The Joy of Dragon Killing: Preparing the Vision for 2016

Dragon_Maleficent_-_Part_11Over the past few days, I have been steadily considering two separate trains of thought that recently have converged into a single desire. Let me explain.

First, I find myself often contemplating the creation of a home culture for my family and me, a sort of “as for me and my house” declaration to pray over throughout our constant daily motion. Meditations and pensive prayers are not simply for the mystics and the Eastern robes; they are helpful ruminations for the thoughtful Christian. And so, I have been grasping after a theme or prayer for centering my family right smack in the middle of the goodness and pleasure of God as we hurry in and out of the busy traffic of daily living.

Second, on a (seemingly) unrelated note, I have been struck lately by the simple depth and power of one of the shortest verses in the Bible. In Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he simply instructs them to “rejoice evermore” (5:16). He follows this command with that of unceasing prayer  (5:17) and omnipresent gratitude (5:18), summarizing his exhortation to the believers by saying, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (5:18). So if you’ve been searching for the will of God for your life like a painfully arduous game of “Where’s Waldo?”, then…ta-daa.

It’s the two-word command I am most enthralled by. Rejoice evermore.

And it hit me. This will be our theme. This should be the key in which the symphony of my home resounds. Rejoice evermore. In everything…rejoice! Take joy in all things. Joy on offense. Joy pushing a full-court press. Joy crashing through the gates like a battering ram at Helm’s Deep. Joy thundering from the shofar. Joy in all His righteous power. This joy is no effete matter, no delicate chiffon, no cheap plastic pail cracking under the weight of wet sand. Joy is thick.

As we gather together to ring in the new year, may joy take arms against a sea of troubles. May the glory of Romans 12:21 fill our hearts like warm honey: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” For goodness is strong. Goodness overcomes. Goodness does not shrink away in fear from the sirens’ song but rather sings louder and in more robust harmonies. Goodness is the rugby scrum of godly men yawping over the tinkering xylophone of hell.

Earlier today, my daughter and some of her cousins were watching the classic Sleeping Beauty, and I happen to turn my head to the screen right as the dragon Maleficent was pierced by the sword. As she plummeted to her death, I thought to myself: Amen. For such is the grand end to the grand story. Good kills evil, and all God’s people said…?

So in 2016, I pray that the saints recover the joys of dragon-killing, the singing bite of blade meeting scale and the hymns of glad hearts that follow. I pray we rejoice evermore. I am indebted to George Grant for sharing the following insight a few days ago:

The word “merry” is from an old Anglo-Saxon word which literally meant “valiant,” “illustrious,” “great,” or “mighty.” Thus, to be merry was not merely to be mirthful, but to be joyously strong and gallant. In Shakespeare we read of fiercely courageous soldiers who were called “merry men.” Strong winds were “merry gales.” Fine days were marked by “merry weather.” So, when we wish one another “Merry Christmas,” we are really exhorting one another to take heart and to stand fast!

It would seem, then, that the mighty men of God (à la Hebrews 11) and the merry men (à la Robin Hood) are probably the same thing. To be merry is to be mighty and vice versa. Godly merriment, jubilation, and feasting are robust and full. Rejoice evermore is a dangerous command, requiring all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD…with every breath. With every cry. With every belly laugh. With every passing plate. With every bass note. With every gulp. With every step. With every fall. Taste and see that the LORD is good.

May God be our vision and not just what we see but how we see. Be Thou my Vision is our prayer that God be both our means and our end. In the words of Jonathan Edwards, may we have a “God-entranced vision of all things” so that, when the roll is called up yonder, my sword is stained with dragon blood and my lips with brimming wine.

Prince Caspian and the Honourable Shame of Humanity

narnia-illustration-aslanToward the end of Prince Caspian, after the decisive battle for the Narnian throne against the usurper Miraz, Aslan relays to Caspian the story of his heritage to explain his rightful place as the true king of Narnia. His tale, however, is not filled with accounts of glorious kings and queens or daring adventures on the high seas (though Caspian will see plenty on the Dawn Treader). Rather, Aslan recounts stories of thieves, murderers, drunkards, pirates, quarrelers, and fierce tyrants. As Aslan describes this history, the young man’s face sinks into a deep sadness:

“Do you mark all this well, King Caspian?”

“I do indeed, Sir,” said Caspian. “I was wishing that I came of a more honourable lineage.”

What follows from Aslan is perhaps one of the most striking and insightful passages from the whole of the Narnia series:

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve,” said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

This keen and penetrating truth strikes at the heart of young Caspian, instantly quieting him (the next sentence simply states, “Caspian bowed.”). And, if we are reading correctly, it instantly quiets us. One can almost feel the warm, yet powerful breath of the Lion as he commands us to “be content.”

It is true that humanity is characterized by both the responsibility and privilege of bearing the very image of God. We are unordinary. Yet, in this account, we encounter the unbelievably weighty tension between being the jewel of God’s creation and being depraved sons of disobedience. We are both diamonds and dust. Being human is an honor and a shame.

How many of us, like Caspian, look around at our humanity and mourn our tattered lineage? How many videos of tiny fingers and legs in petri dishes can we stomach before we shake our heads in despair at what it has come to mean (or not mean) to be human?

But there, right there, Aslan instructs us to “be content.” In our vacillation between pride and despair, honor and shame in the human race, we must remember to be content. The Lord is sovereign. The Lord is King. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Or, as Lewis would say, “Aslan is on the move.” Remember how The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe concludes: the winter is thawing and it promises to be a real spring. Or, as Tolkien would have it, everything sad is coming untrue.

So while we face dark days in our humanity, ruefully wishing our story were more noble, we must bow our heads like Caspian and be content, not in our strength to withstand the coming evils but in the power and certainty of Christ’s victory over all things. Aslan assures Caspian because he has the authority to do so. May we learn to trust the King of kings in our honorable and our shameful days, for He alone will make all things new.

Bilbo Baggins and the Bravery of Willingness

Bilbo BagginsIt is true that we are all characters in the great Story of God, called to our own journeys as we navigate the treacherous waters of a perilous world. It is also true that the dividing line between our actions in these journeys can be as thick as lead, the difference between noble Reepicheep, sailing into the majesty of Aslan’s country, and the self-absorbed Eustace, inching steadily toward the dragon’s den. Some are brave, some are weak.

So a natural question to come would be how we ought to prepare for the journeys we must take. What must I do to prepare for my task? How should I plan my journey? To the well-intentioned Christian, such questions seem righteous. Who doesn’t want to plan and execute an excellent journey for the sake of the Lord? Who doesn’t want to steel himself for the road ahead?

Yet, the answer to these questions is humbling and startling.

In the opening pages of The Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins is set up quite comfortably in his cozy life at Bag End. He has a drink, a smoke, and a crackling fire. Out of his window lie the fair hills of the Shire. His breakfasts and second breakfasts are hot and delicious. Yet, it is at this precise stage of his life that Gandalf and a hoard of dwarves descend on his home and change his life forever.

Bilbo was overwhelmingly unprepared, and in one of the most illuminating passages of the book, the narrator claims:

 “To the end of his days Bilbo could never remember how he found himself outside, without a hat, a walking-stick or any money, or anything that he usually took when he went out; leaving his second breakfast half-finished and quite unwashed-up, pushing his keys into Gandalf’s hands, and running as fast as his furry feet could carry him down the lane, past the great Mill, across The Water, and then on for a mile or more.”

The start of Bilbo’s incredible journey “there and back again” does not look like a carefully-scheduled trip with dried ink on the itinerary; Bilbo simply “found himself outside”, moving headlong into the mysterious dark ahead. Who are these dwarves? Where are we going, Gandalf? Will the road be dangerous? Will I live to tell about it? Questions flood his mind with no real assurances. Dwalin simply responds, “Don’t worry! You will have to manage without pocket-handkerchiefs, and a good many other things, before you get to the journey’s end.”

Unpreparedness, then, is the key note of Bilbo’s beginning, but it is not his readiness that is praised in the novel; it is his willingness. The remarkable quality of Bilbo’s journey is not in how excellently he mapped out his future but how bravely he faced it with a faithful willingness. Bilbo was not ready for his quest, but he was available for it.

If we were completely prepared for the journey we must take, would we be able to learn and see everything the experience could offer? Would our eyes be transfixed by the awe and wonder around us or would we lazily peruse our agendas and timetables for the next bulleted item? I imagine much of the significance and weight of our journey lies in the surprises in store.

So we, like Bilbo, must open ourselves to the bravery of willingness. We must reject the hesitance and fear that accompany so many of the plans we prescribe for ourselves. Bilbo was by no means prepared for his trek, but he was ultimately willing to accept it. He allowed himself to truly experience the situations he went through, concerned more with the nature of his path than the condition of his feet.

In my lifelong struggle to learn to pray, I pray that God turns my eyes away from self-absorption and worry to a noble willingness to see what He would have me to see and to take each experience with both hands, unashamed and unreserved. Such are the people that see the great things of God: the Moses that doesn’t stutter but shouts boldly, the Peter that doesn’t tread water but stands upon it, the Prodigal that returns for a job and finds a home, the Abraham that is called to a land he’s never known, and the Hebrews who must eat the manna of daily provision.

Though we may not ever be prepared for the turns our journey will take, we must be willing to step out into the darkness nonetheless. Just bear in mind we may have to leave our second breakfast half-finished.