How Christmas Confronts My Faulty Thinking

[ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeff Peabody is pastor of New Day Church in Tacoma, Washington. This article was published HERE by Leadership Journal.]

mountains

For my entire life, I have been a “resolution” person. I am uncomfortable with things being open-ended, whether that’s in an argument or transformation in my own soul. If you’re a Meyers-Briggs aficionado, picture me with a big fat “J” in my temperament type.

But I’ve concluded there is faulty theology lurking behind my need for closure. At the root of my impatience is the mistaken sense that being in process inherently falls short of God’s will; that I am perpetually not measuring up.

Here’s how the graceless part of my mind works: If God is holy and perfect and if his desire for me is to be holy and perfect, how could anything less truly be his will? He wants more than my progress–he wants my completion. How can I be okay with continued struggles and suffering? How could he be the author of a slow process that allows sorrow and ungodliness to remain in and around me? Why not eliminate it outright? “Partial” translates to “less than,” and process suggests compromise, a less than ideal state to be grudgingly endured rather than embraced.

Of course, I would never agree to that thinking once it is spelled out. But that’s how I’ve functioned.

From what I can tell, I’m not alone. Christians find process troubling. We want to rush people through their grief. We’re uncomfortable when forgiveness takes time. We look for instant healing and push for total transformation in others without any incubation period.

Reflecting on the birth of Christ, here’s what I realized: Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process.
Reflecting on the birth of Christ, here’s what I realized: Jesus becoming a baby automatically put God’s seal of approval on a slow process.

The angel announced salvation to the shepherds, but what they saw in the manger was an ordinary-looking infant—an infant who needed time to grow up. It would be more than three decades before the meaning of God’s redemption plan would be visible.

In the intervening years, Jesus had to endure teething and potty training and puberty. He had to learn to walk and talk. He had to experience sleepless nights and countless conversations and calloused hands and fish breath and stubbed toes.

Why would God do that? Why not send his son as a grown man who went straight to the cross, or at least straight to his public ministry?

Jesus spent the bulk of his earthly life in process, “growing in wisdom and stature,” as Scripture says. Yet Jesus always did his Father’s will and never erred once. That means God’s full and unreserved blessing must rest on process as well as completion. The “becoming” was as much part of his plan as the ending. Grace for slowness is built into the very nature of the Incarnation.

I can’t concoct a human rationale to justify the existence of evil and suffering. Not all things are mine to know. What I do know is that God is good and loving, and he can never be anything other. When I can’t comprehend God’s timing, here are truths that are clearer.

THE PATIENCE IS GOD’S, NOT MINE.

We think we’re the ones learning patience. We complain about God’s delays. But remember what Peter says: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

When we bought our house 12 years ago, the builder was pumping out homes at record pace. That was just fine with us; we couldn’t wait to move in.

But some aspects of homebuilding weren’t intended to go quickly. We learned that when the sewage pipes backed up five days after we got keys. To this day there are “character flaws” we live with in the house, thanks to rushed construction.

God moves slowly for our good. What is needed on our part is not patience but surrender.

GOD IS AT WORK EVEN WHEN I DON’T SEE IT.

That first Christmas, after the shepherds returned to their fields, they probably never saw Jesus again. Most of his life was hidden from them. But it didn’t diminish the truth they had believed.

And the fact that the shepherds couldn’t observe Jesus growing up and healing people and teaching and dying and rising didn’t change the fact that he was doing all those things. They may have been entirely in the dark about how God’s plan was unfolding, but it was unfolding nonetheless. What Jesus said in John 5: 17 is true today: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

We can get discouraged thinking nothing is changing because we can’t see it. But that is a misperception.

PROCESS IS NOT THE SAME AS PARTIAL.

When the shepherds went to the stable, they saw the real Jesus. Granted, he was only a few pounds of baby, but it was all of him there. He still had to grow up and die, but the cross was part of his identity already. He was as much God in the flesh as a baby as he would become as a man. God’s commitment to the rescue of humanity was fully there in the hay. God’s love moves in step with the pace we can handle. The proof was right there, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

This is why God doesn’t need to scramble. From his perspective, the work is already accomplished. We are in process, but we are also complete. He is satisfied with what Jesus has done. Our job is to trust that his work applies to this moment. As God looks at us, he is not seeing our failures and struggles as central–he’s seeing the blood of Jesus that is more than enough to cover our broken, sinful, stumbling process.

Here’s a radical thought: Instead of striving for sinless perfection, what if I focused on learning what it means to live like I’m forgiven? Maybe that sounds like being soft on sin, but in reality it takes it even more seriously. It acknowledges the fact that I am helpless to complete the work myself. I need a Savior who has more grace for me than I do.

It also creates room to be gracious with other people, because we’re all in process. If God isn’t expecting you to have arrived already, how can I set a higher bar for you? P.T. Forsyth said it well: “We do ill to force the ripe experience of the cross on those who can as yet feel but its dawn.”

I’m still weary of sin. It is right to want the struggle to be over. One of the cries of the Bible is, “How long, O Lord?” But Jesus coming as a baby gives me permission to accept—and yes—even enjoy my own slow progress.

 

Advertisements

Add your piece. We'd love to hear from you!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s