My list is a mile long. But especially at this time of year, I’d love to be the sort of woman who radiates calm hospitality. Who’s able to focus on her guests and remember what’s in the oven. Who cares more about folks relaxing than whether she’s toilet-ducked the bathroom. And who dances on tables at midnight (to Arcade Fire), rather than turning into a pumpkin after nine pm (to Classic FM).
I’m still awaiting instant sanctification. That’s how it happens, right? You pray and – shazam! God zaps you with the gift of cupcakes and calm. Someone completely different; painlessly and overnight. None of that messy praying and trying and failing and throwing things and hissy fitting and trying again and finally saying ok GodIcan’tdoitalonecanyouhelpme then going it alone and having to start all over…
Here’s another example. Obsessive Compulsion Disorder. I started hand-washing/cleaning because I wanted to be in control. It made my life totally miserable. I recovered (over a period of years, not days). And now? Well, I don’t bleach my sink and hands – praise God. But I’m still a controller. Every day I ask God to help me let go of what’s not even mine to start with. Every night I try and wrestle control back. And although it’s getting easier, when I’m 80 I suspect I’ll still be quavering, “I got this one covered. I can do it by myself.”
So does this mean God’s not at work in me and others like me? For a long time I thought so. And yes, it can be an excuse – “I was born like this”. Or a pointless exercise in self-recrimination, “I’m rubbish and I’ll never be good enough. Why even bother?”
But whilst I won’t be made perfect until Jesus returns, He is working in me now. Slowly – often imperceptibly – but unmistakably. Not because my feelings tell me so, (they fluctuate along with my blood sugar). Because He promises it. And because He does it too.
For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified, (Hebrews 10:14).
So how do I put together the “once and for all” cleansing with the ungoing mess? For one thing, I need to remember advent. At advent we celebrate both comings of Jesus: the first which dealt with our sin and the second that will blast away all evil and bring in eternal righteousness. We’re in between and if we’re struggling with the in-between-ness then that just means we’re being advent people! The second thing we need to remember is God’s people. I can’t see the way God is working in me very well, but you can. I don’t notice how big my belly’s getting but then you come and say “You’re BLOOMING!” (which I know is code for “ENORMOUS”, but thank you for encouraging me). I don’t notice the changes, but you do – and I notice yours. This is how we spur each other on until the day the once for all cleansing gets applied to the whole universe. That’s how Hebrews 10 goes on:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching, (v20-25).