Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Trade

I've been reading a devotional by Richard and Reneé Stearns called He Walks Among Us: Encounters with Christ in a Broken World.  This book consists of stories about what these two servants of the Lord have learned from those they have had the honor of meeting all over the world.  One story I read was about a little boy living in Malawi.  He and his friends were kicking a homemade ball around their village in a soccer match.   

Having visited Africa before, I have seen what kind of ball that Reneé Stearns described in this passage.  Children in third world countries will often crumple layers upon layers of plastic bags and twine until they have made a ball of sorts.  These homemade balls are rough and take a lot of repair, but children are creative and make do with what they have.

Rich and Reneé had a real soccer ball with them - a nice Nike ball that would roll smoothly upon the ground and last so much longer than the mass of crumpled plastic bags the little boy was holding in his hands.  They offered to trade soccer balls with him, the old for the new.

Surprisingly, it took a few minutes of hesitation and discussion with his friends before the little boy was willing to trade his roughly-made soccer ball in for the shiny, new one.  He had always used a ball that he had made with his hands.  Even with the offer of something so much better than what he had ever owned, he was drawn to what was old and familiar.  The idea of change brought uncertainty, even when the answer seemed obvious to anyone else.

Reneé compared the boy's struggle of letting go of the old with a spiritual struggle.  "A lot of people feel about their lives the same way the boy felt about his ball, especially when they sense that God is calling them to something new.  They like what's familiar, what's comfortable, and they're reluctant to leave it behind, even if they are reasonably certain that to do so would be to follow God's leading.  Hanging onto something that might be good, they miss what's even better."

This story resonated with me.

I am so much like that little boy.  My life is often surrounded by what is comfortable and cozy for me, even if it is ultimately to my expense.  As a college student nestled deep within the comforts of the Christian community at my university, even the ministry I pursued last semester often became familiar and comfortable for me.

As Christians, we have been called to evangelize when it tears us out of our comfort zones, to serve the poor when it means sacrificing material comforts from our own lifestyles, and to love all people when it means dying to self in a very uncomfortable way.  We are constantly warring against our flesh in order to pursue a lifestyle that reflects our Savior.  How we live our lives is a battlefield, and yet I often find myself resting comfortably in a cocoon of "sexy Christianity."

Joy and peace are results of sacrifice, mercy, and compassion, of trusting Christ even when He draws us away from the familiar.  Stepping outside of our American Christian comfort zones is not always alluring, but there is so much freedom waiting for us when we do.

I don't want to cling to my balled-up tangle of trash while God is asking me to trade it in for the real thing.

We have been commanded to serve orphans and widows, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to set captives free, and to proclaim Christ's love to all nations.  Not to press a shiny ichthys onto the bumper of our cars, not to wear Chacos because that's what Christian college kids do, not to keep a Bible in our backpacks "just in case someone asks."  Those things are fine (I have participated in everything on that list in the last year alone), but so much more has been offered to us than what is familiar.  Our eyes are dim.

1 Corinthians 2:9 says, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him."  Letting go of the familiar is frightening and difficult.  But He has placed beauty and delight in our paths, far beyond what our minds will ever conceive on our own.

Each day, there seems to be a new ball of trash that I find myself clutching defensively in my hands while the Lord coaxes it away in exchange for something so much better. 

And the freedom that comes when I do let go brings so much joy. 

"Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God's love for them.  But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to You.  What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, 'Salvation comes from the Lord.'" -Jonah 2:8-9

Two years ago: Christmas Gift Ideas (Part 2)
Three years ago: Jack the dorky Yorkie
Four years ago: Hobos Rock

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