Courageous

[a beautifully courageous fool inspired the writing of this entry. she will soon also be my wife…]

I had the opportunity to go to the enormous missions conference known as Urbana a few weeks ago, held in St. Louis and attended by nearly 23,000 collegiate missionary hopefuls. I was kind of frustrated because the theme this year was finding your ‘calling.’ A lot of the questions that were posed to the attendees were along the lines of encouraging people to seek out where God wants them in the world. It was pretty frustrating sitting through a lot of the general sessions and feeling like I couldn’t take very much from it, since I had pretty clearly already found my path. However, I did get the chance to share with and learn from many young adults that I traveled with, as well as people whom I had never met with. The Bible studies were awesome, and I got the opportunity to get very in depth with Ephesians. One thing that was bugging me throughout was the fact that I had a few injuries from skating the week prior that persistently continued to aggravate me and refuse to go away. The most direct result was that during the gigantic worship times, I was pretty reserved in participating.

When I say participating, I mean stuff like clapping, dancing, stuff like that. In my few short months of being finally alive in Christ, I have been prayed over, under, and in tongues; I have seen people jump and shout in worship and dance in the aisles; I have even seen people convulse and be stricken to the floor in charismatic worship. At first, I cynically thought of Matthew 6, when Jesus tells us to pray in secret and do our good works so discreetly that not even one hand knows when the other is committing a good deed. I questioned the sincerity of their practices simply because I did not feel comfortable in taking part. As I continued to read more and more of the Bible, I came across the story of David brining the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem for the first time (1 Chronicles 15:27-29, and 2 Samuel 6:12-22). It was a really inspiring story. I remembered the imagery often during worship services in St. Louis; thousands and thousands of God’s children worshiping their King, their adonai.

In Samuel, my favorite of the two instances, David, the greatest King in all history, is bringing God’s ark to the new capital, Jerusalem. The ark was a loving reminder; a guide to show God’s people how to live a healthy, fulfilling life. As this very respected and well received king brings this precious, seemingly ceremonial, artifact into the city, how does he react? He strips almost naked and dances in the street! As choirs are singing and trumpets are blaring, king David cannot contain the joy in his heart for the true King, the same who had kept all His promises, who had been true to His word that He would bless His people and give them rest if they should worship and obey Him.

However, there was another cynic, like me, lurking in the very ‘respectable,’ very ‘dignified’ corner of the procession. Michal, the daughter of Saul, was not impressed. In fact she confronted the king after he returned home to bless his household. She demanded to know how he could act so uproariously in the sight of all his people (in the NIV, she accuses him of being –gasp– vulgar). David quickly chastised her; reminding her that it was he that the Lord chosen over her father; over any of the members of his house, in fact. He went on boldly;

I will celebrate before the Lord. I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls, I will be held in high honor.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22)

Each time I went into the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis, it was not even hard to imagine what that must have been like. There were people raising their hands, shouting, dancing, kneeling, collapsing; all in their unhindered, joyful worship to the King. As for the slave girls, isn’t that who we are to witness to? The lowest on the social ladder, the beggars on the street, and the slave girls are who Jesus found most appealing. It was this King of Kings who rejected social affluence, propriety, dignity. When those slave girls saw their king, I can imagine their hearts leaping with him in the rain, amongst the trumpets and the fan fare. It was this fool they would find most undignified and vulgar, like the world had told them they were…

Being raised in a very religiously neutral home has had its benefits and I would not trade it for anything, in fact I may raise my own kids similarly. Growing up, I was not pressured to ‘choose’ a religion, in fact when it came time for me to confront the Big Questions (who am I, what is my purpose why am I here), I searched totally empirically and found my path based simply on logic. This very studious or ‘informed’ impression I may give off is very misleading. I am neither complacently studious nor willfully unsocial. I’m just shy. Yep, its true; I have always been uncomfortable being extroverted, still am, in fact (man, I wish some of you knew me a few years ago, you’d really believe in miracles). So as I sat there in St Louis, hands in my pockets, singing only loud enough for my own ears to hear, I do not blame anyone for thinking that I see myself as too ‘dignified’ to worship God as everyone else was.

But they would be wrong.

Even as a child, I knew that this “God” guy didn’t need words or music. He might like it, but he didn’t need it. He transcends even language. This is why, I think, Jesus told us to keep our prayers short; God has already heard them! A heart without words is infinitely greater than words without heart. He knows our desires before our lips even part to express them. He does not hear English, Mandarin, Arabic, or even Hebrew. To think one language over another speaks most clearly to our omnipotent God is to shrink Him to our level, to diminish His true character. What language utters no words, sounds, or expressions? The language of the heart!

I remember distinctly from my childhood being convinced that God knew exactly what was on your mind and in your heart. Even when you were pissed at Him. There was no use hiding it, He knows even before you know; He cannot be outrun or hidden from. As part of this, I realized, later in life, that God delights more in sincerity and genuine love than anything else. Otherwise, how would our deaf or mute brothers and sisters be able to worship? Or paraplegics? What nobody will likely ever be able to see in me, God sees. Often I worship in my car, listening to music or driving silentlym thinking about our adonai. Other times I do it walking down the street (you can usually tell because I can’t stop grinning; I know, it’s weird). My most intimate moments in church are when I close my eyes and imagine myself alone in the room, sitting or standing behind empty pews and shouting at the top of my lungs, even though in reality I am merely whispering (or when I am totally lost in the moment, my voice breaks and I simply cannot utter the words through the tears).

That is not to say that all those worshippers were needlessly acting out, in fact quite the opposite; I envy them! I think it is when one can’t hold it in any longer that they allow themselves to be ‘humiliated in their own sight,’ to wave off the cynicism and condemnation the world throws at them for being fools in the eyes of Man. I, on the other hand, have been such an introvert my entire life that inside is just where I turn. God meets me there, in His temple. It takes a certain amount of courage to ‘let it all go;’ to stand justified before God alone and not over-concern oneself with how the world views them. In John Milton’s Paradise Lost, an epic poem (written by a blind man, no less), a former fallen angel, Abdiel, returns to YHWH after taking a stand against the entire host of fallen angels in Hell, one third of the number of angels in existence. Despite enormous scorn and condemnation, the angel Abdiel (in Hebrew, ‘eved-el,’ a transliteration for ‘servant of God’) defies the crowd and departs Pandemonium, the capitol of Hell. He departs those “wicked Tents devoted,” for God’s creation, and is well received in Heaven (think ‘Parable of the Prodigal Son’). In fact, God Himself welcomes him, saying:

And for the testimony of Truth hast borne
Universal reproach, far worse to bear
Than violence: for this was all thy care;
To stand approv’d in sight of God, though Worlds
Judg’d thee perverse

In the months that I faced similar scorn, I turned to this same passage to remind me that my greatest validation does not come from Man, but from God. He calls us His children, and we would do well to remember that. Additionally, He seems to value youngsters especially (oh yeah, I believe that children who die in childbirth or before much time on earth are definitely going to heaven, the human condition begins in Genesis 1, in the Garden, not in Genesis 3 with sin. Maybe that would be a good topic to journal about later…), as we can see in His heightened defense of them in Matthew 18:5-6, Mark 9:42, and Luke 17:2. Children seem to find the greatest joy in bringing a smile to their parents faces, nothing else matters. If Mommy or Daddy is happy, they are happy. Looking down at their funny faces and curious actions seem so foolish, we laugh and share memories about them, maybe with a few pictures. It is this same foolishness, this reckless abandon, that God calls faith. Child-like faith is what God delights in, that insatiable desire to follow Daddy wherever He is leading us.

In our later years, we begin to distance ourselves when that path becomes undignified or undesirable. We have fallen in line with the world and its ways, including shoving our hands in our pockets when we worship Father, who has ceased to be Daddy long ago. We have learned hard lessons along our path, and we have begun to see Him in another light. We stay out of the rain in the winter and avoid awkward silences, filling up our prayers with many words. We forget. We grow up. Our cup gets bigger. However, God never stops viewing us as children, as His precious offspring. He still laughs and delights in our goofy foibles and loves to watch no matter how quickly we brush ourselves off and try to hide our embarrassingly undignified manner.

Remember, it is our sole commission to glorify a great God, a God who meets us in the mud, who leads us laughingly out of peril and lovingly into fellowship with other fools. It is this God whose own heart breaks every time we come to Him after a difficult time and lie to Him, saying our day was a “fineleavemealone” kind of day (sorry for all those, if you’re reading this mom…). It is the courageous fools who rush to Him with arms wide, not afraid to match His joy openly and deeply, and who share in His grief when they stray themselves, not having to be told they have erred.

Courageous is the person who can be playful and jubilant no matter who is watching, knowing that God rejoices with them. I envy Courage; she is lighthearted and delighted in everything God deals her. God has made me unique, and He knows that in my heart, the trumpets are deafening, the dancing is half naked and we are absolutely covered in mud. Maybe someday that passion will break through the fragile walls I have constructed; maybe someday my hands will escape the prison of my pockets and be free to reach out to God around me, instead of just in me.

Another courageous fool writes;

“WAKE UP SLEEPY SINNERS. LET’S CELEBRATE, LET’S PLAY IN THE MUD AND GET DIRTY, LET’S DANCE (appropriately), LET’S SING PRAISES AT THE TOP OF OUR LUNGS, even if it’s off key …uhhhhhh, LET’S HIKE AND ENJOY GOD’S CREATION, LET’S UNITE AND SHARE IN EACH OTHER’S JOY.”

Yes, let’s. He waits eagerly and anxiously; for His children to rush to meet Him in the sandbox, arms wide and smiles beaming bright enough to light the world around us. It is that light that will show others we are His children, by how much love we simply cannot keep inside…

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