Thursday, January 10, 2008

It's go time.

It's go time.

There was a time when I wanted to get my master’s in creative writing. I met with a few advisors at my college and told them that I wasn’t happy with my job in advertising. I looked at paperwork from Emerson in Boston and seriously considered going back to school.

Instead, I got a job at a small ad agency in Needham, Massachusetts that eventually fired me.

I’m not sure why I didn’t go back to school. I think on some level I was afraid to find out I’m not a writer. That maybe I would sit in a class and someone would say, “wait a second, you can’t write. You’re supposed to be a social worker. Please get out.” So I moved home with my parents and kept my life relatively small and wrote advertising copy about office supplies.

I revisit this emo little period of my life because I recently read something about how fear impacts our willingness to take risks. Here is what struck me:

“Negative emotions are linked to survival –and are much stronger. It’s not surprising then that people feel more pain from loss than pleasure from profit. The result is loss aversion behavior, for people will take more risks to avoid losses than they will to realize gains.”

I’ll do more to not lose than I will to win. I will play it safe to protect what I currently have instead of taking risks to gain what I do not possess.

How about you? Is there something you’re supposed to be doing? Are you supposed to go back to school? Are you supposed to ask her out? Is your job just slowly emptying you 40 hours at a time? What areas in your own life are drunk on the idea of loss aversion?

In mine, it would be really easy to just continue to blog from the safety of my own house. Sure, I might occasionally get some hate mail or have someone unsubscribe from the mailing list but so what? I can handle both of those things. But what if I send my book proposal to a publisher and they hate it? What if I go speak somewhere and two people show up? What if no one comes to this party? What if lots of people come and it just sucks?

I think about questions like these and I want to just freeze. I want to crawl under my desk and tell people they’re right. The party is a silly idea. Who invites strangers to their house to hear them read unpublished essays and listen to live music? How can someone who thought the book of Joel was a typo when he heard it referenced in a book because he is so woefully unfamiliar with the bible, write a book about faith? How? Why?

When is it my time to pick up the mantle and do something big and wild? When do I stop playing it safe and try things that are ridiculous in scope and size? Maybe right now.

That’s how Elisha did it. After years of apprenticeship, he found himself in the desert watching his mentor prepare to depart. In 2 Kings 2:9 we see the following scene:

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, "Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?"

"Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," Elisha replied.

I love that answer. He asks for twice as much as Elijah. That’s like telling Michael Jordan you want to be twice as good at basketball as he is. That really shakes to the core my understanding of being humble.

I can’t help but wonder if maybe I’m not asking for enough. Maybe God wants me to ask for gigantic things, for an empire, to sell a bajillion books and speak to crowds of thousands. But instead, I think I’m supposed to be humble and small and meek and quiet and so I ask for really tiny things.

I think it’s supposed to be big. I think asking for double is not a bad thing. That’s why I don’t hate prosperity ministry. I think they get a lot wrong, but they get this point right. They pray big. They look to God for God-sized things.

The story continues with Elijah being swept up in a chariot to heaven. Elisha stands there for a second and the verse tells us:

He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. "Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

The coolest part of that passage is that the first thing Elisha does isn’t pray. It isn’t waiting. He doesn’t meditate or make a sacrifice. He doesn’t test the waters of the Jordan, he parts them.

He walks to the edge and with no small degree of action and aggression forcefully strikes the water with Elijah’s cloak. No toe dipping. No nervous hand wringing. He immediately checks out whether he got his double portion. Using the Jordan analogy that’s like trying to do the dunk where you jump from the free throw line the first time you touch a basketball.

And what does he say to God? Does he humbly say, “please Lord help me?” Does he patiently weep, “I can’t do this thing God, please give me strength?” Again, no.

He essentially says, “God, are you down? Let’s do this thing.” He cries out “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” He says by his actions and his words, “I’m about to go do some crazy stuff for you God, you ready to roll?”

And when the water parts, he has his answer.

How about you? Are there some waters you’re trying to pray your way around? Are you at the edge of a river that you keep dipping your foot into? Is there an obstacle you’re supposed to throw yourself at that just seems too big or too hard or too dangerous?

Maybe. Mine is this ministry I’m trying to start. I think that’s the right word. Mine is being honest with you and writing regularly and finding a way to hang out with as many of you as possible in whatever ways I can.

And today, I want to strike the water. I want to say, “God are you down? Let’s do this thing.”


Jason said...

For me, as I pursue a MDiv I think about leaving my comfortable corporate job with a good salary to go out into the unknown world of vocational ministry. I think about all the challenges that come with that and sometimes it paralyzes me. However, I have enough angst about what I do now that it reminds me how much more I want to serve God full-time as a profession.

Danny said...

I have followed your blog for some time now, and have been encouraged, enlightened, and occasionally kicked in the mouth. Today although, I received what I believe to be conformation, and it could not have come at a better time. Thank you!

PJ said...

Jon, I was trying to write a post today for my own blog and the same similar thoughts came up, but I didn't write it. Thanks for writing what I couldn't today. Maybe tomorrow I can get it out now that you have.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I agree with Danny. Today, even though you wrote this sometime ago, I got sucker-punched right in the gut.

Thank you. I needed that.

Anonymous said...

This is truly encouraging. One thing I've learnt from the passage of Elijah and Elisha is that God shows how "that which is last will one day be first." It is through Apprenticeship that Elisha learns of what he needs to ask for. Without seeing all the Miracles God did thorugh Elijah, He would not have known what to ask for.
Finally, Humility doesn't necessarily mean asking for just enough. We get that confused all the time. Its time we ask for ask BIG; and with every rung we climb, we ask for Humilty.