Don’t reach for the black bags too soon!

A cleaner was doing her rounds at an art gallery the morning after a party launching an exhibition. She came across an assembly of empty bottles, full ash trays, paint tins and cigarette boxes. Being a diligent cleaner, she immediately reached for her black bin bags and cleared the whole lot away. What she didn’t realise was that the “mess” was actually a piece of art put together on the spur of the moment the night before by Damien Hirst.

For those of us who don’t appreciate the work of the man who famously pickled a sheep in formaldehyde, the cleaner’s reaction to this latest piece by Hirst was entirely reasonable, “As soon as I clapped eyes on it I sighed because there was so much mess.”

So much mess. That is how many people would sum up their lives. If you get involved at any level in Christian ministry, especially outreach ministry, you will at times feel confronted by so much mess. So much complication. So many damaged relationships. And that’s before we try to unravel some of the spiritual knots that tie up our own souls! If the thief came to steal, kill and destroy, it seems he is doing a very effective job.

The instinct most of us have with “the mess” is to reach for whatever the spiritual equivalent of a black bin bag is. We simply want to discard it. That’s understandable. Why would we want to hold on to our pain? Mercifully, Jesus is the great physician. He deals with our pain. Sometimes, however, He redeems – or wants to redeem – our pain rather than simply relieving it.

Before Peter had his spiritual car crash of denying the Lord three times, Jesus assured him that He had prayed that his faith would not fail. He also directed him once he had worked through his failure to strengthen his brothers (Luke 22.31-32). His pain was not to be wasted. It might have looked like a mess, but the prayers of Jesus were turning it into a work of art.

Psalm 84.5-7 says:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
6 As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.[b]
7 They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.

The Psalmist talks about passing through the Valley of Baca. The Valley of Baca is the Valley of lamentation or weeping. Somehow those who find or have found strength in God and have set their hearts on pilgrimage, are enabled to turn their tears into something that refreshes both them and others – “they make it a place of springs”.

What turns weeping into refreshing is finding strength in the Lord and having our hearts set on pilgrimage. If we see Baca – or the place of weeping – as our destination, that’s all it will ever be. And there is every chance we’ll end up stuck in Baca.

However, if our hearts are set on pilgrimage, if we are on a journey, if we’re pressing on in our pilgrimage with Jesus, Baca becomes nothing more than a place we pass through on the way.

It might look like a mess to us, but if we let the Great Physician, who’s also a Great Artist, get to work, we’ll think twice before we write off the Baca times as rubbish that threatens to clutter up our lives.

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