Much earlier in this ninth chapter to the Roman Church, Paul penned these words: "Don’t suppose for a moment, though, that God’s Word has malfunctioned in some way or other." (vs. 6 MSG) The truth be told, most of the time we are the ones who "malfunction" - not God, not his Word, not his promises. When something is "functioning" as it was designed to function, it follows a particular order - all the pieces fit together as they should, producing the intended outcome. Truthfully, only God can do this 100% of the time! Try as we might, we are going to "malfunction" on occasion. Trusting in our ability is always going to leave us with "less than" whatever it is we could attain, obtain, or maintain with God doing the work!
How can we sum this up? All those people who didn’t seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. (Romans 9:30-32 MSG)
Paul has laid out the facts for the Jewish believers at Rome - those who once did not believe, had no intention of following the one true God - they have come full-circle. They now embrace what God is doing, while those who should have been embracing what God was doing all along in their lives have somehow taken a different track. It is like they were plugging down the track well, came to a fork in the track, and then "flipped the switch" to go down a track they were not originally on. We do this sometimes, don't we? We start out well, then without even thinking, we take the track which presents itself as an "option" in our lives. Truth be told, when it comes to our obedience, many of us "keep our options open"!
The statement of fact above is quite revealing - one embraced what God was doing and reaped rewards beyond their imagining; the other chose to focus on something quite superficial and missed out. There is something quite pointed in what Paul says - "playing the part" of a Christian is not enough to keep you in right relationship with God. We can read all the scripture we want to - looking quite pious in our pursuit - but if it is never embraced, never allowed to change the way we think, it will serve us little good. We can talk about God a great deal, even using the right "Christian cliches", but if we don't have heart-knowledge of God's grace and love, the words are empty.
As is the case with the entire letter to the Roman Church, Paul is pointing out the difference between living by some set of rules (the reading and talking part), or living by grace (the actual life-transformation part). The telling words in our passage are really those which set us up for failure - set us up to "malfunction", if you will. They are: "...instead of trusting God, they took over." I wonder how many times these words could be spoken about us? Instead of trusting God with our brokenness, we look for ways to fill the void created by the broken pieces of our lives - things like working way too much, drinking/drugging, multiple relationships without any depth or commitment. There are multiple ways we go down this track of "trusting ourselves" to get us to the right destination - the list is probably too long for me to recount. The thing we need to see is the tendency we have to take over what is not really ours to "manage" - leading us clearly into a state of "malfunctioning" existence.
Another word jumped out at me from this passage today: Absorbed. The evidence of going the wrong way - being self-absorbed - absorbed in what it is WE are doing, and totally missing what it is GOD is doing all around us. Another word for this is being "preoccupied". On the planes, there are little signs on the lavatories at the rear of the plane indicating which lavatory is available for use. When the sign clearly displays "occupied" in red letters, it is unavailable. When the sign is slid in the opposite direction, it reads "unoccupied" in green letters. I wonder what signs we display in our lives today which either indicate to God our ability to be occupied or not? Just as these signs serve a purpose of letting someone know when it is they may enter, so it is with the "signs" we display in our lives. God looks for us to make the "shift" from "occupied" by self to being "unoccupied" and available for his use. When this shift occurs, it is because there has been a change in the direction the sign is facing. So, if we want to see real depth in our relationship with God, determined to stay on course with him, we need to make a shift in what has "pre-occupied" our minds, hearts, and emotions.
I don't know about you, but I wish becoming a little less "pre-occupied" by the stuff of life was easier - like moving that sign on the lavatory from the left to the right! If it was this easy, there would be no excuse for any of us to ever miss out on what God is doing right in front of us. It isn't until we actually make the move from "self-occupied" to "open for use" that we reveal to God our intention for him to take access to the space other things have taken in our lives. When the little sign on the lavatory moved from occupied to unoccupied, it was for the intention of allowing the door to open freely. Maybe it is time we did a little "unlatching" of our lives today. Just sayin!