Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quiet in Tarsus III

Quiet in Tarsus continued:

Waiting on the Lord provides yet another lesson; and that is to teach the believer that true and lasting good comes from God himself. It is not so much what we say or what we do that makes this world a better place, it is what God does with what we say and what we do which really counts. For St. Paul, it was but a natural impulse to want to immediately share the "good news" he had received from the Risen Lord. But before the Apostle did act, the Lord wanted to impress upon this new convert a critical lesson: "Unless the LORD build the house, they labor in vain who build." (Psalm 127) No matter how good or how eloquent the Ambassador of Christ would prove to be in proclaiming Christ-crucified, such gifts would be useless if the Lord did not use them.

Lastly, waiting on the Lord served to purge the Apostle of a subtle temptation all too common among the workers of the Vineyard: the temptation to love the work of God more than God Himself. How many followers of Christ- Christians who sincerely want to advance the kingdom of God -end up becoming too preoccupied with the mission while our personal spirituality suffers neglect? We may get too busy for prayer; we may enjoy the success of a mission with the result of becoming complacent; or the disciple of Christ may attribute the fruits of his labor to himself. To help us avoid these pitfalls and illusions so fatal to the work of God, Jesus allows us to wait on him while some petition seemingly goes unanswered. While we endure the "silence of God," the opportunity to affirm and reaffirm our love for the Lord is invaluable! It not only strengthens and validates our relationship with Christ, but it gives the Christian credibility. We know that God listens to those who are willing to forsake all for him, including the very work he has called us to.

That's right! It is the ironies of ironies that the Lord calls his servants to renounce (that is, the willingness to give up some work for his glory if necessary) the very mission he calls us to. This is what makes the period of waiting exceedingly difficult. God first provides the inspiration for a mission but then he permits delays and setbacks. From the days of Noah to the Christian era, this means of testing was frequently used.

For St. Paul, the Risen Lord provided him the inspiration to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. After his baptism, he was able to act on that inspiration...but just for a short period of time. Unexpectedly, just when St. Paul was ready to join the Apostles to begin a new vocation, he was told to sit down and wait. In other words, he had to die to the very mission God had called him to fulfill (just as Abraham was called to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah, the male heir God had promised from whose loins the nation of Israel would proceed).

After each day that passed in Tarsus, the Lord seemed to be asking St. Paul the very question he asked St. Peter: "Do you love me more than these?" That is, do you love me more than the mission I have called you to? With the fervor to proclaim the Good News burning in his soul, St. Paul had to reaffirm his love for the Lord as the highest and the most unrivaled of his loves.

For every Christian who seeks to work on God's behalf, there are two competing loves: The love for God versus the love for God's work. To be a channel of God's grace and an Apostle of his Good News, the latter must be totally subordinated to the former. This right ordering of the two loves can be a painful process. But it is one that is absolutely necessary to glorify God.

Waiting on the Lord in Tarsus played no small role in preparing St. Paul for his mission. More importantly, it prepared his soul for heaven. As such, he could say at the end of his life, "I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith."