Why do we have so many trials, struggles, and hard roads? Why can’t things just be easier? While certainly not a comprehensive answer, think about painting a house. The real work is in the prep, right? That is, one needs to prepare the house for the final coat. There are lots of steps. Some more tedious than others. So it is with God. God has lots of work to do on us (we screwed His image up pretty bad) – it takes time – but why? What’s the end game? What are we being prepped for?
It can get really frustrating after weeks, months, and years of scraping paint, caulking cracks, replacing rotted boards, cleaning off mildew…etc. We get frustrated. We want to start slapping on some paint (we want to see the fruit to use a biblical metaphor). But, if we’re honest, isn’t it often just so we can look good? Or perhaps we just want to do the minimum? Ugh! More scraping needed!
It can indeed get frustrating, but when the larger goal, when the master plan is in sight, and the love of God fills our hearts, it all makes sense. We can thank God for our trials, as he prepares us for…what?
For doing His will (according to Hebrews 13:21). His will is obviously what’s best. So anything that moves us toward that end has to be good – cause for celebration, really – certainly worthy of praise, right? The Apostle Paul, after a brief description of his trials and suffering, reminds Timothy we are being thoroughly prepared for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). God’s will has to do with good work. This sounds good, right?
It needs to be said that this preparation should not be seen as some private spiritual journey. It’s done in community through the Holy Spirit established by its founder, Jesus, and for the Kingdom. In other words, we’re being prepared to better serve in the Kingdom – a Kingdom of peace, justice, love, forgiveness, joy – God’s Kingdom – here on earth, as it is in heaven. It often requires significant refining (scraping off of our worldly ways), so we can put on love, grace, compassion, gentleness, humility – virtues of the Kingdom – the Age to Come – that has begun with Jesus.
Christianity is often referred to as a religion. It’s bigger. It’s an empire. Jesus announced the “Kingdom of God.” That is, he announced (and ushered in) the time of God’s reign. He didn’t outline the time of God’s religion. Or the time of God’s spirituality. No – he said Kingdom – with all the political and social weight attached.
Who’s the king? Jesus. All authority on heaven and earth has been given to Jesus. Shockingly, he then gives it to us with the charge to teach (and embrace) the things that he taught.
This community (working for the Kingdom of God) is charged with the task of shaping the world as Jesus outlined in his proclamation (Mark 1:15). The time is fulfilled – the Kingdom of God has begun in and through Jesus. It’s not a Kingdom where rulers lord it over people, but of godly stewards and servants (Matt 20). It’s not a kingdom where the servants try to keep things for themselves, hiding it under a bowl. Rather, it’s one where folks let their light shine (Matt 5)
So, yes. There is lots of preparation needed. Cracked paint, mold, and rot doesn’t shine very well. It needs prepping. I heard (or read) the late Dallas Willard say (paraphrasing), that God works on us so he can give us more gifts. This work, this paint scraping, opens the door for more of God’s will – his good work in His new creation project. The final coat is coming, we can be assured of that. In the mean time, there is a hurting world that needs the love of God’s Kingdom.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson
(A shout out to N.T. Wright – via various lectures – for bits of the above)