So today I have a pretty good day at work. Nothing too major came down the pipe and I accomplished a few things. Kept a good attitude most of the day in spite of the annoying 2005 benefits paperwork I had to wrestle with (I guess I can be grateful I have benefits).
This all follows a good weekend and Monday that saw me attend a performance of Handel’s majestic Messiah with friends and family and carry a good small group-planning discussion with Scott and Clark. This conversation was so good, in fact, that I nearly wrote up the promised recap of Secrets of the Vine–the small-in-stature, large-in-revelation book that is still impacting my life and challenging my thinking. However, I fell asleep on the couch to fireplace-crackles and a peaceful spirit before I could punch out reflections.
So, all this positive stuff culminates with one big, fat annoyance: the return of water in our basement. I return from work after working late (at my discretion, not because I had to) with just enough time to change and grab a bit to eat before leaving for small group. I looked forward to it because we were closing our five-week study on abundant life and our small group was really starting to click and pursue the abundance we’d been talking about. I also looked forward to vegging on what we discussed post-group and blogging some keen insights.
But as I changed from casual to work clothes, I heard the hum of a fan in the basement, a noise all-to-familiar since dealing with flooding last spring. I called to Scott, "Is there water in the basement? I hear a fan on downstairs." Sure enough, he had discovered some wetness over lunch and had set the fan on it as a "precautionary measure." This wetness had turned to full-blown water-logged carpet as the rain we’ve been getting the past few days continued throughout the afternoon and made it’s way into our finished basement.
I seized the opportunity to become frustrated head on and ran with it, scowling in silence as I walked past our tore-up driveway and climbed into Scott’s truck to ride shotgun to small group. I have every right to be angry and frustrated, I told myself. It’s just never enough. No matter what I do, how I budget my time, how hard I work, how much I plan… the inconveniences, distractions and annoyances of life just don’t stop coming.
I showed a happy face at small group and slowly transitioned into a better mood as we played a few rounds of Mafia before engaging the topic of abundant life. The material we presented and the discussion it generated was good–very good. We’re challenging each other and excited about grabbing life by the horns.
But then I come home to a floor that needs to be Shop-Vac’d of water, and four loads of neglected laundry that needs folding, and wedding photos that need to be ordered for clients and digital art that needs to be produced for my church and bills that need my attention and family and friends I want to talk to on the phone and a Christmas tree and living room that longs to be decorated and windows that still need to be trimmed and a door that need to be hung and door handles that need to be switched…
Argh… I just want to go away…
The percent of the above to-do list that stems from the desire to please man? 100.
This whole situation is neatly summarized in a passage from Secrets of the Vine I re-read just last night:
In mature pruning, the pruning will intensify as God’s shears cut closer to the core of who you are. God isn’t trying to just take away; He’s faithfully at work to make room to add strength, productivity and spiritual power in you life. His goal is to bring you closer to the "perfect and complete" image of Christ
Tests of faith have nothing to do with the status of your salvation–that’s a settled fact. Neither are these tests on the level of "Why doesn’t God help me find my car keys?" Tests of faith are various trials and hardships that invite you to surrender something of great value to God even when you have every right not to. You will feel assaulted and stretched by circumstances, but not distant from God; tried by Him, but not judged or guilty.
So what is my response supposed to be to this circumstance? "Every trial you face is an opportunity to let Him work in your life for abundance." In other words, I’m supposed to cherish these moments.
Makes me want to spew.
But I know it’s true. I’m currently snorkeling in the conviction that is seeping from my spirit. God can’t effectively use a life consumed by the desire to be accepted by and please man. So, it appears these areas of my life are becoming the greatest sources of stress and inconvenience.
Wilkinson goes on to point out four areas that God addresses when proceeding with deep pruning. They hit home WAY, WAY too hard: 1) The people you love most; 2) Your right to know why God does what he does; 3) Your love for money and possessions; 4) The sources of your significance.
Mature pruning is God’s way of helping you put into practice His command to "seek first the kingdom of God." This is why God will always prune those things that we slavishly seek first, love most, and begrudge giving up. Again, His goal isn’t plunder or hard, but to liberate us so that we can pursue our true desire–His kingdom.
This kind of pruning goes beyond rearranging priorities to the heart of what defines us–the people we love, the possessions we cling to, our deep sense of personal rights. These are the very arenas God must rule if we are to bear fruit.
So here I am, again at a crossroads. I can slap sulking in the face and "thrive under the shears" (as Wilkinson puts it), or I can respond with paralyzing frustration–which I’m certainly entitled to. I don’t think it’s a sin to be frustrated with life…everything is permissible. But, everything isn’t beneficial. And if I’m going to seize the abundant life Jesus offers, then I need to pray for these trials I’m navigating to be learning experiences. I need to eagerly desire the life-change they offer.