You know when you write a carefully crafted email, put the main action points in bold or in a numbered list, and think there’s no way someone could possibly misunderstand what they are supposed to reply with?
But then of course, you still get a response with only one out of three of your questions answered, or maybe they don’t even reply by your requested date at all.
So you have to kindly repeat yourself. "Thanks for your email. Can you let me know about those other two points though? Please? Like, yesterday?"
This Lenten season, I’ve been listening to the four Gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - on the YouVersion Bible app. I’m sad I didn’t know about this app earlier! I listen to God’s word daily as I get ready in the morning, take a walk after work, or get ready for bed.
As a single girl with no roommates, it’s been a wonderful way to fill the silence with something useful. I have no excuse to skip Bible reading when I can at least listen to it (though good Bible reading and study is still important to dig deeper).
I’ve found listening to God’s word like this for the first time to be really beneficial. I’m familiar with the Bible stories surrounding Jesus’ life, so I felt it was a good place to start giving this audio Bible a try. I also felt I wouldn’t need to pause it to study as much as other more deeply theological or unfamiliar books would require.
When going through the Gospels, you eventually start to hear stories repeated, just told by a different writer. It’s cool to realize the similarities and differences since it’s all pretty fresh in my mind.
One of the biggest things I’ve been noticing is that as humans, we need that repetition. It’s not just that each Gospel writer had some new important detail or point of view so he was led to write about the same event as another writer, but that it’s a story we really need to sink in over and over.
There are also miracles that Jesus repeats and the disciples are still surprised! I’ve read many times about Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus women and children, but I forgot that just two chapters later in the book of Mark, Jesus does the same miracle for 4,000 men. He takes a few loaves of bread and multiples it to feed thousands of people who had been following him to hear him preach and heal. Once again this amazes the disciples who had wanted to tell the people to go away and find their own food.
They hadn’t expected Jesus to do the exact same miracle. It’s like they forgot who he was - a common theme throughout the Gospels, and really the entire Bible. It’s the theme of humanity.
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
“Twelve,” they replied.
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”
They answered, “Seven.”
He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” Mark 8:17-21
Jesus patiently sent that reminder email. Come on now, I showed you what to expect, put the miracle in bold, underlined it, highlighted it in neon yellow, and told you what to do last time you were in this situation. Trust me! I proved what I can do and who I am, yet you still act confused and unsure of how to respond.
Over and over Jesus repeats himself to his disciples. He does miracles, he proves his power, he reveals who he is.
But they did not fully understand.
Jesus told his disciples that he would be arrested, flogged, crucified, and would rise.
They didn’t get it.
Peter denied his Lord even though he was warned in advance that he would.
When Jesus was dying the worst death imaginable, most of them ran and hid. The feared being associated with Jesus.
They thought it was over.
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41 and Mark 14:38
“Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” Luke 21:36
They had followed Jesus, heard his teachings, saw his miracles, and were warned that very night to not let their fear get the best of them.
How many times did they have to be told? When would they finally believe? What would it take to get it?
Sometimes it’s so frustrating to read! But honestly, we’re just the same.
Sure, we say God’s in control and loves us, but we sit and worry about everything. We complain about our situations. We doubt God cares or could really make something good come out of it. It’s like we forget all he’s already done. We close our eyes, plug our ears, and shut out our blessings and focus on our pain, confusion, weakness. We think about ourselves.
Our light goes out.
Then someone reminds us that God has good plans, and we smile at well-meaning Bible verses.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
Our faith flickers awake, but then it asks something of us. Not to earn our worthiness, but to live in the grace already given us.
“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:12-14
We were far away, in a dark place, feeling alone.
Maybe it even felt like God banished you, and forgot you there. Maybe you’ve cried out and screamed against him WHY? or WHAT NOW? or HOW COULD YOU? But God is always there and will be found. Again and again we must return. Through the guilt, shame, anger, we offer a humble prayer.
Help me. Forgive me.
He understands our weakness, forgetfulness, and laziness, and calls us to continually start over. He died for those failings. We are forgiven and get an unlimited number of attempts to try again.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29
We won’t ever make it on our own, but God planned for that. We bemoan our lack of signs from God, but usually we’re just not looking hard enough. Stop doubting and believe.
Look around at your blessings.
Look up for where you’re going.
Look in (or listen to) his Word for your directions.
As you go through the familiar Lenten stories, what stands out to you this time around?
What truth do you need to hear on repeat?