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