How do I find the point where God began a work in me? I cannot think how to answer that, but perhaps I can say that one project began with my baptism. At the age of 31 after many nights of praying for help to be a spiritual strength for my wife and children, I believed it was time to get baptized. In my testimony to my church, I revealed to the congregation that I felt I was being encouraged to become more active in the church and my baptism was a beginning of that journey. Not a week after I made that statement in front of more than a hundred church attendees, I got a phone call from a board member asking me to be the nursery coordinator. It is unfortunate that I cannot retell this story in person to all who may want to hear it because the humor is essentially lost in the written word. I am likely biggest and ugliest church nursery coordinator in a non communist country. I am about 6’2” approximately 210 lbs on my lighter days, I have a low sloping brow, and a 5 o’clock shadow that creeps in at about 11:30am. I am sure that nearly every child in the nursery program is afraid of me, but how do you say no once you have invited the call. When I felt God encouraging me to become more a part of the church I really hoped it meant I would take on a cool responsibility like money counter or church spy. God knows me so well and knew that I would unfaithfully turn the lowly nursery coordinator job down in most cases, unless I did something crazy like make a commitment in front of the whole church to be faithful and involved. It is brilliant strategy really.
I hate falling prey to these strategies I hate that I am so unfaithful and inattentive that God requires them to make use of me. God must understand that the only way I am faithful is by blindly following these strategies and take every simple step that laid out for me, when I think too much I am a goner. I am not smart enough to see the plan, or forge new territory as many are. I am barely capable doing what God has laid in front of me. Still I wish I were more capable. I wish that I could be the prophet, the king, the church spy; but for me seeking ye first means keeping my head down and doing my job. I am no Sheppard; I am still learning to be a sheep.
Seek ye first, what an amazing and simple idea. I remember an incident when I was seeking first. What I mean is that I was playing softball and I was seeking to get to first base. I was playing on a new team in a new league, I had been to bat three times and had nothing to show for it and with the innings winding down I knew the fourth at bat would be my last opportunity. I was trying hard to impress these new teammates, I would have done anything for a hit, and then I got one. I managed to drive a ball to the gap in left and as I ran the bases I decided this was my chance to shine. I rounded first and second and decided to heroically head for home plate. I ran into a problem rounding third though and I began to stumble. Still headed in the right direction I ran like an ostrich who has been pushed down a ski slope, trying to catch my balance with my arms behind me, my head way out in front of me, and my legs windmilling with stretching steps, but it was no use and I took a nose dive in the infield. I slid on my face and stomach and stopped about two feet short of home plate. It was an awfully humbling experience. Amplified by the fact that when I fell my pants actually caught on the dirt beneath me and as I slid my pants slipped down to my ankles revealing my tight white boxer briefs which I am sure looked even whiter compared to the red that had welled up in my face. The worst part was dragging my carcass off the ground, pulling my pants up, and running across home plate. I was safe, humiliated and forever scarred but safe. The only thing that I can remember thinking was, “a single would have been fine.” A subtle reason why the verse says: seek ye first, not seek ye a home run.
The simplest way to help my team out would have been to stop at first, or second, or even third, but I had to push for my own desires. As a member of Christ’s team my aims should be relatively similar, simple. So simple in fact that I am sure most people Christian or not could identify them: read, pray, love. Even in a slightly more complex situation like work or a child’s temper tantrum or in a baseball game, faithfulness for me usually means doing what God has laid in front of me to do. Finish my paperwork, be patient and firm, or just move the runner over the third base. The goal has to be to do my part, contribute, and not attempt to be a glorious leader and satisfy my own need for power and prestige. It is when I go off seeking acclaim for myself that I end up in the dirt with my pants down to my ankles, embarrassed and exposed. God must have laughed at how I learned about humility by being humiliated.
When I was in school and long before the public depantsing incident, there was an author named Victor Frankl who had a significant impact on me. Dr, Frankl was a Jewish psychologist and Neurologist who was deported to several Jewish Concentration Camps including Auschwitz, during the Second World War. Dr. Frankl developed a psychological model based on his experiences and his observations of others’ experiences in the concentration camps. In his model he emphasized that in our goals life must be in the realm of meaning, not simply goals of happiness or wealth. Dr. Frankl believed that if we could strive for meaning we could achieve happiness as a consequence of finding meaning. Part of how Dr. Frankl came to these conclusions was his observation of the prisoners at the concentration camps and how those that survived were the ones that were able to find meaning in their suffering. Those that decided that it meant something to be suffering the way they were and in striving to realize this meaning their survival was consequence.
The model sounds very similar to the Biblical principle “seek ye firs the Kingdom of God and all these things shall be added onto you.” Make my goal to seek God at every turn and as a result of that goal I will be blessed with my physical needs. But when I make it my goal to build up treasures for myself I get lost. The question for me becomes again how I seek God, read, pray, love. Take care of the responsibilities that God has laid in front of me to do, be a father, husband, friend, and social worker lovingly and in a Christ –like manner, and I need not fear. Dr. Frankl would term this having my needs ‘ensue’ while I ‘pursue’ meaning. Pursue an intimate relationship with God, and the physical needs will ensue. I need to learn to stop trying to be smarter or wiser than I am, to allow God be a light unto my feet, step where he asks me to step. If I try to anticipate the steps on God’s behalf I go astray trail-breaking and I force God to knock me over and pull my pants down again.
In the Old Testament there is lot of talk about David. Rightly so, he was after all a man after God’s own heart, made with skillful hand. I often wonder if David understood how much his life would be under the microscope. Prophets from the Old Testament refer to the example of David, and then you have New Testament prophets commenting on Old Testament prophets commenting on David. The life of David resounds throughout scripture. What strikes me most about David is how humble he was and still how often he needed to be humiliated in order to retain that humility. As further embarrassment to King David, we all get to read and learn from his humiliation. A baseball field of people saw my pants come down but every poor decision that David ever made is passed down through generations Christian or not.
Part of what made David a man after God’s own heart was his teachable spirit. David placed priority on his relationship with God therefore in all he pursued he was open to God’s redirection. If I liken myself to David, which I am not sure is wise; I think that I am still in the field with the sheep learning how to do my job in a Christ-like fashion. Learning how to meditate with God, learning how to read God’s Word and learning how to pray and express my fears and goals to God. In this learning, if I am unable to incorporate a teachable spirit I fear that I may trip rounding third a lot more often. Like David I must rely, in part, on my Godly friends as David did and listen to their counsel even when I do not want to. I am long way away from slaying my Goliath but if I can learn to listen and adapt as David did I may be able to accomplish something for God’s purposes. And maybe I won’t need to get pantsed again.
It has been a few months since I began serving as the coordinator for the church nursery. That initial fervor has faded and it is really just another bundle of responsibilities now. With the fall coming and the most tedious work ahead of me, this is the time for me to learn from this experience. To learn perseverance, vigilance and detail orientation when I have little external motivation to do so. I need to keep working, keep praying, and keep listening not because others are watching me but because it is what God has asked of me. I will get no accolades for my efforts and if my I do my job right, no one will likely notice at all. But God may just teach me something, may just be prepare me for something through the experience. Even more importantly maybe the patrons and workers of the nursery will be well served and possibly more open to something God has for them. Read, Pray, Love daily and in everything lest my ‘tighty whities’ be exposed once again.