Have you ever read a command in the Bible, heard a sermon, or a book about spiritual things and thought, "There is no way I can do that?" I read a passage over twenty years ago in a book called The New Pilgrims in which the author talks about a man named George. After being in close contact with a missionary from a third world country, George had a light bulb moment about his over-consumption . The author spent only three paragraphs talking about George, yet these paragraphs were some of the most impactful I ever read. When George and his family realized they were living in sin-the sin of affluence, they decided they needed to repent. Yet, how does one repent of a lifestyle? George and his family did it one step at a time.
"They realized that repentance is not "saying sorry and keeping on doing it, but a lengthy period of turning to God in sorrow for forgiveness. It involves putting right the wrong, with the intention of treading new paths in the future. Therefore they entered a two year "time of repentance". They sold their large house in a prestigious suburb and moved to a smaller one. They swapped their enegy-hogging car for a small model. They examined their food intake and improved the quality of their diet. George lost forty pounds. Money saved was given away."
Over the Labor Day weekend I picked up a magazine at the Wind Hill common house at Gilchrist in Three Rivers, MI. I read an article and below is what I gleaned from it and my Bible reading as reported in my journal:
"I read an article called "Enlightening Annoyances" by Robert C. Morris. It was about abiding in the vine. He spoke of a life dominated by do's and don'ts and how he began an apprenticeship with Jesus. The pivotal moment came when he realized instead of pushing down his emotions when he read a verse like, "Love your enemies," which he knew he could not do, he'd bring his anger to God. He'd start by living out his anger. "That moment was pivotal in my becoming a disciple of Jesus the Life Master, my 1st conscious step of living into the challenges Jesus sets for us rather than trying to live up to a set of rules. I had taken my first step as an apprentice of Jesus, learning his art of cultivating the soul's receptivity to grace."
After I finished that article I went onto my Bible reading of the second half of Matthew chapter one. In this passage Joseph finds out his wife-to-be, Mary, is pregnant. An angel sent by God tells him to go ahead and marry Mary. He prefaces the statement with "Do not be afraid."
George, Robert Morris, and Joseph have had a word from God, a next step in their faith journeys. This got me to thinking about "impossible imperatives" in life and wondering if they are all preceded by God's "Do not be afraid." "Peter, don't be afraid, get out of the boat." "Joshua, do not be afraid to enter the promise land." "Karen, do not be afraid, trust Me that I will provide for you when you and Don are no longer working." While not always spoken, I believe that anything God wants us to do that causes us fear or doubt comes with a "Do not be afraid."
Obeying can happen incrementally, like in the case of George. He did not beat himself up when he realized he was living a life of too much affluence. He could have felt overwhelmed or guilty. If that had happened he probably would have rationalized and kept living the same lifestyle. Robert Morris chose a different than his typical response when he realized he did not love his enemies. He admitted the truth of it, felt the anger, and asked God to help him. Joseph could have put Mary away quietly, but instead he believed the angel and went ahead and married Mary. I can choose to fret over the future or I can trust the God who has taken care of me all my life.
The aha moment dawns or the fork in the road appears. We can embrace the new knowledge. We can walk toward the fork and listen for the still small voice of God. "Don't be afraid." Take that step of obedience, that step toward Jesus.