Friday, September 11, 2015

The Expensive Habits of the Pure in Heart

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

I am not pure in heart. That should be noted immediately. Not that I don’t have my moments of altruism. I occasionally do the right thing for the right reasons. But short afterward, my retrospect-o-scope looks for ways in which I may have missed the potential profit, improved influence, or at least reputation-building benefits that could have accompanied my efforts.

So, when I am looking at even those few moments that some would imagine me pure in heart, what do I see? I see me. I see what resources I had available. I see what needs those resources met. I see my frustration at being unable to accomplish even more for those in need. And I see…well, the gratitude I think I deserve, the pay-back that should replenish whatever the particular act of service “cost” me, or even just the spiritualized brownie-points of somehow imagining that God is glad to have me on His team.

Let me illustrate my point by haunting you with the same story He haunts me with.

A servant rises before dawn. He attends to the household chores before sun-up. The master wants breakfast. So the servant cooks. Then serves the food. Then clears away the remainder. Then does the dishes. And then, at first light, the heads out into the fields, knowing that the sun will set before the work there is done. But after finding the way back to the house in the dark, the servant finds the master waiting. No small talk. No offer of cool water at the end of a hard day. The master wants dinner. So the servant cooks. Then serves the food. Then clears away the remainder. Then does the dishes. And then the servant makes the fire, checks the doors, sweeps and mops and ensures that the house is pristine before the master awakens again tomorrow morning, and the same cycle of service begins again.

Jesus uses a very similar illustration in Luke 17:7-10. Here’s how that concludes in the New American Standard translation. “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” (Luke 17:10)

At one point in my life, I thought that religion could be pursued as a hobby. And I still think that. I have plenty of (nominally—meaning they claim the title, whether or not they have any idea about what it means) Christian friends who do just that. One occasionally tells me, “Yep, you’ll see me in church Sunday. Time to get my batteries recharged.” Some hobbyists think they can buy God off with an hour or two here or there. Others find the self-help lectures from the pulpit to be profitable, more or less. Too many feel the need to brush up on their proof-texts. Otherwise they may not know what to say when discussions turn to morality…of other people.

But what has made me dissatisfied with my hobby is what lies at the core of Jesus’ illustration in Luke 17:7-10. As grating as I once found that passage, I now count myself grateful for those moments, sometimes hours at a times, though hardly any full days (yet) in which I find myself being the single-minded servant He describes.

I used to look at God as that master who is unrealistically robbing his servant of any free time, making his life a drudge of routine, frustrated by never-ending chores to be done. Then I began to spend time with caregivers. Not always is it possible. But I have seen the closest family, and especially spouses, who serve the needs of a Hospice patient, a chronically-ill patient, or the disabled. Some leave home only to eke out the basic economic support of continuing their employment so that the insurance paying for their loved-one’s care doesn’t lapse. All the while they do so, knowing that eventually there will come those days when they return from work to find that there is no end to the work to be done at home.

What is the difference between their attitude and that of others who see Jesus’ demands eating into “their spare time?” They serve because it is the most authentic expression of who they are in relation to the patient. And because they know that, one day, the time for such loving service will be ended. Those who have been relieved of that duty almost unanimously wish for just one more day of it.

The more I recognize the purposes God is seeking to fulfill in and through my life (glorifying His name, so that the body of Christ is strengthened and made whole, so that the Church may tear down the gates of hell holding so many captive in the communities we are called to serve), the more I think fondly of the privilege of serving Christ and others. And the more I do that, the more I am reminded of another of Jesus’ teachings: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” (John 9:4-5)

When you see God, does it purify your heart? I believe it does. And I seek to purify my heart so that I might see God all the more. Except when I don’t. That is, when I begrudge Him the infringements on my “free time.” By which I mean: Whenever I forget that I am privileged to serve the One I love, and those whom He and I love together, and that the time remaining for doing so grows shorter every moment that passes.

Do you serve the Master? Good. Sacrificially sometimes? Probably better but, for me, that still means I’m looking at “my time” being given up for Him. So, I invite you to join me—to strive to serve your Beloved. You’ll find that to be far more fulfilling. 

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