“L’amour de Dieu est folie!” The love of God is folly. If you celebrate Easter in France, that is the greeting you’ll hear chanted again and again.
Brennan Manning, in his wonderful book, The Ragamuffin Gospel, has helped to reawaken in me a desire to be loved by this God who is foolish enough to risk it all on a ragamuffin like me. No one else has ever gone to the lengths that God has gone to show me the concreteness of their love. Not for me, or for you. The body of Jesus nailed to a cross, dying for me while still in my sin, is pure folly. And if we allow ourselves to be embraced by this truth, I’m convinced everything changes.
But what if we aren’t there yet? What if we are in a pit and can’t see our way out of it? Manning calls us the “bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.” If that sounds like you, you are not alone. When our own personal resources appear used up and drained out, we feel as though we can’t even want to want to get well. I understand this because I’ve been there. It’s a scary place to be.
But perhaps it’s the best place to be. Jesus said this:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
If you are bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out, Jesus says you are closer to entering the fullness of God than you realize.
So how do we get there? How do we enter the kingdom that Jesus says is ours to have? First, we accept where we are. We acknowledge our own powerlessness to awaken ourselves and trust the God we only half believe in to give us a touch of folly. Do not force it, don’t try to feel anything, think anything or do anything. Relax in the presence of God for a moment right now and listen. Manning shares a poem from the Indian poet, Tagore:
No: it is not yours to open buds into blossoms.
Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.
Your touch soils it, you tear its petals to pieces and strew them in the dust.
But no colours appear, and no perfume.
Ah! it is not for you to open the bud into a blossom.
He who can open the bud does it so simply.
He gives it a glance, and the life-sap stirs through its veins.
At his breath the flower spreads its wings and flutters in the wind.
Colours flush out like heart-longings, the perfume betrays a sweet secret.
He who can open the bud does it so simply.
Next, Manning writes, try this simple exercise in faith: For the next 10 minutes, pray over this passage from Hosea and wherever you see the word Israel/Ephraim, replace it with your own name.
When Israel was a youth I loved him,
And out of Egypt I called My son.
Yet it is I who taught Ephraim to walk,
I took them in My arms;
But they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of a man, with bonds of love,
And I became to them as one who lifts the yoke from their jaws;
And I bent down and fed them
How can I give you up, O Ephraim?
How can I surrender you, O Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I treat you like Zeboiim?
My heart is turned over within Me,
All My compassions are kindled.
I will not execute My fierce anger;
I will not destroy Ephraim again.
For I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst,
And I will not come in wrath.
And finally, Manning adds, read aloud slowly these three texts:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.
15 “Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.
And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. (Hosea 2:14-15)
Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child
And have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.
16 “Behold, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your walls are continually before Me. (Isaiah 49: 1, 15-16)
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who isagainst us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32).
I pray that as these words of God wash over you, you might experience rejuvenation. May you be opened to the extraordinary love of God which is utter folly to us. May it fill you with a new-found sense of wonder and awe, or at the very least, awaken your soul to the truth and hope that God’s kingdom is yours. All of it. Jesus gives it to you freely, not because of who you might one day be, but because of who you are right now – bedraggled, beat-up, and burnt-out.
I’ll add one more step to Manning’s exercise. Listen to this song.