Romans 12:1 is one of those scriptures that makes mature Christians nod our heads. Yes, our lives are a living sacrifice. Yes, it’s our reasonable service. We nod and we know that it’s good and right. But this week the Lord showed me that while I knew it with my mind, there was some part of me that still hadn’t gotten it all the way down where it counts. It started with a laundry mishap and ended with a reminder of exactly what “reasonable” means.
The Missing Skirt
My favorite black skirt was missing. I remembered putting into the laundry chute when my cat had spent some time snuggling with it in my closet. I had just done a load of clothes and hadn’t seen it, so I asked my husband if he had come across it in his things (which are usually kept separate). He said that he had just seen it two days earlier and had put it on my nightstand.
But it wasn’t on my nightstand or around it either. It also wasn’t in the two laundry baskets of his things that he had yet to put away, and he didn’t seem to be that concerned that I might be coming up against the fall season WITHOUT my favorite skirt.
So, I started to pray. “Lord, you are NOT the God of the lost but the God of the found. Please help me find my favorite skirt. Show my husband where he put it. Show me where to look. Please.”
Listening to the Enemy’s Whispers
I went to bed that night still talking to God, but suddenly my prayer of humble request started to change. The more I thought about it, the more I started to feel…well, angry. Of all my skirts to go missing, it had to be my favorite one. The one I ordered specially and the one I loved to wear during the cooler months with boots and sweaters. It felt personal, like an attack of the enemy meant to upset me, but nothing happens to us without the Lord allowing it to happen.
And then the REAL issue reared its ugly head. “Lord!” I prayed, exasperated now. “You were the one who took away my pants. And now You let the enemy take my favorite skirt?”
I heard words in my mind like a little explosion, and then the implication seemed to float out after it like puffs of dust. There it was. A few years ago, after God had saved me and had me spend some time learning to hear His voice, He sent me to a church. It’s a lovely church – I LOVE my church – but it’s a Holiness church. After about six months there, God led me to give up wearing pants in favor of skirts. It was about submission to God and the leadership there. Even after five years, without me even realizing it, a part of me was still smarting. It wasn’t the first thing He asked me to give up or the last. It was, however, the thing that the Lord was using to show me my own thinking.
What Does Reasonable Mean?
See, in the moment, it seemed only “reasonable” to me that if the Lord was going to require me to give up one thing, the least He could do was to let me keep something else that made it a little less painful. Of course, just about immediately I realized exactly WHO I was talking to (my God and the Lord of the entire universe). I apologized for my attitude and asked Him to help me never to do that again.
The enemy’s pressure and feelings of upset were still pressing against my mind, but I finally at least got a handle on it enough to resist and try to refocus. How could I be so distressed over something so seemingly minor? After all, I have salvation, people who love me, my health, my safety, my family’s health, a nice warm bed, food in my belly, a good job…the list was practically endless. I had so many blessings that God had poured out on my life. How could I let this one thing get me so upset?
On the way to church the next day, I thought of an analogy. I imagined a beautiful holiday table set with plates, cups, napkins, and silverware. Even with a centerpiece and candles and laden with good food of all kinds, if one single spoon was missing from one of the settings, that would make the table incomplete. For me, being one spoon short for the table would bother me. In fact, it would bother me so much that I probably wouldn’t even be able to enjoy the meal with my family. Instead, I would be thinking about how everything was so perfect except for that one thing. It would sit on my mind like a rock in my shoe or nag at me like finishing a puzzle only to find that the last piece was not included in the box.
In a similar way, I seem to want to take an “inventory” of all the good things in my life, checking them off to make sure everything is in order. If I find something that is amiss, I start to wonder. How is it that I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do and yet everything is not the way it’s supposed to be? (It sounds really entitled when I read it back to myself, but a lot of people start examining themselves when things go wrong in their lives. The unconscious “expectation” of good things when you are striving to be faithful is just the other side of that coin.)
Then I Heard the Song
That evening when I knelt to pray at the Sunday night prayer service before church, the very first song I noticed coming through the speakers also came through loud and clear to me. It’s a song sung by C.T. and Becky Townshend. It’s called “You Do Not Owe Me.”
The chorus says “You do not owe me one thing Father…You have already given everything Father.” The bridge says, “I owe it all…”
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”Romans 12:1
My problem was that without even realizing it, I was looking at the submissions and sacrifices of this life as if they were my part of a deal. I follow all the rules and do all the things I’m asked to do, and then God will do “His part” and make everything else good. (It sounded “reasonable” to me.)
But God is a debtor to no man. Romans 11:35-36 says, “Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” It’s an echo of God’s own words in Job 41:11. “Who hath prevented me, that I should repay him? whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.”
Submissions and sacrifices are, as we already nodded our heads in agreement, our reasonable service. “God’s part” was to send His Son Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins.We owed a debt. He paid it. Now, our only good, right, proper, and rational response to that is to offer ourselves back to Him completely. Click To Tweet
The Lord Is So Kind
Of course, the Lord is ever kind and merciful. He often DOES make things good for us. He often DOES give us not just what we need but what we want. For those who are in right relationship with Him, He promises not to withhold any good thing (Psalm 84:11) …unless there is a purpose. Whether it’s a test, spiritual pruning, or an experience that will set us up for future use in His Kingdom, God uses the hardships, frustrations, pain, and disappointments of this life to shape us into the kind of vessels that He can use for His purposes. In the meantime, He puts our tears into His bottle (Psalm 56:8) and uses all things for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).
The Rest of the Story
Later that same night, my skirt reappeared. Well, it had never actually gone anywhere at all. It was in the dryer mixed in with the towels I had washed right after my original load. I don’t know what my husband was thinking about when he thought he found my skirt. (He said he later remembered that he had found it on the floor and then put it on my nightstand before changing his mind and throwing it into my laundry chute.)
I was grateful to the Lord for being gracious to me even when I was being a brat. In fact, it came up just a few days later when I overheard a student of mine say, “My mom says I’m supposed to love everybody, but how can I love that girl when she is so unlovable?” I said, “Do you know how I love the unlovable? I remember that I’m not always so lovable myself!” (Yes, God can even use our bad behavior to show us how to help others!)
We Give Ourselves as Our Reasonable Service
D.L. Moody once said, “The problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.” It’s a funny picture, but in practicality, making the commitment to submit to God over and over isn’t easy. Even so, it’s only reasonable (good, right, proper, and rational). We give ourselves not in expectation of what we want Him to do but in response to what He has already done. That same song by the Townsends has a line that really sums up the whole situation. “You settled my forever. Now I’m gonna owe You every day.” May the Lord give us His grace to pay our service due.
Enjoy lessons from God? Try From Haggai: 5 Lessons for the Remnant of Today. Or try Three Lessons from Those Who Didn’t Pray, Believing. Please sign up to receive my blog in your email inbox. You can find that at the upper right of your screen (or at the bottom on a phone). Also, check out my YouTube Channel where I read the blogs out loud. I also have a playlist of hymns from my church.