Birds vs. Butterflies

Two weeks ago the Lord met with my friend Art and gave him a message that he thought no one would be listening to. Art, being a humble and obedient man of God, brought that message to our beginning Bible students’ class this week not knowing that the message was for me. Did you catch that? Two weeks ago, God gave Art a message that I needed Tuesday. God has been leading me along on an issue lately (which will sound very familiar to you, being a theme that runs through my life) and I was stuck, but Art’s obedience un-stuck me.

Deep breath here and a roll of the eyes as we begin. Works. Again with the works. Yeah, it’s a tired old thesis but I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that I struggle here. Lots of other folks throughout history seem to have had the same problem, like the Galatians for example. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me set the stage.

This time of year is always difficult for me. All the busy work I’ve been doing is beginning to wrap up and I find myself at sixes and eights. I’m going to be brutally honest with you – which is easier to do since I can’t see the judgment on your face, which I would surely have for you if it were your confession – this time of the year I find myself tired and mad. Tired because I’ve been running and doing. Mad because I’ve been running and doing. Also mad because by comparison, there are those who don’t seem to be running anywhere or doing much. And mad because everyone else is running and doing like mad and seem to be missing the point while they drive us ever onward in their fury to get somewhere. That’s my sad ugly confession, except that until Art spoke the words of the Lord, I thought that what I was feeling was righteous indignation. After all, aren’t we supposed to be running and doing, and doing some more and running somewhere else? Aren’t we single-handedly supposed to being going into ALL the world because where we are simply isn’t needy enough (and really, God needed me in Africa but He made a mistake by putting me in Northwest Arkansas)? But then, aren’t we also supposed to be relying on grace, not just for salvation but for sanctification as well?? And if that’s true then when can I stop running? Because I’m tired. The prevailing message in the evangelical community of late is that we’re supposed to be radical, crazy, irresistible, relentless and revolutionary. I can’t do that sitting at home with a Bible in my lap relying on grace, right? But I’m tired. And I’m failing. And if I quit, what will people say?? I know what the busy ones will say. “Get up.” “Do something.” Because that’s what they’re doing. And if they have to, you have to. That was my thinking.

So I have all this conflicting emotion swirling around in my head and I’m too tired to give the needed effort to really sort it out - and this wasn’t a red flag for me? I know. I know. I’ve been completely off the rails again, and asking myself a la David Byrne, “How did I get here?” (Same as it ever was!) In the midst of this ongoing internal rant my husband and I found an oasis of time under a shade tree in the yard on Sunday. It was extremely windy but a beautiful day otherwise. We were sitting there quietly together just enjoying the day when I noticed two contradictory images in my field of vision. Way up in the sky was a bird that was beating himself half silly trying to fly against the wind…and getting no where. It would pause for a moment, attempting to coast, but would immediately be buffeted by a gale and have to start up the furious flapping again just to maintain its place in the air. Never gaining any ground (so to speak), just working like crazy. Trying (gasp). To Get (gasp). Somewhere (gasp).

Out of my periphery, I could also see a little yellow butterfly flitting along and making good headway. It was caught up the same gale-force wind that the bird was thrashing mercilessly, but the butterfly, letting itself be carried along, was getting somewhere. I wondered at the science of that. How is it possible for that tiny little thing, so light that you could barely feel it if you held it in your hand , to be strong enough to actually reach its destination against such formidable odds, when the much stronger (much more determined) bird was losing the battle? I pointed out the spectacle to my husband and said, “There’s an article for Verse by Verse in that”. I just couldn’t get hold of it.

On Monday evening I was still puzzling the phenomenon and I knew that this was God speaking to my questionable attitudes. I also knew that those foolish Galatians probably had something to contribute to the dialogue. So I read their letter. I heard Paul’s tongue lashing, like I always do and since God has brought me a mighty long way in my personal struggle with works (believe it or not) I kept telling the Lord as I read, “I know this. I got this. I get it.” But I also knew I was missing something.

Enter my friend Art (and bless him, Jesus!). Art brought us a short little message from – drum roll please – Galatians. I won’t be able to quote what he said exactly but I can tell you what I heard. I heard that work is opposed to the fruit of the Spirit. In the presence of much work is the absence of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. What work produces is competition and comparison, and that breeds jealousy, contempt, resentment and pride. Love can’t exist in that atmosphere. It abhors that attitude. Strife is discordant with fruit. Work makes you a bird and not a butterfly.

In John 3:8 Jesus tells Nicodemus that, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." I’m sure that every intellectual theologian who might still be reading this will have a deeper, truer and more astute commentary on this than the one I’m about to make, but I take it as He gives it. This verse desribes what it looks like to be the butterfly. I am only free to go with the Spirit if I’ve freed myself up from trying. To get. Somewhere.

Charles Schulz has the best visual for the path of one who moves where the wind blows. If you’ve ever read a Peanuts strip you can visualize the dotted line rambling across the panel in swirls and loops and hills and valleys, always forward, but with a few detours along the way. It’s the easy, carefree sort of rambling that we all say we will do when we retire. We’ll take the side-roads instead of the highway. We won’t book reservations in advance. We’ll go where the wind takes us. So, why not now?

I’ve spent some time talking with the Lord about what this actually looks like and if it’s even possible, or right, to live unfettered by our own plans and goals and hopeful destinations. In the midst of the conversation, a dear friend of mine had to be admitted to the hospital, and as it so happens, I didn’t have any plans of my own for two whole days. I was completely free to be at her disposal. They were two of the most enjoyable days (for me, anyway) that I can remember in a long, long time.

I’m not sure where this wind will blow from here, but if this week has been any indication, I’m sure that the Lord has big plans for me, and plenty to keep me occupied. I’m going to relax really hard so that I can be the butterfly and let the Spirit take me where He will, and not be the bird beating myself and my calendar into submission. Then, maybe then, I actually can get somewhere that matters.

Post Script – Before I posted this I read Brian Smith’s most excellent article on The Persecuted Church. I could get a real inferiority complex posting next to him if I gave it any thought at all, but let me just tie my post to his momentarily by asking a simple question. How can we possibly hear the voice of God, and obey the call of God to the point of persecution while we’re running around trying to get somewhere of our own choosing, on our own agenda, in our own timing? In the Western Church, we’re often awfully busy telling God what we’re going to accomplish for Him when, if we would stop working long enough to listen to the Holy Spirit, He would lead us in a different direction. That direction may look a lot more like carefree poverty and persecution than we’re comfortable with, but would actually get somewhere against a mighty wind of opposition.

"If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:26-26