One night in April, four years ago, I stood under a cold, windy Nebraska sky and looked up at the stars. My husband and I were on furlough from a fairly successful two year term in Kenya. We were missionaries in residence at Nebraska Christian College. Our ministry there was also fairly successful. My husband and I were fasting and praying twice a week. We had a prayer ministry with the NCC students. We were committed to "Here I am, God, send me."
That night, I had stood under the stars for over an hour, talking and praying with a student. It was one of the days when I had been fasting. Usually, I would have already broken fast, but I was still at work. After the student left, I stayed outside looking up at the stars, and I asked God, "May I go in and eat some ice cream, or is there more work that you would like me to do?"
I don't know my exact words. All I know is that I wanted to eat something nice, but I had a question in my heart, "What if God has more He wishes I were willing to do? I have been working hard, but there is so much more to be done. If I rest now, will God be disappointed? Will some task be left undone? Will God's plans be thwarted all because I stopped and rested?"
As I stood looking up at the beauty of the stars, God answered, "You think I am a hard man who reaps where I didn't sow. In other words, you think I will demand of you what I haven't already worked in you." The answer seemed rather odd, almost ill-fitting, but I understood that I was free to go break my fast and enjoy some ice cream, so I did.
At the time, I understood that God was saying, "I will work willingness in you before I call you to do something." I had already been pondering the verse, "For it is He who works in you to will and to do, according to His good pleasure." But my questions were still deeply rooted. "What if God is trying to make me be willing, but I'm too bad? Is He disappointed in me? Is He just being patient because He has to be? Is He sighing and taking a deep breath while restraining His fury? When will He finally lose patience with me?"
These questions have caused me to ponder God's answer, trying to understand what it means. But I couldn't find an answer to my questions. Recently, I started looking at the answer in both its context in the moment I asked and in its Biblical story. In the Biblical story, a servant believes his master is a hard man who reaps where he doesn't sow, so when his master entrusts him with money, the servant buries the money and doesn't use it to gain interest. We tend to think of the money as our spiritual gifts and burying the money is our unwillingness and refusal to use the gifts for God's work. But this didn’t fit my context. I was using my spiritual gifts. I was offering to do more work. I was offering to be the servant who comes in from the fields not to rest, but to wait on the table.
So why is He saying I'm the one burying the money because I think He's a hard man who reaps where He doesn't sow? Maybe I've been looking at the passage incorrectly. Maybe this is instead a Mary/Martha passage. Maybe the goal of the parable is not to get me out there, spending my money, using my gifts, doing more. Maybe the goal of the parable is to point out that I need to sit at His feet more, rest with Him, get to know Him. Instead of a slave, who works for Him without ceasing, and who is just breaking even on my profits, He is wanting a child who just climbs onto His lap and gets to know Him as He is. He wants me to come to Him and let every thought of Him being a hard man be swept away by the strength of His love. Stop doing, and start being. "Be still, and know that I am God." "It is God who works in me to will and to do according to His good pleasure." What I am willing to do is what God has for me to do, and it is enough. After all, five loaves and two fish fed five thousand.
Oh, I hope that is what He is saying, because it is beautiful! So far, each time I have tentatively rested from work when I'm tired and can't work without a sense of burden, God has blessed the rest. May I grow confident to rest.