Laying the foundation
I’ve been fascinated by harmonicas for a while now. Listening to people who can pull a harmonica out of their pocket and just jam away on some jazzy, country, or bluesy music has made me want to do so as well. I never acted on that desire, until recently. And I learned something rather important – playing the harmonica isn’t super easy. In fact, some parts of it are rather difficult.
The first skill to learn is to blow and draw single-hole notes clearly. Makes sense to start there, but that’s easier said than done. And my lips got sore/tired after about 10 minutes of squeaking around, so I had to wait until the next day to try again. Day two wasn’t any better. Neither was day three. It took me months of work before I could play a scale without messing it up (and mess ups still happen, occasionally).
The next skill to learn is to move around the harmonica, playing notes out of order so that I play a recognizable tune. More work, and still not easy. I’m much better at it now, after another couple of months, and I can now get about 80-90% of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” on a consistent basis.
On the horizon is a skill called ‘bending’. It’s being able to change notes using the same hole by changing the position of your tongue and throat. The video instructor I’m following called the practice time of learning this skill the ‘dark hours’ of learning to play. He warned that it will take some time, and that it takes some people longer than others to figure out how to consistently bend notes. His tone and cautiously chosen words were a little unsettling…but he did reassure that this skill is the gateway to learning all the jazzy, country, and bluesy jam session stuff that I really want to play. If I don’t spend this time grinding through the ‘dark hours’, then I will be unable to play the harmonica to its full potential. I’ll miss out on what I’m capable of because I won’t have the foundation I need to play like that. But who knows how long it’s going to take for me to get this part figured out…
We’ve been looking at a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, who is overseeing the church in the melting-pot metropolis of Ephesus. While being poor has its own challenges (and Paul addressed some of them earlier in this letter), Timothy also needed to instruct the wealthy members of the church how to handle their finances in a way that is productive and honors God.
If we modern-day, American believers widen our lens to include the rest of the world, we quickly see that we too fit Paul’s definition of those who are rich. With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…It’s hard to argue that we’re “not that rich”. Here are the things Paul says we need to learn:
1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.
Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.
Being others-focused like this does not come naturally, though. We’re ok saying polite things and throwing a little money in the offering plate at church. But we know that if we’re going to really do what God is asking of us here – do good…be rich in good works…be generous…be willing to share – that is asking for a change in us at a deeper level. We’re going to have to take on our deep-seeded attitudes about ‘my time’ and ‘my money’.
And that wrestling match is hard. When we finally step out and try to follow God’s instructions here, we find that we’re not very good at it. It’s more uncomfortable that we want it to be. We struggle with questions like ‘How will I know when I should help someone financially vs when it would be unwise to offer money?’ and ‘What does be generous really mean for my level of income?’ and ‘If I give and share when I really don’t want to, does that “count”? Does God still consider my actions to be “good”, or should I skip giving until don’t feel any resentment about it?’.
Wrestling though these kinds of questions will be some dark hours. We might be ok with being generous today, but lose the fight tomorrow. We will want to throw in the towel and go back to just being nice (and comfortable). We’ll get to the point where we can handle our wealth 80-90% of the time, and then lapse back into a selfish attitude.
But it will be worth it in the end, He says. Our work now, when it’s hard, is laying a good foundation for the age to come. Learning how to be wealthy AND others-focused is the gateway to being able to partner with God in Eternity Future. Without this practice time, we won’t be able to fully do the things we were made to do.
I can’t answer your ‘dark hour’ wrestling questions, but God can. My advice (for you and me) is to keep practicing. Let’s trust God in this and take hold of life that is real. Eternity future awaits. Let’s make sure we’re prepared to partner with God and fully enjoy it.