Not Naturally Heroic

27 09 2010

It is Monday morning and I want to write about something uplifting. Ephesians 3 is not a bad thing to read on a Monday; it ends with “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever” and what’s not to like about that?

The thing that is crawling around in my mind, though, concerns the relentlessly uncomfortable life Paul led; he doesn’t go into a lot of detail in Ephesians 3 but he does make reference to being in prison and his “sufferings” and for some reason I can’t get past that today. I think it is because “uncomfortable” and “life” are words I don’t really want to put together.

From reading some of his other writings, Paul says

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11)

Honestly, I can’t relate to any of these things; its like watching a contestant on Amazing Race; it is pretty cool that they get to storm a castle and decapitate a knight, but it isn’t a challenge I am likely to come up against in the real world. I read about Paul’s trials sitting on the couch, a voyeur into someone else’s bravery, trying to picture myself doing the same; could I?  Perhaps, but it would have to involve what Paul never had: an emergency team on standby, safety-nets, and the ability to yell, “Cut!” “Cut” is the important word; If I put myself out there, I don’t want to get hurt.

That is the bottom line; I don’t want to get hurt. Hurt is bad and have you ever noticed how recovery is just as painful as the wound itself? I don’t want that. I don’t want gut-wrenching experiences. I don’t want to feel like pieces of me are falling off. I don’t want humiliation, unhappiness and pain. I do not want to suffer.

Paul had a choice, as do I, to step away. He could have been less “front line.” He could have been quieter about Christ. In fact, he could love Christ and not get into much trouble at all! Almost none at all…

Paul seems so stoic and heroic; were there any cracks in his resolve? There is that one verse in 2 Corinthians 12 where something is plaguing him and he prays (implores!) three times that God would remove it from him (He doesn’t). It makes me wonder…

Paul, did you ever just get tired of it all? After the second time you were beaten did you question everything? After a few rounds of forty lashes did you entertain the idea of the ordinary, where you could come home and not think about much else? After getting hit in the head with a rock did you envy your peers and their “normal” routines? In feeling all the pressure of the church did you wish you could just be “Saul” (without the name change) and pick and choose your companions? When you were half-starved, did you wish you had problems that were manageable and didn’t have the weight of Christ’s Mission (the thing that could get you killed)?

At the end of 2 Corinthians 11 Paul says, “Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” Things that hurt, hurt. Things that tempt, tempt. Paul felt it. The power that was alive in him, however, kept him from crossing a line no matter who or what was in his face.

I pray for that. I pray for that kind of power to be alive in me; that kind of conviction which requires no other motivation, no other strokes, no other anything to keep me on Mission. I pray for that unwavering resolve that no matter who is with me and who isn’t I am moving forward. I pray for that because I am so far from it; at least I think I am. I don’t really know if I have what it takes or if I don’t. I know I am not what I would imagine a warrior would be, a fighter, a leader. I am too prone to argue, too likely to long for alternatives, too weepy; I get disoriented too quickly and feel sorry for myself too often, and I am too inclined towards comfort and too quick to ask, “Will it hurt?”

Drat. The more I pray for unwavering conviction, the more opportunities God gives me to test it out (you are such an idiot, Teresa, stop praying for that). When challenges hit, sometimes I do OK, but other times…

Actually, this makes me laugh. I am picturing God, knowing a challenge is coming my way, and worrying over me (“You know how she did the last time.”) He must put out extra padding so I don’t skin my knees too badly as I trip along trying to hold it together. He must speak in an extra, EXTRA LOUD VOICE so that I will hear Him over my lamenting. He must put out very bright and obvious road signs every few feet so that I won’t lose my way. I am high maintenance, hey God?

And then there is Paul; throw in a disaster and the guy seems fine. Well, I guess I will never know what he was thinking while hanging on to a piece of timber after yet another shipwreck. All I know is, Paul didn’t give up.

Paul and I end up at the same verse by different routes (mine, less impressive so far), referring to the same Jesus who is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” which is good, because I lose my imagination when it hurts. “According to his power that is at work within” me, something good will come; not because I was naturally heroic, but because of some sort of obedience (awkward as it may be) that gives room for God to be GOD.

— Teresa Klassen




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