Curtis K. Shelburne
It’s not the kind of “funny” that makes you fall down and roll in laughter, but the cartoon I saw recently did make me stop, think, and whisper a heartfelt, “Amen!”
The cartoon pictures a preacher on his knees in his study, evidently just before he is up to bat for one more Sunday morning, and he prays simply, “O Lord, please do something that’s not in the bulletin.”
I know. There is a particular kind of, well, faith-weakness really, that manifests itself in a need to see something in our lives every morning akin to the parting of the Red Sea. We catch ourselves wanting a big-time, heart-thumping, adrenaline-pumping miracle a day to keep doubt away. And in worship, we want to start with an earthquake and work up from there in emotional intensity. If we don’t see those miracles almost every day and have mountain-top worship experiences almost every Sunday, our fervor cools, disappointment mounts, and we begin to act as if God is nowhere near because we haven’t seen pillars of fire appearing right in front of us recently.
Out of his compassion, Jesus once fed five thousand. But he knew that folks who show up because of free fish only stay if the fish keep coming, and, sure enough . . . Nothing has changed. Brother Billy Bob down at the Church of What’s Happening Now would do well to realize that folks attracted by skyrockets and earthquakes will only stay if you keep on manufacturing skyrockets and earthquakes.
And that’s an extreme. Faith that must always be propped up by outward show and ceaseless hyper-emotion is not much faith.
But the temptation I seem to face most often is at the other end of the spectrum. Far from expecting an eye-popping miracle to appear behind every coffeepot, I find myself expecting far too little. I catch myself living life and “doing church” as if God had set the world spinning and then retired or settled down for a long gazillion-year nap.
For example, I work hard to plan worship (as well I should), but I need to remember that the most important things that happen in worship are not things I can plan. When God breaks in and astounds me, I’m so surprised that one wonders why I bothered to come if I really didn’t expect him to show up.
I pray, and then I’m surprised when God rocks me on my heels with a wonderful answer.
I plan and organize and work and almost despair when for long spells not much seems to be happening. Sometimes my hardest work seems to accomplish the least, and then God breaks and then God breaks in and does something far more wonderful than I could ever have planned or imagined.
Dear God, help me to remember that you are God and that your job is to work and my job is to trust in you. It’s all the job I can handle and I do it pretty poorly. Forgive me when I’m surprised when you do something that’s not in the bulletin. But thank you for doing it!