Neurotics for the Kingdom of God
Does God waste anything? Do we?
I’ve made much of God’s apparent inefficiency. In reality, though, his magnificent efficiency is the framework for our joy, joy that we sometimes fail to embrace.
In my understanding, efficiency is the ordering of a thing to minimize waste. This was something tangible for me during the twenty-five years I lived in Bradenton, Florida. Bradenton is the home of Tropicana Orange Juice. Tropicana extracts the juice and then processes the remains for cattle feed. That is an efficient use of the orange which tennis great Andre Agassi who trained in Bradenton remembered as a “stench.”1 In reality, it was the smell of efficiency, the aroma of nothing being wasted.
God is similarly efficient. Nothing is wasted.
Moses messed up his commission in Egypt and spent forty years on the back side of Sinai pushing sheep around. Those years were not wasted.
Jonah took a cruise in sinful defiance of God’s command. God did not waste that. It became a central part of his story, shaping him and assuring him that salvation is of the Lord.
Jesus took his disciples across the lake just so they could rest. Leaving those who needed the gospel for some quiet recreation was not a waste.
God wastes nothing, but we fear we do. We hear the voices of our critics and of the well-meaning spiritual mentors who push us to be “in the will of God” and not to waste our lives. Anything judged trivial or in some way not contributing to the mission of the church becomes the forbidden thing. We’re not free to binge watch Wandavision because that letter to our unsaved college roommate is not going to write itself. We are to be busy, be focused, be disciplined, and we grow weary and grim.
Yes, sloth is a thing. Irresponsibility is a thing. But so is unwarranted guilt, and many of us under the pressure of that guilt are unable to live freely, simply, and lovingly.2 Jesus pursued the joy before him. We however become neurotics for the kingdom of God, unable to take pleasure in anything that lacks spiritual overtones. It is okay simply to live. God in his efficient providence does not see those hours and days I spent learning a computer language I would never use as wasted, though I’d like to have them back. Maybe it would be okay to take time away from my study to learn to play an instrument I’ll never master. That there is no waste in God may free us to do things that bring us joy.
Deep devotion to the things of God is good, of course. But devotion to the heart of God and fear of waste and failure are two entirely different things. One is born of affection and the other of guilt. The first frees us to read a novel without the fear of sloth. The latter makes it impossible for us to slow down and enjoy watching the agility of a squirrel. Devotion feeds, and fear consumes, our joy.
We especially need to know there is no waste in God when our pastoral choices seem to have been wrong.
A friend of mine recently walked away from a ministry to which he had committed several valuable years of his life. He had decided that this position did not make the best use of his gifts and that it was not really what he was best equipped and trained to do. As much as he knew he needed a change, though, he lamented the years he had lost. He saw them as wasted.
But they were not wasted. Not for the God who wastes nothing.
The church I pastored in Bradenton no longer exists. Its demise can be traced in so many ways to mistakes I made. But it was not a waste. God wastes nothing.
Some start seminary and sputter out after two years. Others get a degree and land in a church that is wholly unsatisfying. Still others find that they can get no ministry job and move on to another career. It’s easy to look back upon those years as wasted. But there is no waste in God.
God’s efficiency frees us to simply live and it allows us to be simply loved. That we become Christlike in the deepening fruit of Spirit-cultivated virtue is of greater interest to God than the fact that you fell asleep on the couch playing The Legend of Zelda last night. That God works all things to the end that we be “conformed to the image of his Son”3 is of greater importance than whether we’ve made all the right career choices. God wastes nothing. It is not a waste for you to redirect your life to write that novel or to build that pond in your back yard, if these things bring you joy.
And joy is the kindest gift of the God who wastes nothing.
And though I would write this newsletter for the joy of it, a few coins in the tip jar to help pay for my expenses are always a delight and an encouragement. Thanks!
Andre Agassi, Open (United States: Vintage Books, 2010), p. 77. I should add that the smell was not that bad. That Agassi’s memories of those days are a bit foggy is made clear when he refers to the “hills” around Bradenton. There are no hills.
I’m well aware that there are sinful, self-destructive, soul-destroying choices made by many. These are terrible and often sad. Those are not my concern here. Too often in order to make sure no one is freed to sin, we define from the lives of the faithful the joy of living. My concern here is to free Christians, and particularly pastors, to follow Jesus in childlike wonder.
Romans 8:29, which defines the “good” of the oft-quoted Romans 8:28.