Play The Part

We are led to believe that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part we have played. The playing it well is what matters infinitely. -C.S. Lewis, The Last Night

I’m not sure if the role was wrong or if I just played it wrong, that Christmas pageant my 9th year. Donkey was a step up from white-tight, cotton-fluff sheep, but nothing compared to Mary, or even an humble shepherd.

Not playing it well. I’m the far left of the herd.

At least shepherds were people. Donkeys were beasts. I resented tan corduroys and the furry brown hood and I didn’t play donkey well. Charisma gone, I was brutish. Uninspired.

When we don’t play our part well. 

Around 750 B.C. Judah’s King Uzziah wanted a new role. For the first 40 years Uzziah played the king part- his God-given role-beautifully. He set himself to seek God…as long as he sought the LORD, God made him prosper (2 Chronicles 26:4-5).

God helped him against his enemies and he became very strong. Engines on towers, irrigated farmland, and his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped. Then Uzziah decided to change roles, to play the part of priest. 

But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense…But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests and they withstood him and said, ‘It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense.’ (2 Chronicles 26:16-17).

They knew. The fragrant, smoky offering was the part assigned to Aaron’s line, the priestly line. It wasn’t for kings. Smoke would waft into the Most Holy Place and veil the proper player-the high priest-from the God’s own presence. 

But Uzziah wasn’t content with the king part. Envious, he became brutish. He overstepped his bounds, got mad at the messenger, and was struck. He lived leprous and alone for another decade until he died. 

Yes, it’s extreme. But Uzziah is a type. His incense overstep was recorded for our instruction. And the wise learn from others’ mistakes. 

Stop fearing you’ll miss out on the best parts. 

Uzziah thought he was missing out on a better part. “The fear of missing out,” writes blogger Jon Bloom, is “the Thing”-or the part- we think we need to be happy. In a word, it’s coveting. And coveting isn’t limited to material “things,” making it so illusive.

It’s a shape-shifter that assumes whatever form matches our current vulnerability to feeling like we’re missing out. Today it might be coveting someone’s income, tomorrow it might be coveting someone’s achievement, the next day it might be coveting someone’s harmonious family, next week it might be coveting someone’s opportunities or church or advanced degree or capacities or interior design or . . . you name it.

This is why we often experience Facebook and Pinterest as purveyors of “missing out.” They point out all the things that we don’t have. They remind us of what we are not. They show us where we have not been.  

Not only that, but a consumer economy is engineered to discover and capitalize on our fears of missing out. We are told hundreds of times daily that life consists in possessing some material, status, or experiential thing that we currently don’t have. 

But, the root problem isn’t social media or marketing. Sure, they show stages and parts not ours. But the root problem, says Bloom, is deeper. It’s “our active sin natures that tell us that idols satisfy. That fear that we are missing out is coming from inside us” (James 4:1-2).

Stage tips from the Script: Play. Your. Part. Well. 

1. Play-work, take- an active part in salvation’s story. It’s on stage at this second in you.
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Philippians 2:12b-13

2. Your part. Not mine, or your best friend’s, or your fantasy role; your real God-given part.
Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. 1 Corinthians 7:17

3. Your part. It’s not a one-man show. You’re only one, only part of this grand play.
God arranged the parts in the body, each one of them as he chose… there are many parts, yet one body. 1 Corinthians 12:18-20

4. Play your part well.  Not grudgingly, but cheerfully; not half-heartedly, but whole-heartedly.
And whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing you will receive the inheritance as a reward. Colossians 3:23-23

But I didn’t try-out for this. 

My friend Jenny was new to her 50’s and working her way back to university when brain cancer hammered her husband. The youngest of their three sons was still in school when Phil went home. Then the oldest married and Jenny was Nana. Princess cakes and friendships with foreign students show; Jenny’s playing her new parts beautifully.

Last week, beloved Christian author and speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss, also in her 50’s, shocked many with this announcement:

No one could have been more caught off guard by this turn of events than I. In recent years, I have found myself in the most settled, contented, healthy, fruitful place of life and ministry ever. I did not have the slightest inkling that He was about to call me to step out into a whole new realm of faith and service…

For decades, I have [served] as a single woman, wholly devoted to Christ and His kingdom. Over these months, it has become clear to me that the Lord wants me to continue telling that gospel story . . . as a married woman.

Play it well, for God’s sake. 

Brother Lawrence lived in a French monastery in the mid 1700’s. The Practice of the Presence of God tells of his “great aversion” to kitchen work and how he “asked God for grace to do it well.” On his fifteen years employed in the kitchen, he wrote: 

Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; I rise happier than a king.

God wrote us each into this grand play where He wanted us. He’s the “Author of our salvation,” (Hebrews 12:2), and the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5). He casts each role, to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17). We’re on our appointed stages to make Him look great.

We don’t know what act we’re in or when the play will end. But since the Author does, we read the script and act the part. Marshall Segal says we should think of all our roles- at home and work, with friends and family, eating and buying, as “road signs of the life-giving message of the gospel. We want the world to be confused enough about the way we live, work and spend that they ask about the hope we have.”

When we relish little roles- like dishes and diapers- and persevere in hard ones-pain that won’t end or  relationships that don’t mend-watchers might be just confused enough to ask.

Different roles. Same result.  

Playing it well looks like my single friends Carrie and Julie. They’d welcome husbands and “kids of their own,” if God wrote them in. For now they lavish their love on needy nephews. 
Playing it well looks like my friend Dana. She was widowed in her thirties, alone to parent a toddler with big medical needs. Dana went back to school and now serves the poor as a PA.
Playing it well looks like my friend John. He was misunderstood and maligned by some in a church. But he forgives and returns. Now he worships together with ones who wounded.  
Beautiful. Parts played well adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:11); God looks gorgeous.
*  *  *  *  *
I’ve cameoed in that donkey part more than I care to admit in three decades since the pageant. Brutish in infertility, brutish in church conflict, brutish with husband and sometimes with friends; all ugly, unscripted roles.

But then grace brings me back to my senses and I look to the Author. He holds my right hand and guides me in each role. And I say, There is nothing on earth I desire besides you.

I was envious of the arrogant…When my soul was embittered, 

and I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; 

I was like a beast toward you. 

Nevertheless, I am always with you; you hold me by the right hand.You guide me with your counsel and afterward you will receive me into glory.

Psalm 73:3, 21-24


The Hardest Part

From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.  Isaiah 64:4

When, Mom? How many more hours until they get here?

The party starts in 9 hours and 23 minutes, Gabe. 

Is that a long time, Mom? 

Yes, Gabe.
Just imagine their wait. The risen Christ had appeared twice to the disciples. But it wasn’t the same. Don’t cling to me, he’d said. I go. But he hadn’t totally gone. Not yet. Imagine their restless, nebulous, upper room, what should we do now wait. The hardest part.

Peter went fishing. Gabe went out to play. 

Waiting is our set stage. 

Dear friends have been waiting long in the adoption line. They’d waited awhile even before they “announced” their Russian referrals with baby-blue frosted airplane cookies. That was nearly four years ago. A few months later US-Russian relations dropped. The boys’ referrals did too.

They waited. Then came a referral for another boy from another land. But he was not their son. They kept waiting. A few months ago, they accepted another referral. And then waited some more.

Last month my friend posted this update:

We’ve moved on to the next step of waiting for approval! This did mean a flurry of things had to happen, including paperwork to get his visa and social security number, which meant [we] had to settle on what we were going to do about his name.  

I’ve read the wait doesn’t stop once you’re matched, traveling or back home. Considering we’ve been in the waiting stage (of various types) for a looooong time now, it was good to read that we might just never truly leave that stage and to mentally prepare for that. 

You never truly leave that stage. She gets it. This side of heaven, we wait. It’s inescapable. At the store, at the stoplight we wait. From a seven-year old’s count-down to be eight to an eighty-seven year old’s count-down to be clothed, all creation waits.

But for the Christian, waiting is where it’s at. It’s the stage of the Sanctified Waiters, like Simeon, who waited for the consolation of Israel, and Joseph of Arimathea, who waited for the Kingdom of God.  It’s where God shows up and shows himself strong. It’s the where we see God act. Surely no one has a seen like ours who works for those who wait for him.  

For the Christian, writes Paul Tripp, waiting is not an interruption of the plan. It is the plan. Waiting is hard full of good. It’s Romans eight.

We ourselves who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoptions as son, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with wait for it with patience (23-25).  

Knowing that it’s part of God’s good plan doesn’t make it easy. Tom Petty’s lines are timeless, the waiting is the hardest part. We’re right there with Job- God’s servant Job-when we cry, What strength do I have, that I should still hope? And what are my prospects that I should be patient? (Job 6:11)

It takes great strength to wait. Weak people cave. David knew the connection. Be strong, and let your heart take courage and wait for the LORD (27:14). God gives strength to the weary not after we wait but while we wait. While we we groan inwardly, we wait eagerly. That’s a Romans 8 wait.

Anything worth having is worth waiting for. 

We appreciate more who most patiently wait. The hours fasting before dinner make it that much tastier. Planning the trip is half the fun. When we wait, we gain, a’ la Austen “that sanguine expectation of happiness which is happiness itself.” Anticipation eases the ache.

But it’s still an ache. Waiting is a slow burn with its undisclosed outcomes and uncertain timeframes. It tests our patience and tries our faith.

Waiting brings old idols like control and self-pity and self right out of the woodwork. We try to explain, It’s this not knowing that makes it so hard.  

Yes? And? That’s what waiting is. Waiting is hard.

Good and hard. It’s good because our willingness to wait reveals the value we place on that for which we await. When we wait for God-as John Piper puts it, in his place and at his pace-we show the world that He is all that. God is worth our wait.

The watching world-the audience to our waiting stage, sees God great worth when we don’t forge ahead with a plan that is not his, with an alliance, but not of His Spirit, with protection and shelter in the shadow of an Egypt. And they see it when we don’t lose hope and give up.

Impatience tempts us two ways.

Waiting can tempt us too take a rash detour- to get on with our plan and away from the wait- or to give up altogether. I’ve known both.

We were married ten years before God opened my womb. I didn’t like waiting in that barren place. How longingly I looked at “reproductive technologies,” that offered life for too high a price. Were it not for a husband’s resolve, I might have taken this impatient path; a plan, but not his. Only by God’s strong grace did I stay in his place. 

Our adopting friends? A few days ago they got “the call.” After years on the domestic stage, they fly in sixteen days. When God says move, I guess you move, my friend wrote. By his grace, they go at his pace. 

This is why we, who he created for his glory, are here. We are on this waiting stage to showcase his grace, to show others God’s worth waiting for. I waited patiently for the LORD, he inclined to me and heard my cry. Many will see and fear, and put their hope in the LORD (Psalm 40:1,3). 

Wait is not waste. (I.e., The queue has a view.)

Waiting increases faith. God wants to be in deep, faith relationship with us. If he didn’t care so much about that relationship, explains Paul Maxwell,

…He would give you everything you wanted immediately. He would placate you with the pleasures of this world. For those who know God, that is intuitively unlike him — not unlike him to bless, but unlike him to appease. God did not send his Son to propitiate your temper tantrum (Rom 3:25). 

Because he loves you, God will not bless you so richly that you do not have to trust him. He blesses you seasonally, proportionately, and incrementally, because he wants to bestow you with both the gift itself and the gift of faith, and never the former without the latter. CCEF counselor Ed Welch observes, “Such prosperity would be a curse.” 

What are you waiting for? Your house to sell or to finally be well? A conception at last or a loved one to pass? Outcome of a tick bite or solid sleep through the night? Change in our nation or a dear one’s salvation? For family peace or conflict to cease? Take heart: The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him (Lamentations 3:25).

Wait for it. Wait for Him. Stay stay strong on that stage. Because right now, at this very second, The eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is whole toward him (2 Chronicles 16:9)

Is that about the best news you’ve heard lately?

And do the next thing.  

Back to Peter. Somewhere between week two and day forty, after leaving peace with the locked-in Eleven, Jesus appeared to seven.  And he revealed himself this way:

Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to the, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out into the boat, but that night they caught nothing (John 21:2-3).

They did the next thing. They were still waiting. Peter did some his place and at his pace, be strong, take heart and wait for the Lord waiting. “Do the next thing” waiting. 

Remember what happened then?

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net n the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

The rest is history. Peter strips down, throws himself into the sea and catches 153. They see the Lord for whom they’ve waited. And guess what? He’s been in control all along. While they were waiting in the boat, doing the next thing, Jesus was on the shore working for them.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread…Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” And Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (John 21:9,12-14). 

What a God! He works while we wait. He serves his servants and calls them his friends.

So while we bide our time in- and on- this waiting stage, let’s “keep ourselves in the love of God as we wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life” (Jude 21). 

Then one glorious day, we will exit this stage- the Director will write us off- and we will say,

“Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.
This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
Isaiah 25:9