on doing less and accomplishing more: Acts 20

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Acts 20.  My father was a dreamer.  He slept in in the morning – while our mother made sure we were out of bed, fed us and (far too often) drove us to school because we (deliberately) missed the bus.  Dad was an early proponent of biofeedback.  He would strap that machine around the fingers of anyone who unsuspectingly walked into our house and urge them to lie down on his favorite sofa.  He was persuasive.  Even the most uptight visitor would find themselves slinging off their shoes and going prone.  Dad would put them into their “alpha” – getting them to relax by speaking in his charming nuanced voice.  He explained that by relaxing you were taking your brain from its excited beta state into the alpha state, the state of dreaming, the state of utmost creativity.  Dad would count from ten to one and then ask his visitor to imagine themselves walking through grassy fields while they heard children laughing in the distance.  He would ask them to imagine walking on a beach feeling the warm sand beneath their bare feet.  They left feeling fuller than when they had arrived.

Dad would spend hours sitting in his chair and thinking.  On sunny days, he would sit in the car parked in the driveway.  He called the parked car his “office.”  It was quiet – there were a lot of boys in the house, after all, and we all know how noisy testosterone is – and peaceful and warm.  He was from Virginia and while he loved Long Island he hankered after the sun.  He always had a Christian radio station on, playing softly in the background, and we grew up to the sound of cheesy elevator music and barbershop quartets singing of how Jesus saves.

As a child, I thought it unfair that Mom did all the “work.”  She cooked, cleaned, gardened and drove the four of us around wherever our little hearts desired.  Everyone told me Mom was a “saint.” Such is often – probably always – the case with the child of an “artist.”  Dad was a physicist, an inventor, and like all creative types he had to spend a lot of time doing what looks like nothing to the rest of the world.

History proved him correct.  It turns out he was busy quietly inventing a key component of the flatscreen in our garage on Overlook Road, pictured above.  Thirty percent of the value of every flatscreen television and computer screen – including the one you’re reading this on – is attributable to his patents.  But as a child, I didn’t know that and I don’t think I cared.  I didn’t want to know about the semi-conductor industry.  I wanted to know why he would eat a banana and leave the peel lying on the countertop for someone else to pick up.

Don’t get me wrong — Dad may have been a little distracted when it came to cleaning up after himself, but he was the most generous soul you could possibly meet.  He would literally rip the shirt off his back if someone else needed it.  But his distraction stemmed, in large part, from his focus on creativity.  It’s the journey of all artists, but also the journey of the Christian soul.  There is a very real sense in which Jesus calls us to a life of meditation.  We are called to pray constantly.  The Christian journey is one where we learn to let go of “doing” and instead enjoy intimacy with the very real, very alive person of Jesus.  Jesus woos us to let go of our white-knuckled grip on achieving and instead go off by ourselves to a quiet place just to be with Him.

The reason is that we humans have it all backwards.  We think we can conquer the shame voices inside and around us by achieving.  But that way is doomed.  We will always fall short.  No matter how hard we try, someone else will do better.  And more to the point, we will never achieve perfection in ourselves in any field even if, like Dad, we run our glow discharge plasma deposition machines in the garage every single night.  Perfection entices and eludes us.  All too often we will be barking up the wrong tree.  We will be like hamsters on a treadmill spending all our energy going nowhere.  We’re not as good as we think we are at figuring out what we’re supposed to do and how we’re supposed to do it.

That’s because we weren’t made to.

God calls us into intimacy with HIS perfection.  He created us to be in a loving intimate relationship with Him.  The more we spend time with Jesus, the more joyful we become.  Jesus is truly amazing – literally.  He is kind and yet strong – how many men can claim that paradoxical combination?  He is gentle and yet powerful.  He is wise and humble.  He is patient and yet dynamic.  I could go on, but the point is – if we get to know Jesus ourselves, by spending time with Him, He changes us.  He melts us.  He softens our tough stances.  His kindness leads us to repent.  His forgiveness allows us to be honest about our shortcomings.  He enables us to enjoy ourselves and others in all our idiosyncrasies.  He shows us what He really wants us to do.  He shows us Himself.

So when we spend time with Him, it may look to us and the world like we’re doing nothing.  But in fact, everything else is nothing for only in Him do we find our real selves.  We find our true purposes.  He melts our hearts out of our pride and self-righteousness and foolish desire to look good and enables us to go forth in the world in His love doing his work.  The voice of condemnation that says that praying, or sitting in a sunny car, or lying on a frayed lazy-boy chair listening to cheesy barbershop quartets singing of Jesus is a waste of time is the voice from hell.  It’s the voice that doesn’t want us to find peace.  It’s the voice that wants to whip us into a frenzy of anxiety-driven guilt-based ultimately empty achievement.

Instead, God calls us to live the kind of exciting, balanced, nuanced life exhibited by Saint Paul in this fascinating chapter of Acts.  In Acts 20, Luke casually discusses the countless miles Paul was willing to travel in obedience to God’s call on His life.  Luke then tells of how Paul preached so late into the night accompanied by hot flickering lamps that a young man sitting in the third story window fell fast asleep – and fell out onto the sidewalk and died.  Paul brings him back to life – and goes on preaching.  “It’s all good,” we can imagine Paul saying in modern day slang as he peels the young man’s body off the street.  Then Paul tells the Ephesians that he will never see them again because God is calling him to Jerusalem and he knows that he will find there nothing but jail and suffering.  But, Paul says, I have to go because my life is NOTHING unless I do what God says.

Those are humbling words.  That is a humbling level of obedience.  It’s inspiring and yet diminishing.  Most of us are not like that.  We’re not that devoted.  We don’t have that much faith.  If someone fell out a window while we were preaching, we’d weep and wail and feel guilty the rest of our lives for being so boring – and perhaps never even think to go and ask God to bring them back to life.  If God revealed to us that obeying Him meant jail and suffering – many of us, perhaps most, would find our inner Jonah.  We would hop on the nearest sailing ship to try and outrun God and every whale He sent our way to swallow us up and bring us back to obedience.

And that’s why we need to daydream.  That’s why we need to do as Jesus did and go away by ourselves to be with Him.  Our lives are worth nothing unless we learn God’s ways – and His ways are not our ways.  We think we have to earn God’s love and the love of others.  But when we relax into His loving arms, we discover the opposite is true.  God has done all the work for us.  He has travelled far more than Paul ever did – He suffered the punishment we deserve when hell unleashed its fury on Him on the cross.  God raised more than just a sleepy man to life – He longs to raise each of us and any of us from being spiritually dead to being alive in Him when we cry out for His help.  And Jesus was obedient not just to jail but to the cross – to the deepest darkest punishment He took for us that none of us even dare to imagine.  God has covered our imperfections, our inadequacies, our fears and all the other countless ways in which we fall short with his sacrificial love.

Spending time with Jesus reassures us.  It soothes us – like a weaned child at her mother’s breast, as King David once put it.  Dad had it right.  Jesus calls us to stroll with Him down grassy paths, accompanied by the sound of children laughing in the distance.  Jesus wants us to walk with Him along a beach, while waves lap on the shore and the warm sand caresses our bare toes.  He calms the savage seas of our hearts.  He soothes the ravaged wanderings of our minds.  He reinvents us from two dimensional flatscreens into the three dimensional joyful alive people He created us to be.

God’s loving presence shows us how to have Him is to have all we will ever need.  It is indeed more blessed to give than to receive – and that’s because in Him we receive more than we can ask or imagine in all of our wildest daydreams, nightdreams, longings and desires.  God doesn’t call us to “do” but to be – to be found in Him.

posted by Caroline Coleman in carolinecolemanbooks.com on January 9, 2013

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