeper relationship with Him, and He’s always perfecting us. However, He made us the way we are. Remember how we talked about suffering and how love can transform it?”

“Yeah.”

“Weakness is the same way. God can turn those ‘imperfections’ into something good and beautiful. You don’t look at a key and say ‘It’s really too bad that the edge isn’t perfectly straight and smooth’—the jagged edges are what enable it to fit into the correct lock.”

“Huh. So you’re saying that our flaws actually make us better ministers?”

“Yes! If we surrender them to God’s love. Because then we’re embodying the Gospel—God’s strength working in and through us to do the things we’re incapable of doing. Plus, it’s like suffering: our weakness can connect us to others on a heart level in a way that’s impossible for self-sufficiency.”

Will nodded slowly. “Yeah. That makes sense. Like in Hebrews where it says that Jesus is able to empathize with our weakness, because he was tempted in every way.”(159)

“Exactly. And sometimes our weakness is actually just uniqueness.”

“What do you mean?”

“Is your eye weak because it can’t hear?”

Will blinked at him. “No, it’s just not designed to hear.”

“Right! So if it needs to get information from hearing, what does your eye have to do?”

“Ask the ear to give it the information?”

“That’s the Body of Christ in action, right there,” Moses said. “God even says that we’re a body with different parts.(160) We’re designed to be interdependent. Dependent on God. Interdependent on each other. No one is designed to function well on their own.”

“So what you’re saying is that sometimes when I look at myself, my weaknesses might actually just be a difference in design?”

“I think you’ve got it,” Moses said, clapping him on the back.

Will wasn’t sure what to say to that. He still wasn’t sure that he wanted to be interdependent with anyone. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to be dependent on God—but that was neither here nor there since apparently he didn’t have any say in the matter. Trying to pretend that he didn’t need God would be as futile as trying to keep the tide from coming in. And now Moses was saying that it would be just as futile to act like he didn’t need others. “Wow. So weakness forces us into community, just like suffering,” he said dully.

Moses heard Will’s tone. Lord, I don’t know what to do here. I can’t force Will to want to live in community. I’m trying to share what You want me to share. Please reach his heart. Show him that Your plan is best. Show him the benefits. Moses wracked his brain for a good angle. Maybe Will’s hunger to do ministry would be a good avenue. “Will, I know that you don’t want to live in community. And I can’t live it for you or transfer my experiential knowledge to you. But, I hope that you’ll at least try it before you reject it. It’s like we were talking about before—there are amazing benefits that you’ll miss out on if you don’t.”

Will poked the fire viciously. “Sure.”

Moses’ eyes narrowed. Sure. “You know that uniqueness is pretty important to anyone wanting to do ministry. I love thinking that God made me uniquely suited for the good works He prepared in advance for me,(161) that I don’t have to be perfect to be use-able. I don’t have to be able to do it all because God does it all using the whole Body of Christ. How do you feel about that idea?”

Will stared at the flames. There was peace in the idea that he didn’t have to be perfect before being usable, even if he still wasn’t sure about all the community stuff. “I like it,” he said finally. “I’ve never heard of that kitsuko—”

“Kintsugi,” Moses corrected.

“Right. That thing. But I like the idea that God can use all of me. I guess it is like the Gospel,” Will said. “We don’t have to shape ourselves up before we can be saved and we don’t have to shape ourselves up before we can minister.”

“You’re right. You have no idea how comforting that reality is to me. God uses us as we are—not as we wish we were or as we pretend to be.”

“It goes back to letting people see God instead of you, doesn’t it?”

“Yep.”

“So people worship Him, not the minister,” Will added.

“Exactly. That’s all pride is anyway: getting others to recognize how worthy you are. That’s part of why it’s so destructive.”

Will raised an eyebrow. “Go on.”

“Remember? Pride keeps you from needing a savior, which means that you live your life based on a lie. It affects every moment of every day of your life,” Moses said firmly, trying to keep the flood of regret from breaking into his voice. If he’d ever forgotten how devastating pride was, tonight had strongly re-cemented that reality.

“That’s why you’re so emphatic about pride, isn’t it?” Will asked quietly.

Moses gave a faint nod. “You know from my book that I’ve seen the destructive power of pride intimately, very intimately. It’s taken me places I don’t want to go. It promises to satisfy, and then leaves me hanging. It gets in the way of my relationship with God and steals my joy. I never ever want to see it that up close and personal again.” He took a ragged breath, then continued, “Plus, I think that it’s important for someone doing the kind of ministry that doesn’t have obvious results—they in particular need to know what a trap pride is.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because humility takes the pressure off to produce results. It means that I just have to be faithful and watch God show up. And I don’t have to worry if others think that I’m crazy for doing the things I do, or to obsess over my lack of results.”

Will could see why that would be important for someone like Moses. Following God without results could drive a person to despair if they didn’t divorce themselves from the results. That doesn’t mean I want to apply it to my own life, a tiny part of him whispered. Time to move on. “I see. So how does weakness protect others?”

“Think about the Pharisees of Jesus’ time. They considered themselves sufficient to do ministry, but what did their ministry look like?”

Will tried to dredge up what he knew about the Pharisees. “Well, they knew the law inside and out . . . .”

“True, but they missed the heart of the law: the love.(162) And what did Jesus say about how they helped people?”

“No idea,” Will admitted.

“If you have time, you should read Matthew 23 sometime. It’s a searing indictment of the Pharisees ‘ministry.’ For now, let me give you some of the highlights: in verse four, Jesus says ‘[The teachers of the law and the Pharisees] tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.’(163) Or skip down to verse 13: ‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.’(164) Jesus even calls them ‘sons of hell’(165) and whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside, but dead on the inside.(166)

“Wow. That is harsh.”

“It was. But so is what they were doing to people. It’s no wonder Jesus got angry enough to use a whip and overturn tables in the temple because men were putting extra steps between people and God.(167) Dealing with our sin is hard enough without anyone else creating other hoops we have to jump through before we can have a relationship with God. There’s a reason Jesus was so adamantly opposed to their religion. Read John 10:10.”

Will flipped around in his Bible until he found the verse. “ ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,’ ”(168) Will read. Steal and kill and destroy. Where exactly was Moses going with this? “Okay, how does weakness fit here?” he asked.

“No one is neutral. We’re either slaves to sin or slaves to God—sons of hell or sons of God.(169) On our own, we’re broken, sinful people, right?”

“Um, okay.”

Moses took a moment to choose his words. “So in our own strength, we end up being like the Pharisees—our ‘ministry’ actually destroys.”

“But—but what about God using His Word?”(170)

“How so?”

“Couldn’t God have used the Pharisees to do real ministry?”

“Sure. Look at Nicodemus after he met Jesus.”(171)

“I meant before they met Jesus, in their own strength, because they used God’s Word. Doesn’t God use His Word no matter who’s teaching?”

Moses sighed. “I refuse to rule out God’s ability to use anyone—I’ve seen Him use people who hate Him to work His plan.(172) However, using the Bible doesn’t guarantee ministry. I’ve seen people use it to destroy, to bludgeon someone with the truth—rather than giving them truth out of love—the same way that the Pharisees used the Law to lay burdens on the people.”

“I’m confused.”

“Think of a chisel. Can you use a chisel to destroy a sculpture?”

“Yes . . . .”

“Can you use a chisel to create a sculpture?”

“Yes . . . .”

“What determines if the chisel is used to destroy or to create?”

“I guess that would be the sculptor, or whoever is holding it,” Will said.

“Exactly. Our brokenness and imperfections and uniqueness are the same way. If we let our sinful nature and pride determine how they’re used, we destroy. If we let God wield them, He uses us to create—to give life.” Moses leaned forward. “That’s why we want God’s power instead of our own, why our weakness is precious: so that God can make us competent as ministers of life.”(173)

(144) 2 Cor. 12:9 NIV

(145) Matt. 19:26

(146) 2 Cor. 4:7 NIV

(147) 2 Cor. 3:18

(148) John 14:17; Acts 1:8; Rom. 8:9-16; Gal. 2:20

(149) Jonah 1

(150) Rom. 5:8

(151) NIV

(152) I think you see the juxtaposition between God’s sovereignty (Ps. 33:11; Prov. 19:21) and our choices (e.g., Jonah; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9) throughout the Bible. It’s easy to emphasize one or the other rather than leave that uncomfortable tension.

(153) Prov. 3:5-6; 6:6-11; James 4:13-15

(154) 1 John. 1:5; Matt. 25:41

(155) Yes, I realize God does call us and that there is some mystery—the tension between free will and sovereignty. However, in my opinion, when we say someone is doomed to hell we’re not portraying the whole truth of God—namely that humans were originally designed to live in perfection with God eternally, and that some of us choose not to accept Jesus’ payment for our sins.

(156) Eph. 2:8-9 NIV

(157) http://www.dajf.org.uk/event/kintsugi-the-art-of-broken-pieces

(158) Ps. 139:13

(159) Heb. 4:15

(160) 1 Cor. 12:12-27

(161) Eph. 2:10

(162) Matt. 23:23

(163) NIV

(164) NIV

(165) Matt. 23:15

(166) Matt. 23:27

(167) Matt. 21:12-13; John 2:14-16

(168) John 10:10 NIV

(169) Rom. 6:16-18; John 8:42-47

(170) Isa. 55:11

(171) In John 3, we see Nicodemus coming to Jesus in secret. In John 7:50-52; 19:39, he openly supports Jesus.

(172) E.g., Judges 2:14-15; 3:8-9; 3:12-15

(173) 2 Cor. 3:5-6

To Push on the Rock
By Elizabeth Frerichs
© Elizabeth Frerichs 2015