Straining to Win the Prize

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“So, you guys fall in love with any of the kids over there?”

It’s a strange question that catches me off guard. I’m a simple man. If I’m working on a car, my mind is dedicated to the task of turning the wrench or the simple sound of the ratchet clicking in my hand. When Stefanie’s mom asked us if we had fallen in love with any of the kids, my mind was already busy calculating the possibility of delicious breakfast burritos using only the rag-tag ingredients in the fridge.

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Van break down? No problem. 21 in a Sequoia.

But, there it was, and to anyone in the field of service it is a good question to answer. So much of what we do in life depends on the prerequisite of love. If I say that I love my wife, but have no consistent actions, words, and prayers to back that up, well, then I’m just a dog barking at 3 am: earnest but annoying.

We all (more or less) know this to be true. I can say that “I love the Oakland A’s” and you might accept that as truth, but, you’d look for my “A’s Forever” tattoo and matching t-shirt. You’d expect me to have dedicated the time to memorize the current roster, trade rumors, and have a vehement opinion of the team’s management. If you say that you love your dog then I’d expect you to talk about your quadruped longer than necessary and embellish on all of the smart and funny things that they did to enrich your life.

Those are the standards for love in the mind of Ben. Now, here’s where it gets interesting… think about those standards against your relationship with God. Doesn’t that change things? If you’re like me, then your mind instantly starts defending itself and the eager gears of the excuse-mill start to turn.

But Ben, God is a being! I love God I just can’t show it as easily.

Love for God should be personal! It’s not called a “public relationship” with God. It’s called a “personal relationship” for good reason!

If God walked into the room right now I’d give Him the biggest hug ever! Seriously. I’d start crying and hug Him and then you’d see love!

Funny, you won’t find the phrase “personal relationship” in the Bible. Go ahead, check. It is personal on the level that only you and God know fully what your relationship consists of, but, if you read the Bible you’ll see that cover to cover God is obsessed with His people shouting His name and living as a community set apart from the culture and sins of the rest of the world. Cover to cover His children are called to live as cities on hills and boldly love each other in a real and tangible display of how they are loved by Christ. It’s pretty hard to love everyone and share in their relationships with God if our relationship is so personal that it’s internal, silent, and action less.

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Stef and Anna getting their swim on.

So, I attempt to answer the question, “Did you guys fall in love with any of the kids?” with my own standard of love. I reflect on how I’ve physically, verbally, emotionally, and actionally (totally not a word, whatever) I’ve loved these kids. I look at my mother in law after a brief pause and say, “Yes. We love all of the kids at the orphanage.”

In that brief moment of reflection, I saw the countless meals that we had cooked for them. I saw the ELS classes where more kids were in time out than were actually sitting and working on the lesson. I saw good morning hugs and smiles as they each walked lazily to the breakfast table. I saw time spent shopping for the best possible produce and protein because I was “cooking for Jesus.” I saw tickle-fights and soccer games- pizza parties and swim parties. Love them? Absolutely.

And since I’m loving them I’m loving Jesus. When I hug one of them I am hugging Jesus. When I show one of them patience through the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I’m being like Jesus for the sake of Jesus. It’s weird. I know. Whenever I pray to bless and give thanks for the food I pray, “Please bless this food to nourish your body.” Call it radical perspective. Call it an oversimplification. Heck, you can call me crazy, but it won’t change the fact that I didn’t come up with the whole “when you serve the least you are serving Jesus” thought. It was actually Jesus himself who taught this.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’ And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

It’s intense. It’s not a light or easy thought to know that someday soon all of us will stand before that throne of judgement and we will have to give an account to an infinite God for how we have spent our time. My hope and prayer is that I can say with Paul that I have run the race as one wanting to win the prize. That I dedicated everything I was to the cause of making disciples and loving the people that God created to be in His own image. I hope that with every tired breath and worn out muscle that Jesus would be the point and goal, and that the joy of knowing Him and walking with Him would be my continual strength. That’s my prayer and I’m losing my life in pursuit of that goal. Won’t you come and join me in this pursuit?

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Sunset at the waterless beach.

Until next time,

Lose your life!

-BenandStef-

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