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When Unprofitable Servants are Served

24 Nov

If you read this blog, I imagine you have been keeping up with the awakening meetings taking place at IHOP-KC. If by some remarkable chance you haven’t heard, the Holy Spirit has been moving on us (especially on our student body) in an unusual way lately. You can watch live meetings Wednesday-Sunday, starting at 6pm (Central), as well as watch some amazing archives and testimonies, at www.ihop.org/watch.

You can read the explanation of what is going on at the IHOP website. Plus, you can go read a couple of great posts by Zack Hensley and Randy Bohlender  with some further thoughts on the meetings. As I consider what has already been said, along with what could be said, and how much I’m still trying to get my own bearings on things right now, it is hard to decide how to write about this. At one level, I have to say something — we are having healings, deliverances, and salvations breaking out after all — but at another level, what can I say? (Except for: “Seriously folks, if you haven’t tuned in to any of it yet, get on www.ihop.org/watch sometime this Wed-Sunday.”)

This has something to do with the pronounced lack of blog posts so far this month.

Yet as I was reading through the book of Luke recently, I was struck with two passages that exactly speak to what I’ve been feeling about this season of awakening.

I was reading in Luke 17, and ran across this in verses 7-10:

And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and sit down to eat’? But will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’

If I may venture an interpretation of this analogy, I think of “plowing” as laboring in the place of prayer, and “tending sheep” as taking care of the daily pastoral needs of the people of God (taken from the ABCOSTOTMOTS… Amanda Beattie’s Commentary of Stuff That Occured to Me on the Spot).  From a distance, these may sound like rather glamorous things — “Ooh, I want to be an intercessor”, or “I want to be a pastor”. But in the day to day, there is a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, mostly worked out in the mundaneness of life with little recognition and frequent opposition.

Praying in a focused way is hard work, kind of like plowing — long hours pushing something through stubborn terrain, encountering all kinds of obstacles on the way, preparing for a yet-future harvest you wonder if you’ll ever see. Pastoring people is hard work, kind of like tending sheep — long hours caring for, feeding, protecting, and keeping track of creatures who may or may not have much desire or appreciation for being led.

It’s no accident that Jesus chose these two jobs for His illustration. Surely if anyone deserved a break and a few kudos after their job, it was the servant-plowman and the servant-shepherd.

Not so, according to this.

Now of course, the point is not that God actually looks down His nose at us and works us to the bone. The point is that God does not owe us anything, no matter how awesome we think we are (or are not) or how awesome anyone else thinks we are (or are not). Our biggest efforts and most dedicated labors are, in reality, nothing more than our debt to the One who has given us everything. We are not entitled to so much as a pat on the back. If He chose, He could work us into the ground without ever saying a single “thank you”, simply because we are obligated to honor and serve Him as God.

He is the Creator. We are the created. We were the fallen. He is the Redeemer. We have zero leverage to begin haggling for our fair share of the pie, because we are just “unprofitable servants”. We brought nothing to the relationship, so we can demand nothing of it. Entitlement has no place. Prideful self-aggrandizing has no place. We obey God, not because we are building credit and earning favor from Him, but because it is right for us to do so.

As I read this passage, it gave me pause. I understood all right what Jesus was saying, but I was sure I had read a parable with a much different angle just a few chapters earlier…

I flipped back in my Bible a page or two and found it in Luke 12:36-37:

…and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.

There is something very important to notice about this passge: This is not normal. What’s normal is what we see Jesus talking about in chapter 17 (the passage I cited above). Servants do their master’s bidding because it’s their job. The master doesn’t fall all over himself to reward the servants for doing what he hired/bought them to do in the first place. Especially in the ancient Near East, no one would ever expect otherwise.

But when Jesus is telling us what He is like, we see that He is not the kind of master who sets us to work without a nod of thanks. He is the kind of Master who serves us. He owes us nothing, and we owe Him unceasing gifts of our time and energy. But He actually stoops down to feed us and strengthen us, even though we have absolutely zero entitlement to such treatment. He doesn’t just provide the meal, either — He Himself gets His hands dirty, so to speak, going above and beyond any expectation to serve us and lavish affection on us. He is not distant, only concerned with preserving His rank; He is meek and lowly (Matt 11:29), and He joyfully sets about serving His “unprofitable servants”.

This is what has been overwhelming me so much with the IHOPU Student Awakening meetings. At one level, I can look back at the ten-year history this place has in night and day prayer, and say: “This is the kind of thing we’ve been praying for! God is answering our prayers!” But on another level, I can’t say: “Well it’s about time! I wondered when God was going to get His act in gear and do something in this city, for crying out loud.”

God isn’t answering prayers because He is obligated to. He is answering them becuase He is mind-blowingly generous and kind. He is no more obligated to release healing than a master is obligated to wait on his servants’ tables — or wash their feet. But Jesus does both.

Every time I get to take a good look across that FSM auditorium and drink in the sights and sounds, I am profoundly overwhelmed. I see students who were mired in depression two weeks ago, now laughing hysterically. I see men and women who hobbled with pain into the building and danced out the door a few hours later. I see a couple thousand people really engaging in worship and prayer for six solid hours, not because they’re simply toughing it out, but because they actually want to be there. I see hundreds of young (and not-so-young) people giving their lives in wholearted surrender to God’s calling on their life. I see dozens of people a night getting baptized, declaring themselves dead to sin and rising to newness of life in Christ. I feel how my own heart has been disentangled from some real emotional burdens and confirmed in the Lord’s affection and calling on my life.

And the thing that brings tears to my eyes as I see this is: God is so kind to us. We don’t deserve any of this. And He’s giving it to us anyway.

There is much that could be said about these meetings. Much has been said. I’m sure I will have more to say in the days and weeks to come. But above all I am floored by the gentle kindness of the God who serves His servants. I am astounded by the generous God who gives freely of Himself to those He has purchased. I am grateful for all He has done for us and excited to see where He is leading us next.

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5 responses to “When Unprofitable Servants are Served

  1. Dorean Beattie

    November 24, 2009 at 9:34 am

    So where can I buy a copy of the ABCOSTOTMOTS? I think it’s my new favorite commentary.

     
  2. Mark Wilson

    December 11, 2009 at 6:16 am

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this change in the verses. It’s explaining what I see He is saying to me too. Thank you 🙂

     
    • Amanda Beattie

      December 15, 2009 at 1:13 am

      Thank you for stopping in and leaving the encouraging comment. 🙂

       

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