In part 1 I shared my testimony and how I relate to Jacob and how reading obituaries reminds me to dream big dreams that please my Big God. This entry will seem to contradict all of that.

But before we get into the wonderfully madenning oxymorons that characterise the teachings of Christ and should characterise the lives of those who claim to follow Him, lets return to Jacob. I rather rudely left Jacob defined by one evening of wrestling with God. He obvioulsy lost that battle, walking away with a limp that he would carry for the rest of his life, and yet finally winning everything he’d ever wanted – the assurance of God’s blessing! And boy was he blessed! We read in Genesis 36:7 that Jacob and his now friendly brother Esau, had to part ways because, “their possessions were too great for them to remain together; the land they were staying on could not support them both”. How’s that for a big dream come true?

Which brings me back to the nature of big hopes and dreams and of faith and of the eternal question: “What does God really want for me?”

When you go through your teen years in an evangelical, pentecostal background (like I did), you hear a lot of talk about “God’s plan for your life” and “your destiny in God”. This can leave you with a sort of sheepish grin on your face when you are forced to confess that you don’t really have any big dreams and you don’t actually know what your destiny is. I went through those feelings all through high school and took them with me to India on outreach during my gap-year, in which I had hoped God would reveal His grand scheme for my life. We were stationed in Darjiling, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It was very beautiful and peaceful there, and often, on off days I would go into the forest and ‘wrestle’ with God about my destiny. One day, as I was walking along the mountain path, and tearfully lamenting my emabarassing “destinylessness” in prayer, God gave me a vision. I will not share it with you now, but it’s enough to say that it was in technicolour and sufficiently grand enough that when I openned my sleepy eyes and found myself streched out in the grass by the side of the path, I was impressed. So impressed that when I finally got home to my parents and my church, I immediately set up a meeting with the elders and shared my grand dream with them. And then… nothing.

None of it materialized that year, or the year after, or the year after that. And slowly, the sinking feeling of “destinylessness” began to take hold again. I accepted a ministry position as a counsellor in a rehab center on a farm outside of town, and there, amid the cattle and desperation, I watched my dream slowly die. Eventually I had a nervous breakdown and left. My dream was smashed and I was a broken young man. In all this time, it was only the gift of God – my Leane – that kept me believing that God actually loved me. I had become a “ptochos person”.

Now we come to Jesus and his oxymorons. Some are found in Matthew 5:3. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Greek word translated as poor is ptochos. Literally it means “one who crouches or cowers”. It depicts a poor beggar low to the ground looking for a handout – in this case a spiritual handout. A beggar. Christ says that if I understand myself as a spiritual beggar, then I will be blessed. Right… I know that everyone reading this is repulsed, as I am, and as were the vast majority of those who heard Jesus’ teachings. We want to be victorious Sons of God, not spiritual beggars! Like the Laodicean believers, to whom Christ said, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked!” (Revelations 3:17). Remember what David said in Psalm 51:17? “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Ptochos people.

With the overwhelming influence of the destiny-doctrine and the prosperity gospel in the evangelical and pentecostal Church, it’s hard to accept that perhaps the big dreams we believed that God had given us and in which we had put so much faith were nothing more than the sinful vanity of materialistic and self-centered people, and not the dreams of a Holy God for His Church. It’s hard for me to accept this teaching too, but Jesus was never one to shy away from uncomfortable revelations.

And yet… what about part 1??! Doesn’t God want me to be happy?! Doesn’t God require that I dream dreams too big for me to accomplish on my own?! Isn’t that what faith is all about?!!

Yes. God does dream dreams for us. God does want us to be happy. But God will not allow us to measure our success, our happiness or our dreams by any standard other than His.

My problem was not that I had dared to dream, or that I had lost faith. My problem was that I was very interested in success, and yet I didn’t even know what “success” really meant. In his much-read “Confessions”, Saint Augustine wrote, “It is all too possible to want gifts from the Lord, but not the Lord himself”. This is my confession too.

How do we know if we are more interested in His gifts (such as “my destiny” and “my happiness”) more than in Him as Lord Giver? Examine your dreams. Victor Kulgin writes, “Have you ever considered that perhaps God’s best for your life may well be poverty, persecution, and pain? This was the case for our Master, Jesus Christ. Remeber, ‘No servant is greater than his master’ (John 15:20)”. The modern evangelical Church will struggle to even begin to digest this statement. We think that the person with faith in God is blessed materially and is “successful”. But the author of Hebrews describes the great men and women of faith in the history of the Church as those who, “were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two… they went around in sheepskins and gaotskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated – the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground” (11:35-38).

I am only beginning to see now why it took God so long to answer my prayer for a destiny all those years ago. He knew that I would never be able to understand His plans for my life until I was a properly broken, ptochos person. One who, like Paul could honestly dream of “knowing … the fellowship of sharing in His [Christ’s] sufferings, becoming like Him in death…” One who, like the great English evangelist John Wesley, could say that if he died with more than five pounds in his pocket he would be ashamed to face God.

I know that God is busy taking the Michael out of Michael. He is slowly and patiently washing away the pride and the selfishness from my life so that I will be able to dream dreams that are not only big and beautiful to me, but to Him as well.

I will finish with this thought by the 13th century German theologian, scientist (and genuine ptochos-person) Albertus Magnus (the teacher of Thomas Aquinas!):

“We should not desire any pleasure of this present, mortal and physical life, but rather to mourn, bewail and lament our offences, faults and sins without ceasing, and to perfectly despise and annihilate ourselves, and from day to day to be considered more and more abject by others, while in all our insignificance we become worthless even in our own eyes, so that we can be pleasing to God alone, love him alone, and cleave to Him alone.”

Advertisements