Why is God so determined to make us a reproach of men?
One day, at three o’clock in the morning, the Lord woke me up to spend some time with him. In the middle of the fellowship, he gave me a strange instruction. He asked me to replace my settees in our main living-room downstairs with the ones in the den upstairs. What was odd about this was that the settees in the den were ragged and literally in tatters. Surely, it was inappropriate to put them in the living room where we entertained guests.
Nevertheless, I was very excited by the instruction. I felt it could only mean one thing: the Lord was planning to replace the old furniture with new ones. The settees in question were twenty-three years old. We could have replaced them long before then, except that the Lord had taken over our finances and buying new settees did not seem to be one of his priorities. But now, it seemed, the time had finally come. We were in for a treat.
Since we had waited patiently for so long to replace them, I wondered what kind of replacement the Lord would come up with. One thing was certain; they would be fabulous.
I quickly obeyed. I did not wait until there was someone else awake to help me. All night long, I carried the old settees downstairs and arranged them in the living room. I then put the relatively new ones upstairs in the den. It was not easy, but I managed to do it all by myself. Later on, I explained the situation to my wife. “The Lord has decided to get us new furniture,” I declared exuberantly. “In readiness, he has asked that we move the old ones downstairs.”
I expected all this to be accomplished in a matter of days. But days rolled into weeks; and weeks rolled into months, and nothing happened. The Lord seemed to have completely forgotten about the question of our furniture. I became confused. Did I get it wrong? Was it not the Lord who told me to bring the old furniture downstairs? What exactly is the meaning of this? What is the Lord trying to bring out in all this?
Reproach of Men
God promised Abram a son. On the basis of that promise, he told him to change his name. “Your name will no longer be Abram,” he said. “From now on, your name shall be called Abraham.” So let us say that Abraham takes out an ad in a newspaper saying: “I, previously known as Abram, now wish to be called Abraham (father of many nations). All previous documents remain valid.” He is now to be referred to as “father of many nations” except that he still does not even have one child. To make matters worse, after God made the promised, he seemed to forget all about it for the next twenty-five years.
What is the point of this? What is supposed to happen to Abraham in the meantime? In the meantime, God has turned Abraham into a laughing stock. Abraham has become a childless “father of many nations.”
Why does God behave like this? Why is God seemingly determined to make us a reproach of men? Take a look at the complaint of the psalmist: “I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All those who see me ridicule me; they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, “He trusted in the LORD, let him rescue him; let him deliver him, since he delights in him!” (Psalm 22:6-8).
This has been my experience with the Lord. How was I to explain the transition in my life from a highfalutin intellectual to a believer to my old friends? How could I go from grace to grass in the name of the gospel? How could I end up preaching the gospel with an Oxford doctorate?
Therefore, for over ten years, I cut off all contact with my friends. I just could not face them. I was convinced they would not understand. In any case, I had lost my earlier status. I was not even the pastor of a big or famous church. I was merely the coordinator of a small fellowship in a little corner of Lagos.
The Lord’s injunction concerning my old settees turned out to be an object lesson on carrying a cross as a disciple of Christ. The old settees were a major eyesore in our living room. I started dreading people coming to visit us. What would they think?
The settees were torn all over. In many places, the underlying foam was clearly visible. So I stopped inviting people home. If they came uninvited, I would go into some elaborate explanation about the furniture, laying the blame squarely at the doorstep of the Holy Spirit. “I’m sorry about the condition of this place, but the Holy Spirit told me to put this twenty-three year old furniture bang in the living room.”
Many looked at me pitifully; convinced I was a victim of some bizarre deception. But the Lord did not make things any easier. The Holy Spirit wanted to know why I found it necessary to explain to everyone that he was the one who told me to put the torn furniture in the living-room. Then he told me I should stop doing so. Neither could I pray that people would not come to visit me. The same God to whom the prayer would be addressed was the very person who was clearly determined to embarrass me.
I had assumed that the whole point of the exercise was to get me new settees. But now I detected a different disturbing motive. God was determined to humiliate me. Now here is the rub: why was the Lord doing this to me? I thought I should have been commended for using a settee for over twenty-three years. Instead, the Lord turned this into a reproach for me.
After a few embarrassing months, it became clear to me that the Lord had no intention of getting us new settees. I found it necessary to remind him that I actually had not asked for new settees. He was the one who brought the matter up. Since he was clearly no longer interested, could I please put the old ones back in their original hiding place upstairs? The answer was an emphatic “No.”
Jesus says: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:24-26).
Twenty-three years of living with the same furniture, and seven months of having torn furniture displayed for all to see in my living room, the Lord finally instructed me to go to a precise shop where he showed me a new set of settees that were simply beautiful. Moreover, he provided me with the money to buy it.