Greyhound Jesus and Alabama Jimmy
Lessons in Following the Holy Spirit’s Leading,
Faith-Based Hoping, and God’s Lavish Non-Economies of Scale
Part 3 – Some of the Lessons and Meanings in “Missional” …
Part 1 in this series was subtitled, Going with the Eyes of Jesus, and Part 2 was Seeing with the Eyes of Jesus. Part 3 brings together some of what learned as I went and I saw, sitting side-by-side with Greyhound Jesus from here to Texas and back.
I think I’ll take things in an unexpected order and start with … the middle of the subtitle – on hope. I don’t know that these are particularly spectacular insights, but I do know that taking time for reflection always adds qualitatively to our perception. And isn’t that what it’s about, really? Improving our perception of how God is at work so we have a broader interpretation of His providence and a deeper appreciation for His dealings? So, it is what it is, and here it is.
Longing and Fulfillment in Faith-Based Hoping
Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
But desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
(Proverbs 13:12, NASB)
In my college years, I switched from the King James Version to the New American Standard Bible, and the NASB translation of Proverbs 13:12 was a verse I memorized. Something about how this passage connects the concepts of hope and the tree of life just resonated in me.
I’ve long been drawn to the theme of hope. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s because I’ve sometimes had to endure various difficulties that last for decades – and without hope, I do not know how I could’ve survived. On my own, I’d end up a narcissist + nihilist … now, there’s a toxic combo!
Or maybe I’m drawn to hope because it is, in great part, a function of “sanctified imagination.” (As is prayer, and I pray. A lot. Because the inevitable if God does not somehow intervene would be unimaginable!) Imagination allows me to see through eyes of faith other possibilities beyond what is present. And that same imagination which helps me foresee other scenarios for the future also helps me help others discern their trajectory, based on who they are at a deeper level than might be apparent. (In the interest of disclosure, I must say that it doesn’t always work with myself as well as it does for others. But then, isn’t it so that most gifts we have don’t always work in the first person? Because we’re wired for relationship, we need others to declare what they see that we are blind to, whether the good or the bad.)
From my point of view, I went on the trip to Houston via Greyhound because I “hoped” to reconnect with a greater sense of humanity. I’d been so enmeshed in an exhausting routine for so long that I’d lost my ability to imagine anything other than more of the same. Although my imagination had lost its flexibility, it hadn’t totally lost all viability. At least I still desired to see things differently, and it was clear enough that I needed a significant break and a breakthrough to regain perspective. In this, I believe I longed for a good thing, and God fulfilled the longing and also brought fulfillment. It was that hope-translated-to-tree-of-life phenomenon!
Personally, I think how this happens is one of the mysteries of faith in following Jesus. When the Scriptures talk about God giving us the desires of our hearts, you have to wonder whether He means that in the sense of an object (i.e., He fulfills those desires that we develop in our heart) or a subject (i.e., He puts those desires into our heart). It makes sense to me that it’s both: He puts desires into our heart, and then delights to fulfill what desires He finds developed there. And thus He brings us into His story by implanting godly desires in us that bear fruit in His season – not ours.
So, however this desire to reconnect with humanity came about, it strikes me as I’m writing this that the only way to fulfill that reconnection was to individuals, not some faceless generic humans. It’s sort of the reverse of what the curmudgeon character Lucy from Peanuts says: “I love humanity, it’s people I can’t stand.” And so, I had a series of encounters with individuals, and the memory of this rather vivid reconnection with Jimmy has lasted for several years already.
And if God cares enough about an otherwise unseen guy who got stuck in Los Angeles to send a stranger from 400 miles away to special deliver something like $27 for a few meals, then He must really care about the smallest of details far more than we even know. And that also means that we really must all be worth a whole lot more to Him than we might imagine …
Provisions in God’s Lavish Non-Economies of Scale
… and yet in the world as it’s been, I’ve found it all too easy to become obsessed with efficiency (doing things right) and effectiveness (doing right things), as if all God cared about was the economical and maximum use of His resources more than about us as His reflections. Well, that’d work perfectly if the world were a machine and we were simply its managers and God were The Ultimate CEO.
But it isn’t and we aren’t and He isn’t.
Instead, God has made this world a place of providential paradox, with both simplicity and extravaganicity. These don’t have to compete, though they seem irreconcilable. We can keep them in a complementary tension which is meant to optimize our humanity – our value as those made in God’s image.
By the time everything ended, I probably spent just as much money on the Greyhound Bus trip as I would’ve on an airline. So, this experience wasn’t about economizing in God’s economy – it was about stewardship, discernment, and obedience. And given the labyrinthine twists and turns taken, it seems to me an incredibly extravagant way for God to say, “I love you” to Alabama Jimmy, by having me show up at the right place at the right time for 20-odd dollars … which, by extension, I assume must’ve been the right amount for whatever the Lord had in mind next for Jimmy and for me with what I had left.
Lessons in Following the Holy Spirit’s Leading
When I think back on the series of options I checked out on mode of transportation for the Houston trip, I see how the Spirit sometimes narrows down the options. It doesn’t mean I was being disobedient. Instead, think of this in terms of a storyline. Plane, train, car, and bus were more about God’s “MacGuffins” than my mistakes. (MacGuffins are items and issues in stories of mystery, action, and intrigue. They move the plot forward, and thus, move the character’s development forward.) I think the Spirit was ultimately most interested in my interacting with His leading and moving forward in ways where my trajectory could intersect with Alabama Jimmy’s at the precise point of need where I had been prepared both to perceive his need and willing to meet it.
And that brings in the idea of life as a storyline in a multi-level multi-user game plan based in infinite rather than finite game theory. Finite games are about competition, winners and losers, a beginning and an end. However, infinite games are about cooperation, and they have the overt purpose of keeping all players in an open-ended game for as long as possible. So, sometimes I’ve blogged about “divine dominoes,” where someone plays a domino or a role from the gifts or assets they have in order for someone else to be able to continue moving forward. I wish a lot more activity in the Church were based on infinite game theory, and that we’d help keep each other buoyed up and moving ahead with the Lord …
This is not to suggest that God is “playing games with us.” Rather, it’s like He’s inviting us into His storyline, which includes many other people, and He keeps growing us to where we can participate in ever more significant roles because we are becoming ever more who/what He designed us and gifted us to become. I think it’s ultimately about getting to know the Game Designer, but that won’t happen if we don’t let ourselves get into the game.
And so, if nothing else, I was able to explore God’s providence through this experience, and be witness to some odd and awesome surprises. They implanted questions that I’m not likely to find The Truth about, at least not fully, but I know I can discern truthful perspectives as I reflect on questions like ..
- Was I “meant” to be on that bus, just as Alabama Jimmy was dealing with having missed previous two buses to his connection point in Texas?
- Would God have provided someone else to show His care for Jimmy?
- Or, did he use me in that role because of the previous circumstances?
- Or, did He pre-guide the previous circumstances in order to use me in that role?
- What was Jimmy’s back story, and where is he now?
- How have I been “kept in the game” by the divine dominoes played by others on my behalf?
Speculation is not always as helpful as I’d like. But whatever the most accurate view theologically of these questions, the practical reality was that I was there, and Alabama Jimmy got the help he needed, and – I trust – God is still watching out for Alabama Jimmy because He loves him. Lavishly! And thankfully, I know at a deeper level that He has that same kind of seek-him-out-and-bless-them love for me, and you, and us – because there are no “thems” beyond God’s gaze.