Rick Stiffney is the President and CEO of Mennonite Health Services. Rick has consulted widely with not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years. Rick’s current work focuses on executive development, strategic positioning and planning, alliance formation, values integration and not-for-profit board education and development. Rick holds a PhD in organizational leadership from Andrews University and a Master of Science in Administration from Notre Dame University.
The readings for this day are found in Psalm 80:1-7, Isaiah 42: 10-18 and Hebrews 10:32-39. These texts spoke to me in an unanticipated way.
I am a constant “doer.” Blessed with relatively good health and high metabolism, I am usually doing something and doing it quickly. The “to do list’ is long. I work furiously to check off the tasks to create space to put more things on the list. There is no “not to do list.” Said another way, “rest” seldom appears on the “to do list.” I suspect I am not alone.
Interestingly, even jarringly, these texts speak primarily about what God is doing. They are more about that than they are about what we, the people of God, are doing. But the texts are not entirely silent on what the people of God should be doing. However, they challenge us to a unique kind of doing.
What kind of doing? The prophet Isaiah and the Psalmist challenge the people of God to “think back,” “sing,” “join,” “let,” “praise,” “listen,” “look,” and “see.” These are not dynamic doing verbs. But they are active—connoting a kind of energy that has more to do with being attentive, anticipating and reflecting.
The writer of Hebrews captures this in unique way: “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will.” Perhaps there is in this phrase some insight about the nature of our doing.
When I was younger, I ran marathon races. In recent years, my knees began to fail me. But I remember the nature of marathon running—pounding on mile after mile for 26 long miles. The goal was to run a steady pace, conserve energy and just put one foot in front of the other until the end.
One of the most dramatic finishes of a marathon race at the Olympics occurred in 1968. The race began with about 75 runners. John Akwhari, the only runner from Tanzania, was expected to finish high if not win. Early in the race he was jostled by another runner and fell. He tore his knee badly and broke his shoulder. In spite of the fact that he knew he couldn’t win, he struggled on. Hobbling and with his bloodied knee in a makeshift bandage, he shuffled across the finish line long after others had finished and most the spectators had left the stadium. When asked, “Why did you press on when it was apparent there was no hope of winning?” He replied, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race, but to finish the race.” Patient endurance.
Many of us live life as if it is a race—not a marathon, but a sprint. We dash from this to that. We scurry to accomplish one thing only to go to the next. We measure our worth in terms of what we get done. Our “to do list” goes on forever.
These texts remind us of what God is doing. God is saving us. We are not saving ourselves. Perhaps many of us need to re-pace our lives a bit, set aside some of the “to do things” we are inclined to do and allow ourselves to “let,” “look,” and “see.”
Centuries ago someone else waited; nine long months. Ostracized by her own community, Mary who was the mother of Jesus, persisted while waiting. Let’s remind ourselves this Advent season that God is with us and among us in often surprising ways. May we be actively patient, continuing on but anticipating that God may surprise us in ways we least expect.
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