The Black Sheep Diaries: Confessions of an Ordinary Saint
- 2005 28 Apr
I have a confession to make: Sometimes I feel like a bad Christian. I mentally glance back over the 20-odd years since I said yes to Jesus and wonder, Why am I still struggling with some of the same issues that tripped me up so long ago? Why am I satisfied with “milk” when I should be hungry for scriptural meat, as the apostle Paul said? Why do I still feel like the same old me?
In that first blush of honeymoon love with Christ, we imagine that we will become spiritual mammoths overnight, quelling giants and scattering demons in our wake. If not in the first year, then certainly by year two…or three.
Then reality sets in—we are somewhat surprised when the alarm clock still orders us out of bed every morning, proclaiming another day of mundane tasks that demand to be done. And then the years turn into decades.
What went wrong? We were expecting to soar with the angels, but instead we find ourselves shoveling kitty litter and paying bills. We longed to proclaim the Good News to the nations, but instead we lead a Sunday school class of sniffly kindergartners. Did we miss something?
Not at all. Oswald Chambers said, “Discipleship is built entirely on the supernatural grace of God. Walking on the water is easy to impulsive pluck, but walking on dry land as a disciple of Jesus Christ is a different thing. Peter walked on the water to go to Jesus, but he followed Him afar off on the land. We do not need the grace of God to stand crises; human nature and pride are sufficient…but it does require the supernatural grace of God to live 24 hours in every day as a saint, to go through drudgery as a disciple, to live an ordinary, unobserved, ignored existence as a disciple of Jesus.” Yet in the midst of our very ordinary lives God’s searing light works a quiet miracle, burning away the dross and exposing the silver, bit by bit.
This process can take a long time, I’ve discovered, but God is way more patient than we would be if the tables were turned. Discouraged by yet another spiritual lapse on my part, I was feeling particularly low one morning when my “daily manna” email Scripture popped onto the computer screen like a missive from heaven. I read the familiar words from Luke 8:15: “But the [seeds] that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”
Tears welled up in my eyes.
I love the parables of Jesus. With our 2,000-year hindsight, it’s easy to see them for what they are: spiritual allegories rich in symbolism. But for the people who first heard them, they were just simple stories about everyday events: hiring workers for a vineyard, finding a lost coin, baking bread, lighting lamps, sowing seeds. The agrarian society Jesus lived in must have related readily to a story about sowing and reaping, putting seed in the ground and harvesting a crop in a later season.
But to most of us, a story about raising crops might raise little more than our eyebrows. (I imagine if Jesus walked among us today He would tell stories about surfing the Internet or waiting in a line of stalled traffic.) Yet here I was, moved to the core by a parable about soil. What was God trying to tell me? What is He trying to tell you?
For weeks, the words of the parable ran through my mind. Finally I found the courage to ask, “Lord, is my heart good soil?” I had my answer as soon as I asked the question. I knew I had let Him down—and outright grieved the Holy Spirit at times.
Yet here I was 20-odd years later, still pressing on, as Paul might say. The seed of the Word hadn’t been snatched away or trampled down or choked out or withered away. Amazingly, that wonderful seed was alive and well, bearing fruit in my life, though at times the fruit seemed small.
I once heard a teaching that I cling to, perhaps because I’m so prone to self-doubt. It went something like this: When we are born-again, or, as Jesus said, “born of the Spirit,” we gain not just a new life but a new heart. We may stumble and fall along the way, lapsing into old, sinful patterns, but the fact that we grieve over our sins, get up, and thirst again for righteousness is proof that the Holy Spirit dwells within us. If we weren’t being made into the image of Christ, however gradually, we wouldn’t care if we “slipped up.”
George MacDonald, a 19th-century Scottish minister and novelist, said that when we question our faith and wrangle with the truth, seeking to separate it from lies, it is a sign that God is holding fast to our hand. He is big enough to deal with our doubts. He can handle our frustrations—even our rage against Him. And when we think we are messing up yet again, He reminds us that we are still here, still calling Him “Father,” still bearing fruit—good soil.
A. J. Kiesling is the author of Jaded: Hope for Believers Who Have Given Up on Church But Not on God (Baker). She welcomes your thoughts and comments. Feel free to write her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about "Jaded," visit her online pressroom. Copyright 2005 by A.J. Kiesling.