I have heard this message in multiple ways over the course of the last week. I heard it in a talk given by Jon Ortberg on the spiritual life of leaders, then I heard it again in an interview with Dallas Willard on the spiritual disciplines. It came through loud and clear when I was reading the story of Elijah in I Kings — especially chapter 19. It was unmistakably clear in a book by Eugene Peterson, called The Jesus Way. And while I was reading the stories of David in 2nd Samuel I heard the message every time it said of David, so David inquired of the Lord. Simply put the message is this: At the heart of the Jesus way is a relationship with God and we cannot develop that relationship without adequate amounts of time with God — disconnected from the noise of life and connected to God — silence and solitude.
So for about 2 and 1/2 days that’s what I sought. I won’t say that I had any divine revelations or mile marker relational God-moments. But I will say that there was something incredibly satisfying to my soul. It was good.
So did I hear anything from God?
Here is the word that kept coming back to me. Gratitude.
I’m sitting on this dock, watching this sunset. Later that night around midnight I come out with a fresh batch of chocolate chip oatmeal cookies and I set on the dock and look up at the stars in the northern Minnesota sky.
Amazing. So clear, crisp, billions of stars, the milky way. I start seeing shooting stars –one lasted at least 4 seconds. I’m at a cabin that a family from Calvary has so generously allowed me to use, eating my cookies, drinking a class of milk, listening to fish jump out of the smooth surface of the lake. And I’m thinking, it just doesn’t get much better than this… thank you God.
But then, Paul’s words flow into my mind from Romans 3, There is none righteous, no not one. there is none who understands. There is none who seeks after God… For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And I’m thinking… what I deserve is hell. (I know we don’t talk about that place much, but it is a real deal.)
So I’m thinking that…what I deserve is hell, but what I get is stars on a lake with chocolate chip cookies and and milk. What I deserve is hell, but what I get is family and friends. I get a wife who lets me take 12 days on my own, while she plays mom and dad to the rest of our family. What I deserve is hell but what I get is a daughter who is excelling at Target and loves God, and a daughter who I’m so proud of because of all the good choices she made her senior year at school, and a son who responds so well to a leadership challenge that I give him, and another son who is learning so much about generosity that he is a waitresses best friend (more on that later), And I just say thank you God, but it’s more than just a, “hey that’s cool God.” It’s a my heart might burst, humbled, “thank you God.”
Because what I deserve is hell, but what I get is a calling that I love and church family that has to be the best congregation east of the pacific, (or at least Pittsburgh! :)) What I deserve is hell, but what I get is a Lilly Grant Sabbatical. Well you get the picture.
See here’s the deal. In our culture we have a really difficult time with the attitude of self-entitlement. It starts with the scent of self-deserving deep in our hearts. Often it is seemingly very spiritual…it flows from all the good that we do at church or in the community. And then when something bad happens, our prayers are woven with, I don’t deserve this God, kinda thoughts. Or maybe we compare ourselves to others, and then it’s a well compared to them, I deserve such and so.
The problem with self-entitlement is that biblically it’s wrong. But perhaps even worse is that practically it kills gratitude. Because whatever I get I deserve, and if I don’t get it, well there’s no reason to be grateful then anyway.
The problem with a lack of gratitude is that it keeps us outside the gates.
Have you run into that verse in Psalm 100. I will enter his gates with thanksgiving and into his courts with praise. What if that’s not just a description of how someone could come into God’s presence, but a prescription for how we must come into His presence?
So the attitude of self-entitlement wipes our hearts clean of gratitude which keeps us outside the gates. I don’t spend much time pondering hell. But for me a reminder of what I deserve, deepened my gratitude for what I have… and gratitude leads me closer to God.
So for what are you grateful? Make a list.. in fact if you dare, write each item out in a sentence that starts with I deserve hell, but what I got is __________________________.