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Wednesday July 18th 2018

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The Things We Leave Behind

The beauty of God’s eternal plan remains untouched by my worldly cares.

That’s the thought that caressed through my brain as I sat on our mountain porch this morning. I looked out and as usual, the hills stretched lazily in their Sabbath repose. The clouds strolled by as playful as ever. The light and color of the morning sky clothed the firmament with garments of praise. God’s creation moved on in supreme procession while I stood aside with my worrisome thoughts, worshiping the papier-mâché god of my petty anxiety.

Inside the house, we’ve been negotiating what to take with us to Honduras and what to leave behind. There is no right or wrong here necessarily. For us, it seems wiser to leave most of what we own behind and start fresh after we arrive. But, letting go isn’t easy. My wife in particular is no more materialistic than me, but our home is her craft work, it’s her artistic expression of love, family, and hospitality. To let go of these things isn’t easy. And yet, God pesters with this reminder…

Your life does not consist in the abundance of your possessions.

Sure, that’s good to know. But for me, while my anxiety is certainly based in the loss of physical things, my stress lies more in their management. Selling cars, houses, and other items of value has left me with little energy and optimism for what lies ahead. Why do we own all this stuff? Will we have enough money for what we need? Will our house remain on the market for years? What about all the unknowns ahead?

I look up again from my thoughts and notice a beautiful cardinal dancing on a branch near my porch. He pays me no mind. He hops. He flips upside down. He looks left with a jerk. Then right. He has no idea what a mortgage is and wouldn’t know what to do with it if he had one. God speaks again…

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

Yes, of course. God cares for everything he’s created. But if I’m being honest, an even greater anxiety with this move to Honduras isn’t the loss of material things or even the security of future provision. For me, to pastor my first church, I’m leaving behind the right not to be criticized, judged, or rejected (if you think pastors don’t experience these things, ask around).

In the last few years I’ve been safe within these Smoky Mountains. Safe from judgment. Safe from deadlines and demands. But also safe from making any real difference in the lives of others. Jesus clears his throat (“ahem!”) and shares this pesky little truth…

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

I look out at the view again. It’s interesting. I wonder how safe the Smokies really are. I remember that storms still invade—in the summer, on an almost daily basis. The soft wind turns violent, damaging trees and other living things. The rain floods the earth also deluging much in its path. The thunder bellows doom. Lightning can start fires. The Smoky Mountains do indeed endure a great, recurring tribulation.

But then the winds die, the waters recede, and the world returns to its slumber. It moves on then to heal, to restore, to return to a place of wholeness. Who am I to understand these cycles of upheaval and restoration? God whispers…

Whatever the Lord pleases, he does—in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. It’s he who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightning for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses.

So…what am I really leaving behind in this move to Honduras? Perhaps ultimately, it’s my illusion of ownership and control. I don’t imagine for one second that I own the mountains I see before me. Or the clouds. Or the morning light. These are owned by God. Why do I imagine I truly own this house? Or this furniture? Or this car?

Why do I think for one second that I, as one of God’s created works, own my very life? Isn’t it possible that all my fear and anxiety, my stress over the past, present, and future, are rooted in some childish illusion that I have control over anything?

And isn’t it also possible that I can live in true peace and joy if I leave behind my own plans and offer everything I am up to God’s plan? Won’t God guide me and feed me, won’t he sustain me through any storms of loss and rejection? Won’t God heal and restore me? An old pastor with some experience in these matters is bursting to chime in…

Not that I have already obtained it or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

I’m not perfect. That’s a certainty! I’m one holy mess who God in his unfathomable wisdom has called to nurture and care for his people. But I can still press on into God’s plan, knowing I don’t have control over my life. Because as a created being, I’m no different than that contented cardinal, these resting hills, the playful clouds, this glorious morning light. They are his and I am his. The only thing I truly need to own or grasp in my life is this—that I am his.

So, I take a deep breath and mimic the hills in their Sabbath repose, resolved for all that awaits. My eyes return to the view before me and I form a response to God’s admonitions, echoing a prayer from a past theologian:

God, I thank you for this universe, our great home; for its vastness and its riches, and for the manifold life which teems upon it and of which we are part.

I praise you for the arching sky and the blessed winds, for the driving clouds and the constellations on high.

I praise you for the salt sea and the running water, for the everlasting hills, for the trees, and for the grass under our feet.

I thank you for our senses by which we can see the splendor of the morning, and hear the jubilant songs of love, and smell the breath of springtime.

I pray that you’d give us a heart wide open to all this joy and beauty and save our souls from being so steeped in care or so darkened by passion that we pass heedless and unseeing when even the thorn bush by the way is aflame with the glory of God. *

What he said.

Amen.

* Walter Rauschenbusch
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About John Michalak

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An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 20 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

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