These Present Troubles

Jesus is clearly a champion of the poor, hungry and needy. Yet when a woman pours a year’s salary worth of perfume on him, and the disciples criticize this move as being too extravagant (“That should have been sold and the money given the poor”), Jesus says this: “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:8)

Jesus isn’t being callous and uncaring about the poor. He’s being realistic. This world is always going to have problems. There will always be trouble. You’ll always have something that needs fixing. Don’t use that as an excuse not to worship God.

I have several issues that I’ve been presenting to God repeatedly for a couple years, basically crying and saying ‘fix it!’

But God hasn’t snapped his fingers and made all the issues go away. What I have come to realize is that if God solves my current problems, I’ll just end up having different ones.

He wants me to seek him, follow him, worship him where I am. Israel wasn’t told to worship God once they got to the promised land. They were called to do it in the desert, before they ever got their promised inheritance.

If, no - check that, WHEN we have problems; health, money, relationships, school, career - we can’t get to the attitude that once God makes it better, we’ll really do a better job of loving him and living for him.

Jesus said that it’s okay, not to ignore the poor or forget about them, but to prioritize them. God is more important that our present troubles. We can lavish our love and affections on him, even from a place of brokenness and imperfections. Heck, what could be better than genuine worship in the midst of situations that try to rob you of your passion?

Jesus even says in John 16:33 that we are going to have trouble in this world. But that we should take heart, be encouraged. Because he is greater, and it’s all going to be okay in the final analysis.

God cares for the poor, desperate and needy; and he wants us to care as well. But if we are going to help restore this world, we’ve got to keep our priorities straight.

We need not feel guilty about giving God the best of us.

What is the Right Way to Worship God?

In John 4, a woman asks Jesus where the right place to worship God is. Jesus, in his typical fashion, gives an answer that the woman isn't expecting.

He says, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24)

Spirit and truth. I've thought about what this means. I understand that God is a spirit and I must worship him from my spirit, my soul...from within me. But what about truth? How do I worship God 'in truth'?

In that verse, truth is translated from the Greek word alētheia. It has the connotation of meaning ''in reality' or 'in fact'.

What I think Jesus is saying here is that we must worship God both in the spiritual reality where he exists and in the physical reality where we exist.

In our heart as well as with our hands.

From who we are and in what we do.

The issue, according to Jesus, isn't where you worship God, but how.

It's easy to get caught up in the mystical realities of a supernatural God, and I'm not going to say that's a bad thing. But I am going to say that we can't stop there.

I've heard many people express the desire for God to bring about 'More of you, less of me'. I understand the sentiment, but I'm not sure it's what God is after. God isn't trying to move us into oblivion as he takes over more and more. We're not just roadblocks in his way. He has called us to be full partners in his work and in his kingdom. He wants to fill us, not destroy us.

We are his work, not a hindrance to his purposes. You may think I'm being arrogant and acting a little too presumptuously. I assure you I am not. I say these things only because God clearly reveals them in the scriptures. I would agree that we don't deserve God's presence among us, or the freedom to invest our lives in him; but he not only makes it possible, he helps us to accomplish it.

But he has done all this so that we can be part of bringing his Kingdom and his will to this earth. He doesn't just want us getting happy off his gifts and his presence, he wants us to do something with them.

I think it's very possible to be so heavenly minded that you're no earthly good. And I would argue that you're forgetting to worship God in truth if you reach that point.

We are both in this world and also not of it. We must not run away from either of those truths. Because doing so would prevent us from worshiping God in the way Jesus said we ought.

The Incomplete God

I believe in an incomplete God. I pray to an incomplete God, sing praises to an incomplete God and read the scriptures of an incomplete God. It’s not that God is incomplete, mind you. It’s that my understanding of God is incomplete. So I am left believing in a God who I only partially comprehend. I worship the tip of the iceberg, knowing that there is so much more which is beyond my perception.

I can’t tell you why one person dies of cancer while another recovers against all medical odds.

I can’t explain why one person wins the lottery while another struggles to feed their children.

I don’t know why some of my prayers yield amazing results while others seem to go unnoticed.

But the thing is, I’m a super analytical person.  I don’t like unsolved mysteries. I want a God that I can understand and explain. That way, everything makes sense. I don’t have to be confused or surprised in any situation.

So I fill in the blanks.

I take the God who in judgment destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah and the God who in mercy spared Nineveh and I draw connections to explain the differences.

I take the God who stuck Annanias and Sapphira dead and the God who forgave the adulterous woman and I color the spaces in between.

I take the God who killed almost everything on earth in the time of Noah and the God who came as a man and bore the guilt of the entire human race and I figure out a way to explain it simply and easily.

And I end up with something that isn’t God. Or rather, it’s a God created in my own image.

Because, despite vaguely understanding how feeble my mind is in comparison to the greatness of God’s existence, I prove over and over that I’d rather have a complete but false God than an incomplete/incomprehensible real God.

Only when things in my life occur which can’t be explained by my false God do I have to wake up to what I’ve done. And those are the times where I must do violence to the God I’ve created. Instead of having the ability to understand and explain what’s going on, I simply have to echo Ezekiel who, when asked something beyond his comprehension, answered “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know.” (Ezekiel 37:3)

I have to face the fact that most of the time, I don’t know why God does whatGod does when God does it.

It’s when I start trying to improve God in my own eyes that I get myself into this trouble. When I try to make better sense of him in my own understanding.

So I do my best to worship the God who I can’t fully see or understand, leaving the blank spaces free from my own conjecture and speculation. The places where he has clothed himself with shadows, I cannot force him to be revealed.

He is, for me, the incomplete God who is greater than I could ever imagine.