Every once in a while I get to do a devotional for work. This is one I did last October, which really means a lot to me so I thought I’d share it here. — Sarah
There’s a scene in the movie The Incredibles that always strikes me. The movie is about superheroes hidden among us, and at one point the main character, Mr. Incredible, is coming home from a really, really bad day at work. He pulls in the driveway of his house, and there’s this little kid, his next-door neighbor, sitting on a tricycle waiting for him. Now, this kid has reason to believe that Mr. Incredible is actually a superhero in disguise, so he’s just sitting there, watching him. Mr. Incredible turns his tired eyes to the kid and asks, “What are you waiting for?” And the kid goes “I dunno. Something amazing! I guess.”
Something amazing. Like flying or lifting a car over your head. That’s the kind of life I’ve always wanted to have. But God has a different concept of what it takes to be amazing, and lately I’ve been struck by several Amazing Things Jesus talked about, and how we can really live an Amazing Life.
Have you heard of a “light and heavy” argument? You probably have even if you don’t realize it. It’s a Jewish debate technique, where you take a simple premise that everyone in your audience knows to be true – the ‘light’ – and then you extrapolate to a bigger idea, which is your point you want to prove – the ‘heavy’. Jesus and the New Testament authors use this technique a lot. For example, when Jesus is talking about how much God cares for us, he talks about sparrows – which were the cheapest birds to buy, not worth much – and how God knows when any one of them falls. That’s the light point. Then he goes on to say “Aren’t you worth much more than the birds?” — proving the heavy.
Jesus also used a lot of implied light and heavy arguments. When he told a story, you needed to pay attention to who the characters were, because they meant something. The Good Samaritan is a great story about caring for others, but it makes even more sense if you realize that his light point – that even a Samaritan, who would generally have nothing to do with Jews (and vice versa), cared so much for the robbed man – leads into an implied heavy – that what should you, who have a reputation for doing good, do for your neighbor?
When He talks about women and widows in particular, there’s an implied light and heavy because of the lack of resources the person is dealing with. A widow had nothing, no way of earning money, and was totally dependent on any friendly relations for food and shelter. She had no social standing and didn’t have any kind of ‘pull’ on people to get them to do things for her. Very socially helpless. So if Jesus tells a story about a woman (often dependent on her husband to get things done) or a widow, His implied light and heavy is how much more we who have resources could do.
What kind of story? Three Amazing Things come to mind. The first is the Annoying Widow of Luke 18. Jesus is telling a story about prayer, and He relates how there was a corrupt judge, who didn’t care about justice or obeying God. A widow was being oppressed and needed help from this judge, so she went to him every day, even though the judge didn’t give her any hope that he would help her. Finally the judge says to himself, “I don’t care about this woman and her situation, and I don’t care about doing right, but this widow is going to keep coming forever if I don’t do something.” And because the woman was so annoying, he decides to help her. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” (The Jewish New Testament calls the woman a “nudnik”, which is a Yiddish word meaning a nag, or someone really really annoying!)
Amazing Prayer pretty much amounts to nagging God! Not in a disrespectful way of course – if the widow had been that way to the judge, he would have thrown her out and kept her from coming back. It was the fact that she did everything right – stayed respectful, didn’t accuse the judge of doing wrong, but just was always there, a small reminder that he should be doing what is right – that bothered the judge so much. We should continually pray for the things and people that matter. Not as a bargaining chip (“If you do this, God, I’ll give x amount of money to the church this year.”) for a bribe didn’t move the heart of the judge. Nor was it some fancy show that the widow put on to catch his attention (and that of random passers-by who might help her as well), so praying aloud to get attention from men or praying with fancier words doesn’t matter. What matters is not giving up.
I sometimes use prayer as a “get out of doing something free” card. I hear about a serious need and I’ll say “Oh, I’ll pray about that.” Which excuses me from doing anything else about it. I think true Amazing Prayer is work – telling God you’re serious by not giving up, sometimes even by fasting. But if you’re praying instead of working then you’ve missed the point – God put us here to do good works, already planned for us to do. (That’s an idea of Paul’s, and I love it!)
The second Amazing Thing Jesus talked about is in Luke 15:8-10. This is the story of the woman who had 10 dracmas, and loses one. A dracma (some translations say “silver coin”) was worth about a day’s wages for a common laborer. When I worked as a waitress, a decent day meant you made around 100 bucks, so let’s use that as a reference. This woman had around 1,000 dollars (some say this may have been part of her dowry) and she loses 100. While that’s clearly a significant amount, she still has 900 left, and since this woman isn’t specifically a widow, it’s probably not going to be that hard to replace the value of the coin.
But she searches. She lights a lamp and works hard (there it is again), sweeping out the whole house until she finds the one coin.
This story is easy to overlook, sandwiched as it is between the better known Shepard and Prodigal Son stories, and I rarely hear it being preached on by itself. But I think there’s some real value here as well. The second Amazing Thing is Amazing Seeking. The Bible says that Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. To seek the lost – that is something I hardly ever do.
Everyone has that one lost person that they know, who will never ever come to Christ. What do we do for that person? Well, we pray. If we’re feeling gutsy, we “pray for opportunity” to speak with them. But we do our best not to rock the boat, we’re so worried of offending them by telling them the truth.
Well, I don’t see “praying for opportunity” as a huge occupation in the Bible. What I do see is hard work, making opportunities – truly seeking the lost. It’s not that the woman looking for her coin didn’t pray – after all, she “lit a lamp” first, and Who is the light of the world? — but after bathing her search area in prayer, she got down to business, not giving up until the coin was found. She didn’t get down on her knees in the middle of the room and pray “Lord, please have my coin jump into my open hand!” And she didn’t say “Right, well sweeping isn’t really my spiritual gift, so I’ll wait for my husband to get home, he’s much better at this.” Seeking the lost is hard work – but it’s work that anyone can and must do.
The third Amazing Thing is in Mark 12:41-44. You’ve all heard this story before, of the widow’s mite. Jesus goes and sits at the temple, watching people give money. Many rich people go by, giving large amounts of money, but Jesus doesn’t say anything about these. Then a widow woman comes by, and she gives just two small coins. And Jesus says that she has given more than all the others, because she gave all she had.
I said most of you had heard this story, but you’ve probably heard it in relation to a sermon on tithing or giving to the church. But this story isn’t about “percentage giving” — unless that percent is 100! I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that’s missing the point just slightly. The third Amazing Thing isn’t Amazing Giving, it’s Amazing Sacrifice.
A few things of note in this story: First, this is the only “woman” story I’ve talked about here which actually happened, that is, this isn’t just a parable that Jesus taught, it was a real live widow who did this thing. I believe that when Jesus came to sit and watch people giving, he knew she was coming, and was waiting for her. Why? Perhaps because his disciples wouldn’t have believed the Amazing Thing that she did without seeing it with their own eyes!
Another point – she didn’t know, probably, where her next meal was coming from. She wasn’t likely to have those two coins to rub together again anytime soon. Yet she gave both coins. How easy would it have been to keep just one! (That’s still 50% giving – more than what most of us do certainly!) But she felt that this was important enough – and she trusted God enough – that she gave both coins away, all she had to live on.
About those coins – remember those silver dracmas we were talking about earlier? The coins this widow gave were a much smaller denomination – in fact, it took 64 small coins to make a silver one. If we go with our earlier thought of 100 dollars for the silver coin, then that would make each small one round about a buck fifty. So she gave three dollars. Now, the temple was not hurting for three dollars. If there was some big project going on and it was 3 bucks short, one of the priests could probably have made up the difference with lint covered coins from his pocket. (ok, no pockets, but you get the idea) That’s why this story isn’t about money. It isn’t about tithing, or percentage giving or giving at all. It’s Amazing Sacrifice, which is based in Amazing Trust. The widow sacrificed everything because she believed God would take care of her, even as she gave everything she had to Him.
As an American Christian, I worship at the altar of convenience and being comfortable. I work for a ministry, I think to myself, so my paltry salary is sacrifice enough! I look the other way when I see someone struggling, or worse, offer to pray for them as an excuse not to do anything else! How dare I!
Amazing Sacrifice is about trusting God for your needs while working for Him to supply the needs of others. Even if you think what you’re doing isn’t noticed, God sees. Even if you think what you’re giving is so insignificant it can’t matter, it matters to God. As I said earlier, we were put on Earth to do good works that have already been prepared for us to do. Don’t miss yours! If you see a need, you see it because God gave you sight – and perhaps you are there for such a time as this.
The passage that started me thinking about all these Amazing Things was this: Luke 17:7-10. It talks about servants, and how if they do everything they’re told to do, well they’re only normal, everyday servants, nothing special. If we go to church regularly, read our Bible, spend time in prayer, and tithe – in other words, do the things we’ve been asked to do by God, we think we’re doing well. That we’re pretty special, such great Christians. But in reality, we are just ordinary servants, we have only done our duty, we have only done what was asked.
You may be saying “Sure, these ‘Amazing Things’ are great things to do, but not everyone does them – they’re hard! God can’t be asking me to do this much!” Well, perhaps you’re right. Maybe He doesn’t ask us to do Amazing Things. But maybe that’s the point. Maybe if we want to hear “Well done, my good and faithful servant”, we need to do more than just our duty, more than what we have already been asked to do. Following God is hard work. But it’s also wonderful work. And if Paul is right, it may just be exactly what we are here for.