I’ll begin with a confession. It is my intention to write more than once a month on this blog! I’m shooting for once a week, but I’m still settling into the rhythms of this new call – so thanks for your patience with me as I slowly figure out the blend of reading, writing, administration, pastoral care, community engagement, and missional partnership!
And, speaking of the rhythms of a new call in ministry…I spent the better part of the last few days finally unpacking and setting up my office. All the books have been unpacked and I successfully (surprisingly) assembled all the new bookshelves. As I was hammering in the last nail and tightening the last screw in the fourth bookshelf that I assembled in a day I couldn’t help reflect that my experience of assembling book shelves was a bit of a parable for the spiritual life.
I know what you’re thinking…and yes…I do seem to turn every experience into a sermon illustration or teaching moment…sorry, I’m a pastor and that’s (perhaps regrettably) what I do. But back to my rudimentary carpentry experience from earlier. First, I should state upfront that I’m a pretty bad handyman. In general, while I might try to do some things around the house, they all generally end in complete failure. But for the most part the book shelf assembly went pretty well. I meticulously unpacked each box and carefully laid out all the various pieces – boards and hardware. I read through the instructions and followed the directions. I managed to put together the first bookshelf with no problems. Then I broke open the box for the second bookshelf and started assembling that one too. Surprisingly, amazingly, and perhaps miraculously, I had no major issues with the second book shelf either. In fact, it went more smoothly than the first. My ability to put together shelves improved with the practice; I was able to more smoothly, intuitively, and comfortably put the shelves together with each subsequent shelf I put together
I was so buoyed by my success that I decided to forego the instructions for the third and the fourth bookshelves. (I’m sure you see where this is going now…) While assembling the third and fourth book shelves I made a few mistakes. They were small mistakes, careless mistakes really, but I made them. And I made them because I felt overly confident in my ability as a result of my practice and experience at putting the shelves together.
Ironically, the practice of putting multiple bookshelves together both made me a better craftsman and a more careless craftsman. On the one hand, I was a better craftsman because I didn’t need to be tied to the written instructions as I began to feel comfortable and familiar with the process of construction. In some ways, I feel like I began to intuit the construction process and was able to subconsciously remember what step was next and what piece would be needed. On the other hand, this same familiarity that helped me intuit the construction of these book shelves also led me to make careless mistakes – like hammering the backing of the bookshelves on the front!
So here’s the parable…the act of putting these bookshelves together illustrates our process of discipleship. On the one hand, the longer we walk in the ways of Jesus and seek to be attuned to Jesus’ words and will for our lives and the longer we allow Jesus’ words to shape our actions and decisions, we find ourselves habituated into the ways of Jesus, and living according to the ways of Jesus becomes more intuitive and ingrained in our minds, hearts, and souls. This is why our habits and practices have such a powerful shaping effect in our lives, what we do – for better or worse – shapes what we will do in the future – for better or worse – because we get more used to doing it. So the longer we try and practice the ways of Jesus, we will find that the ways of Jesus begin to feel more like the natural ways we want to live our lives.
But…just as the habit of following Jesus helps embed the ways of Jesus in our lives, it can also serve to make us careless and inattentive. It’s easy to take Jesus’ words for granted or choose to justify or rationalize our choosing to ignore Jesus’ words. In many ways, the longer we follow Jesus the greater the temptation to become desensitized to the power and majesty of the Spirit of Christ working in us to transform us.
So press on in your discipleship! Enjoy the beauty of being conformed to the image of Christ and receive the grace and mercy of Jesus when your inattention causes you to hammer the backing of a bookshelf to the front (metaphorically speaking).