by Dale Reeves
This past Sunday at Christ’s Church our senior minister, Brad Wilson, began a new teaching series for the month of June. It’s called “Gone Fishing,” and it will be a 4-week study of the prophet Jonah, as we look at how far the reluctant messenger tried to run away from God, the measures God went to in getting his attention, and what takeaways we can apply to our daily lives. If you missed this past Sunday, you can check out Brad’s message here.
One of the takeaways last Sunday was this: “God works in our mess!”
I’ve been thinking about this phrase all this week as I reflect on a few things that have been going on in my life. Sometimes we allow ourselves to get into a mess because of what others have done in our lives. More often than not, though, it’s because we’ve gotten ourselves into the mess! Depending on your age, you may or may not be familiar with the comedic duo Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Between 1921 and 1951 this comedy team appeared in 106 motion pictures. One of their favorite catchphrases was this: “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into!” Do yourself a favor and check out this video mash-up here.
My wife and I enjoy the backyard oasis that we are blessed to have. After a long day of work or babysitting our grandkids, it is our place to chill, enjoy a cup of coffee, watch the birds frolic after one another, savor a multicolored sunset, read a book, and listen to the water trickling in our little pond. Due to a few things that dominated our time last year, we never got around to doing some spring cleanup in our backyard. Can you relate?
This spring we determined to spend some time cleaning up the pond, edging the beds, trimming bushes, weeding, killing poison ivy, applying fresh mulch, and restoring a birdhouse that had been destroyed by some squirrels a few years ago. In short, when we walked out our patio door, IT WAS A MESS! Just the thought of all the work it would take to restore our backyard to the condition we enjoy made me tired. We knew we could do it, though, by taking it a step at a time.
We had to empty out the mess in the pond and start over. I expected to find a dead frog at the bottom. Several places in the lining had to be patched. We needed the right tools—pruners, hedge trimmers, rakes, yard waste bags, spades—and work gloves. Over the course of the past few weeks, we attacked each necessary step. Karen is the creative director of this space, knowing which plants needed some TLC, needed to be divided or pruned, and which weeds needed to be pulled. She is also the director of quality control. I am just labor. As the work progressed, I was known to complain in the middle of the night due to a charley horse, a sore knee, ankle, or back. Thank you, Jesus, for ibuprofen!
The mess felt overwhelming when we first decided to attack it, but with each step accomplished, we were getting closer to our end goal. That, in turn, motivated us for the next step. At times the work was harder because of the afternoon summer heat and humidity. But, our eye was on the reward at the end—relaxing on some calm and cool summer evenings, grilling out and eating outside while enjoying the lights around the patio and the sounds of nature in the air.
The liner in the pond ultimately needed to be replaced, fresh mulch needed to be purchased and spread, the tube from the pump replaced, and the old birdhouse needed to be restored. It all reminded me of something Jesus said, that when God is doing a new thing in our lives, he uses new wineskins, not old ones (see Mark 2:21, 22). Now that the work has been accomplished, we can enjoy the fruit of our labor as we sit outside in the evenings, watching the mommy and daddy birds come and go with worms in their mouths to feed their recent hatchlings.
Restored for His Pleasure
Isn’t that how God does his work of restoration and transformation in our lives? It doesn’t happen all at once, and sometimes the process can be long, difficult, and painful. We have to choose to allow God to do his restorative work in our lives, don’t we? God looks at our mess, but he doesn’t see the mess, he sees the end result of what can happen when we decide to turn the mess over to him. That’s exactly how Jesus interacted with the messiest of the messy he came across. He encountered some pretty big messes didn’t he . . . the Gadarene demoniac, Zacchaeus the crooked tax collector, a woman who had been involved in numerous adulterous affairs, lepers who were missing parts of their bodies, disciples with anger and envy issues, just to name a few. And, in each of these situations Christ called them to be renewed and restored.
When Jesus looks at your mess, what needs to be renewed and restored? Do you believe he is powerful enough to accomplish that in your life? He has just the right tools for the job, and he knows how and when to use them.
He promises us that he is more than capable:
“Who is like you, God? Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more” (Psalm 71:19-21, NIV).
“In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:10, NLT).
God wants to roll up his sleeves, and transform you through the Holy Spirit. He might give you a new heart that pumps through your body for his purposes, he might need to pull some weeds of jealousy, bitterness, strife, and anxiety. You might need a fresh coat of that pleasant-smelling mulch. Will you choose to join him in this restorative process? He can’t wait to sit with you as you rest in the comfort of his life-giving and refreshing springs of water.
“Don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it! Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time” (Hebrews 12:12-15, The Message).
“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12, 13, ESV).
Oh, how God longs to love you and restore you, and go to work on your behalf so that you can enjoy his presence even more. You were made for his pleasure. If that’s what he does with us on this side of Heaven, can you even begin to imagine what he has prepared for us in eternity?