Still Playing Hard to Get

I used to know something in my heart a long time ago.  Somehow innately, I knew that though the Lord loves us all unconditionally through grace alone, but that He actually searches “to and fro” for, and thus more readily “strongly supports those whose heart is completely His”.  We find this recorded in II Chronicles 16:9 when we hear the continual sad story of Israel’s history of Kings exemplified by Asa in this case, who only occasionally “relied on the Lord” (vs. 8), yet more often than not did what was expedient and right in their own eyes. Of course, the real travesty is, that in the regular nature of their apostasy towards God, even on their death bed they “did not seek the Lord, but the physicians” (vs. 12).  And though Asa’s name is written down for us to reflect upon, no one will remember his name as someone who’s heart was completely God’s by any stretch of the imagination.  As is the historic story of God’s people.  As is the story sometimes as I look in my own mirror and perhaps even yours.  And though like Achilles, the prospect of someone not “remembering my name” causes me to be less squandering and unwasteful with the remainder of my days with the actual “shipping” of some form of art, the only thing that really concerns me now in the stillness of the night watches is that God knows my name; and that he no longer need look “to and fro” for my enduring allegiance.  This is nothing less than “real” faith and in stark antithesis of more regular encounters of “religious” child’s play.  It is the stuff of “taking the faith thing seriously”, and also one of constantly being reminded as to the reason there are only few who acquire the “Saint” status.  And even so, this has caused me no less sleepless nights with periodic awakenings of being at least one who has now caused God’s search to be finally over, honing down like a laser beam on my specific “heart’s cry” address. 

Where Else Can We Really Go?

I’m also reminded of another passage found in John chapter 6, where after the Lord has been repeatedly laying out one difficult saying after another, the crowd starts to quickly diminish.  These were sayings that were hard for them to both bear or understand, thus causing many to turn and walk away from any future potentiality of faith.  And yet in the closing scene, Jesus then asks his twelve the question I think He asks all of us as we eventually find out the way is indeed narrow and hard, causing few to actually find it.  He says, “You do not want to go away also, do you”? (John 6:67 NASB).  And then my boy Peter, who occasionally gets it absolutely right and does not disappoint here, puts forth a line that I have kept before me often as I continue to trek along this oft lonesome road where he says, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God” (vs. 68 and 69).  Mic drop of silence please!

Believing, While Asking Help for My Unbelief

So I guess you could say these two passages have consumed my thoughts quite regularly after thirty-years of stumbling along trying to be more like Peter, or the man that God was looking for that He couldn’t actually find.  And as I occasionally look to guides along the path to steer me towards this type of Holy grail discovery and still occasionally gleaning a morsel of crumbs to add to the daily bread, I increasingly become exhausted with Job’s friend’s matter-of-factness of the way forward; added to a mixture of my own default to pragmatism and seemingly empty promises of victory and power with more effort and stalwart faith.  As a result, I am somehow simultaneously entangled and surrounded by Asa’s who still seek “the physicians”, pretty much like everyone else.  All the while, we continue to hear from men and women talking and speaking of true miracles that few of us rarely see, yet who contend that if we can just get the water right in the pool of church theatrics then the miracle is just a moment away.  And though I believe in miracles and hear tell of amazing things that happen outside of my particular home of origin, I often wonder if God spreads his “strong support” much thinner than we might propose.  And one wonders whether or not any of us can still seek it with all our hearts, yet often walk alone amongst a crowd of mere “spectator sports”, yet likewise recognizing that “though we have not seen Him, we love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls” (I Pet. 1:8,9 NASB).

God Plays “Hard to Get”

I’ve often likened God to Rich Mullins’ interpretation of Him in one of his songs (and I think scripture bears this out) as one who often plays “hard to get”.  In fact, if I were quite honest, I would have to say that this has been my experience most of the way along this narrow path.  Nonetheless, like my best girl who still sticks around after all these years; it is that very nature of her (and thus God) that kept me hard after her in constant pursuit.  To be sure there have been ups and downs, but the chase has been equally as worthwhile as when she finally turns to me with the intimate embrace I’ve been longing for. 

I think God is an awful lot like that.  Yet He seems to make me wait a good bit longer. And though as one who occasionally peddles the gospel before an unsuspecting crowd, my own desert wanderings and doubt of His abiding presence and “strong support” in my life still often keep me feeling about as vulnerable as unsuspicious deer on the first day of hunting season.  And so like Asa, I’m often prone to looking for a self-help book, an unholy alliance, or in resorting to “the physicians” instead of forever resting in the fact that “sink or swim” I’ve made the decision to still take the low and narrow road till death do us part.  In fact, that is one thing that seems to be as constant and steady as the sun rising in the east and setting in the west.

Nothing Else Will Do!

So I guess you could say God is still looking “to and fro”, and I’m still hoping he finds me running headlong towards him with everything I’ve got. I still come to his word each day like a salivating dog hoping for his daily bone from one whose scriptural promise of such a tasty treat is freely available, even though the “still small voice” often seems to remain affectionately “one-trick shy”. I also occasionally steal away into my own prayer closet with the bread and wine, or to the closest sabbatical of a dimly lit church or an oceanic shrine not far from me, hoping for the epiphany of “this is the way Mark, walk ye in it”. Hoping to somehow jar Him from His busyness of running the world in order to bend down and give me an affectionate “attaboy” as well. Yet as I search for Him and somehow never truly find all of Him that I long for, I’m still forever stubbornly resigned to the fact that without His touch and without His “strong support”, not only will “I” not make it, but the world cannot possibly know and take notice of His power that we are told once “turned the world upside down”! In fact, even now I am more convinced that at this very moment, nothing less than this will ever do.

Selah

Working Day and Night

In our American culture, we have an insane tendency towards the incessant “doing” as we all should know by now.  It comes to us and is woven into the fabric of our lives before we are old enough to even fully understand it, so it seems.  And the endless day planners and self-help gurus are there to remind us in the form of paper trails and varied flickering pixels, that if we can just do more, we will somehow unlock the keys to wealth, and then by proxy: happiness, that will then lead us to some nirvana of fulfillment which will cause us to live somewhere “over the rainbow”.

Christians Are Not Exempt

This same tendency also reaches into the lives of those of who have a spiritual bone in our bodies I’m afraid.  And as such, we also work to gain more and more, to please men, and in order to validate our worth before God putting a feather in our religion cap as we go.  And as a result, our lifetime is spent checking off these lists, and forwarding to the next day our endless “to do” items, that for most normal people at least, never totally gets done.  Nonetheless, it doesn’t stop us from still believing that if somehow, we “do” more, we’ll eventually get it right, and nothing but good things will come from it.  And yet also, like the rat on the wheel, we become enslaved to the tedium of forever running in place, when it seems that everyone but us realize that we are actually going nowhere; only very, very, fast.

The Food We Lack

This is descriptive of a scene in the gospel of John, where the crowd of people now growing more and more in number, after having had their full of some tasty loaves and fish, want to now figure out how they can get this buffet line in perpetuity.  Jesus it seems recognizes this, and for our thinking today, he says something that at least should cause us some quiet reflection, though we have heard this same story time and time again.  He says, “Do not work for the food that disappears, but for the food that remains to eternal life—the food which the Son of Man will give to you” (John 6:27a NET).  It is not surprising though, that like us, they are forever hard of hearing, and so they get right back to their rat-race life asking again what they must do to get the bigger, better deal they propose is now within their grasp.  And also like you and I, their hope is that the Jesus “genie in the lamp” they hope they have now found, will also do more at their beckon call, and that somehow this will make true believers out of them; even though they still really have no idea what that actually means.  And many of us who call ourselves followers on this narrow path, still don’t either.  But I digress.

The One Thing…

Now Jesus is speaking about the fact that there is indeed something that must take center-stage over and above all of our to do lists, and to our good service in the kingdom even.  For like Martha, who was busy about many, many, even valid things; she missed the exit ramp that offered her the ability to simply stop and sit at the Master of the Universe’s feet for a moment in time, while Mary somehow knew this was what she sorely needed in order to make sense of her otherwise topsy-turvy life. And as you might have already guessed, the food that she needed, as Jesus has reminded us of, is indeed that which remains when everything else we’ve marked off of our lists leaves us empty, unfulfilled, and still endlessly striving for more.  In fact, I know a lot of such people.  And in retrospect, I’ve often been tempted to be one myself, so I truly have no stones to throw here.  For the very American Dream (which I like to now I call a nightmare if not properly ordered) that we strive for, if we are not careful; can actually be the very thing that is not only killing us slowly, but which also can become a serious inhibitor to our steady walk on the narrow path.  And this should be no stark revelation to us for inquiring minds who truly want to know.

Churchianity

 We see it in our day to day lives at every turn.  Yet sadly, we also see it as we shuffle in and out of the average American church, where outside of some religious trappings that make the average Joe appear to be on the right track, most observe what many have called a “moralistic, therapeutic deism” which inoculates us from getting the real thing of those who were first called “followers of the way”.   God has therefore been fashioned into our image and fits nicely inside of our creation of Him within the framework of our understanding of what it means to have what we call life, liberty, and some lofty pursuit of an ever-elusive happiness.  And though this proposed bliss continually escapes our grasp, it continually propels us onward to achieving it at all costs as it were.  And thus, we truly are working day and night.  We work our fingers to the bone hoping and wishing upon a star to “win” and get through life somehow unscathed.  And while we do so, if we are not careful, we will miss the food that Jesus says we know not of by at least a country mile.

Hidden in Plain Sight

And as I have thought about this, and meditating upon my own pursuit of the hiding God throughout my journey on the narrow path, I understand why most of us never realize what the rat race is doing to us until the Dr. reminds us to begin setting our house in order, or until the undertaker has now been passed the baton.  For like the tyranny of the urgent in our lives, the pursuit of the food Jesus speaks of will also cost us everything.  An irony to be sure.  For sitting at the feet of the Master is a daily practice, rewarded in carefully rationed bite-size morsels oftentimes until it truly begins to “get into us”.  And equally, as more and more we realize through many dips and turns, toils and snares, that our broken cisterns actually hold no water to speak of, until His ever patient chisel has forged into us a critical understanding that a mere day in the Lord’s presence is better than a thousand elsewhere.  And this slow burn only comes to those who have in desperation grabbed a hold of His garment with an eternal vice grip, and who as a result, eventually come to know it as the actual living water, and the oft missing food of which by daily ingesting we shall never, ever thirst or hunger again!.  And though it will not sell enough tickets to the show we’re relentlessly shuffled into, it is the most wonderful truth in the cosmos for those who have ears to hear.  And yet, as you might have now guessed, there are actually very few that find it!

Selah