Go about your business

[Adapted from this week’s sermon: “Have a Little Faith.”]

I’ll be honest: for most of my life, I’ve interacted with God in much the same way that Daniel does in chapter 12, verse 8:

I heard but could not understand; so I said, ‘My lord, what shall be the outcome of these things?’

Have you ever felt like that? “I could not understand.” Maybe you don’t know why you’re even in the place you are—literally or figurative; relationally, spiritually, emotionally, mentally. Maybe you don’t know where you’re going next. Maybe you don’t even think you’re still on the map!

A little bit of context for these verses: this is the end of the story of Daniel—at least what’s told in the Bible. This passage comes after several chapters of visions and dreams and prophecies that are hard to understand. God reveals them to Daniel, yet they concern social, political, historical events that will happen hundreds of years after Daniel’s death.

So understandably, his response is: “I don’t understand; can you explain it to me?”

Sometimes we like to think that if we only knew more, we’d be able to live life better.

If only I knew what school I’m getting into; or what I’m going to major in; or what job I’m going to get (or that I’m going to get a job!); or who I’m going to marry (or that I’m going to get married!). If I only knew that my kids would turn out okay; if I only knew that I’d be looked after when I’m old. If only … If only I knew, God, what you have planned for me, that would make things so much easier. God, just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it. Show me what you want me to do, and I’ll do it.

Really?

If you’d told me in 1999, when I was at boarding school in Surrey, England, applying to go to university in London to study law, that twelve years later, I’d be working at a church in Washington, D.C., I would laugh at you. If you told me in 2004, when I was studying music and playing in a rock band, that I would end up preaching more than performing, I would think you’re crazy. If you told me even a few years ago, when I was immersed in the world of politics and advocacy, that God wanted me to be a pastor …

If you’d told me that my path would include leaving good friends—best friends—and family behind while I moved across oceans and countries, that it would mean seeing my nieces and nephews only once every few years because we all live in different places, that it would mean almost getting married … and then not, and then enduring several relationships that would be better characterized as “false starts,” that it would mean deep feelings of rootlessness, struggling through the issue of my own self-worth, and learning many, many lessons the hard way, I’d say, “Thanks, but no, thanks. God, would you mind designing something a little less tortuous, something a little cleaner, something a little more to my preference?”

On the journey of life, we all come up against things in life as Daniel did at the end of his–things that we just can’t get our minds around, things we just don’t get–and we say as Daniel did, “I don’t understand. God, what shall be the outcome of all this?”

Sometimes, God tells us; sometimes, we get an explanation. Sometimes things are revealed to us; sometimes we catch a glimpse of what God is doing.

But more often than not, we get the response that God gives Daniel. This is how Eugene Peterson translates it in the Message, from verses 9 and 13:

Go on about your business, Daniel. … Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it’s all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward.

And we can imagine Daniel’s response (as ours often is): “You didn’t answer the question. You didn’t tell me what I wanted to know. You haven’t told me what to do.”

But that’s where the book ends–with God’s answer.

Throughout the story, even leading up to this moment, we’ve seen Daniel “going about his business.” And that doesn’t mean living however he pleases, with no reference to God. That means living according to what he does know, what has been revealed, and with what understanding he does have.

In doing this, Daniel shows us what it means to have faith. He doesn’t have to know it all before acting. He doesn’t have to have the assurance that things are going to work out how he thinks they ought to work out. He trusts.

You see, the point that Jesus is actually making is this, and I said this a few weeks ago, but it bears restating: it’s not about how hard you try, it’s not about how much faith you’re eking out; what’s important isn’t the size of your faith, it’s the God in whom you have faith.

Have faith in God, just a little bit. Trust in him, just a little bit. Put your life in his hands, just a little bit. And see what happens.

Because God has given us plenty to go on already. We are very capable of “going about our business” as Daniel did; God’s given us much of what we already need. Listen to this:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
  • Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18)
  • Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)
  • Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
  • Preach and live out the good news of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to do as Christ commands. (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • Be holy as your heavenly Father is holy. (Leviticus 11:44; 1 Peter 1:15-16)
  • Pray to your heavenly Father that his kingdom would come and his will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

That’s all in the Bible already, and if we think about the implications of each of these, that’s plenty to get on with. If we even sought to live out one of these fully, we’d begin to see how much God has already said to us.

God has already shown us and given us his grace and his peace and his love in the person and life of Jesus Christ, and he says, “I will be with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. And I give you my Spirit.” And as the Apostle Paul reminds the church in Rome, this is “the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead [who] lives in you.”

The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you.

When you begin to grasp that, when you begin to tap into the truth of that, when you begin to get your sin and self and pride out of the way and truly let the Spirit live and speak and love through you, your life will somehow seem fuller, more exciting, more pregnant with possibilities.

Elton Trueblood, former chaplain at both Harvard and Stanford, said, “The deepest conviction of the Christian is that Christ was not wrong.” And John Ortberg writes, “At its core, faith is trusting a person.”

Trust that Jesus means what he says:

If you have just a little bit of faith in me—just a mustard seed’s worth—even when you don’t understand, even when you’re questioning what’s going on, even when you can’t see the whole picture, even then, you will say to this mountain, move from here to there, and it will be so, and nothing will be impossible for you.

Don’t let your fear of the unknown, your clinging to the concept of certainty, your confusion in the midst of chaos, keep you from living life to the full, from loving God and loving people with everything you’ve got. God has things in store that we can’t even imagine, a story so grand that we can’t even conceive.

So … go about your business. And have a little faith.

How I’m making decisions

While in the UK, I got to read a lot–one of the perks of spending much time on public transportation. One of the books I read was Belief, edited by well-known scientist Francis Collins; and one of the excerpts is from Martin Luther King, Jr. In a sermon about having a tough mind and a tender heart, he said this:

[The tough-minded individual is] characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment. The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning. He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment. (184)

It was that last phrase—“firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment”—that stirred me. Whether because I’m a Third Culture Kid or because I come from a middle class Chinese family or for whatever other reason, my approach to making decisions has always involved more bet-hedging and playing it safe, waiting until the dust has settled before striking out, holding out until I know things will work out.

And it struck me that God wants more than that. God wants more than playing it safe. Being responsible doesn’t equate with playing it safe. Making wise decisions doesn’t always mean going where things are guaranteed. Following God doesn’t always entail knowing how I’ll be taken care of, only that I’ll be taken care of.

So I’m trying to make my decisions based on who I want to become–who I believe God created me to be–rather than just who I’ve always been or what’s safe.

In case you’re wondering, yes, this is related to life decisions that I’ve been making the last few weeks. Which I’ll write about soon. 🙂

A Pledge to the Next Generation

In light of the oil spill and the resultant devastation, we at Sojourners felt led to examine ourselves, our lifestyles and our habits. I helped to write the following pledge, originally posted on God’s Politics:

We are witnessing a massive despoiling of God’s creation that will impact ecosystems for generations. Our response must think that far ahead as well — to our children and our children’s children. Fortunately, if we lead by example, others, including future generations, will follow.

As people of faith, we know that true transformation requires sacrifice. To change our energy consumption as a nation, we’ll need more than symbolic gestures — we’ll need to learn to embody the scriptural practice of stewardship.

As part of Sojourners’ ongoing efforts to learn and discern lessons from the Gulf Coast Oil Spill, we’ve created “A Pledge to the Next Generation”. The pledge outlines some of our Christian beliefs found in scripture with a corresponding commitment statement. It reads in a similar fashion to a responsive reading. You can join us in the pledge by signing a short version on our website. Then, share with us what you would add to the pledge and what you have decided to do in your life as a result of the oil spill.

A Pledge to the Next Generation

As a person of faith called to be a steward of God’s creation, I take responsibility for the ways in which my lifestyle and my choices are partly responsible for the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I acknowledge that a new future will require conversion — a fundamental change in the ways we live in our communities, our nation, and our world.

Therefore, as a person of faith I believe and I pledge:

I believe we are called to be good stewards of the resources and gifts that God has given us in creation, and to share in God’s appreciation for the world which God called “good” (Genesis 1: 28-31).

  • I pledge to transform my life, through sacrifice, worship, action, and prayer, into one of stewardship of God’s creation.

I believe that children are a gift from God and that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these (Mark 10:13-16). I recognize that those who come after us are left with what we pass on to them.

  • I pledge to model, with my words, my attitudes, and my actions, a lifestyle that demonstrates a commitment to God’s creation and to the next generation.

I believe we are created for relationship, community, and shalom — not only with people (Mark 12:28-31) but with the world around us (Genesis 1:26-31).

  • I pledge to love my neighbor through the ways in which I treat the creation which we share, and to love God through the ways in which I treat God’s handiwork.

I believe the poor are often the most vulnerable to the consequences of our energy consumption through unsafe working conditions, polluted neighborhoods, and exploitation, and that “those who oppress the poor insult their Maker” (Proverbs 14:31).

  • I pledge to be generous with my resources toward those in need, aware of and responsible for my energy consumption, and committed to protect vulnerable communities from environmental exploitation.

I believe that God is a God of justice (Deuteronomy 10:17-19) and that we are called to reflect and represent this same God in doing justice ourselves (Micah 6:8).

  • I pledge to ensure the safety of all God’s children from the environmental excesses of the few and to advocate for policies and practices that forge a more sustainable and creation-aware path into the future.

I believe that knowing God should lead to just and righteous actions (Is. 1:16-17; Jer. 22:15-16). I believe that  since, in a democratic society, government is accountable to its citizens, and government is intended to be God’s servant for good (Rom.12- 13, Col. 2), I have a role in advocating with my government accordingly.

  • I pledge to share this commitment with my family, friends, and elected officials so that together we might seek both personal transformation and legislative outcomes that help us steward God’s creation for generations to come.

The lessons we have learned from this catastrophe impact all aspects of our society.  Any hope for a different future will only come when individuals, churches, elected officials, and corporate executives join hands and vow to change.  Today, I make this pledge.

Talking to God about tomorrow

Original post: March 31, 2008; update: January 31, 2010.

I had a conversation with God the other day about my future. It went a little something like this:

Me: I want to know what’s on your heart so that I can have these things on mine as well.

God: My heart’s pretty big. If I put all the things that are on my heart on yours, yours would most definitely be crushed.

Me: Okay, then. Would you at least show me what to do now?

God: Be faithful with what you know and what you see; act on where you’re at now. It may not be much, but it’s enough for now.

Me: *sigh* Typical.

God: You’re welcome.

Update, 2010: It’s certainly interesting to see how things have progressed in the last two years. Some things have changed. Some other things never change.

[Photo: “You talkin’ to me?” taken by Heather Wilson.]

Past, Present, Future

Original post: August 27, 2007; reposted unchanged.

On Saturday, I was on two planes and in three airports. I always journal when I’m on planes and in airports; maybe it’s all of the time I have while waiting, or the association that I have with airports as symbols of transition and change that stirs something in me. Maybe I just think a lot and these are some of the few times I have to write my thoughts down.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about time. I’ve now been in the States for over a year. It’s been a tough year—probably the toughest yet; but it’s been a good year—one of the best. I don’t feel like I’m living what Brennan Manning describes as “a life of surrender without reservation” (The Signature of Jesus, 91). It’s where I’d love to be.

Things are busy, life is busy, there’s always a lot to do, Brennan acknowledges. But his subsequent comment jarred me from my stupor of busyness: “What of prayer, silence, solitude, and simple presence of the indwelling God?” (104). Take time, get out of the busyness for a while, center down, practice the presence. It is the difference between a tired, strenuous, stretched-thin, mediocre existence, and the fullness of life.

***

You’ve probably heard that saying, “The past is gone, the future is not yet here; all we have is the present” or some variant of it. It’s so important to dwell in the present, to make the most of the opportunities we have in the here and now, not missing out on them because we’re looking back at what once was, or looking forward to what might be.

Of course, we learn from the past, we remember the past; and we look forward to what is to come, we work towards hopes and dreams. But the only thing we can do anything about is the present.

And rest assured, time and experience work themselves out in more than just a straight line. For instance, I’m continually astounded when songs that I’ve written years ago for someone else come to speak exactly into my situation or into someone else’s situation; songs like “I Miss You”, “Undone”, “Somewhere I Don’t Need to Care”, “What Happens Now?” and “Her”.

Human experience differs as cultures, times and situations change. But on another level, it’s basically the same. Hence the appeal of the Bible: here, we find stories of tragedy, of dysfunctional families, of hard lives; songs of love; words of advice that hold true today; examples of people who lived ordinary lives, hard lives, faithful lives. And it speaks to us. Because we’re human too.

***

“Only the one who has experienced it can know what the love of Jesus Christ is. Once you have experienced it, nothing else in the world will seem more beautiful or desirable.” (Manning, Signature, 42)