Eleventh Hour Yes

Candle

My friend Mary is 95 years old and I watched her fall headlong as she came up her stairs to open the door for me. No kidding. I was standing at her front door with the screen door open. I had just rung the bell and could clearly see her through the windows on the door. She was coming up the stairs from the lower level and tripped on the top step.

It didn’t even slow her down.

She popped right back up and came to the door.

“Are you ok?!” I asked as she opened the door.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replied in her crisp voice. I wondered how honest she would be with me especially if she was embarrassed.

“You’re sure?” I pressed, “Nothing hurts anywhere?”

“No, no, I’m fine.”

I shook my head and let out a short laugh as I said, “You are so tough!”

95 years old and yes, she was completely fine.

I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman—at any age—as tough, or as sharp as Mary. She is the kind of person who gets so much done in a day it would make anyone feel lazy in comparison. She kept up with housework and yardwork at her large, four-level home even into her old age.  She lived there for 62 years until recently when she moved to an assisted living home on the other side of town. Needless to say she is having a hard time adjusting. 62 years at the same home and now she’s in a small apartment on the other side of town with not much to do. I’m sure it feels like it might as well be on the moon.

Today she had called Ben and said she was heading over to the house to go through some things and find some important papers. She wondered if we wanted any dishes. She asked him to come over and look. We had just gotten home from a busy morning running errands. Ben had to head into work and I was looking forward to quiet time at the house. Just me and the baby. He would nap, I would read and drink tea. It was going to be amazing.  Annoyance rose up in me as I eavesdropped on his conversation.  Then I found my out: “We don’t need anything,” I whispered to him, “We can’t fit anything else in this house.” I raised my eyebrows and shook my head. Perfect. No reason to add anything else to my “busy day.” Ben told her he would try to get over there and hung up. He looked at me. “You know she probably just wants someone there,” he said. Ugh. The guilt made me even more annoyed…an hour later I was standing in her kitchen.

Her house felt so different. It wasn’t like she had moved, it was like she had been robbed.  She had only taken a few things to her new apartment. One of them was her organ. Her house felt so quiet just knowing it was gone. We walked around and she reminisced a bit. She had so many closets with so many things stored. There were canning jars and slow cookers in one of the walk-in closets, sewing notions in another, and in yet another a collection of old coats—several fur coats hung next to dapper men’s coats that had belonged to her husband. She pointed out an old projector and screen that sat next to a dozen boxes full of memories. Evidence of a life lived.

“All this will be sold or thrown away,” she said as she gestured to the room and closets. She picked up a small figurine of a porcelain dog. A black and white remembrance of one of her sons who had passed away long ago.

“This belonged to my son,” she said.

She put it back without showing any emotion. I realized she had worn that heartache for longer than I have even been alive. I wanted to cry, but if Mary wanted to she didn’t let on for a second. We moved on continuing to look at random items. My encouragement sounded feeble but I still offered it.

“You had a good life here…It’s just stuff and it’s served you well.” I cringed hoping that wasn’t the wrong thing to say. As we headed up the stairs I tried again.

“Mary,” I said, “I’m sure you have treasure in heaven.”

She was taking the stairs a bit slower this time and replied, “Well, I don’t know about that.”

95 years old. She had managed to fill a home with years and years’ worth of treasures and trinkets, but has she stored up treasure in heaven? I can’t answer that. I don’t know much about her life, but it made me question mine.

I mentioned that being around Mary makes a person feel lazy in comparison. Lately I’ve noticed there are a lot of people in my life who make me feel that way spiritually. They are the people who grew up in church, had a Christian home, Christian parents, maybe even went to Bible college and now (here’s the big one) they work in ministry. They said “yes” to Jesus at a young age and have lived a faithful life. In all honesty these are the people who make me feel like I have been lazy spiritually.

Perhaps I have been.

I know I could have made better choices growing up. The past ten years I’ve learned so much, but the more I learn and the closer I get to my Father’s heart the more I regret the times I wasn’t walking with Him as close as I should have been. I think of the times the world wasn’t able to see if I even knew Him at all. It was wasted time. It wasn’t time spent storing up treasures in heaven, it wasn’t even time spent storing up treasure on earth. It was time spend in frivolity at best. Very little value for anyone except myself. Or, more accurately, my selfishness.

Fast forward to the present and I realize I could have done so much more for His purposes. What would my life had been like if I was pursuing Him and His plans more than I was pursuing myself and my plans? How much time was wasted? I don’t know how long my life is. What percentage of it was wasted? I know all I can do now is pursue Him and His purposes and move forward, but lately I keep thinking that it probably won’t amount to much because of my past. Even if the things I did don’t disqualify me the things I didn’t do must certainly disqualify me. I didn’t go to Bible college. I didn’t even go to church all the time. I didn’t do a lot of things a person should if God is going to really use them in life. Right?

I want God to use me. I want to make a difference. But I will just have to settle for a small difference. Right?

I opened my Bible to Matthew 20 today. I read about the parable of the workers in the vineyard. The farmer needs to harvest and he needs help. He goes to town several times throughout the day and recruits workers. Eventually it’s the “eleventh hour”—the last hour of the day and he goes one more time and hires the “ones who stand idle” and they get to work. At the end of the day the farmer begins to pay everyone. He starts with the people who were hired last. He gives them a full day’s pay. The other workers are excited because they think surely they will get more than that. They have worked all day. The farmer proceeds to pay all the workers the same rate. The workers who had labored all day were upset, but the farmer responds, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge me my generosity?”

The farmer in this story is God and the workers are His children. Us. My heart warmed at the thought of God owning everything and saying essentially, “It’s all mine. I choose to give.” So beautiful. At some point a long time ago I had wrote “Divine Generosity” in the margin of my Bible. I read it again and wondered where I had heard that phrase.

I closed my Bible and opened the book I had been reading: “The Relentless Tenderness of Jesus” by Brennan Manning. Earlier this week I had pulled it off the shelf in the living room. I had only read a few paragraphs throughout the week and was still on the first few pages of the first chapter. I tried to tune in and understand what he was saying and suddenly I realized I was reading about that same crazy farmer. Matthew 20. Now he was in my book, and there was that phrase again: “Divine generosity.” Brennan Manning used to describe the parable.

Ok, God, I’m listening, I said. What do You want to say with this story?

He gently pointed out the truth: He knows that sometimes I feel like the lazy worker. I haven’t got started until the eleventh hour. So much of the “day” has been wasted. I haven’t always walked in holiness or obedience. I see the people who have sacrificed their whole lives for God. They have been faithful. They have chosen the good path and reaped good things. They have treasure in heaven. Is it too late for me to do so also? And can God use me just as much as them? And in an even smaller voice I questioned, would He want to? I wanted to know the answer.

I looked again at Matthew 20 in my Bible and noticed the verse I had illustrated on the previous page bleeding through. I read the backward message: “with God all things are possible.”

In his commentary on Matthew 20 Matthew Henry points out that “many who begin last, and promise little in religion, sometimes, by the blessing of God, arrive at greater attainments in knowledge, grace, and usefulness, than others whose entrance was more early, and who promised fairer.” And a bit later in his exposition: “The giving of a whole day’s wages to those that had not done the tenth part of a day’s work, is designed to show that God distributes his rewards by grace and sovereignty, and not of debt.”

I realized two things: (1) none of us are good or even good enough even if we have “labored all day in the vineyard.” Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Romans 3:10, Isaiah 64:6). It’s only by His kindness and divine generosity shown through Jesus that we have any right to any of His treasure. And (2) He is so kind. He can do miracles and bless your life just like you had labored all day in the vineyard. Who are we to tell Him how He should spend His generosity? Even if you don’t get it together until the eleventh hour.

So there is a message here for the laborer and the lazy. God is overgenerous and kind to both. I have felt like both at different times in my life. Lately, I’m realizing I am the latter. I am depending on his grace alone. All I can offer is an eleventh hour yes. I will stop being lazy. I will answer the call. And He seems to be saying He will receive me with the same generosity, joy, love, and kindness as any. Brennan also says, “God is consistently overgenerous with His forgiveness and grace. His love is gratuitous in a way that defies our imagination.”

I didn’t cry at Mary’s house for her material things that will be “sold or thrown away” instead I wept with joy and gratitude that God accepts my eleventh hour yes.

He will accept yours too.

Any ideas you have that might tell you otherwise are lies intended to keep you lazy.

Go all out.

In the end everything of earthly value will be sold or thrown out anyway.

Luke 12:32-34 “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will our heart be also.”

Romans 13:11-12 “Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works for darkness and put on the armor of light.”

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