Burden and Blessing

Originally published Friday, July 25, 2014

Because I’m not so good with the putting-the-words-together-thing in real-life with real-live people, I often wish I had a pause button so that, when stumped with a question or statement that demands a clear and thoughtful answer, I could step away from the conversation and give more thought, prayer, a bit of research, and perhaps find a pithy quote from someone profoundly wiser than me in order to contribute intelligently to the exchange of ideas.

Alas, this isn’t to be. I am doomed to struggle and stammer like a babbling idiot through conversations requiring higher thought, or keep my trap shut, and then spend days mulling over what-I-meant-to-say. And then I write a blog post about it. Which may never come to the attention of whomever I am attempting to answer, but that fits my non-confrontational nature to a T, so, there you go.

A phrase which has been repeated to me on several occasions lately, with which I disagree, and yet am so staggered that immediate answers escape me, is:

“You should be enjoying your life now; you shouldn’t be burdened with fill in the blank.”

The assumptions behind this statement reveal a gulf between our different understandings of purpose, joy, burden, and love—in short, we are looking at the world through two entirely different worldviews.  My own worldview has been shaped, gradually, for the last 3-ish decades by my faith, as informed by the Word of God found in the Scriptures of the Holy Bible and, more recently, by the doctrines of the Reformed faith.  The worldview of the speaker of the above statement is formed by the world.  While I cannot speak to the specifics of the worldly worldview, I can address my own beliefs concerning this statement.

I believe that my purpose is not to be enjoying my life now, but that I am, in the words of the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “… to glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (italics added). See, I understand what Paul says about my salvation in the letter to the Ephesian church, to mean that it is none of my own doing, but all of grace, so I have nothing to boast about. Rather, “I am God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that I should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). He made me for a purpose, and that purpose involves deeds that have been appointed for me from long ago. As God leads me to and through this purpose he is glorified.

After all, the “Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made” (Nicene Creed), “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2: 6-7). He did this because he was “looking not to his own interests but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4), others like me, who were at the time his enemies, yet loved by him all the same. If the Lord of glory can set aside his divinity in order to seek, serve, and save the lost (me), then I, in gratitude to him can set aside what the world says I ‘deserve’ in order to serve those around me, those whom the Lord has placed in my life.

And here’s where divine mystery comes into play. As I walk through this purpose that the Lord has appointed for me, I experience a deep and abiding joy unlike any offered by the fleeting pleasures of the world. I was reminded today of one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite movies, Chariots of Fire, when Eric Liddle (one of my favorite real people portrayed in film) tells his sister his reason for pursuing the Olympics: “I believe the Lord made me for a purpose, for China, but he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel his pleasure!” Eric was doing what the Lord had designed him for, and in so doing, he felt a deep joy that came not from applause or endorphins, but from God himself. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews tells us that “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, … for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2). The joy set before him was the accomplishment of his purpose: the salvation of his church, even though it required going to the cross.

I don’t want to give the impression that I perfectly reflect my Savior.  There are times— often—when I feel more drudgery than joy in a task set before me. Those are the times when I must rely on what I know to be true. And one of the foundational truths that I know is that I do not deserve more than my Lord, who went to the cross in obedience for the certain goal of securing an unshakeable salvation for all who would believe. The task before me is far less than his; I am here merely to obey and to serve, not to save, others around me.

But then, mysteriously, there are times of service when the task becomes more than a duty: when it is transformed by love. Whether it be love for the recipient of my service or love for my Lord, it lifts duty to heights of glory, and I offer to the Lord a sweet sacrifice of praise because he himself has bathed it in his blessing. This is, I think, what Dorothy Sayers was getting at in her essay on faith, making the point that we reflect our Creator as image-bearers even though we live in “a world subject to the forces of destruction.”  (*cue pithy quote here*)

“The creative will presses on to its end, regardless of what it may suffer by the way.  It does not choose suffering, but it will not avoid it, and must expect it.  We say that it is love, and sacrifices itself for what it loves; and this is true, provided we understand what we mean by sacrifice.  Sacrifice is what it looks like to other people, but to that-which-loves I think it does not appear so.  When one really cares, the self is forgotten, and the sacrifice becomes only a part of the activity.”  (Dorothy Sayers, What Do We Believe, published in Letters to a Diminished Church, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2004, 11)

And so, love transforms burdens into blessings, duty into joy, and sacrifice into praise.  This is what I should be doing with my life now.  This is where I find my joy: in my Lord and King, who lovingly helps me to forget myself as I glorify him.  And this is not of myself, but is entirely a gift from, and somehow also to, him.

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