An Important Perspective on the Difficult and Mudane

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A while back a friend shared an interesting concept with me, which I have come to see applies to many areas of life. We were on our way to meet with a ministry that our church supports and we knew that there would be some hard conversations that needed to be had – some behaviors and attitudes which needed to be confronted and challenged, some practices that needed to be critiqued.

What my friend told me is that things like this are hard in the moment, but when you zoom way out, and you take the big picture view of what is going on, they are actually beautiful – and if you can keep that perspective, it helps you to do those things which are difficult in the moment.

The example he used was his family: if you look at any given moment up close, it probably doesn’t look that beautiful: dad is frustrated and scolding the kids for not doing their chores, mom is complaining that someone left their shoes in the middle of the floor, siblings are bickering with each other, the dog is barking and scratching up the glass door…  It’s all terrible, right?

Except it’s not. If you zoom out from the details of the moment and take the 30,00o foot view, where you see what is happening there as a whole, what you see is something beautiful: you see a group of people who are living together, who love each other and are committed to each other. And 20 years from now, it’s not going to be the siblings bickering that you’ll remember, it’s the big picture of the family that was together.

The point is: Even if in the moment it isn’t glorious and beautiful, in the big picture it is.

I think this can be applied to many areas in life. In general, creating things and building things is an inglorious process, but the big picture of the process itself, not only the finished product, can be a beautiful thing.

I know someone who felt a calling to move his family to a certain city a few years ago to plant a church. They were excited, they felt that they loved the culture of this city, that it would be a great fit for their family, and they expected that God would use them to birth a new church. After arriving in town and getting established, they set up the church’s website, affiliated with a group of churches, and announced a weekly meeting. They were prepared that it might be slow-going getting started, but they were excited when someone they had invited showed up for their Bible study. However, little encouragements like this became more and more rare. For two years they did everything they could think of to get this church started, the whole family was involved, and the husband worked also worked a full time job to pay the bills. After two years, they shut it down and moved back to where they had come from, disappointed and confused: had they not discerned God’s will correctly that this is what they were supposed to do?  Or was it possible that God had led them out there on purpose, knowing that the church plant would not succeed, in order to teach them something?

If you would have looked at any given moment, you might have seen intense discouragement. You might have seen kids complaining that their parents had taken them away from their friends back home to move to this place, and for what? To have a Bible study in their house that was poorly attended? You might have seen a marriage that was struggling under the stress and sadness of a dream that was not materializing. Nothing beautiful. Nothing glorious.

But when you take a step back and look at the big picture, you do see something that is beautiful. You see something that is downright glorious. You see a family together, taking a step of faith and following God; working together and serving together, praying together for God to work in a city and call people to new life. You see a man and a woman who are seeking God for direction, and asking Him to speak to them. You see a group of kids who have a mom and dad who are setting an amazing example for them of values which really matter… That is beautiful. That is glorious.

That isn’t to say that everything people do is glorious in the big picture. There are plenty of things which are not. But doing things that matter often consists of doing many things which aren’t glorious or pretty or fun. Sometimes they are messy or painful or even just super boring. This is true of business, school, relationships, marriage, and just about anything else that matters.

Keep that perspective in mind this week: try to see the big picture in the difficult moments, and let that encourage you to continue on working for things that matter.

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Expecting Nothing in Return? Not Usually.

For a long time, I have found this sentence from Jesus to be both extremely beautiful and terribly convicting:

But love your enemies, and do good, and give, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35)

This is the definition of generosity: giving, expecting nothing in return. Nothing.

That means that a generous person doesn’t keep an accounting in their relationships, i.e. a running tally of who has done more for whom. They don’t keep score. They are free from that – free to give, expecting nothing in return.

That’s a lot easier said than done though…

Recently in my conversations with two people, this topic came up. One in particular likes to help people. He’s always helping people and doing favors. Nice, right? Except there’s one problem: he’s become resentful towards some of the people he’s helped out.

The other person explained to me that he likes to buy things for other people, little token gifts. But he too struggles with feelings of resentment, when he feels that his gestures of kindness are not reciprocated.

Both of these people would say that when they do these things, they don’t expect any form of compensation for them, but yet, both of them feel resentful. Why?

At least in the case of the first person, it is because, albeit subconsciously, oftentimes he isn’t just helping for the sake of helping – he’s doing it because there is a form of compensation that he hopes to receive for doing it. In his case it is not money, it is friendship. If and when friendship does not result, he feels that he was involved in a transaction in which the other party did not pay. The only thing is: the other party wasn’t aware of the assumed agreement and didn’t realize it was a transaction.

“Free” is rarely free.

What that means is that some people give a lot, but they’re not generous – because they give for selfish reasons. For example, the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14 gave a lot to the Temple, but the reason he gave was so that other people would see it and praise him as a good person. His giving was a means of self-justification and self-glorification. The money still went to good use, and it is certainly better to give to a good cause for bad reasons than to spend money wastefully or only on yourself, but God is also concerned about why we give what we give.

Tim Keller, speaking about generosity, says that some people are always doing things to help other people, but they are actually using those people to feel good about themselves – i.e. they need those people to need them. They need for people to think they are good people. It’s their source of identity and their means of trying to justify their life. They’re not doing nice things for other people for the sake of those people themselves as much as they are actually doing it for themselves.

True generosity is when you act from selfless motivation, giving something and expecting nothing in return.

This is what Jesus encourages, saying, “your father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4)

Again, that is easier said than done. The way we can be motivated to truly act that way is through the message of the Gospel. First of all, the Gospel is that God has been generous to you, not as a transaction, but simply just because He loves you and enjoys blessing you. That’s grace. Secondly, the Gospel gives you an identity: it affirms you, saying that God not only knows you fully, but loves you completely.

Many people believe that they can either be known completely or loved completely, but not both – because if someone really gets to know them, they couldn’t possibly love them. Therefore, in order for people to love them and accept them completely, they cannot possibly allow anyone to know them completely.

But the message of the Gospel is that God BOTH knows you completely and loves you completely – at the same time. That’s incredible love and affirmation.

The message of the Gospel is that you have been justified in Christ, therefore you don’t need to work hard to justify yourself.

And when you really understand that – you’ll be free to give, expecting nothing in return: like God who gives even to the evil and the ungrateful. You’ll be free to give for the sake of giving, for the sake of another person or a cause, with no strings attached, because you are so firm in your identity, that you are already loved and justified and have value. The Gospel sets us free from our ulterior motives in doing even good things and from feelings of resentment towards those we have done acts of kindness for.