Life's but a walking shadow, a poor playerI have recently decided to stop being a player (actor) and walk with God. Well, you say, I thought you'd been a Christian all your life. Yes, I suppose that is true, but I have recently begun to discover that although I may have given lip service (and even some guilt induced public service) to being a Christian, actually walking with God is something else entirely. I can't take a whole lot of credit for this new insight, God has been amazing in the way He's shaken up my life and shown me a spiritual dimension that I had heard of but never experienced.
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. (William Shakespeare, "Macbeth")
One of the ways God has reached out to me is through a couple of sermons I've listened to over the last few weeks. One sermon was in a church that we attended out of the blue (a cool story in and of itself) and the other was on the radio. Now I've been listening to sermons on the radio and in churches practically my entire life, but I've heard more from God in the last month than I've probably heard in the 40 some odd years leading up to this point. This reflects poorly on me not God. He's been chasing me down the entire time, I've just been actively (and inactively) resisting Him the entire time.
Both sermons just got right up in my face and exploded, exposing me for the fraud and poser that I was. They were tailor made for me. God showed me that I have been acting, playing a role, strutting and fretting my hour upon the stage. I was given the script as soon as I could begin to comprehend language. I was given the costume as soon as I got out of baby clothes. I learned how the person I was to portray should walk and talk, what he should and shouldn't eat, what he should and shouldn't drink. I learned how to apply the makeup, and where my mark was on the stage. I even learned how to work with the props.
Just imagine me, for instance, walking into church. Someone approaches me and our eyes meet. We both know our parts so well. Hands are extended and clasped. Those special smiles form the faces into works of saintly art. And the lines are spoken.
"Good morning brother, it's good to see you, how are you doing?"
"Well hello my friend, I'm doing great. God is good isn't he? He's really blessed me this week."
"That's great to hear. Yes, God certainly is good."
Now that's a steaming load of poo and we both know it, but we've learned our lines well and we speak them with highly practiced sincerity. Never mind that our lives might actually be spiraling ever downwards into hopelessness, that we might be about ready to lose control and crash in a fiery spectacle. No, we're good little players, surely it would be wrong to admit that God is about as real to us as the painting on the wall, and seems about as strong as the felt Bible characters in the kid's classrooms.
I suppose two of the main things I learned was that when portraying a Christian you had to "share your faith" and do "good deeds". Oh the guilt that was induced in me by those seemingly simple concepts. I was already painfully shy and was never gifted with the healthy self image that so many others around me seemed to possess. The thought of approaching people I didn't even know and "sharing my faith", or of putting myself out there to do "good deeds", was simply terrifying to me. But, I had to do it. If I didn't it must mean I wasn't really a Christian. It must mean I didn't have enough faith.
And fear would win so often. And every time fear won, my self-image got worse. Every time fear won my guilt would increase. As the guilt increased it became immobilizing and suffocating. A vicious cycle of promises to do good deeds and share my faith, followed by predictable failures to really be the "strong" Christian that I knew I wanted to be. Still I played the role, I put on my mask and kept trying to go to church and pretend that I was something, when I knew that what I really was was a miserable failure, and certainly an incredible disappointment to God. If those saintly characters who seemed to have it all together knew what I really was like they'd certainly be appalled. Why was it so easy for them?
And so we come to the present day. We come to a time in my life where I had grown so tired of pretending, so weary of the cycle of falling away and coming back. So ready to just sit down and quit. Here, at the ending of all things, I am finally so exhausted that I am able to hear the voice of God. And what is it that He tells me? What is the amazing revelation from the Almighty? Well, amazingly enough, they are thoughts, words and ideas that have been right in front of me my whole life. They are even written down in the Bible.
When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: 'Father, I've sinned against God, I've sinned before you; I don't deserve to be called your son ever again.'
But the father wasn't listening. He was calling to the servants, 'Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We're going to feast! We're going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!' And they began to have a wonderful time. (Luke 15:17-24)
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20)OK, so what's the big revelation here you might ask. Anyone who's been in church for any length of time has heard or read these verses. Yes, that is true, I have certainly read these verses many times in my life. But now something is different. God is showing me something I have never understood before. God is the actor, and by actor here I don't mean someone who is pretending, I am referring to another meaning for the word. God is the the one who takes action. Whether I am tired and desperate and making my miserable way in an effort to find God, or whether I'm just going through life doing my job, God comes to me. He does it, not me.
And notice what Jesus says when he calls my name: "Come, follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men". Do you see it yet? He doesn't say: "Go, do good deeds and share your faith, in order to prove that I've made the right choice in calling your name". He doesn't say "Go take a bath. Sober up and get right before I'll give you a hug and a kiss and some new clothes".
So there it is, so simple, but yet the sense of freedom is so exhilarating. It's not about doing stuff, playing a role, pretending to be something you're not. It's just about following Jesus. Listening to him. Talking to him. Spending time with him. The other stuff, the good deeds and sharing your faith stuff? That will take care of itself. That's the promise of Jesus. "Follow me and I will make you a fisher of men".
Do you feel like a fisher of men? No? Well, I don't either yet, but that's OK. It's not up to me to become a fisherman, or even to "act" like one, Jesus will make me one. Do you feel worthy to wear those nice clothes over your smelly skin and that ring on your dirty finger? No? I don't either, but it sure feels nice. And I've got a sneaking suspicion that the longer we wear these things the cleaner we're going to become underneath them.