Shooting Holes in Your Boat
But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
The Acts of the Apostles 5:34-40, ESV, (emphasis mine)
This passage is such a challenge to me. At first glance, I’m going, “Of course they won’t be able to stop the apostles. They’ve got God on their side. Keep reading Acts, you’ll see.” But when I really think about it, that’s quite a bold statement. The Pharisees had a choice. Keep fighting the apostles themselves or let God fight them. If they agree to stop pursuing them it means they have to let go of their… well, the word control comes to mind, but they never really had control did they? If they did, they wouldn’t have to trust God to stop the apostles, would they? What if God doesn’t fight for them?
It’s terrifying to think about, isn’t it? Think of something you have wanted for a while. Maybe it’s a job. Maybe you want a spouse. Maybe it’s an opportunity to do something you’ve always dreamed of doing. Whatever it is, think about it. Now imagine whatever it is that you want floating on a rubber raft in the sea, and yourself with a high-powered rifle on the shore. You’re watching that thing you want through the scope. Can you see it bobbing up and down on the surf? Can you smell the salt air? Can you hear the sea gulls squawking? Line the crosshairs up with the side of the rubber raft. Now take a deep breath, exhale slowly. Hold your breath to steady your rifle. Concentrate on keeping it trained on the side of the raft. Now squeeze the trigger gently. Feel the violence explode out of the barrel, the pang in your shoulder as the rifle kicks. Watch the raft burst and sink into the sea, your wonderful desire sinking with it. Down to Davy Jones’ locker she goes.
Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Dude. You just sank the desires of your heart. Whatever it was, you just killed it. Why did you do it?? Now you’ll never get it back! You had a plan, a dream, something keeping that desire floating on the sea and it’s gone… your dream with it. For a rational person, this is dreadful isn’t it? Does God expect us to always be rational? Some of us have such a deep longing for our heart’s desire that sinking it is out of the picture for us. Instead of shooting it, we’re looking for ways to keep it afloat. We try so hard to keep our desires afloat, don’t we? Maybe you don’t, but I often do.
I have to commend the Pharisees. They decided to shoot a hole in their boat that day. Why? Because they trusted God to back them up, but left room for God to prove them wrong. Not all of our desires are bad, but sometimes they get in the way of what God is doing in the moment.
I have a surfboard named Michael Jackson. I won’t go into why I named him that, but he’s a 9 foot longboard. I paid $25 for him at a yard sale back in 2007. Longboards are fun and all, but I was enticed by the speed and maneuverability of the short board. I was pretty poor, but I still wanted a shorty for the days when the waves were a bit bigger. $25 is a pretty rare price for a surfboard… even a junky one. I searched Craigslist a bunch of times looking for a short board, but could never find one in my price range… also size is important. I was looking for a 6 foot, 6 inch at the shortest. One day I got sick of hoping and waiting for something I desired, but didn’t know if I would ever get, so I shot a hole in my plans to get one. It kind of went like this: “God, I know I don’t need another surfboard. You’ve already given me one for $25, which is completely unheard of, and I’m thankful for it. I know it’s just a toy and doesn’t ‘advance the kingdom,’ but I would like a short board. You know the size I need and my price range. If you choose to give one to me I’ll be stoked, but I’m not going to ask you for one anymore. I’ll be content with my longboard.” I left it at that. A few weeks later I was on craigslist, scavenging. Every once in a while I would search “surfboard” and see what comes up. I came across a day-old advertisement. All it said was “$10 surfboard.” Things like that go in about 10 minutes on craigslist. It was probably a child’s board, but for ten bucks why not? I know kids that surf. I emailed the guy, figuring it was gone already. A couple of hours later I got a response back with a phone number and an address. It was about 9 pm I think. I looked at the address. It was my address. Wait a second, this guy’s in my apartment complex. I called him up, walked across the parking lot, handed the guy a $10 bill and walked away with a 6 foot, 8 inch short board. It needed a little work, a leash and some fins, but how perfect was that?
I learned something that day. God likes to give us the desires of our heart, even if they aren’t necessarily spiritual things. I learned something else: God can raise the things we kill from the dead if we’ll simply put them in his hands. But we also have to risk the possibility that he won’t raise them from the dead. In order to get there, we like the Pharisees, must come to the conclusion that we might be wrong.
Often I try to let go of things in my heart. I try to give God my plans. I try to give him my desires, but I can’t. Why? More often than not, it’s because I haven’t let it go. I pray things like, “Jesus you’re in charge. Have my whole life. Do what you want with me. If this thing I want isn’t of you, then take it away.” But I’m not willing to put a bullet in it. I’m not willing to take a tangible step. I’m too afraid that he won’t be able to bring it back from the grave, or that it wasn’t his plan in the first place and if I just hang on and whine long enough I’ll get my way. Abraham got his son back not when he agreed to sacrifice his son, not when he walked up the mountain with him, but right as he was about to drop the knife into him. Paul mentions in Romans how Abraham assumed God could raise him from the grave if he had to. Faith isn’t just a feeling, it’s also an action. Faith is demonstrated by putting our words into action.
CS Lewis puts it much better than I ever could:
“The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose.”
Learning to sit in the catbird seat is learning to trust a God who can raise anything from the grave. Nothing is ever too dead for God to revive. The real question is how we’ll act if he doesn’t revive our desires. Will we still worship him? Will we still trust him? Will we still love him?