One of the problems with presenting a short devotional is that I feel that I’m supposed to give you a single text to meditate on, and then write something related to that text. That automatically gets you focused on that one text and its specific message to you. But today I want to write a “forest” message, rather than a “tree” message. One can study a forest as a bunch of individual trees, but there is another way-by looking at the way a whole forest grows.
So let’s step way, way back for a forest look. People like me are so fond of pointing out how many different writers there are in the Bible and how many different books, that we can miss this. There is a huge story going on that is told through all those different writers with pieces of it in all those different books.
That big story is the story of God who creates, who allows his creatures the freedom to get things quite terribly wrong, and in the end guides them back to a new creation. If you think about it, there are only a few “really, really good” chapters in the Bible, a couple at the beginning of Genesis, a couple more at the end of Revelation, and a few scattered about that point forward to the ones in Revelation.
Of course, the advent of Jesus is a good moment in the story, but it is also a profoundly sad one, and we live waiting for the final redemption. It’s here, but not quite yet!
Along the way we have quite a number of experiences:
- Adam, who had it good and then lost it all.
- Noah, called from ordinary living to build an ark. He lived through God’s redemption from the flood and then had a hard time living in the post-flood world.
- Isaiah, the willing prophet.
- Jeremiah, the reluctant, weeping prophet
- Jonah, the rebellious prophet.
- Job, who suffered for God without ever knowing the reason.
- Jesus, rejected by those who should have recognized him, abandoned by those who claimed to love him, yet vindicated by God in the end.
- Paul, driven apostle, personally carrying the gospel to so much of the known world, yet clashing with so many people.
Each of these stories fits into that bigger story. One of the key things I notice in all of this is that each person is different. Each person has choices. Each person has a journey.
We are all pretty much down on Adam, but isn’t his story often our own? Don’t we often find a good place, a place of God’s will, and then get away from that by pushing onward to something God hasn’t called us to do, or pulling back in fear from something God has called us to?
We’d be quick to condemn Jonah, the rebellious prophet. What’s with this running away? But I think that many pastors would tell Jeremiah that he had obviously not found God’s will for his life because he had no peace. I have certainly told many people they should seek for peace in following God’s will. And I suspect Jeremiah had a certain peace in knowing he was obeying God. It’s just that his obedience led him into such difficult situations. But still, on the surface, his story doesn’t look all that attractive, does it?
I’ve noticed recently that many of us are unwilling to allow others to follow their journey of faith. It seems to me that those of us who have had a very rocky journey-and my journey qualifies as rocky!-have the greatest difficult allowing others their own journey. We may have needed much tolerance from our brethren as we learned and grew. Indeed, we may still be required much tolerance of them. But heaven help the poor soul who hasn’t learned as much as we have!
I think this comes from good motivations. Like parents with their children, we “senior sufferers” on the journey toward spiritual maturity want to prevent others from suffering as we have. Having found the answers-yes, I’m being a bit sarcastic-we are anxious to prevent fellow pilgrims from learning things the way we have.
But just like Adam had to learn in the presence of the tree from which he was not to eat, or Jeremiah had to learn by obeying God in the face of impossible odds, or Paul had to evangelize while fighting with all who would oppose his gospel, so each of us has to journey with God in our own way. (By “our own way” I don’t mean we get to make it up as we go. God will even use our rebellion in leading us to where he wants us to go.)
So how about a good deal of patience and tolerance as God leads each of us? It’s possible that even we more “senior sufferers” don’t actually have nearly as many answers as we think. What’s more, we may even be asking the wrong questions.
There’s a place for good advice. There’s a place for guidance. But there’s also an enormous place for letting God work with people in his way and in his time. After all, we’ve each survived our own mistakes. I bet others will too. So will the church and the world.
Trust God as a story writer!