Ten minutes from our home is Gillooly’s Farm where every Saturday morning the Parkrun event takes place. Parkrun is a 5k event that takes place in parks where people of all ages, race, gender, shapes, sizes, etc run, or walk their dogs or baby strollers. Astonishingly, some people run with their baby strollers. A couple of times I have been overtaken by moms with baby strollers. Argh. This morning I completed my 8th park run. Yay
I enjoy exercise and running in particular. Six years ago, I made running part of my exercise routine and I’ve never looked back. I’ve run a few half marathons and 10k’s over the years. I love it. I am Kenyan and at least in my mind I think I’m one of those elite Kenyan long distance runners. (Just so you know Kenyans epitomize the best of long distance runners in the world. Just so you know) I enjoy running more so because when I run I get lost in my own thoughts. Running has become like some sort of “therapy” where I think about my life, gospel, marriage, and all sorts of things. I laugh at my own foolishness. I shout myself down. I get angry. I regret things I’ve said to Jenny. I sing and pray. I cry sometimes (or is it the sweat that gets into my eyes) Oh, you should see me.
Here’s one more reason why I do the Parkrun. Our life insurance company has a program (Discovery Vitality) that rewards you with points for healthy living. If you take part in the Parkrun, you are awarded 300 points. These points are added up to your weekly goals and when you reach your weekly targeted points, you get a reward from their partner companies. Our favorite reward has been the Matcha Green Tea Latte Serious from Mugg and Bean. We love it.
Today at the Parkrun event these thoughts crossed my mind, “Hey, the person who finishes the 5k first, and the person who finishes last and all who run in between get the same points. WHAT? No way! Really? Seriously? Absolutely!” After the run, I actually went and confirmed what i was thinking with one of the volunteers at the event.
I ran the 5k in 27 minutes. I finished in 107th place and was the 96th male out of a field of 895 park runners and came 17th in my age category. The fastest person ran it in 19 minutes. The last person finished the run in 1hr 10 minutes. Yet, ALL of us got the same 300 points.
The fastest runner did not get more points than the slowest runner. The fastest runner was ranked first but they still got the same points as the person ranked last. The points you get are not based on how well, hard, or quick you ran. Absolutely not. You only need to be a member of this program and complete the run for you to get the 300 points. That’s it!
There is a story that Jesus gives in Matthew 20:1-16 that has always fascinated me.
The man with a farm
The short version of the story goes like this. A man who owned a grapevine farm went out looking for workers to hire. He found some and agreed to pay them a daily wage. He left his home at 9am and went to the market. On his way, he saw people standing around doing nothing. He hired them and promised to pay them their daily wage. Off they went to work. At 12pm and at 3pm he saw some more people and hired them. Funny enough at 5pm he was still hiring workers. Folks, this is almost at the end of a normal working day, right?
When evening came, his foreman called the workers so that the boss could pay them. To the workers amazement, those who came at 5pm were paid the same amount as those that had been there from very early in the morning. It was a scene to behold. The workers that had worked since early morning were angry. Who wouldn’t? The man then tried to reason with workers. He said to them, “Guys, guys didn’t we agree on a fee? I didn’t promise you that if i hired you earlier than the rest that I’d pay you more and if i hired you much later I’d pay you less. I paid you based on the agreement we had, right?” Then the penny dropped. Those who were first were paid like those who came last. They were all equally paid based on the agreement but not based on sequence of arrival.
Of course, if you are a bible scholar you know that Jesus was speaking to his disciples who earlier were enquiring about a quid pro quo — we have left everything for you, what’s the trade-off? What’s our pay? That’s for you scholar. For us ordinary street guys, this should also mean something to us.
The world operates out of this premise — your bonus is determined by how well you have performed throughout the year. End of year bonuses are based on performance. If you perform well, you get a better bonus. If you perform badly, then your bonus reflects that. Even the CEO’s pay is tied to the company’s performance on the stock market. It’s called the stock-based compensation.
The charismatic movement is festered with this kind of thinking. We say things like— you have to pay the price for your ministry. Ever heard of that? Paying the price aka suffering for the Lord. The higher the price you pay in suffering, the higher the level of anointing or glory. The results of such thinking? Many of us work for the Lord in order for the Lord to work for us. The idea is what’s in it for us? I think most of the offense that takes place within our ranks is because of this work hard, results oriented, sacrifice, prove yourself thinking.
Many of us work for the Lord in order for the Lord to work for us
At least I thought like this for many years. I studied, served, prayed, fasted, attended night vigils every single week, tithed, led small groups, sacrificed, etc. If you would have asked me why I was doing all these of course I’d have told you I am doing it for the Lord. However, at the back of my mind I was always like, “Lord, when is my ship coming? When is it docking at my port with all the goodies – the blessings etc? When am I getting rewarded? Can’t you see how fervent and devoted I am to you cause?” When I saw newbies getting “rewarded”— people who I thought didn’t put enough effort, I’d get cynical. I’d say things like, “this is just the honey moon phase. Wait till it wears off and the rubber meets the road. They won’t survive. They are just wet behind their ears. I have been in this game for too long. I know how it ends.”
Until the gospel happened to me. Until I saw how grace works. Until I saw how grace disregards this notion that it is the best (spiritual, fervent, devoted, hard workers etc) who are rewarded with the highest prize.
Grace in unfair
Grace is unfair. Grace does not make sense. Grace goes against the grain. Grace is counterintuitive. The story of the man is the story of Jesus and his reward system. Jesus’ reward system is based on grace. Why grace?
See this is what grace means? Grace is receiving what you don’t deserve.
Grace is receiving what you don’t deserve.
In this story, Jesus illustrates how grace works. All the workers received grace in this sense. All of them were hired. This is hugely important. These workers were unemployed. They weren’t working. Jesus would have chosen not to hire them yet he hired them. You didn’t have a job and now you have a job. Jesus did not enquire about their previous work experiences. He didn’t go through their CV’s to check whether they had any expereince. He just hired them. That’s grace.
Secondly, he agreed with them a fee and paid them. He kept his word. Jesus does not break his word. He cannot lie. His word is yes and amen.
Thirdly, the workers especially the ones employed last would have really savored how good the man was. He leveled the playing field. He made it possible for people who think that they are unqualified to be qualified. He rewarded them the same as the ones who came in early. Grace leveled the playing field.
The irritation of grace
This story also reveals to us the kind of emotions that come to the surface when grace is at work. Every time grace surfaces, irritations occur. Do you know how this idea of a level playing field is offensive to people who base their lives on being rewarded for being first, the best, the most hardworking, the devoted, committed, graduated cum laude? Remember Mohammed Ali the greatest? Of course, I’d be angry if my whole worldview is based on being the best, greatest, first, strongest, fastest etc. I would. That’s not how it is supposed to work.
But grace flips the script. It really does. As I ran, I kept on thinking that this is it. This is grace at work. I will still get my points even if I don’t finish first. the last person who finishes this race will still get the same points. Grace rewards the fastest and slowest the same. Grace rewards the foolish and wise the same. Grace rewards the strongest and weakest the same.
Oh, I’m very well aware that you might raise objections based on scriptures that talk about rewards and that everybody will be rewarded based on the good or bad they did. I know, I know. That’s another post for another day.
This is what Jesus says to us – The most fervent, devoted, faithful and hardworking saint (Billy Graham for the evangelicals, Reinhard Bonnke for the Charismatics and Mother Teresa for the Catholics) and the most irreverent, indifferent, undependable and laziest saint share in the same grace. They are all rewarded the same.
Brennan manning in his book, All is Grace: a Ragamuffin Memoir writes,
“Grace pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five.”
Hey, if you’ve worked hard all your spiritual life, here’s some comfort for you. Jesus chose you. Just the fact that He chose you should be enough for you to savor and enjoy his grace. (John 15:16) Now, what you need to do is get your eyes off of your performance and set them on His grace for you.
For those of us struggling with thoughts of inadequacy and incompetence, here’s some comfort for you. Why don’t you receive His grace that will empower you to do even more? Paul did that. He was one of the apostles that were chosen last by Jesus yet in his own words he says, “For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by his grace. (1 Corinthians 15:10).
That’s what grace looks like