You can always tell what toys my kids are into, because they’re all over the house. I do a lot of cleaning up of the toys behind my kids. But they just keep dumping them out again.
Now, I can get frustrated by this. I can grump about how messy life and my kids are. Or I can smile and enjoy the mess, realizing that toys are to be played with, not to be kept in tidy boxes.
The same is true with our lives of following Jesus, personally and together with our church communities. Every time we start to think we’ve got things figured out and squared away, it gets messy again. It’s as if God were the one who has emptied our toy boxes on to the floor. It’s as if he is letting us know, through the messes, that our lives are not supposed to be contained in boxes, but spread out all over the place and played with.
I see the Christian life as meeting Jesus and following him into real community, real worship, real life, real mission. This isn’t a check list. These are our toys. We don’t do community, perfect it, put it in a box, move on to worship, and continue on, tidying everything up. No. We are constantly playing with them, spilling them all over the place, stepping on them, thrilling in them, crying over them — sometimes all at the same time.
Real Community is a messy bunch of playmates and friends.
Henri Nouwen wrote: “Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” In other words, community is messy. Well, at least, real community is messy. We can pretend at community and never have to deal with people we don’t like or don’t agree with or don’t have things in common with.
It requires real effort to be community, to play well with others. But the games are so much bigger and more enjoyable when we are playing well together.
And play is itself an essential part of community. Alan Hirsch says that real community comes from the combination of proximity (being near each other), frequency (spending time together regularly), and spontaneity (having unprogrammed time together). And the best way to do all three is to play together.
Before the birth of each of our children, we prayed that God would enlarge our hearts so that we could fully take this new person in. But I realize I rarely pray for a bigger heart to accept more playmates in this Jesus life.
Real Worship is an offering of our toys and our play to God.
I pastored a congregation that had been worshiping together for more than 130 years — and still didn’t have it figured out. We never will. If God is too big for our minds to contain, can 75 minutes on Sunday morning contain our worship of him? Not even centuries of doing so comes even close.
God keeps emptying the toy box on the floor and inviting us to find new ways to put our Legos together, new ways to worship him. That’s why the psalmists commanded more than once: “Sing the the Lord a new song.”
That doesn’t mean that we dispense with what came before. No. My old Legos are mixed in with the new sets my kids have been accumulating. Sure, they’ve got fancier ones than I had, but they’re still the same thing: they’re building blocks; they’re the things we use to build new things. We need it all, the old and the new, as we build something odd and beautiful to offer to God.
Real Life is the playground where it all takes place.
Jesus says that he came that we might have life and have it to the fullest. But we keep on putting it back into the box, settling into the sofa, and watching another episode of The Walking Dead or The Voice. But there’s way more to life than that. Really! And Jesus wants us to get in on it.
The entry point into this More is prayer. Prayer is what connects our spirits with God’s Spirit. Prayer is what opens up our small worlds — the ones that revolve around us — and place us in God’s large, immense world. It’s what gets us off the couch and out onto the playground.
Scripture takes us deeper into the world of God. Prayer is the door and Scripture is the map, showing us the details of this world and how to live in it. To put it another way, our lives are the game board, prayer is the dice, and the Scriptures are the directions on how to play. Yes, we can play on our own, but it’s much more complex and challenging and fun when we play it together.
Real Mission is getting others into the game we love so much.
What God pours into us has to spill over and into the world or else we get fat. It’s like eating all the time and never exercising. Faith requires action. Input requires output. Our missional God made us for mission. Our playful God made us to play.
There are two main aspects of mission: Word and deed.
We have the amazing good news of God’s grace and love and we need to share that message with the whole world, starting with those closest to us. To keep it to ourselves is to be stingy. It’s like having a closet full of games and refusing to play them with our so-called friends — so-called, because they’re not really friends if we don’t play with them.
But the God who created all things, including our bodies, isn’t just interested in our souls. He wants to save us body and soul. So, we engage in all kinds of compassionate actions, caring for the physical needs of all around us. And as we do this, really do this, we start to make new relationships with those we’re caring for (if we’re not getting to know them, is it real mission?) and this returns us full circle to real community. We haven’t just done good deeds, we’ve gained new playmates.
So, let’s not get grumpy when God dumps our toy box. Let’s get on with the playing. There are toys and playmates everywhere!