Let me tell you how God works

Let me tell you how God works.

Step one: …

Wouldn’t that be nice? God works like “this” and no matter who you are and where you are and why you are God works in the same way. I think about that, wishing maybe I had “that” book this morning so that I could look in the index to easily find out the details and expectations, along with the five responses I could take which would lead me to success.

I have my Bible sitting next to me right now and I’m tempted to look in it for those steps and responses. But, I quickly realize it’s not worth the bother. Many contemporary Christian books like to emphasize steps and responses and lists and nicely ordered systems so that I too can find the financial/spiritual/relational/psychological freedom I’ve always yearned for. The Bible, however, is just a bunch of stories. Sometimes stories in stories.

“What’s the Kingdom like Jesus?” Oh, that’s a great question. Let me get out my notepad and number it so I can quickly jot down all the signs.

“There’s this guy,” Jesus kept replying. “Found a really, really nice pearl and so sold everything he had to buy it.”

Alright. Ummm… a pearl?

“It is like yeast,” Jesus answered another time. “A woman took it and mixed it in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

I see. That’s three measures of flour? Okay.

We’re told to walk with Jesus, to be Christ like, to know God and follow him. Then we’re not given anything other than some stories. Maybe that’s why so much of Christianity is focused not on who we are supposed to be but rather on what we are not supposed to do. Those are the lists we do have. Specifics! Finally. Honor your parents. Don’t murder or steal or cheat. Great. Something to check off a list. Very comforting.

Only this kind of faith is extremely empty. It’s extremely bland. Yes, it’s a basic telling of what God demands that can be the same for everyone and thus make for a convenient sermon speaking to hundreds of nameless people at the same time.

But I can’t help think there’s something to how God decided to piece together the Bible.

We have the stories because God doesn’t work according to lists. He’s God, after all. And that means he’s quite a bit smarter and quite a bit wiser and a good deal more creative than I am. He doesn’t get overwhelmed with all the different needs and people and perspectives. He hasn’t gathered us into an ever growing building managed by a static staff who have to organize a bland collection of programs so that everyone can feel they are doing something and everyone can fit well into the twenty steps of ecclesial success that makes for a fine book.

“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son…”


Why stories and not details? Because stories have many aspects and themes, which we can see from wherever we are at. It’s not a list, assuming everyone is at the same place or everyone is the same person with the same approaches. The stories are given so that we can participate in these stories, hearing the wisdom of the parables, or the life of Moses, or Joseph, or Paul while not living their lives but our own.

That is how the Spirit works. Not by lists, though that would be convenient. By creating stories, by weaving together plots and subplots throughout time and throughout space so that the great tale of God’s whole work can be told again and again throughout eternity. The Bible is just a beginning of the story God is writing. Like John said about Jesus’ ministry, there is so much more that hasn’t been said.

Maybe that’s why we’ve not had a lot of clear teaching on what to do once we are Christians. I look back and wish I had that, only now I realize God has his own method, and his task is not to give me a list but to teach me discernment, so that in the middle of my story I can listen to the guidance of the great storyteller and walk according the narrative that does fit the Kingdom and the power and the glory.

I can be, finally, me and who I was always meant to be by God. Wholly, peacefully, me. And because the stories are weaving together I can join in the dance of others who are also in the process of becoming, if they are willing to let go the lists and participate in the story the Spirit is writing as their part.

But this does make things complicated and messy. Because there are no steps for me that match steps for another person. And while I can glean wisdom from another person I can’t expect to just do what they did or follow their steps in anything but a general way and expect to taste the Spirit.

Which makes the Spiritual journey, by nature, a lonely one because the path for me is my path, and it’s so narrow that only I fit into it. It gets increasingly narrow the longer a person walks, even if other paths do converge going the same direction so we can talk and encourage and hope together. My twists and turns and climbs and descents are unique, however, and I’ll stumble bad if I just walk by watching someone else.

So I pray. And I learn to listen in the quiet of the early morning, knowing that God is speaking uniquely to me as he speaks uniquely to everyone. That’s why the Bible has all those stories, and why God doesn’t mandate simple lists that apply to everyone without too much bother or thought. The Spirit is not a hack.

This was written May 16, 2007

A couple years ago, Barclay Press invited me to do a two week daily journal for their website. They’ve since changed their online presence so those writings are gone. I was sorting out different files on my computer this evening and happened to run across them. So, I thought, I might as well repost them here. Both to have a record of them, and maybe more so, because this was written early in 2007. A fair bit of changes have happened in my life since then, so these are records of a time in my life when all I had was faith. I was writing a lot during these journaling times, and it’s curious what came out when I sat down to write. So, mostly for me, but also for anyone whose interested, I’m going to post one of these a day for the next couple of weeks or so.

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