Friday, November 19, 2010

Start with the Rocks

Lately, it seems that every day has one thing in common – laying in bed at night, realizing that the most important things I had wanted for that day were failed.  Sticking to the diet, exercising, and worst of all, Bible reading, were once again neglected in a day filled with work, cooking, cleaning, relaxing. Starting each day with good intentions, and finishing in failure, for various “good reasons”, was getting frustrating.  As Bill Murray said in “Groundhog Day,” “I wake up every day, right here, right in Punxsutawney, and it’s always February 2nd, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

This morning I was thinking about a sermon Pastor Chris gave years ago.  He told the story of a man being given a pile of rocks, a pile of smaller stones, and a pile of sand, along with a vessel in which to place them.  The man poured the sand in the container.  He put the stones on top. He added the rocks next, but there wasn’t enough room.  After trying to rearrange the large rocks in several different ways, the man decided the container was too small and gave up.

Another man came along, emptied the container, and started over.  He put the rocks in first, followed by the stones.  Some of the smaller stones fell in the crevices left by the rocks.  He then poured the sand on top, and it trickled down, filling in any open spaces between the rocks and stones.  Everything fit neatly.

Pastor likened these items to things that were important in our daily lives – the rocks being the most important, and stones of lesser importance, and the sand of still less important things. When the really important things in our life have top priority, everything else falls into place.  As I lay there in bed this morning, I decided to brew up some coffee, and start my day with the Bible, taking up where I left off months ago.

I read the short Book of Haggai (part 1, part 2) – and it dealt with God’s people putting their own interests ahead of God, and as a result, they were not prospering.  Hmmm... is this a coincidence?

These people would work and work, and their harvests were bad.  They had a little of everything they needed, but not enough.  It took God, through Haggai, to make them step back and look at the big picture – they pursued their own wants and needs first, while God’s temple was still in ruin.  Get up, He told them, and fix My temple so you can worship Me properly!  And they did.  Kind of like putting the rocks in the container first.

I redesigned my “To-Do” list today.  It now has three headings: Rocks, Stones, Sand.  Rocks has only two items – 1) meaningful, uninterrupted prayer, and 2) a manageable amount of Bible reading.  Sand left over from today will go in tomorrow’s list.  But I’ll know my foundation will be built on Rock, each and every day.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pride and Grace


I finally recognized a lesson that God has been trying to get through my thick head.  I know all about God's grace, at least being on the receiving end of it.  Knowing you've fouled something up, having no good excuse for it, and experiencing that God has given you the forgiveness you need is an incredible feeling.  I can attest to what a wonderful gift it really is.  But like any gift, it might be free for the recipient, but it cost the giver something to give.  It cost God too, and He gives it without being begrudging.  

I've been in a position to give out that same kind of grace a million times over the course of my life, but I have not, through my own dense-headedness, been able to recognize it as a true grace-opportunity.  I have readily recognized it as an excuse to be angry, or to acknowledge my right to a little justice, should I decide to do so.  Or, I could give out forgiveness for entirely prideful and self-serving purposes.   

I believe that you can't experience true grace - giving or receiving - as long as pride is in the way.  Over the course of the last month, God has gifted me with the same situation repeating itself over and over again, until I finally saw it for what it was, and dealt with it accordingly.  I got a raw deal from someone I’d spent a lot of time helping.  It hurt.  It was very deflating.  It wasn't fair.  And one of the people involved asked for my help a short time later.  I ignored her plea, thought she surely must be crazy, and held a silent grudge.  I swore Hades itself would freeze over before she got any assistance from me.  And I got kicked in the teeth again, same person involved, same situation.  I knew my previous reaction was wrong in the eyes of God, so this time I doled out a little punishment by waiting before I begrudgingly (and minimally) helped.  I got a bigger kick in the teeth in return (I guess God wasn’t satisfied with my meager efforts).  This time I finally saw the situation as a textbook Grace-Opportunity, directly from the God of the Universe.

Did I feel she deserved my grace?  Absolutely not.  But thank God we don't necessarily get what we deserve in life; and those that hurt us, in reality, have very little to do with it anyway.  This was a matter between God and myself.  I will readily admit that despite finally seeing the parallels between my appreciation for receiving grace, and my responsibility for giving it out as well, I found it distasteful to comply.  And it took me several tries to do it without any thinly-disguised malice.  But now that it's done, I feel changed for the better by having done it.

Hopefully I won't need to repeat this lesson yet again, at least not with this particular person and situation.  And next time someone flings a little deceit and pain in my path  (there will no doubt be a next time) I pray for a better initial reaction.  The hardest part, for me, has been, and will be, recognizing it as a Grace-Opportunity, and knowing that God has put it there for my benefit.