When I was little we went to church at Whitfield Memorial United Methodist in Montgomery, Alabama. I remember three things about Whitfield: the hexagonal pendant light fixtures that hung in perfect symmetry above the pews; The Candy Lady who sat in the same place every Sunday after service and handed out candy from her purse to all the kids; and a burning question that lingered in my 6 year old mind:
“Which one of the ushers gets to ride the elevator up to give God the money?!?!”
As far as I knew if we were giving offerings to God, somebody had to take it up to him every week. I wanted to know where the elevator was and how they decided which guy to send.
Obviously I eventually figured out that’s not the way it works. It was my simplistic way of thinking and believing as a child. Why couldn’t there be an elevator? Made sense to me.
I think there are a lot of things like that in Christian life. Most principles of faith are fairly simple and straightforward to understand – like the concept of giving offerings – but growing into them can be quite complex – like understanding why people say we’re giving to God but we don’t actually take him the money.
One of those things has to do with being a new creation. Does that mean we should expect instant results? If we are new should we be better than we are by now?
Something I’m reminded of recently is that I signed up to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, which means I’m a learner – an apprentice.
This implies training that takes place through relationship and over a period of time. It’s overly simplistic to believe that at the point of salvation my behavior will become perfect from then on.
Yet, this is how we live and treat one another sometimes. I’m hardest on myself, without question.
My struggles can’t resolve quickly enough. I become impatient with myself because my imperfections affect other people. Sometimes I hurt people unintentionally.
I worry that I’ve messed my kids up beyond repair. I worry that I’ll never feel free. I worry that I’ll die without ever tapping into my potential.
We spend the first part of our lives laying down tracks – ways of thinking, behaving and relating. Sometimes those are healthy, sometimes they’re not. It takes time to pull up the old and lay down new tracks going in the right direction.
It’s sweet relief to remember once again that he is with me, patiently guiding me, teaching me, picking me back up and dusting me off and that he never loses the sparkle in his eye for me – even in times of correction, which are inevitable.
He remembers I’m made of dust.
He holds out his hand to me, saying,
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Matthew 11:28-30 MSG
All I can do is stay close to him and ask forgiveness when I fail. If I’m faithful to do that, he will be faithful to complete his work in me.
Most change is not instant. This is not about making excuses for our sin – you know the difference between that and genuine repentance and sorrow over failure.
If you find yourself in that place, too – impatient with the process, because he expects perfection, after all – I hope you’ll be encouraged to keep going.
Don’t give up. He will never leave you or forsake you.
It’s a process. It’s all a process – just keep looking forward and set your face in the right direction. You will be purified. You will be changed. You’ll get there. Eventually.