The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgment, but the sins of others appear later. So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden. (1 Tim. 5:24)
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, "Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Blessed indeed," says the Spirit, "that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!" (Rev. 14:13)
It is no secret that we live in a culture that thrives on instant gratification. What is less obvious is how this mentality affects us intellectually and spiritually. We demand a direct relationship between means and ends, and have difficulty thinking beyond the banal confines of stimulus-response. Consequently we do not make sacrifices, because we do not see that sacrifices are sacred investments. All we see is that we pay something out and don't get anything back.
Laying up treasure in heaven is not a nice idea: it is an imperative. In this way we keep our heart aligned with God's and build spiritual capital for Him to spend as He chooses. (It is important to understand that we are not "accumulating credit" with God. This idea is inevitably disappointing and thoroughly absurd.) The call of God is always to give, give, give, scatter, scatter, scatter.
In spiritual matters there is often a significant chronological disconnect. Pharisees insist on having their reward immediately, the disciple must get hold of a higher reality. "See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains." Spirituality is organic, unhurried, unpredictable. It goes directly against our love of expediency and common sense. We may be called to sow, to water, or to reap, but not to effect the growth. That is God's work, and sometimes He is maddeningly unperturbed about it.
So we've sown, and now we're waiting for the fruit. It might be tolerable if everyone had to wait the same amount of time, but that is not the case. As Os Guinness writes,
It is not so hard to wait when we have to, when everyone else is waiting too. But can we trust God and wait when everyone else is moving on, going somewhere, doing something?*
God's spiritual economy operates according to spiritual laws, and all of our calculating cleverness will never conquer its mysteries. The first shall be last, the last first. The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. God's order may appear to us by turns murderous or merciful - either way it is mad.
This is the meaning of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-16) Jesus means to demolish our expectations of justice, and we find this intolerable. The last thing we want is a God who is arbitrary!
These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
This is excruciating, indescribable! We feel cheated and scandalized. But the lesson must be learned and taken to heart if we are to go on with God.
The two scriptures I quoted at the top of this post point to the same truth: it may not all add up now, but it will someday. Every drop of spiritual perspiration is collected by God - nothing is wasted. Things matter, they just might not matter on our timetable, as we expect them to. That is the meaning of faith: loving Jesus enough to accept the Great Disconnect. It will make for some great jokes in heaven.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58)
*Os Guinness, God In The Dark, (Crossway, 1996), 201-202
Image courtesy of crinellegroup.com
Image courtesy of crinellegroup.com