Friday, July 10, 2009

Work that Pleases God…

For several hours yesterday I threw myself into painting a wall in what will be our baby’s room once she is born. (She’s due in about six weeks.) I got totally into this project, meticulously taping off the edges and trying to get to every nook and cranny in our textured walls with a laborious brush coat before even bringing out the roller. I wanted it to be perfect, and I worked with great joy and energy. Why? Because I just love painting walls? Certainly not. The reason was this: Because I was thinking about and praying for our little girl. It was an awesome opportunity to just think about her, who she will be, how we will spend time together, and the great opportunity/responsibility/blessing that it will be to be her father.

I’ve been “working in ministry” – vocationally and occupationally and totally – for seven years now. And I often wonder what Jesus would think if he showed up here and saw so many preachers, ministers, and missionaries running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to build his kingdom and spread his truth. I usually conclude that he would lovingly ask us to just SLOW DOWN, take it easy, and focus a whole lot more on his presence and his power instead of on our to-do lists. We forget that we are not the Messiah. We seem to get the cart before the horse. If we are walking with him every day, every moment, could anything stop us from being salt and light in this world? Of course not. It’s so simple, but we get distracted and there is always more to be done than time or energy or resources with which to do it.

Jesus was a carpenter until he turned 30, remember? And once he switched careers and became a rabbi, he still traveled around with a band of mostly rough guys who used to be fishermen just loving, healing, and spreading the Good News. My brother works in construction. He builds a lot of swimming pools and brick patios and such. He interacts every day with a wide range of people – rich folks and poor folks, snobs and rednecks, high-strung businesspeople and fun-loving Mexican migrant laborers, etc. He spends most of his time driving around in his pickup truck, solving problems and doing the work of relationships and having personal interactions with these people. I often wonder; if Jesus were here today, would his life look more like mine, or more like my brother’s? Each time I think of this, I try to apply it to my life and fight against the tendency to busy myself so much in the work (tasks) of ministry that I fail to be a witness for Jesus, fail to be salt and light, fail to touch hearts and open minds through relationship and just the example of a guy who loves God and isn’t afraid to show it.

So back to yesterday: I’m painting, I’m thinking, I’m praying, and I’m just DWELLING. Just being with God. Giving thanks. Listening. Allowing His love to flow through me and reorganize my priorities and give me focus and perspective. Just me, some “Citrus Blast” green paint, and my Lord. And it’s just a very nice time. And I start to realize something that, to me, is profound: As a “missionary”, as a “minister”, I don’t do nearly enough stuff like this. As I painted, I realized that some of my favorite and most memorable times spent with God are those random occasions a couple of times a year when I find myself helping my brother or my dad to build something or fix something. When I haul limbs for my mom or move furniture for my in-laws. When I cut grass – I realized that living in Mexico, I never cut grass anymore! And I miss it. As I painted, I realized why one of my favorite activities to do at the Casa Verde is to sneak into the kitchen when nobody else is around and just wash dishes in silence. I love doing this yes, because I’m serving others, but it’s not really about the dishes – it’s about sneaking in a little time with God, just the two of us. No TV, no meetings, nothing to prepare, no fires to put out. Just a few moments to practice the presence of God.

I’m ashamed to say that I have yet to read one of the classics of Christian literature, Brother Lawrence’s little book called ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’. I will read it soon. But I know basically what it’s about – a man who was a dishwasher at a monastery who discovered that life really is all about what the book’s title implies. It’s all about recognizing that God is present, focusing on that fact, and allowing that reality to permeate everything else.

Here are a couple of quotes by Brother Lawrence, plus some of the words of Jesus:


“We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” – BL


“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God.” – BL


Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:28-29, 35


We’ve always heard it said that “practice makes perfect”. But what if I’m practicing the wrong thing? If I practice my bad golf swing for 1,000 hours, it’ll only make it more difficult for me to develop a good golf swing at some point. Practice, in that case, does not make perfect – in fact, it works against perfection, ingraining something that is very much imperfect. So I prefer this saying: “Practice makes permanent”.

Are you like me – do you too often get caught up in life’s busy-ness and miss out on God’s presence? Go paint a wall, or wash some dishes, and think about Brother Lawrence’s and Jesus’s words for a while, and what they mean for your life. Practice God’s presence. It is habit-forming, soul-healing, perspective-giving, and life-changing. And all you need to make it happen is some soap and water or maybe a wall and some green paint.

1 comment:

  1. Hey man,

    I am glad you went with Botrher L. As I was half way through, I thought, I wonder if he has read Brother Lawrence. Now that I see you have not, I will certainly heap shame on you.

    NO I won't, but here is what I will do. E-mail me your address and I will mail you a copy of his stuff so you can read it for yourself. It is a fantastic book.

    Ethan Magness