This week, a photo of a Canadian man mowing his yard in particularly extreme circumstances went viral:
As absurd (and funny) as that image is, it resonated with a Bible verse that my pastor mentioned on Sunday and that has stuck with me all week:
Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season… (2 Timothy 2:4)
The Amplified Bible translation is also helpful here, offering this version:
Preach the word [as an official messenger]; be ready when the time is right and even when it is not [keep your sense of urgency, whether the opportunity seems favorable or unfavorable, whether convenient or inconvenient, whether welcome or unwelcome]…
In a sense, then, our Biblically-mandated roles demand a certain level of unflappability. Like the guy mowing his grass, we’ve got business to be about, regardless of circumstance. There may well be storms, alongside us or near us or even right on top of us, but Paul makes it clear that external conditions really shouldn’t impact what we’ve come here to do.
This is difficult, because so many of us have – over a lifetime – been primed to do things only at the “right” time. My husband proposed when he was certain I would say yes. We only made a major move to a different city after a thorough investigation convinced us that it was the right idea. We are supposed to mow our grass when there are not tornadoes nearby. Is this going to go well or badly? we ask, and adjust our actions depending on whatever the answer might be.
2 Timothy 2:4, however, tells us that our responses should remain consistent regardless of circumstance.
Be ready…when the time is not right. That means being ready when you’re sick, when you’re tired, when you’re busy, and when your relationship with God has all the clarity of a spotty cell phone call. It means being ready when they’re sick, and they’re tired, and they’re busy, and when their relationship with God is unclear, troubled, or confused.
Be ready…if the opportunity seems unfavorable. A lot of times we shy away from experiences that don’t seem optimal. We don’t speak up or reach out or minister or respond because…well, there’ll be a better time. A less awkward one. A less painful one. A less confusing one. Even a less dangerous one. But that’s not always true, and we can’t read the human heart or predict where our encounters might lead. Resisting the imperfect opportunity means missing the richness of God’s work in strange, unexpected, and surprising situations.
Be ready…for the inconvenient. We expect God to be bound by our schedules, and our service to Him often fills the cracks between work and leisure. But He doesn’t work that way, and He has a habit of calling for you right when you’re in the middle of a project at the office. Or while you’re trying to explain to your daughter that, no, she can’t put the cat in the washing machine to clean it. Or when you’re golfing or in the tub. Being prepared means adhering to God’s timing rather than our own.
Be ready…for the unwelcome. We all have that person who makes us think, “No. No no no. I can’t deal with them today.” We all have that place we dread going and drag our feet over. We all have that activity that we loathe. But God will call us to all of those, and the more we resist, the less chance we have to test the strength of our patience and love and grace in Him.
Chances to serve God or minister to others – the business of going about loving people – is messy and ill-timed and inconvenient. It does not happen when it should. It does not happen where it should. It often does not fit into our schedule or our preferences. And yet the message of the Gospel is consistency: be prepared, always. Respond with love, always. Let your sharing heart be open, always.
This week, when I saw that picture at the beginning of this post, I couldn’t help a surprised laugh – and the desire to go chide the lawn-mowing man. (My area is tornado-prone; it’s dangerous to take them too lightly.) But the charm of the photo rests in its absurdity: a man doing the most everyday thing in the most unusual, even frightening, context. His actions seem all out of proportion to the moment.
And yet that’s exactly what we’re instructed to do as believers. Regardless of what’s happening around us or to us, we continue on stubbornly and placidly loving and serving: an act that often reads as absurd, unnatural, and even astonishing to those around us. For us, sharing the Lord, ministry, and service – all of those things are meant to be our “everyday” and we’re encouraged to be prepared to do them in every circumstance – even when it doesn’t make sense, even when it puts us out, and even when the time is not right.
Circumstances change. But the believer’s preparation never does.