In Acts 2:14, Peter “stepped forward…and shouted to the crowd,” giving one of the most powerful sermons the world has ever seen, before or since. David Guzik writes, “This remarkable sermon had no preparation behind it – it was spontaneously given. Peter didn’t wake up that morning knowing he would preach to thousands, and that thousands would embrace Jesus in response. At the same time, we could say that this was a well-prepared sermon; it was prepared by Peter’s prior life with God and relationship with Jesus. It flowed spontaneously out of that life, and out of a mind that thought and believed deeply.”
We often make our spiritual life one of 5 (or 7) steps and boxes to check, or like there is a spiritual me and another, everything else, regular me. Spiritual me reads the Bible, goes to church, prays. Regular me goes to work, brushes my teeth, does pushups, watches The People’s Court. We refer to our work or play or relationships as somehow less spiritual because it’s not for a church, Christian ministry, or agenda. “Just” a nurse or driver or technician or accountant. We think if it isn’t specifically focused in a discipleship plan, it doesn’t count.
This has always driven me crazy. Christian ministry can be lovely and pure and tremendously pleasing to God. So can grocery stores, video games, parenting, and Catfish. God doesn’t make this distinction, I wonder why we do. We can dishonor God just as easily in church as we can at the gym, maybe even more so.
Like Peter, all of our lives – lived in relationship with Jesus – are preparation. Every Sunday, Gisy and I go into a small room called the “crying room.” It’s a space where parents can take their fussy, restless babies and still hear and see the service, but I have cried in there, and held others as they have, as well. It’s an all-purpose crying sanctuary. We go in there, hold hands and pray that God will use our words & songs (carefully studied and practiced) AS WELL AS our lives to reach others.
It’s foolish to guess that a message I give could ever be received in a vacuum. It’s why Paul’s letters to Timothy focus so much on behavior outside of the church for those that serve inside. The most eloquent talk from a dishonest mouth, heart, and life is conflicting and usually quickly dismissed, in the church or not. Emerson wisely observed, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” He’s right, of course, and that’s frightening. But it also works in reverse.
What if who you are is beautiful? What if who you are at work is honest, trustworthy, and loyal? What if who you are is a faithful, devoted spouse? What if who you are is a passionate follower of Jesus? Then where you are those things doesn’t matter too much, does it? Then, everywhere you are could accurately be called church and everything you do could accurately be called ministry. Then, all of life would be preparation. Then, the sermons we give (with or without words) would “flow spontaneously out of that life, and out of a mind that thought and believed deeply.”
There’s no “just” anything, no “just” anywhere, no separation, no distinction (if there is, the walls, boxes and labels are the ones we’ve placed). There’s just 1 integrated life, lived with purpose, meaning, passion, pain, joy, routine, crying, singing, practice, peace, awareness and everything else. But mostly love. These lives overflowing with the love of Jesus will speak so loudly, even the most perfect words won’t be necessary.
My good friend (and extraordinarily talented author) Cyn Morgan writes in her book, Misericorde (which you can and should get on Amazon): “May we show our thankfulness through kindness and appreciate our blessings through generosity.”
I love that line, think it’s the perfect answer to the question we are always exploring: “Now what?” God created us, rescued/rescues us, accepts us, loves us without & beyond reason…now what? Well, Morgan is saying, now this. So, it’s awesome and I reference it often.
But in addition to an eloquent image of hope and beauty in practice, I suppose it also speaks to and defines the problem, doesn’t it? Kindness and generosity are in such short supply because thankfulness and appreciation are in such short supply.
I once read that a negative comment leaves an imprint on our psyche immediately, while a positive one requires 15 seconds. I don’t actually know if it is a scientific fact that you would find in journals and textbooks, but to be completely honest with you, I don’t care. I believe it, because it is absolutely true. We all believe it. It’s why 30 of “I like your new haircut” are forgotten after 1 thoughtless jab. Of course, we know the rude words of trolls only serve to display their wounded heart and insecurities, but that knowledge is utterly useless as we play and replay, feeling the hurt over and over. The haircut isn’t the point anymore, our worth and value are.
We don’t take the 15 seconds and let the lovely, the pure, the excellent and praiseworthy crowd out the trash. And there’s a lot of trash right now. Who could appreciate or be thankful for trash? Where are the blessings in that?
Another problem is that we live in a transactional economy. Nothing is for free, right? “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Receiving gifts, blessings, compliments with nothing in return is nearly impossible for us. It’s why I say, “you’ll have to come to my house next time,” or “I’ll pick up the check next time.” It’s why you get that knot in your stomach if someone gives you a Christmas gift and you don’t have one for them.
Now, what does this mean when it comes to God, grace, or salvation? I’ll tell you, it means entire systems of Jesus-plus religions that are wholly focused on sin management. Whole life games of chutes & ladders. Altars dedicated to the Should. Our spirituality becomes office buildings with door-keepers evaluating our work, grading our adherence to the great checklist in the sky. What we get isn’t a blessing, it’s compensation for a job well done or punishment for a job not so well done.
So, Tuesday, my revolution was to be thankful. (1 day – or small moments inside of 1 day – was more than enough of a beginning. That step was like going from 0 to a million.) My rebellion was to ignore the chains I usually carry on my shoulders around my neck that keep nagging me to prove my worth, and just bathe in the blessings of grace & love that have been poured on my life. For 15 seconds. Each. And it was wonderful. Like everything else, it was so much better than I could’ve imagined.
Let’s start with a paraphrase of only half of Morgan’s quote: “May we [be] thankful and appreciate our blessings [for 15 seconds at a time],” and then from there, who knows what’s possible????