For those of you farther north in the hemisphere, this might seem a little obvious. I’m not referring to the weather, however, and if I was I would be screaming “Help! Rainy season is upon us!”
For those of you who have gotten a chance to talk with me in the last few years, you’ve probably realized that I’ve been in a bit of a spiritual winter. I would say that I hit fall about 2007 and wound up in winter shortly thereafter. It’s been a really long stretch for me, something like 4-5 years, now that I put dates down and look at it.
What I mean by winter is this: my desire for God deteriorated at a continual rate for some time, and then flattened out for another period of time. So perhaps that’s fall and winter, I’m not sure.
I don’t know what’s going through your mind as you read that, but it’s the simple truth of where I’ve been at. I’ve been fairly open with it as well, or at least I’ve tried to be. My relationship with God has been more the product of discipline than of inherent vitality for quite some time. And the discipline has been deteriorating too.
I feel like that’s finally changing, and I thought I would share with you how – because that’s what we’re supposed to do when God does something good, we tell people.
Living on the ship is naturally a challenging thing, being the sterile, floating box that it is. And I’m at a point where I’ve seen the vast majority of my close friends leave. But it’s been a bit disproportionately challenging lately, my frustration and depression manifesting themselves most prominently in questioning my future. Where do I go next? Do I go anywhere next? When do I even decide?
My mom finally called me out on it when I was venting to her online last week. She asked if I’d been going to God with it and calling the enemy out, as it sounded like I had lost hope (I had done that a long time ago) and like I hadn’t really been approaching God with it (I hadn’t to the fullest extent for some time). Of course this meant swallowing my pride, because I wanted to say “Of course I’ve been taking this to God!” But I hadn’t really, and it hadn’t clicked in my mind that that was the truth of the matter.
To make a long story short, I had some time of authentic prayer, going over the things my [very wise] mother had seen in me, and felt instantly better. Not 100%, but very much on the upswing right away. I felt kind of like a certain depressed prophet, except there was no food directly involved in my improvement.
The analogy I came up with to explain it to a friend is that it’s a lot like responding to email. When you get an email that you put off or forget for a while, it’s often really awkward responding to it later. So, of course, you put responding off for a little bit longer as if that will make it any better. Soon you find yourself on this exponential scale where every day you don’t reply makes the awkwardness unbelievably worse than the day before.
In the same way it’s a lot like how I was feeling about God. The farther I felt I’d walked from him or just more quiet our relationship became, the less likely I was to really try to bridge the gap. It sounded like a lot of work, and would require eating a larger slice of humble pie than I had an appetite for. In the end, however, as soon as I turned around I discovered that He was right there waiting for me to just turn.
This was driven home for me as we read Matthew 13 in our Bible study last night. Matthew 13 (if you don’t want to look it up on your own) basically is full of Jesus’ parables about what the Kingdom of God is like. Most of it seems pretty straight forward, at least on Jesus’ scale of straightforwardness. Wheat and weeds, good fish and bad fish, it’s all relating to God’s selection and separating of people.
What stood out to me were the two parables relating to treasure and pearls (the Pearl of Great Price). In these two parables the Kingdom is like a man who goes out, finds something of great value, and sells everything he has in order to purchase it.
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
The way I’d always been taught to understand this, and the way that the commentary in my Bible interpreted it, was that the pearl/treasure is the Kingdom, and I need to sell everything I have to obtain it. Figuratively or not, the idea is that you need to sacrifice everything. Fair enough, I do believe I need to bend my knee to Jesus as Lord and give everything I have up to Him. However it didn’t resonate with me at all, in fact it felt kind of oppressive; so I brought it up.
The fact is that I can’t go about selling everything I own all the time (literally or figuratively) and giving it up to God in hopes of obtaining the Kingdom. That’s a lot of work, it sounds exhausting, and I have little-to-no energy right now as it is. How on earth can I pull that off?
Then my buddy Ryan asked if maybe we were looking at it incorrectly. Maybe the pearl is us. This led to a really long discussion, but one that moved me. I think that (for argument’s sake) it’s a viable idea for starters because, to put context around it, the entire chapter is about God being the one ‘doing’ and the people being the ones planted/caught/etc. It seems odd to take 3 verses in the middle of such huge chunks and redetermine the subject.
Secondly it seems incredibly works based to think that I can do anything to get myself into the Kingdom of God. If I sell everything I own to buy the Kingdom, then I’m in. That doesn’t sit right.
Rather, it reflects the Gospel perfectly to see that God found me, thought I was valuable, and went and gave everything in the form of His Son to have me. That is life giving. That resonated with me.
Things wrapped up well with these confusing verses:
51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
My take on these was this (and it really helped me feel that much better). If Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to do away with it, then the Old Testament stands as good, valuable, and informative. Necessary. Scribes trained in the Old Testament would have been able to pull all sorts of treasures out of it to share, to instruct, to encourage. But the scribe trained for the kingdom of heaven can not only pull out the old treasures, he can pull out new ones too.
The Old Testament was the only Bible Jesus ever had. Informed with the Gospel, with God’s saving action through Jesus, the entirety of the Old Testament comes to new life. It’s the key to understanding the whole thing. The thread that runs through it all and makes sense of it. To understand the Gospel is to be able to pull the good out of the old way of looking at the Old Testament as well as pulling good out through the new.
We looked at the parable of the pearl through Old Testament lenses. But with the Gospel we can see that it’s not about what I do, it’s not about what I can afford, it’s that God spent everything He had to purchase me. God counted me worth it all.
I could never explain to you along what line of thinking God must have been operating to spend so lavishly to get me. All that matters is that He did, and that has left me energized, restored to health, and ready to take on the world.
It’s amazing how quickly you can just step out of a fog and into clear day.