These are unusual times. Or maybe these times are highlighting usual truths that are not usually noticed. Crisis has a way of pinpointing troubles and triumphs, deep in the heart, unheeded.
It’s not the first time I’ve been in crisis. It’s not the second. But I find each new time I’m at a life-stopping halt, memories of past crises bubble up.
Like the confines of a hospital room, one with a little desk squished to the side of a bed I was forbidden to leave. Maybe you’ve been in a similar room yourself. You are forced to spend idle hours staring at the white ceiling pondering deep questions. What did I do wrong to get here? And a question that soon follows after: “What is my purpose?”
I’ve always been a goal-setting person. I find it frustrating not being able to set goals, make plans, have the same tasks to prop up my sense of purpose. And, now, amongst the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m confined to the rooms of my house, staring out windows, wondering what on earth I’m good for.
I decide I need some therapy, so I head to my couch. I pull out my Bible and my journal, powerful tools I have wielded in all my crises. I read Jesus’ parables of good and faithful servants. I read how God at the end of someone’s life proclaims, “Well done!”
Man, do I ever want that. So suddenly my goal-setting brain tries to re-engineer my life, make spiritual goals, push harder, so that someday God will have to say, Well done!
The next passage I read frustrates me.
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. – Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)
Filthy rags. If I’m honest, most of what I do for God is reeking of wrong motives, actions, words, and thoughts. How can God proclaim “Well Done” over my life, over my filthy rags?
And if Isaiah’s right–that everyone’s got filthy rags–how can anyone, ever, have the “Well Done” God tells us to obtain in the parables? Did He set me up to fail at this thing called life and purpose and meaning?
Jesus told them, ‘This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.’ – John 6:29 (NLT)
Could that be it? That seems too easy.
But then again, how easy is it to put all my full weight on believing Jesus alone was sent from God to save the world? Often I really believe that God sent me to save the world, and Jesus helps me out a bit. One look at my life and you’ll see all the careful control to keep things together so I can be everyone’s saviour. It all confirms the truth: that my search for purpose was a search to be the God of my life and my world. There is only One God, and it is not me.
When I believe Jesus is the One God sent, as I surrender my filthy rag efforts, I feel…peace. Rest in who God made me, the one rescued and loved enough to move Heaven to earth.
Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. – Colossians 1:22
Holy and blameless. Loved in His presence. His “Well Done” becomes my “Well Done.”
This peace turns to gratefulness, and suddenly I don’t feel trapped by not being able to do anything truly valuable for God. I just want to worship Him, the Great Rescuer, and do whatever I can to thank Him.
They will be my people, and I will be their God. And I will give them one heart and one purpose: to worship me forever, for their own good and for the good of all their descendants. – Jeremiah 32:38-39
Worship is my one purpose.
We may be stuck in a prison of sorts: our house or, maybe, our hearts, trying to free ourselves.
That hospital room had four walls I couldn’t get away from for a time. We are in a culture where striving to be your own saviour is the air we breathe.
But a pastor friend once told me, “You can be in prison, but you can be free in your soul. Just look at the Apostle Paul all that time, praising in prison, when God sprung him free.”
We may not be able to physically get outside of the prison of our circumstances yet, but we can worship inside these walls, because the walls can’t hold us back from God’s presence. And that’s what turns the confines of our prison into the palace of the King.