Cleaning the Lens
What we want most of the time is for God to change uncomfortable circumstances.
What God wants to change in us is our responses to uncomfortable circumstances.
God allows difficulties into our lives many times as a means of sanding our roughness away. When we beg God to remove the sandpaper, we seek to block His plans and circumvent His methods for making us smoother and better suited to reflect His glory more clearly.
We understand the need for cutting, grinding and polishing when it comes to constructing something of beauty or good function for our everyday life. So why is it so hard to see the parallel in the way God is working to prepare us to function in His family? We don't want a rough piece of lumber full of splinters, sticky sap oozing out and splattered with mud to use as a piece of fine furniture. We don't want a dull, ragged piece of metal to use for a mirror or even for a tool. We understand the need to cut away rough, sharp edges that present dangers of cutting our skin; we see the need to grind and sand and polish a lens so that light can pass through it and be focused properly.
Our lives are intended to become precious stones that can transmit light in ways that are attractive and pleasing and beneficial to those around us. But we cannot generate light ourselves any more than a lens cover could produce the light in a car headlight. But our character and spirit often look like many of the new style plastic lenses that we see on cars today – so oxidized and cloudy that the driver has great difficulty seeing much at all on the road ahead at night. I know – I had a number of such lenses on my own vehicles recently.
What I learned is that there is a solution to that problem. I purchased a kit that included a number of different grades of sandpaper and polishing materials designed to remove the roughness on my headlights that was blocking the brilliancy of the light bulbs underneath the covers. After carefully following the instructions and going through the procedures that included making a bit of dust from sanding the surface of the plastic, I was amazed to see the clarity that emerged after I finally wiped off the last of the residue and applied the clear sealer over the finished project.
Yet in my growth relationship with God I tend to be a bit resistant to accepting a similar process of being sanded, ground and polished. It doesn't feel nice at all to have my ugliness come to the surface under provocative situations. I don't like having my deep triggers aroused, my anger exposed, my faults revealed publicly. I don't like feeling the shame that this process causes as my mistakes become fuel for others to discredit my reputation and profession as a follower of Jesus. Like most people I rather enjoy keeping up appearances and maintaining a good reputation.
But I find that God seems to have quite a different agenda. He is often working in the other direction, provoking my weaknesses to be exposed, putting me in company with people that arouse my anger or my disdain or disgust. Sometimes he puts me in close proximity to people who arouse intense temptation for lust which is a source of deep embarrassment for one who is seeking to reflect the purity of Jesus more clearly. That is certainly not helpful to my reputation and too often gives reason for people to gossip about me.
But I find that God is not nearly so interested in protecting my reputation as He is in seeking to make me a more faithful witness testifying in behalf of His reputation. He reminds me that I am not the one on trial in the great dispute going on in the universe – He is. I tend to become too absorbed in making myself look good so that others will be more attracted to like me, to make me feel good, while God is seeking to transform me into a man who can transmit the life-giving light from His heart of love so that others will be drawn to turn to Him to receive real life for themselves.
I do want to cooperate with His process of transforming me. Its just that when I try to submit to what He is doing to change me, I find all sorts of feelings, urges and resentments surging up inside of me that work to defeat all that God is doing in me. I know, I've heard about all this in religious talks all my life. But religion has proven to be rather counterproductive when it comes to practical application much of the time, at least for me. I have found that the best way to begin to understand the true, intended meanings of religious terminology from the Bible is to translate it into words that actually still make sense in everyday life. This has taken many years for me to search out, but God has been faithful all and still continues to sand, polish, rub and heal my heart, my mind and my spirit.
At times I feel surges of hope as I begin to see glimmers of His light beginning to leak through the foggy lenses of my life. But it is usually not long before I get a reality check reminding me that I am still very much in process. I am so vulnerable in many respects and am increasingly aware that the enemy makes special targets of those who are escaping his traps. But I keep reminding myself that it is God's faithfulness that I must rely on to finish the work He began in me, for all I can do is cooperate; I cannot clean myself up as I have tried to do all too often.
Yesterday I had a good discussion with my wife about something that had come to my attention in a dream the night before. It had to do with the contrast between the principles of economics as we are so familiar with in this world to the kind of thinking that permeates heaven's transactions. What seemed to emerge from that most clearly for me was an awareness that in our way of thinking, it simply makes the best sense to make investments based on getting the highest returns. In economics this is called ROI. But as I am increasingly becoming aware of heaven's way of doing things that are different than ours, I see that in the kingdom of God it is generally the other way around; God invests in us for the purpose of empowering us to bless others. Agape love expects nor demands anything in return.
Our thinking is that we give something for the purpose of getting something of equal value or better for ourselves back from our investment.
In God's system, we are to joyfully receive God's gifts that have no strings attached so that we can in turn contribute toward the needs of those around us without having strings attached. This seems quite foreign to my thinking, for it sounds hazardous at best or even irresponsible. It flies in the face of much of how I have been trained to think much of my life about making wise investments. But consider Jesus who was one of the poorest people on earth and yet lived in perfect peace, contentment and trust in His Father's constant provision for Him.
God's ways are certainly not like our ways as I keep discovering. The closer I get to aligning myself with what I am learning about heaven's economy, the more out of step I find myself with all that I have been taught. But that sounds a lot like many others that I read about in history who became more and more out of sync with the world as they came closer to God's ways in their life.
Father, thank-you for continuing to sand and polish, even though I complain at times. Make me more transparent so that the light of Your glory can be more readily seen and can bring more light and hope and love to those around me who live in dense darkness, fear, loneliness and despair.
As I was waking up this morning and dialogging with God, I was reminded of my resistance to loving some people that He has been bringing into my sphere of influence lately who are, should I say, rather low on the social scale. The don't look pretty, they don't smell pretty and their social skills lack much to be desired. I find myself wanting to pull back, for like most people I find it much easier to relate to individuals who are closer to 'normal' if you know what I mean. In fact, I hate to admit it but I am also vulnerable to be drawn more to the really appealing people who are much more attractive than I will ever be. But that is another issue.
I was talking about all of this to God and asking for more love for these kinds of people that He is clearly bringing to me for some reason. But then He brought something to my heart that really caught my attention and that I could not avoid. How can I profess to love God, to say that my affections are awakening to the love that I am beginning to see coming from Jesus, and yet dig in my heels when it comes to passing along that same love to someone who is obviously starving for love?
The King will answer and say to them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'
Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' (Matthew 25:40, 45)
Suddenly I am face to face with the reality that Jesus is presenting Himself personally to me in the form of people who are clearly among the least of these. Now He is considering to see how I am going to treat Him. He has heard my requests to know Him better and He is answering them, but in ways that I did not really want to experience necessarily. Yet it is unavoidable that Jesus made it clear this is how His true followers are going to relate to Him. I cannot really love God more than to the extent that I am willing to love those who are definitely unlovely. That is sternly sobering for my heart.
I need a radical transformation of thinking, of feeling, of reacting before I can better reflect the spirit that Jesus demonstrated in how He related to the outcasts and the dysfunctional around Him. Now He wants to keep touching the lives of those kinds of people through followers who are willing to let Him shine that same love through their lenses. The issue is whether I am willing to humble myself and let His love flow freely through me to them, or whether I will pull away, withdraw from them or avoid them to prefer the company of those who are more pleasant to be around.
As I meditate on this confrontation in my heart, I am reminded that in many people's eyes I am one of those unlovely people. My looks, my rough edges, my dysfunction and ugliness can be just as repulsive to some as what I am feeling about those God is bringing into my life. I should already know to some extent what it feels like for people to pull away when I rush them too fast to become my friend. I know what rejection feels like, what slander and gossip can do, what judging can feel like when people don't bother to ask my side of the story. So I have no excuse for being unwilling to have sympathy for others who are experiencing what I have tasted and been hurt by in my own experience.
Father, convert me, transform me, keep working in me so that Your glory can flow more freely.