Boogers, time, and spiritual malarkey.
I don't like boogers, or poop, or stickiness. So, needless to say, I have never felt that working with children was my destiny.
And yet, day after day, I find myself in the company of a four year old, a three year old, and a very sassy two year old. With Kindergarten looming around the bend, I am left with the task of equipping Four Year Old with the fundamental skills he'll need for school, if we choose to go that route. Now, I'm going to assume that at this point you realize how much I love my children, and Jesus, and education, as I tell you wholeheartedly that teaching basic skills to small children is the hardest, most frustrating thing I have ever tried to do. Quite frankly, I stink at it.
My respect for elementary teachers has grown exponentially over the past few weeks. Seriously, we don't pay these people enough. We should cut all reality stars' salaries to a third and give it all to the teachers.
As I sat with my kid today trying to explain the difference between the minute hand and the hour hand on the clock (something he is fascinated with but probably too young to really grasp) I had a bit of a revelation. I was probably nine or ten when I learned to tell time. I remember being in the fourth grade and learning the different meanings for "a quarter" in money and time. So that was probably seventeen years ago.
Seventeen years, a high school diploma, and a college degree ago.
Seventeen years, a high school diploma, a college degree, five years of marriage, and three kids ago.
So, when I look at a clock, I have a huge reservoir of experience, knowledge, reference points, trial and error, and life, in my pocket, enabling me to decipher what I'm looking at. Just like when I try to explain a point in a story, or show him how to form his letters, it can be so frustrating for me that he can't see how all of the pieces come together, yet it's so obvious why. It's as if we are both standing in front of a mural trying to determine what it's of. Except, his face is up so close to the sign that his nose almost touches it, while I am standing ten feet back. While he can only see a small portion, I see the whole picture. My vantage point enables me to easily comprehend, while his means he has to rely on help. He needs a guide. A teacher.
Apart from demonstrating how inept I am at primary education, you're probably wondering where I'm going with this. Let's go the Scripture for a minute.
"The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." - 1 Corinthians 2:14
I get several things from this verse, especially when I relate it to teaching a four year old to tell time. See, he gets the general concept of time. Days, weeks, and even hours, are something he has learned through observation. Much like the concept of a Creator, a supreme being, a great wizard in the sky, is a concept easily grasped by unbelievers. Romans 1 tells us that a knowledge of God is plain to everyone. But what about the nitty gritty. Minutes, seconds, milliseconds; theories of time and space. What about the things of God.
On several occasions I have tried to explain the Holy Spirit to unbelievers, yet all I've succeeded in doing is convincing them that I'm a crazy person that either has a ghost inside of me or a serious case of Schizophrenia. The idea of the very spirit of God indwelling the believer, is foolishness. Do you know what else is foolishness?
The Creator of the universe.
Living among men.
Who hate him.
And reject him.
And betray him.
Yet loving them.
That he was crucified.
That, my friends, is absolute malarkey. Unless, you've been given seeing eyes and hearing ears.
Unless you've experienced it.
I know how frustrating it can be to talk with unbelievers. Especially if they're hostile and looking for a fight. I cringe when I see my brothers and sisters engaging in heated debates on blogs or Facebook or wherever they find the opportunity. My flesh loves those kinds of discussions, but it is rarely if ever profitable. Little, if any, good comes from a hostile conversation. I think it was Mark Driscoll who cautioned against engaging in any dialogue where the concern is more about making a point than making a difference. So, while I absolutely believe in sharing your faith and being bold for Christ, I also believe that our passion for evangelism must always be coupled with sensitivity to the Spirit.
When. Where. How.
Here's the thing, I know how to have a good debate. I can think on my feet, so coming up with a rebuttal is pretty easy. Honestly I can argue on all sides of an issue pretty easily, so if I just want to ruffle feathers I can quickly morph into a Democrat, a Republican, or an Anarachist and engage accordingly. But even if I'm fighting on the "right" side of a battle, and I am passionately championing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if God has not prepared the heart that I'm targeting, then my words are going to fall flat.
No matter how charismatic, how convincing, or how right I am, I cannot open eyes or ears to the Truth. Apart from the Spirit, my words will always be perceived as foolishness.
So then, you ask, why should we even preach? Shouldn't we just pray and let God open eyes and hearts, then the people will come to us, right? Why even evangelize?
That's not what I'm saying. I am saying we have to realize that the Spirit does the work, we are simply the instruments God has chosen to use. We have to let Him lead. We have to be prayerful, we have to be prepared, and we have to be sensitive to His leading. Because no matter how well I communicate the theory of relativity to my four year old, he will not grasp it.
Friends, I believe in preaching the word of God with passion. I believe in sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with all men, from all walks, with all backgrounds. But if we are trying to do this apart from the Spirit, we are chasing our tails. Seek God first, and ask him to lead you and your ministry. I cannot promise that he'll open the eyes of everyone you preach to, God called Isaiah to preach to a people that would never listen to him. I hope that's not your fate or mine, but only He knows. Because only he brings about results. Rachel Held Evans said it so well in her post yesterday:
"But no movement that needs me is a movement of the Spirit."
Oh so true! He can do this without you, or me, or John Piper, or Billy Graham. But, he chooses to use us. All you have to decide is whether to surrender, and trust that His ways are bigger and His purpose greater than we can comprehend, or to fight him, and take on the impossible task of changing hearts with human hands.
What will you choose?