There they are, sitting in the corner of the room. Yes, they are tucked away, but still I see them. The boxes from two gifts I received recently.
Entering the living room, I settle on the couch and my eyes wander back to where they sit.
“Is it time to throw them out?” I wonder.
Both the mixer and the humidifier that came in the boxes have been opened and used. They appear to work well.
They have found homes elsewhere in my house, yet still the boxes sit there. Should I throw them out?
From the couch I convince myself that, yes, it is time to throw them out. Next time I’m standing, I will throw them out.
Still, doubt rises. I have not yet had them for 30 days. What if they malfunction and stop working? I could take them back, but I would need the box and all the packaging.
I shake my head. The boxes are cluttering up the space. The items have worked just fine. Besides, the store may not be willing to receive them back now that I’ve used them.
But, what if…
I’ll ask my husband what he thinks when he gets off work. That will settle things.
With that I push the thoughts away and turn to the task I am supposed to be working on.
— — —
That evening, I forgot to ask my husband his opinion, so the boxes stayed put.
Several times this debate took place in my head as I eyed the boxes. I didn’t like the space they were consuming, but what if…?
With the empty boxes still sitting nearby as I type, I ask the question, are there any boxes I need to throw out in my life?
For me, some of those boxes still kicking around in my head and heart might be the “that’s not how it used to be” comments.
True, there may have been good in how things used to be done. Still, holding onto those thoughts creates clutter that steals from my ability to enjoy the new ways of doing things.
An example cropped up in my life recently related to my pregnancy.
I used to be a morning person. Before 9am used to be my best time for writing. During pregnancy, however, my mind was sluggish most mornings. That’s not how it used to be, yet if I hang onto that thought too tightly, I may slip into grumbling and bitterness.
Indeed, with a new baby around, there are many changes I must embrace, and I can do it much better if I throw out the boxes.
Now, that might be a useful life principle, but I believe there is a more important box to throw out when it comes to following Jesus.
Throwing away those boxes that are sitting in my living room feels a bit risky because it is a commitment – a commitment that I will not be taking those items back for a refund. Once the boxes are gone, if one of the items breaks, it’s on me to buy a replacement.
Similarly, choosing to give my life 100% to Jesus can feel risky. What if I don’t like what He asks me to do? What if I want my old life back?
In Matthew 8:19-22 ESV, we see that Jesus wants us to be all in – no holding onto boxes.
“A scribe came up and said to Him, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ Another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.'”
Elsewhere Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:25 ESV)
So what about me? Am I following Jesus with my entire life, or do I cling to some boxes that are keeping me back?
Just like the boxes still cluttering my living room, it is time for me to get rid of those boxes that are hindering me in my walk with Jesus.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2 ESV)
P.S. I have since recycled those boxes. My living room looks much better without them!
Have you done much art? I enjoy art, but with everything on my schedule, I rarely make it a priority. Recently, however, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted enough that I could visit some relatives, we enjoyed having a paint night together.
I decided to do a landscape, since painting people is far more difficult.
We used acrylic paint. When using acrylic, the typical strategy is to start with the furthest back part of the picture. From there, each new layer can be added on top.
In my case, the furthest back thing was the sky.
I knew I planned to put a tree in the foreground. I hoped my tree would resemble an Elm. I knew the sky would be visible through the leaves and between the branches of the tree. Therefore, I wanted more than just a flat blue sky.
I took my time, trying several times until I was satisfied with the gradient from deep blue at the top of the sky, to light blue at the horizon. Then it was time for clouds. I added wispy white clouds.
That done, I moved on to the next layer – mountains. At first I made them flat, but that was too boring, so I added shadows and highlights. Much better.
Time for the grass. I spread plain green across the space. I added a little more variety to the green, then left it at that for the time being. Later I would add more details.
Stepping back, I examined my painting. The bright colours and my hard work had paid off. I was pleased with my background.
The next question: where to put the tree? I frowned. Did I even want to add the tree? The background had turned out so beautifully. Would adding a tree in the foreground harm the beauty of it? What if I did a poor job of the tree?
Despite my fears, I knew the picture would look empty and incomplete without something in the foreground.
I squeezed some brown paint onto my palate. Taking a deep breath, I added a tree trunk. Then I added branches and leaves. Finally I added texture to the grass.
Eyeing my painting, I considered adding something else to the foreground on the other side. Perhaps a road or a creek? Yet those same fears crept up again. What if I did a poor job adding it. All my work on the background would be negated.
This time I decided that my painting was complete.
As I considered the process of creating this painting, I marveled at the importance of background. Much of my time and effort had gone into forming the background with great detail. Had I neglected the background, it would have been an entirely different painting.
Indeed when watching a pro artist, it can be astounding how much detail they put into the background.
Is there a life lesson I can learn from this?
Yes, I believe there is.
Sometimes it seems as though so much of life is background stuff. Washing dishes, doing laundry, writing emails, buying groceries… the list could go on.
At times, I feel anxious to get on with the “big stuff.” I want to do things that feel important and belong in the foreground.
At moments like that, I have to stop and remind myself of the importance of the background stuff.
In Luke 16:10 (ESV) we read, “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.”
I find it helpful to switch the words “faithful” and “dishonest” with other words to help drive home the point. Am I being diligent in the very little things? Am I being intentional and wise in how I handle those little things? Am I a good steward of what I’ve been given, no matter how small or background it feels?
In the Bible, I see lots of the “big” moments – David defeating Goliath, Moses leading Israel out of Egypt, Jesus’s time of ministry. If I pay close attention, though, I can also see snippets of the background stuff that enabled these “big” moments to be handled well.
David faithfully tended his father’s sheep, including fighting off bears and lions (1 Samuel 17:34-37). Moses was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22 ESV). “Jesus, when He began His ministry, was about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23 ESV).
Each of these had years of little stuff that served as a background to the big moments of their lives which the Bible tells about.
Sometimes, I find the stuff that might seem big, is indeed a compilation of many small things that add up to a big thing. To be a pastor or Christian camp director, for example, is largely made up of doing lots and lots of little things well.
What about my life? Is all the daily background stuff going to one day culminate in an unmistakably big moment? I don’t know.
What I do know, is that God has called me to be faithful with what He has given me to do here and now, no matter how menial.
As I am faithful with the little things, He will unfold His plans for my life. Perhaps there will be a “big” moment in my life, but perhaps not. Regardless, may I seek to be faithful that one day I may say with Paul, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)
Do I have a full-feast relationship with Jesus?
With Christmas day quickly approaching, many of us have food on our minds. Whether it is the new dessert you want to try, the classic Christmas turkey, or whatever your Christmas food entails, it seems appropriate for this post to talk about food, and the reminder our Christmas dinner can be to pause for a moment and think.
Generally speaking, a large feast has several courses or dishes. These include the appetizer, the main dish, side dishes such as salad, and dessert.
First, we start with the appetizer. It is typically small but tasty. It takes the edge off our hunger, yet if we ended the meal there, most of us would still be hungry.
Then follows the main course and side dishes. The main course is where the sustenance of the meal is. It quenches our appetite, gives us good nutrients, and strengthens us for whatever tasks lay ahead.
Side dishes can take many forms, but for now, I’ll mention only a side dish salad. While this isn’t the case for me, stereotypically there are many people who eat salads begrudgingly. The only reason they eat it is because they know it is good for their health. However, if they could reasonably do so, they’d skip salads all together.
Finally, all the dishes are cleared away, and then comes the part so many of us eagerly await: dessert! Dessert is sweet and delightful. It is sugary and designed to bring a smile to our faces. The reward of dessert, however, is short-lived. Why? Because dessert gives primarily short term energy – a sugary high that soon fades. Indeed, too much dessert adds unwanted weight that makes the rest of life less pleasant. Still, in reasonable proportions, dessert is a delightful and good addition to the meal.
Okay, sure, but what does that have to do with Jesus?
I’m glad you asked.
I’ve found myself thinking recently about how people can have a side dish relationship with Jesus.
Let me explain. Remember what I said about salad side dishes? In a similar way to how some people approach salad side dishes, some people approach God. They go to church and pray begrudgingly as something they have to do, not something they want to do. They acknowledge that Jesus is important, but He holds merely a side dish position in their life.
I thought to myself, I want to have a main dish relationship with Jesus. The main dish is the core of the meal. Likewise, I want my relationship with Jesus to be at the core of my life. That relationship with Jesus is what sustains me and gives me endurance when the going gets hard. Just as how a meal without a main dish would be lacking, likewise, my life without Jesus would have a hole in it.
Yet as I thought about it some more, something didn’t add up. What about the appetizer and dessert? Are they separate from my walk with Jesus?
What in my life do I treat as the appetizer? What is that thing that I run to first? What takes that edge off my hunger… or hurt, or fear, or anxiety? Do I run to Jesus first? Unfortunately, the answer is not always yes.
And what of dessert? What do I do when I just want to have fun? Is Jesus a part of that? Or is that type of fun something He would disapprove of? Is it simply an “okay” thing to do, or is it the best?
Having thought about these questions, I realized that I don’t want to only have a main dish relationship with Jesus. No, I want Jesus to be not only at the core of who I am, but a key part of everything I am and everything I do.
“For from Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.” Rom. 11:36 NASB
What does that look like practically? There is no one answer. In every season of my life having a full-feast relationship with Jesus might look different. It probably will.
Sometimes it will be serving at church. Sometimes it may mean taking cookies to a hurting neighbour. Sometimes, or perhaps often, it includes washing the dishes and making the meals along with all the other small tasks that make up a day.
Regardless, my relationship with God is to shape every aspect of my life.
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” Col. 3:17 NASB
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord and not for people…” Col. 3:23 NASB
Whatever exactly it looks like, I am confident that having a full-feast relationship with Jesus is what will bring me the most joy and peace (Ps. 16:11, Ph. 4:6-7). Jesus is the reason that we sing about “joy to the world” and “peace on earth.” His coming made that possible.
Therefore, as I help prepare a Christmas feast, I want to keep seeking to grow toward that full-feast sort of relationship with Jesus. He is worth it.
One of my favourite parts of gardening is seeing the first sprouts pushing their heads through the ground. The newness and anticipation of a coming harvest is exciting. How big will the beets grow this year? How many zucchinis will come? Will we be able to harvest the tomatoes before the first frost?
(A quick disclaimer before I continue. I am not an experienced gardener, so please do not take this post as gardening advice.)
I love seeing those little seedlings grow bigger each day.
Soon, however, comes a stage I don’t like so much: thinning the garden.
Often gardeners plant more seeds than they will let grow to full maturity. Because of this, the seeds are too close to each other.
As the seeds grow, they become crowded and begin to fight for sunlight and water. If not thinned, none of the seeds will grow strong and healthy. They will remain half-shrunk and weirdly shaped as they strain for more light.
So, the morning comes when I slip into my gardening sandals and head out for a closer look.
First, I pull the weeds. I mercilessly yank them from the ground. They don’t belong. They won’t bring value or a harvest. I don’t want them. They only serve to get in the way of the plants I want to grow.
Then I look at the radish row. They’re often quicker to grow than the others. The plants are far too close. I know I have to thin them if I want large healthy radishes.
I crouch down and take a deep breath.
I pull a radish seedling. Looking at it, I feel bad to have had to pull a perfectly healthy and good plant that could have grown excellent food. Still, if I didn’t pull that seedling out, the others wouldn’t grow well.
Looking again at the row, I pull another seedling and then another. Pretty soon I have a pile of radish seedlings. Thankfully I can eat these sprouts for lunch. Yet something inside of me remains sad that they will never reach their fullest potential.
When at last I sit back and look at the radish row, I smile. These remaining plants will now be able to grow strong and healthy. It was painful pulling the sprouts, but the reward will be worth it. No half-grown radishes for me.
On to the next row of plants I go, and then the next. Pretty soon the garden is looking far more empty, yet I remind myself that it now holds more chance of reaching its fullest potential. The harvest will be bigger and better because of the thinning I did today.
What about in my life? Do I need to do some thinning there?
Having grown up attending church, I have long known the parable of the sower. The part about the seed that fell among the weeds seems fitting to consider now.
“Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it didn’t produce fruit. … these are the ones who hear the word, but the worries of this age, the deceitfulness of wealth, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” (Mark 4:7, 18-19 CSB)
Okay, got it. In order to be fruitful for God, I must get rid of the weeds in my life. Weeds are bad things, right? Don’t covet wealth, don’t worry, don’t pursue other bad worldly things. If I get caught up in those, my life won’t reach its fullest God-given potential.
Take out the weeds in my life, and I’m good to go, right? My experience in the garden says there might be more to do.
Maybe there are other things I need to thin out of my life in order to thrive in what I keep.
Jesus, after having a powerful night of ministry did just that, as recorded in Mark 1:35-38 (CSB).
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place; and there He was praying. Simon and his companions searched for Him, and when they found Him they said, ‘Everyone is looking for You.’ And He said to them, ‘Let’s go on to the neighboring villages so that I may preach there too. This is why I have come.'”
I can so easily read those verses and think, “Everyone was looking for Him. He could have stayed and taught them so much more and done more miracles. They were ready to listen.”
Jesus, however, knew the task His Father had placed before Him. If He was to fulfill His mission on earth, He had to move on.
Sometimes I get caught up in all the good things I have opportunities to do. When a door is open, that means I should go in, right?
I must remind myself that this is not always the case. As with my garden, if I am involved in too many good things, none of them will thrive. They will be half-nourished and straining for light.
Instead, I need to prioritize my life intentionally. Sometimes prioritizing includes pulling out good healthy things so that the rest can thrive.
What do I need to thin out of my life so that what remains can grow? I’ll have to follow Jesus’ example and pray about that.
In the meantime, here are some valuable quotes to ponder.
“Good is not always God’s will, but God’s will is always good.” – Watchman Nee
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” – D. L. Moody