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Calling – Sometimes We Have to Just Stretch for It.

February 6, 2013

Mark Buchanan stood in a friend’s guitar shop. The friend showed him a song he’d written and Mark tried to play it; one of the chords spanned five frets. Mark struggled to play it and finally gave up. “I can’t,” he said. “I mean, look at these hands. I just can’t play chords like that.” Just then another guitar teacher walked by and overheard. “Quit your sissy excuses and stretch for it.”  Mark goes on. “We have to train for the spiritual life. That’s the most lost idea to the world…”. The popular Christian saying “Jesus loves us just as we are” gets too much sentimental play. If we mean we can’t earn His love, then true, fine. But if we mean because he loves us we can wallow in our junk just because Jesus can forgive it, we stumble along in a crippled faith. Scripture describes this whole “following Jesus” thing as an “upward” call (Phil. 3:14). Anyone seriously looking at callings from God finds themselves quickly in over their heads, out of their depths. In pursuing the “good works laid out for us beforehand” (Eph.2:10), we will be called to stretch to do that which we never imagined, what we’ve avoided and to become what only Jesus Christ can make us. The Holy Spirit, personal trainer par excellence, will take us to the gym to build spiritual muscle, to sand and polish character. We will whine and grumble about this, begin and stumble as the Spirit presses our noses against the mile-high wall of our own weakness and incompetence. Jesus already knows about this but we need to sniff the wood of it repeatedly. Then the Holy Spirit whispers, “Just stretch for it.”

The alternatives aren’t pretty.  We can just sit on our faith in a Christianity hardened into a habit. We do church, attend, can give the right answers but there’s something wooden about it and we become okay with that and assume the Lord is too as this atrophy locks down on the rest of our lives. Or we can quietly fantasize; I have this thing about being a Stanley Cup winning goalie for the Montreal Canadians.  But it probably won’t happen for me. First, I’m sixty-two. Next, I can’t ice skate – not a lick. I’m talking Frankenstein on skates. I think I’m really in love with those airbrushed masks the goalies wear. We can daydream about doing something great for God but never lift a finger in faith. We gaze at the mountain tops but do nothing more than pout over our refusal to start climbing. Sitting on our faith leaves us numb. Fantasizing locks us up in lazy immobility. A vision of God’s calling on our lives sends us into God’s gym.

The Holy Spirit, our trainer, starts with something we know well – our sinfulness. We live in a spiritually schizophrenic culture. People who have worked hard at earning some guilt feel none at all while the rest of us feel guilty about everything. In response, we Christians shove both sin forgiven and remembrance of our sinfulness out the door. The first should go so that we’re not crippled by godless shame but I suggest there’s a place for careful remembrance of why we needed mercy in the first place. John Owen, an old Puritan who put enough powder on his wigs to touch off a dozen cannon, wrote that there lies a direct connection between the depth of the knowledge of our sin and the depth of the penetration of the sense of the grace of God. He’s right. Take a run at Psalm 51. David’s not morbidly wallowing around in his junk; something deeper’s going on. Nobody had a freer, bolder, brassier life in Christ than Paul – but there came a selective refusal to forget where he came from (See I Cor. 15:9, Eph. 3:8 and I Tim. 1:15) that kept him pushing and stretching to the weight of great mercy.

Spiritual guides throughout Christian history call this spiritual brokenness. The contemporary take on brokenness says something’s not right, a wound or scarring. The spiritual take on brokenness says something’s not only really right but sane down deep inside; we have a handle on our darkness at the cross of Christ in a way that not only can’t destroy us but opens the door to intimacy, depth and impact with Him. This is good stuff. It sort of smells like this.

This brokenness reminds us in prime moments how empty we are of Christ and how full of ourselves we can be. We live in the most narcissistic culture in the history of the world; no culture kisses its own reflection in the mirror like we do. Self stands as the real spirituality of the United States no matter what people say they believe. We may smear some Jesus Jam or Buddhist Butter over it, but our culture and sadly large tracts of Christianity reek of self.

Spiritual brokenness helps us release our own agendas. Many walk away from the Christian faith because God wouldn’t dance to their tune or disappointed their expectations which He never promised to meet. God has an agenda of His own – the Kingdom of God and in pursuing it, we find everything we needed and more than we could imagine (Matt. 6:25-34). Anything left behind in the process becomes trash on the curb. What were we ever thinking in hanging on to our way?

Spiritual brokenness drains our inclination to tell God how to proceed. We become flexible in His hand and patient to wait knowing He can be trusted.

Next on geezeronthequad; Calling – Sometimes We Just Have to Stretch  For It, Part II. Some thoughts on wildernesses.

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