I am a product of my culture. We all are. A microwaved, instant, lightning fast, on demand, hurried, frantic, now culture.
I hate waiting.
Not only do I hate waiting, it exposes me. When I’m going really fast, I’m such a blur that you can’t get a good look at me. I can’t get a good look at myself. But when I’m stuck in the traffic jam, everything is revealed. My rust, my bald tires, my broken windshield, my engine that needs its oil changed.
When you’re a person like me who accomplishes tasks in order to prove their worth, waiting can be a lonely, depressing and scary place.
Over the past year and a half, ever since I read Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton, God has been trying to rid me of my false self and let me live in the freedom of my true self: the freedom found in his unconditional love and grace for me as his son. As it turns out, I’m about as moldable as hardened concrete. As a result, God decided he needed to pull out a jackhammer as his sanctification tool of choice.
I am specifically waiting on the purchase of a new church building (our 5th, and final, in 10 years), on a publisher to get back to me, and on hiring a new youth pastor. 3 weights, weighing on my chest, where all I can do is wait.
Insert all of the Bible verses there are about waiting on the Lord, contentment, peace, gratitude, God’s sovereignty and faithfulness.
I don’t say that cynically, those are all verses I treasure and that in many ways have been my life-preserver through all of this. But I do say that knowing those verses is part of my problem. Knowing them and being able to preach on them, yet still feeling the weight of waiting so heavily. Knowing the solution and yet still being broken.
Knowing I’m insecure.
And then beating myself up for it.
(Insert audience voice, “Don’t beat yourself up.” Yes, I know. It’s not that simple. If it were, a jackhammer wouldn’t be required.)
God has shown me several powerful truths in this waiting period. One is that I am severely messed up. Not messed up in the way I used to try conjure a messed up image of myself to use as a good sermon illustration, but seriously, truly, messed up and unable to fix myself. Talk about a jackhammer. And talk about scary. It’s scary to know you’re messed up and know you can’t fix it, when your entire life you’ve felt you can fix anything.
I used to operate as a church planter and writer as if I could save the world. Not only that I could save the world, but God was counting on me to save the world. That I had skills. It’s how I was born and raised as an Evangelical. The poster child church planter with skills. You know what you can do with skills? You can fix people! You can produce growth! You can do things that only God can do.
No you can’t.
Only God can do that. And he’s more than willing to wait until you get exhausted trying to be him before he steps in on your behalf. (Yes, God wants to use us, but he doesn’t need us. And you’re right, he’s unlikely to use us as puppets who are putting forth no energy of our own. But the mindset of letting God be in control and thinking you are in control are complete opposites.)
More jackhammer truths:
The things I’m doing and waiting on aren’t important. (Insert audience voice, “Yes they are important.” “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”) No they’re not important. Not compared to God. A church building in Lansing, MI, a book to join the billions of books already in existence, and a youth pastor hire are not important compared to God’s importance or his cosmic plan of redemption. What I’m talking about is what Isaiah 40 is talking about…
Verses 6-7, “All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
Verse 15, Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
It is painful to be told you are grass. Or that your nation is dust. If my entire nation is a speck of dust, what does that make me!? Tiny. Insignificant in comparison. The pain isn’t in being told these things, the pain is knowing that this is true. There’s a mourning process that takes place when you realize these things.
The pain for me has been multi-faceted. Part of the pain from the mourning. Mourning that my false self is actually false. For sermon prep I recently listened to a recorded sermon I had done 5 years ago at a conference (how impressive…a conference!). It was hard to listen to. The guy I was listening to was trying so hard to be funny, and was succeeding. So hard to be liked, and may have succeeded at that as well. I wondered if he really cared if people’s hearts were changed and if so, if he thought he was the one who could change those hearts. This was evident. I wasn’t sure I’d want to hang out with that guy, let alone finish listening to the sermon. At the same time, I miss that guy. Life seemed simpler with that guy. Sin is funny that way: we love it and hate it at the same time. It gives us such exhilaration and kills us at the same time.
The other part of the pain is like The Matrix movie. Neo takes the red pill and sees reality for the first time. He is away from the false world of fantasy. The world of pleasure and comfort and sunshine (all simulations). And there’s a real pain to seeing grey skies and shabby clothes and eating gruel. It’s not as good. There’s a pain seeing that you’re not actually God. You never were God, but when it felt like you were, that mindset was a lot easier. More fun even. More adrenaline at least. It’s a lot easier to drive really fast and push the pedal harder when you hear a funny noise instead of stopping the car and dealing with its issues.
Jackhammers are meant to break up concrete. I know that’s what God is doing to me, and I’m grateful. Breaking away all the false junk so that I can simply rest in him. I think I will be much more grateful in a few years when the finished product has taken on more shape. What I’m realizing today is that it’s okay that it hurts. It makes sense that it hurts and that it’s scary and depressing. I’m giving up / God is forcibly removing my old mode of operating. Taking away all of my old coping mechanisms. My old safety nets and warm blankets. He’s teaching me what it means to serve.
In the Matrix of my false self, I always wanted to be God, not serve him. Servants don’t get any credit. I can deal with being in the grey-skied reality eating gruel as long as I’m Neo and get to save the world. I’m not interested in simply being an extra.
I don’t want to be dust and grass.
A friend recently asked me about the 400 years of silence between the old and new testaments. 400 years of waiting on God to show up.
Kind of puts things in perspective doesn’t it?
The weight of waiting is crushing. But some things need to be crushed don’t they? I don’t know about you but my arrogance and ego aren’t going anywhere quietly and without a fight. But I’m thankful that they are going, one painful chunk at a time.