I’m walking through a new building on church grounds – furnished classrooms that are ready to welcome students, a well-lit atria with places for people to gather and share meals, a stage area for musicians and others to perform, and there must be a well-stocked library behind one of the doors. This is the perfect space for ministry.
However, it took me at least a week to go in once I noticed it on the property of an older building. You see, I had been so focused making programs and activities work in the old building that I hadn’t seen the other building front of me. I had been struggling to put new wine in old wine skins, when the new were already there waiting to be filled. Why?
Then I woke up back in my bedroom.
This may have been only a dream, but the images in it have been weighing on me. At first I thought that the dream affirmed a tendency to get everything in order, whether in ministry or other areas of life, before going on to the next thing. But there was something more. I had refused to see the new building for over a week, wasting time and energy on bemoaning the struggles in the old building because I did not see the opportunities in front of me.
How many of us do this? Refuse to see what’s before us and really live into it. Or maybe it’s not an active refusal. Maybe it’s not having the eyes to even see because of fear, laziness, or simply lack of imagination. There are many excuses for not entering the new building when staying in the old place is so comfortable and rearranging the furniture can make it seem as if something is happening.
Furthermore, it’s easier to complain and critique rather than walk into the new house. When I hear of friends and acquaintances setting out on a new project, I often wonder why do they have this opportunity and I don’t. How were they able to finish all their work before starting this new activity? They entered the new building before they should. At this point I will often find a comfortable place to hang out in my old building and feel sorry for myself.
As I was immersed in this path of self-criticism and envy once again, an e-mail popped up from on of my favorite places, Southborough L’Abri.
“. . . Thankfulness to God begins with an awareness of our complete dependence on God. But a sense of dependence on God is only the beginning. It also requires that we stay awake and aware enough to notice what God is doing in the world and to not forget about it. Those areas of awareness are blocked if we have a strong sense of our own victimhood, if we feel an entitlement that our expectation of a “good life” is owed to us, or if we are confident that we can meet all of life’s challenges with our own resources. It is no secret that our consumer culture invites us to focus not on our blessings, but on what we lack, yet desire. All of these attitudes displace the consciousness that our life itself is a gift. We can usually do pretty well with occasional gratitude but the challenge is gratitude as a more basic attitude or assumption, an anchor beneath our lives.” Dick Keyes, Southborough L’Abri News/Prayer Letter January 2013
These words spoke directly to me. It was time to wake up. Awareness of God’s working in the world is blocked when we focus on our own victimhood. How true. This is exactly where I existed as I pitied myself for staying in the old building for too long, for not having opportunities that others seem to have handed to them. It is easy to look at the world and blame some one or some thing else for my problems. To claim someone else has kept me out of the house, when really it’s been me.
Eyes of gratitude help us to live into the life before us within God’s kingdom now. It stops us from holding onto the world’s ways of security so tightly that we miss God’s work right in front of us. But it does require letting go. Stepping into the new house. Leaving behind the comfortable old belief that we or anyone on earth can create the good life ourselves.
In the old building I’m under the illusion that I’m in control and need to make things work. In the new, God is, and I can rest in the work he has prepared for me to do, even in the midst of struggles.
It’s time to walk into that new building today. Or maybe just move towards the front door as I pray for God to guide the way.