I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3.00 worth of God, please. - Tim Hansel on most Christians' priorities.
* * * * *
I understand what Tim Hansel is trying to say here - that too often we want only what's comfortable or convenient of God, which is true. I have a problem, though, knowing what to do with this observation. It somehow seems to send me veering off into guilt (well, I guess I'm really not good enough after all) and subsequent striving (because I'm not good enough, I will take on self-improvement projects and thereby transform myself).
This is old, old thinking for me, you see, I'm naturally a bit of an extremist, black and white to a fault, do or die, all or nothing. When I was a teenager at a youth rally in a stadium filled with my peers, I responded to the call to be a “martyr” for Christ, a call that naively predated our current era of terroristic martyrdom. I sat with my friends in our high seats with my heart pounding and hands sweating as the altar call came with the instructions to stand and yell, “I want to give my life away,” then make your way with speed down to the front.
I did it; I stood and shouted and ran like the devil was on my tail, as though one more act of courage might finally get me over that fearful line in the sand that I always felt existed between me and the God I longed for. When the choice comes between hot or cold, I’ve always pushed hard toward hot, fanning the flames of faith and devotion, laying on wood until the fire raged pulsing with a life all its own. But over time a fire like that consumes too much and burns those who wander too close to its light.
At the same time, though, I, like the apostle Paul before me, am the chief of sinners, the foremost hypocrite, a real standout in the crowd of double-speaking, fork-tongued followers most of us know ourselves to be. Giving my life away in that stadium packed with sweaty, hormonal teens may have been the easy choice; easier to give my uncertain life away than to embrace it with all of its ambiguity and freedom and potential for disaster or glory.
That simple act of faith was nothing when compared to the taste of daily surrender, daily trust, daily openness to the abiding call of love that I’ve learned in the many years since. Every day now I sit, metaphorically, in that stadium seat, each moment offering choices both false and true, and my heart pounds and my hands grow sweaty as I face the same choice again and again and again.
Yet what I now know to be true is that I was no closer to the love of God when my voice cried out and my feet made their thundering, pounding run toward the stadium’s ground level, than I was the moment before when I sat hunched amidst my friends who’s hearts surely were pounding too. I now know that there’s no falling or running or sinning my way out of the love of God, no surrender of a life that isn’t mine to begin with.
We don’t need more martyrs, more striving, try-harder sorts of people and God doesn’t need them either. What we do need are people who’re willing to embrace and be embraced by the presence of God in whatever guise it comes – even in the $3 bag if that’s what’s offered or what our hearts can bare. I think of people like Paul and Moses who counted themselves lucky to have seen less of God; a blinding light or a heavy cloud passing over a mountain’s crevasse was more than enough for them. God appears most often in the small, the whisper, the enigmatic response and blessed are those humble enough to recognize him there.
I don't have many opportunities for grand gestures of faith these days, but moment by moment I'm choosing surrender. I'm seeking out the small scraps of God, the hem of his garment, the crumbs that fall from the breaking bread of communion. These I can gather by the handful, feasting on the tiny morsels, spreading them around and sharing what I find.
I know now that I don’t have to “sell out” to God, because God has already “sold out” for me; I know that the answer to a faith of passive resignation isn't greater self-control. Though I spend a lifetime trying, I’ll never gather up all there is to be had of the One who gathers us all.
God, in this season when we await the One who comes to us in the tiny, frail package of human flesh, help us to be willing to receive you as you are. Teach us the art of surrender to the you and may the words of our hearts ever be as faithful and willing as Mary, "Let it be unto me."