5.18.2011

Real Good for Free

Joni Mitchell sang a song called "For Free," telling the story of seeing a man playing a clarinet for free while she was waiting for a light to change. She repeats a line in the song, "real good, for free."

I don't know about you, but I get stuck sometimes. Here especially, I feel a great deal of pressure to perform. I feel that I have to be there for people, that I have to be that good friend that answers the phone, that everything I do somehow has a determining effect on whether or not people will come to know the Lord. I catch myself trying to be more spiritual than I really am or trying to come up with spiritual reasons for everything, and I always, always feel like things will be okay if I can just work on this one thing some more. I have a hard time grasping "for free." I come to God very anxious, trying to winnow my own heart and shake out sins and motives and impurities. I come to God anxious to pay Him back somehow or to earn His good or His presence.

I went to Vancouver Island this weekend with my Young Adults group, and on Saturday we were given an hour or so for "soul care," to be alone with God and see what He had to say to us. We had options for which prompt we would use, and I chose the one called, "Praying with Mary and Martha," because I am very Martha here. I dwell on the negative so frequently and complain to God and people about my sorry lot. So I read Luke 10 and asked God to speak to me.

Some things I saw:
  • Jesus comes as a guest to Mary and Martha's place because they are His friends and He wants to spend time with them. Like any friend who comes over, Jesus does not care about the quality of the food or the amount of dust in the windowsill. Jesus wants to spend time with His friends, wants to share Himself with them and give them His good words. Martha wants to please her guest, do things the proper Middle Eastern way, with excellent settings, massive amounts of food, a perfect house, everything exactly right to honor her guest and show the honor of her house to Him. I think Jesus dropped by unannounced because He wanted to get the drop on her, to meet her where she was. Jesus comes into our lives and stays with us not because we keep the house clean or we make good food, but because He loves us and wants to be with us, wants us with Him always. The food doesn't matter as long as we're together.
  • Mary doesn't expend energy trying to honor her guest; she sits at His feet and listens. Many times I have dropped by my friends' houses, and they have set about getting things ready, preparing food, setting out nice things, and what I really wanted was just to sit with them and talk and be. Mary knew what Jesus wanted. There was always time for the food and the cleaning, and He wasn't expecting or demanding to be fed ("My food is to do the will of Him who sent me"). None of that mattered as long as they could be together.
  • In thinking about hosts and guests and their dynamics, my mom's visit for a week came to mind. I love my mom and was so absolutely delighted to be around her, but we had one ongoing conflict during her visit: she was convinced that I should spend no money on her.  In everything we did, if it looked like I might have spent money on either of us, she insisted that I keep accounts so she could pay me back. This was a source of deep frustration for me. She was my guest, and she is my mother, and I love her and wanted to bless her. She was thinking of me as her daughter and wanted not to cost me anything. What I learned about hosting is that you want your guest to cost you something. You want to bless because you can and because you love your guest. It is an expression of love, and the guest who will not receive rejects the expression of love. This does not apply strictly to the Mary and Martha story, because Jesus wasn't rejecting their hosting or their love. He merely pointed out that Mary had chosen the more needful thing--not to busy herself with much serving, but to be with Him. What this does apply to is the fact that we are God's guests, God's family. We have been invited in and made a part of His fellowship--invited to His party. What would it be like to show up at someone's party and then insist on finding out exactly what the food and the napkins and the silverware and the labor cost, so you could write the host a check for it? It doesn't make sense, does it? I do this with God all the time. I feel like I have to humble myself to earn being in His presence, and I'm always trying to pay Him back somehow, when maybe He just wants to host me. And this is where "real good, for free" comes in. He wants to give me real good, for free. As the YA group were riding the ferry toward Nanaimo, I was asking God to give me something to hang the weekend on from His word. I was feeling pretty seasick, so I went up top in the wind and was alone for a while. As I looked out at the horizon and the sea and clouds and little islands in the distance, a fragment of a verse of Psalm 16 echoed through my mind, "the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places." So I went down, got my Bible, came back, and read Psalm 16. Several verses stuck out: "O my soul, you have said to the LORD, 'My goodness is nothing apart from You. As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight;" "O LORD, you are portion of my inheritance and my cup, You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, yes, I have a good inheritance;" "You have shown me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy, at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore." That clicked in with the idea of hosting, and on Saturday night it clicked with Psalm 23:5-6, "You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever." In old Jewish custom, if someone poured you part of a glass of wine, that was their polite way of telling you the visit was over. If they poured you a full glass, it meant they wanted you to stay with them for longer. If they poured wine till it overflowed the glass... well, you can guess. Some of what the Lord wanted to say to me this weekend was, "I want you to be with Me. Sit back and be My guest. Whatever happens doesn't matter, as long as we're together. I want to give you real good, for free."
  • I'm rethinking confession and repentance. I've heard and seen a lot about the importance of confession, and I've seen several examples where you're supposed to ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart, or you're supposed to search your own heart, and list your thus-far unconfessed sins and bring them before the Lord. I've done this. It's good, I definitely felt lighter afterwards. But it's not the whole of it. There's one Baptist teaching about being filled with the Holy Spirit that says you get filled, and then you leak, and this kind of confession sort of stops the leaks. I don't think that's it. There's lots of confession in the Bible but there's not this sheer amount of nagging self-searching and striving to keep the Holy Spirit in somehow. Colossians 2:6-7 says, "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving." We receive Him in repentance and faith. Repentance is not an act or series of actions; it's an orientation. It's like sunflowers turning to follow the sun. Jesus dropped in on Martha unannounced and was content to hang out with her in her less-than-perfect house. Martha wigged out, which I understand. Mary sunflowered, which I don't understand (but I want to!). She knew something about Jesus. He doesn't wait till we've got it all together to spend time with us or to use us to advance His kingdom. We can't keep Him around by striving, and we can't possibly alienate Him. We didn't earn His presence. We didn't earn salvation. We didn't ask for it and wouldn't have asked for it. He gave us real good, for free.
Praises
  • I am deeply grateful that the Lord initiated this thing at camp. I am glad He wants to spend time with us.
  • I am grateful for the Lord's hosting, for His goodness, for free. 
Prayer Requests
  • My landlord's still trying to sell the house. 
  • Pray that the Lord would help me to share my faith in a natural, unforced way. Pray for realness and transparency in me, that I would be sincere.
  • Pray for wisdom in my relationships. I've been really burnt out for a while on meeting new people or trying to maintain relationships, especially cross-cultural relationships. Pray for refreshing in my spirit and extra grace in loving and connecting with people who are unfamiliar and often intimidating to me.
  • Pray for grace to be a Mary with Jesus.
  • Pray for wisdom for the future. I don't know what the next 8 months should look like. Pray for a good connection with my supervisor in working these things out.
  • Pray for divine appointments and for boldness. Pray Romans 15:31-32 for me. 
Thank you for praying for me!
-Jennifer 

    2 comments:

    Brenna Kate, Living Unveiled said...

    Enjoying your blog :)

    Check out James 5:16 for other thoughts on confession.

    Anonymous said...

    Jen,
    Your words are so apropos; I needed to hear these thoughts on Mary and Martha. Thanks for blessing your dad, who misses you mightily! Love you.