Friday, August 29, 2014

Pastoral Ponderings ~ A Cornucopia of Encouraging Lessons

“At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank you, Father, LORD of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”[1]
          A Cornucopia is a symbol for abundance. It is often demonstrated with a large horn-shaped container (sometimes of a golden-brown baked variety), overflowing with a large amount of produce to be shared with others. It is the word that came to mind when thinking of how to share the gifts of God’s grace from my morning time with him.
          Lesson One: Whatever I gain from my time with God is a gift of God’s grace to little children. It is God’s good and gracious will to let me know anything from the word whatsoever. When I wake up in the morning with such brokenness that I can’t imagine learning anything at all, and then the clouds part, and the light shines, and new lessons spring forth as gifts of undeserved favor, it is not because I am wise and understanding. It is only because God considered everything and graciously willed that he would reveal this to me as his little child.
          Lesson Two: God cannot expect me to be wise and understanding in knowing what to do with all the problems I am facing. In fact, the weariness of life comes from wanting to be wise and understanding. For some, this might be a deliberately prideful thing, that we want attention on ourselves for being the amazing problem-solvers of life. For others, like myself, there is the residue of childhood training where we learned to rely on our own wisdom and understanding because we did not know God as the Revealer in the midst of things we were going through at the time.
          Lesson Three: The reason that the wise and understanding do not receive revelation of “these things”, and the little children do receive the revelations of God, is because, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”[2] The wise and understanding do not fear the LORD, or acknowledge their need of him, and so they never gain the wisdom and knowledge that are granted to the little children who fear God.
          Lesson Four: The curse of the sark (flesh) is that we handle the things of God on our terms. We handle them as though it is up to us to figure out what to do. We handle them as though we are responsible for the wisdom and understanding, when the reality is that we are responsible to rest like children, and receive what God has revealed.
          Lesson Five: The reason that I have seen God’s work shine out most brightly when people are in the fellowship of God’s word and prayer is because that is when we are most like little children. Devotion to the word of God and prayer, both privately and corporately, rises out of the child-hearted sense of need for God. The wise and understanding are busy running programs, earning a living, figuring things out, doing their best, organizing and planning, that they are not able to see that apart from Christ we can do nothing.[3] The child-hearted cannot even guess what they should do to live for Jesus in the things they are going through that they are desperate to hear what God says in his word, to pour out their hearts to God in prayer, and to experience fellowship with the rest of the body of Christ that is doing the same thing.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[4]
          Lesson Six: There is a connection between God revealing “these things” to “little children,” and Jesus calling to him “all who labor and are heavy laden.” The “wise and understanding” think they are handling things so well that they do not need to come to Jesus. They are so stuck on themselves, and confident in their own righteousness, that they do not see themselves as little children.
          On the other hand, the little children are “weary” of relying on themselves. They cannot handle the amount of labor they need to put into trying to be good. They are “heavy laden,” burdened, weighed down, because they cannot carry the load of guilt, shame, and fear that has been assigned to them through their sin and selfishness.
          Jesus promises to give rest to the little children, not to the wise and understanding. He promises to give rest to those who labor and are heavy laden, not to those who are confident in their own righteousness.
          Lesson Seven: Not only are the wise and understanding characterized by trusting in themselves, but the other side of this is, that people who trust in themselves hold others with contempt. Here is how Jesus taught this lesson:
    He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”[5]
          When I first came to this Scripture, I felt the simple realization that the wise and understanding are characterized by trusting in themselves. It was the other side of this that blew me away, that people who trust in themselves hold others with contempt. These are the “wise and understanding” who are stuck on themselves because they imagine that they are self-made, and that God is pleased with them because they are doing so well.  
          When I look at this Scripture, I realize that the one who was “wise and understanding” thought that he was better than anyone else. On one side, he trusted that he was righteous. On the other side, because he thought he was so much better than everyone else was, he looked with contempt at anyone who was not as good as he was.
          The tax collector did not trust himself, or show contempt for people who were different from him. He was broken by his sinfulness, and yet coming up to the temple to pray meant that he had faith in God, and knew where to come. What he cried out for was mercy, not justification.
          So, the Pharisee expected justification, that God would declare him to be just, and good, and right with God because he was exceptionally wise and understanding. The tax collector expected mercy, nothing more, nothing less. He was a sinner; he knew he was a sinner; he was ashamed of his sin, and cried out for mercy. He did not claim to be better. He did not promise to change. He did not tell God he would or could stop sinning. He simply cried out to God for mercy.
          Lesson Eight: Little Children do not trust in themselves, but in Jesus Christ, who gives rest to their weary and heavy laden souls, and so they do not hold people in contempt, but in compassion.
          One of my long-ago lessons about mercy came through one of my Beatitudinal journeys.[6] I realized that the first four beatitudes described the experience of mercy, while the latter four beatitudes described the expression of mercy. The first four beatitudes speak of the one who is poor in spirit, who mourns his sinful condition, who meekly acknowledges his inability to fix himself, and so hungers and thirst after the righteousness of Jesus Christ that can only be experienced by faith. When God responds to this little child with the satisfaction to his hunger and thirst for righteousness, that little child has experienced what it means for God to be merciful to him, a sinner.
          The second half of the Beatitudes speaks of this one who has now become one of the “the merciful."[1] The “wise and understanding” never become merciful because they expect everyone else to earn their way, just as they believe they have done. The poor in spirit become the merciful because they know that anything they have received from God has been by his “gracious will,” as Jesus revealed.
          Conclusion: in practical terms, my greatest experience of all these things has happened when a group of child-hearted people seek God in his word and prayer so that they hear what his word is saying, and prayerfully put it into practice. This humble responsiveness to God, as little children who receive daily insight into the things revealed in God’s word, brings people together with a sense of the mercy of God in leading a group of people to feel his work in real and tangible ways. People receive ministry and blessing from God through the body of Christ, not because anyone is wise and understanding, but because they are little children depending on God for everything, and trusting him with anything he leads them to do.
          I am quite sure God planned this cornucopia of lessons for me because he had to overwhelm any temptation towards sarky wisdom and understanding with such gifts of grace that would leave no doubt they came from him, and were entirely undeserved. The poor in spirit are blessed with mercy, and with the gracious gift of becoming the merciful. I am thankful for these gifts.

© 2014 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Matthew 11:25-26
[2] Proverbs 9:10
[3] John 15:5
[4] Matthew 11:28-30
[5] Luke 18:9-14
[6] The Beatitudes are revealed at the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12

No comments:

Post a Comment