Friday, June 20, 2008

Wide-eyed Innocence

I think that’s what I miss the most. Do you remember that time? Do you remember opening the Word and seeing new truth every time? I can remember marveling that I was reading the very same words that my uncle had been preaching in Indonesia for years. I can remember going to church and sitting in the congregation in absolute awe at the presence of God—and thinking that all of the church members sitting around me were as holy as anyone could be. I imagined that they lived all week just as they were at church on Sunday morning.

On my first mission trip to Mexico, I saw familiar products with labels in Spanish and it seemed like magic. In those days, I thought that missionaries were holiness incarnate (they’re really not, they just seem that way when compared with many others). On my first mission trip to Ecuador, I remember going to bed in the Grand Hotel in Guayaquil trying to soak in the exciting truth that I was actually in South America. At church, I listened to Ecuadorian believers singing familiar hymns and choruses—only in Spanish. At the end of our time of street evangelism, outreach, VBS, and an evangelistic crusade in a little fishing village, a precious sister in Christ invited us into her home for a meal to thank us for coming to help start a church in her town. Toward the end of the meal, she left the room, only to return with a basin, a towel, and a pitcher of water. She explained through a missionary that she had prayed for years that someone would come to help start an evangelical church in her village. She shared how she had just read the passage in Romans where Paul quotes Isaiah declaring how beautiful the feet are that bring good news. Then, quietly and humbly, she came to each of us and removed our shoes and socks. She washed our feet, dried them, and replaced our socks. Then she would throw out the water, fill the basin again and wash the feet of the next one. The air seemed electric and there was not a dry eye in the house. It has been a long time since I have seen such true humility and Christian living.

Do you remember that time of sincerity and wide-eyed innocence in your life? You shared the Gospel then and believed that everyone you shared with would accept Christ. You listened attentively to the preacher without critically analyzing every word and gesture of his sermon for style or discounting it because you didn’t approve of something about his life or family. The sad truth is that those who work with the Scriptures on a daily basis run the greatest risk of burnout: seminary students, pastors, professors, and missionaries. Unfortunately, we continue to parrot the words and defend the doctrines as we always have, thereby persuading others and ourselves that we are as close to Jesus and as fresh as ever. Recently, I found myself slipping into a lukewarm, innocuous, insipid rut. It was comfortable at first—there was less conviction and fewer shoulds and oughts. Sadly, it seemed to be the norm of Christians around me and so I moved into it easily.

By God’s grace, I hated it. I wanted to wash it off like mud from a slog through a swamp. Thankfully, Christians can repent of lukewarm lifestyles and seek God’s face afresh. If you find yourself living a life of casual Christianity, repent and return to where you were when the slide began. One of the truths that crashed over me was that I had contented myself with merely impacting those who will impact the world, instead of impacting the world myself as much as I can. How refreshing it is to return and find the Lord’s open arms ready to receive. As I did, I remembered how God had spoken to me in the past through a song that Steve Green used to sing that was also my prayer:

Bring back the Glory
Won't you show us what life is for
Bring back the Glory
Make us open once more
Bring back the music the trust the wonder
That's just like a child who has never known pain
Bring back the Glory
The Glory again

How long has it been since you had the trust and wonder of a child who has never known pain. John Calvin said, “No higher affront can be offered to God than to give way to fear, as if He is not exalted over all things so as to control them.” Charles Spurgeon said, “You cannot glorify God more than by a calm and joyous life.” Have you allowed the struggles and trials of life to rob you of a close walk with and dependence upon God? Steve Green also sang another that helped me years ago:

If the struggle you're facing
Is slowly replacing your hope
With despair
Or the process is long
And you're losing your song
In the night
You can be sure that the Lord
Has His hand on you
Safe and secure
He will never abandon you
You are His treasure
And He finds His pleasure in you

If you have grown cold, or tired, or fearful, or you’ve just lost the wonder of God’s grace and being His child, repent and return. There is a fresh walk with God waiting for every child in the slough of despond or the damp cold of jaded Christianity. If God is the God of miracles—healing lepers, opening blind eyes, making the lame to walk, and raising the dead—He can bring back wide-eyed innocence. Come on back home—breathe the free air again.

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