Sunday, November 16, 2014

Blessed Routines

Routines surround me. The seasons come and go in the same order year after year. The sun rises and sets every day. Each week is comprised of seven days, each year is comprised of twelve months. The list is endless. I rely upon the predictability and constancy of these routines to add structure to my life. Webster’s dictionary defines a routine as a “regular course of procedure.” These regular courses of procedure make me feel comfortable and secure. These routines affirm that my life is orderly, that things are as they should be, and that I need not worry about the details of their existence. Somehow, these routines just seem to happen. All I need to do is revel in their existence.

I continue down the list of things that are routine in my life. I have work routines: outlines, rough drafts, edits, revisions, and publications. I have home routines: laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, cooking, and caring for the dogs. I have personal routines: showering, exercise, keeping up with family and friends, and Bible study. These routines, unlike the ones that seem to happen spontaneously, require my constant attention and effort. Except for my outing to church on Sundays, every day seems pretty much the same: routine, predictable, constant. Sometimes I feel as though I am simply going through the motions without any real purpose. Sometimes I whine about the dull monotony of my routines. Sometimes I feel trapped by them and perform them begrudgingly.

Desiring a change of scenery, I retreat to my favorite hiding place: a local coffee café. In this place, the only thing that matters is coffee. Everyone seems happy. Nobody seems to be weighed down by life. My endless list of tasks awaits me, but for now I’m free to bask in the simplicity of my surroundings. I glory in the escape from my very constant, very predictable, very routine little life. Nothing here demands my attention. No one is expecting anything from me. Pressure simply does not exist. I am free to sit and sip my cappuccino for as long as I like. In fact, I may spend the entire day hiding here.

Intrigued by the magnetic pull that this place has upon me, I observe my surroundings more closely. The employees always follow a standard protocol when interacting with customers. The espresso is always brewed for a standard amount of time. The milk is always heated to a standard temperature. The beverages are always made to the standard recipes. When I come here, I know in advance what I will get, and what I get is exactly what I want. These things are what draw me back again and again. It suddenly occurs to me that in my effort to escape the seemingly dull and worthless routines of my life, the routines in which predictability and constancy reign, I retreat into the predictable and constant routines of this café.

As I wrestle with this revelation, I am caught somewhere between confusion and comprehension. My mind wanders to Paul. I am profoundly inspired by Paul’s heart, which unconditionally belonged to God. Throughout the New Testament, God used Paul in mighty ways. Could Paul’s life possibly have been as routine, as predictable, and as constant as mine?

To a large degree, I think it was. Paul had a single purpose: to bear witness to Jesus Christ. He traveled from city to city to share the gospel. Upon arrival in a city, Paul sought out the place of prayer used by the Jews. He candidly spoke to them about Christ’s life, death, burial and resurrection. He used the scriptures that they knew so well to proclaim that Jesus was the promised Messiah (Acts 17:2, 3, 17; 18:19.) In response, Paul was accused of unlawfulness. He was repeatedly persecuted, beaten, and imprisoned. Paul’s actions and those taken against him were routine, predictable and constant. Paul knew that his routine, the regular course of procedure that had become his life, would eventually lead to his death. Yet Paul rejoiced because his routine enabled him to accomplish the tasks that God had set before him, to fulfill the ministry to which God had called him. That knowledge brought Paul peace in the midst of his persecution and suffering. That knowledge gave purpose to Paul’s life and enabled him to focus on Christ rather than on the routine itself. That knowledge moved Paul to rejoice because through his routine Christ was glorified. In 2 Timothy 4:7-8, Paul confidently states that he has done what God asked him to do and that he awaits the reward God promised: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award me on that day—and not only me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

With Paul’s words echoing in my mind, I jot down my list of routines. Written on a napkin, it looks like nothing more than a menial list of chores. I have let my flesh convince me that because these things are “routine” for me, they are inherently boring and without value. The fact that I sometimes whine about them and perform them begrudgingly reflects my misperception of their purpose. Scripture doesn’t show Paul whining or performing his routines begrudgingly. Instead, Paul exhorted the Galatians to follow his example and to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). Without exception, Paul served others with love through the routines God had given him. Paul was a good and faithful servant.

Wanting to be a good and faithful servant like Paul, I take a deeper look at my list. I am caught unaware, as if I am really seeing the list for the first time. It reveals that God has filled my life with “routines” to keep me focused on Christ. These routines, as binding and monotonous as I sometimes perceive them to be, are blessed gifts that protect me from idleness, from distraction, and from vulnerability to Satan. These routines are also part of the work God has given me to do. It’s difficult to imagine that washing dishes or doing the laundry can make me more Christ-like, but that is exactly what happens when I do these things with a servant’s heart. My routines fill my life with opportunities to minister, to serve, and to love. They provide opportunities for me to follow Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians in small yet powerful ways. Given the opportunity, my routines draw me closer to Him in ways I had never considered.

Tears spill from my eyes as I acknowledge that my self-centered flesh has encouraged me to flee from the routines that God thinks are perfect for me, routines that may enable others to see a glimpse of Christ in me. This startling discovery fills me with peace, purpose, and joy. To my surprise, the unexpected has happened: I no longer feel the desire to escape. The endless list of tasks awaiting me no longer overwhelms me.

I glance at the employees smiling at the long line of customers, cheerfully asking how they can be of service to them. I am filled with the desire to serve my Lord, my family, and my friends in the same way. At the end of my life, I want to know that I have fought the good fight, have finished the race, and have kept the faith. I want to know that I served others in love. I want to hear the words that Paul surely heard, the words from Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

By the time I’m down to the last sip of my cappuccino, I have gleaned a new perspective. Rather than attempt to escape from the routine things in my life, I will rejoice in them. So I lift what remains of my cappuccino in a toast to my blessed routines. Without them, my life would be just another cup of coffee.

© 2004 by vicki scott burns

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