I want to do better. In just about everything I’ve ever put my hand to with any earnest, I’ve wanted to do better. I wanted to be a better tennis player. I wanted to be a better speaker. I wanted to be a better leader. The effort is often there, but I always seem to fall short of my aspirations. And then there is Paul.
Paul shames me. I read about how the once persecutor of the early church made an about-face and then subjected himself to the most intense 24/7/365 world-traveling schedule that often took him straight into the proverbial lion’s den. Of his life following the way of Christ, he writes:
Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:24-28)
This was no puffery. Luke, the historian, tells the story of Paul, and it all syncs up with Paul’s words. Needless to say, when I consider Paul’s life and ministry, I fall way short.
No doubt, some of the reason I don’t meet Paul’s standard is that I lack the faith and steadfastness he did, and what I say from this point on is not meant to let me off the hook. But I think some of the disparity between Paul and me is that I don’t have the same horse he did.
I want to be a thoroughbred more than a miniature pony. I want to go fast and hard, and I want to do it all the time. Two problems with that. First, as much as I may want to line up with the world’s best racehorses, I am afraid my ride isn’t fit to run at more than the local racetrack. In other words, hard as I might try, I won’t be like Paul. I don’t have his horse. Secondly, regardless of what horse I have, sometimes it just needs to slow down and rest more than I want it to. In fact, I wonder if that’s what some of Paul’s time in prison was all about.
Jesus once told a parable of those who had been given resources by their master (Matthew 25:14-30). The focus of the parable is on the one who refused to invest what he had been given for the master’s advantage. But I am just as taken by what the story has to say about the two who invested well. One was given five and earned five more, while the other was given two and earned two more. The telling part is that the praise given to each was the same. Let me say that again: the praise given by the master to the two faithful investors was the same. The master did not expect the one who was given two to produce five. He only expected him to produce in keeping with what he had been given. No miniature horse will win the derby, but a friend to a special needs kid she may be. And my horse has its calling too.
Okay, so the horse I have isn’t as fast or beautiful or strong as others. I’ve proven that over and over again. And what I do have tends to breakdown plenty along the way. But it is the horse God has given me. To belittle it is to say that what God made is not good and to beat it beyond what it is capable is only to make matters worse.
John likes to help people wrestle with the big questions of life in his work with Search Ministries. He served as a pastor in Houston for 16 years, earned his doctorate at Biola University, and is a contributing author of Reasons to Believe: Thoughtful Responses to Life’s Toughest Questions.