One of my favourite worship songs a few years ago was “More than Oxygen”. I loved the idea that we need God’s presence in our lives so much. We can’t survive as humans for more than around 3 minutes without drawing breath, and God’s presence is so much more essential than that for us.
I recently went to a burger restaurant here in Cape Town, and was served the burger without the normal sprig of parsley sat on top of it. I didn’t even notice until the waiter apologised and offered to “refresh” the plate.
Since my normal use for the garnish is to dump it on the side of the plate anyway I told him not to bother, but in the last couple of days it’s had me thinking about God and His place in my life, and the lives of Christians in general.
Many who profess the Faith are genuinely aware of God’s presence the majority of the time. But it started me thinking about times in my life when God’s presence – or even his absence – has been like the parsley on my burger – something I hadn’t noticed. It scared me, and I don’t scare easily.
I’ve been in a situation for the last four years where on a daily basis if God didn’t come through for me I would literally lose everything. My wife has a life-threatening illness – currently in remission, but could return any time – our finances are a mess as she was the principle earner in the family. We’ve moved in with my mother and had to sell our home to reduce our financial outgoings, our medical insurance has only gotten more expensive, and more than half the life-saving medications we need are not covered by the insurance itself, leaving us with crippling costs each month.
And it’s been going on for four years now. A daily struggle where we have been forced to rely on God. And He’s never once let us down. Sometimes if it wasn’t for the last minute we’d not have received it, but the fact, no – the Truth– is that when God promised He would meet all our needs in Philippians through the writing of St Paul, He meant it. My God provides my needs.
Parsley is not a need. It’s a garnish, and it’s not noticed if it’s missing most of the time.
We – especially I – need to remember that God is not an “optional extra” on the sideline of my life. He needs to be the central character. It needs to be Him that I revolve my life around. God’s not the parsley, He’s the patty. Without Him, there’s simply no burger. There’s no life, no hope and no future.
In the last fifteen years He’s saved me from accidental death on motorcycles and prevented suicide attempts when I put him into the position of parsley in my life. He’s been faithful to me when I abandoned Him.
I read somewhere that the story of the Prodigal Son should really be regarded as the Story of the Father’s Heart. The son may spend his life with the pigs and repent, trudging home to beg to be made as a hired hand, but the Father has been watching the road waiting for the son’s return since he left, never abandoning hope that he would return and remember his place in the family. God’s heart for us is revealed in the story, for just as He should not be parsley to us, the story shows we are not parsley to Him. He seeks us out, waits for our return and greets us with full restoration so His family can be complete once more. This is no parsley welcome. There may have been parsley on the fatted calf, but the point of the meal was the beef, not the garnish.
How does it affect us on a daily basis though?
Brother Lawrence wrote about practicing God’s presence, and although I’ve only read a few passages, they struck me with the simplicity of the way we make God central. Make Him the centre of stirring the soup. Make Him the centre of mowing the lawn, of washing the car, of cleaning the dishes or doing the laundry. Make every action we do consciously an act of service to Christ.
My brother-in-law is a professional musician. He plays the bass trombone brilliantly, but he practices his scales every day. I was an amateur musician. I played double bass and a bit of guitar, but I never practiced my scales. I didn’t see the point. They were tedious and boring. Then I got into the exams and the first thing the examiner wanted to hear was not the pieces, but the scales. It’s a miracle I ever passed an exam. Lucien, the trombonist, plays every day, every scale. He has work regularly. I sold my bass because I never used it any more. There’s a huge difference between a professional and an amateur. The professional recognises the importance of the foundation that the scales provide. As an amateur I saw them as parsley. Optional. Scales were something to be avoided so I could get on and play the “real” music.
When I sold my bass, the guy who bought it played it for a few minutes to get a feel for it. He played scales. They were the sweetest sound I’d ever heard that instrument make, then he went from scales into free jazz and suddenly I got it. What I’d thought was parsley was the meat.
And I have done the same with God in the past. When everything was running smoothly I didn’t do much more than lip-service to God and His presence in my life. I didn’t realise the training opportunity the time of rest gave me to strengthen my faith for the onslaught to come.
Right now I am battling a badly infected wound on my foot which could – had it been left just a day or two longer – have cost me at least two toes or even the whole foot if left much longer than that. The infection had entered my blood and that kind of blood-poisoning can be fatal. Diabetes affects my body. I do not lay a claim to it or refer to it as “mine” as I believe it is an affliction, not something to embrace, but to fight. So I fight. Every day I fight. But I miss things and I miss the sensation in my toes that would have told me this problem was there. Instead I have ulcers the size of a quarter on my feet and nee to find suitable footwear to allow the wound to dry and heal. So I turn to doctors for guidance, and Christ for healing. I see no conflict here. My faith to see instant healing is not developed for myself, although I do sometimes see it for others (something I don’t understand).
I don’t sleep well, but that gives me time to write and pray. I figure if the enemy wants to deprive me of sleep I’ll use it to strengthen my relationship with my Saviour. Eventually he’ll realise it’s better to let me rest as God provides me with the strength for the day.
When my wife and I were opening a business recently our funding evaporated overnight and we were facing having to cancel the plan. God opened doors in the most unexpected places which allowed us to move forward with the plans easily. The business plan is amended to include the details of our new investors, and the banks are now prepared to seriously consider loans for the shortfall. I have meetings set up this week to see what we can raise through these “traditional” organisations now we have concrete investors sent by God to back us.
Meat, not parsley in this life.
What I had treated as a garnish for so long, even while leaning on Him for the major survival stuff, was that for a long-term future I HAD to trust Him for that as well as our daily needs. Like David’s plans before the Lord where he petitions about battle strategies, so I have to humble myself before God and look to His guidance to show us where to look for investors. They have been unexpected and amazingly generous in their faithfulness to us. Some are known to us to be Christian, others not.
But it is written that “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, But the wealth of the sinner is stored up for the righteous” (Proverbs 13:22 NKJV), and it seems we are now beginning to receive that wealth coming through to us to allow us to have a business to put our hand to so God can Bless it, the fruit of our hands labour. It is written that we have been given the power to create wealth “If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!”—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today.” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18 – The Message) A timely reminder to some couple on the brink of what appears to be a breakthrough that the breakthrough comes not from parsley God, but by substance, that the parsley is chaff in the wind and nobody notices if it’s not there. I never saw a single person send their order back because the parsley was missing. The burger, yes. But not a sprig of irrelevant leaves.
Keeping God central is a conscious thing to do. We have so many things to distract us. I made a conscious effort to cut out listening to all news bulletins and reading newspapers. All they report is the bad news and the occasional cat stuck up a tree. I rather read and listen to things that will uplift me. Music, books and even some DVD series which can help me find God in what may seem unusual places, but there He is, every time, waiting for me with a new spin on an old story. I never simply watch for the sake of watching. There’s always the thought “what are You wanting me to get from this?” in the back of my mind whether its science-fiction and fantasy, adaptations of Tolkein and CS Lewis or simply quietly reading Max Lucado, John Eldredge or the Narnia stories again. I try to read as though I’ve never read it before, and read with the mind of a child to allow the deepest truth to sink in.
There are horrors in this world. Things we cannot understand with our feeble minds such as the events of 9/11, and we have eternity to figure it out and forgive it. But we need to remember what the main ingredient in our sustenance is spiritually.
Parsley doesn’t nourish us. In the context of a good quality burger you don’t even notice its presence or absence. More so with a steak dinner.
The leaves stuck on the side of the plate. The “garnish” makes it pretty, but it lends no weight to the meal.
We need to stop putting God into the position of garnish and our own selfish pride and ambition as the meat. That path can lead only to utter desolation and ultimate destruction.
Sentiment is parsley. It distracts us from doing what needs to be done. Heirlooms which in days gone by may have been passed from generation to generation now gather dust and tarnish. The meat it could produce could produce a legacy for our children’s children that is spoken of in Proverbs 13:22 “A good man leaves an inheritance [of moral stability and goodness] to his children’s children, and the wealth of the sinner [finds its way eventually] into the hands of the righteous, for whom it was laid up” (Amplified), again promising the wealth of the sinner falling to the righteous, but beginning with a moral stability foundation to build it on.
So when I can’t sleep I get up and write. I have a quiet time and I throw away the parsley and sink my teeth into the juicy meat of God’s word – washing it down with Spiritual Milk to make it easier to absorb.
But the parsley of this world needs to be discarded. It detracts and distracts from the point of the meal. It draws us away from the passions that first drew us to God. His heart for His Family. His Love for us, boundless and unfettered lavished upon us. Not an easy situation, but one we must make a deliberate effort to do. Jesus is the Centre of our life, and we need to fight to keep him there. His Love, Strength and Power through the Holy Spirit will be what gets us through the daily walk of the sinner and into the victorious march of the Victor. We were once Sinners saved by Grace, but now we are More than Conquerors through Christ, and we need to live as though we are. Confident and standing tall, fighting where we need to. A shepherd must tend the flock, but that involves fighting off wolves, bears and lions that would seek to shred it.
We are all pastors to a group. There are always a handful of people when you serve spiritual meat to. The need to know the meat from the parsley. But in order to show them, we must first recognise it ourselves. That can only come through a deeper relationship with our Creator and Saviour by means of the Holy Spirit guiding our every move – from where we walk, who we speak to and how we interact with people.
Driving will bring out the worst in most people. It does in me. I am an angry driver. It is a daily battle, made easier when I ride a motorbike as I’m not surrounded by armour. We need to learn to be exposed and vulnerable, because it’s only then that the Holy Spirit can work in us. Imagine trying to open a stone with a dripping tap. Use a hammer, it’s faster, but if you use tumbling to polish the stones, smooth pebbles from nothing but water come. Iron sharpens iron, and stone takes the edge off stone to produce things of great value and beauty.
When I get behind the wheel of a car, the horns and tail appear automatically, and I fight to control my temper. Just today a pedestrian stepped out in front of me and I had to fight the urge when he slapped the bonnet (hood to American readers) to not let my foot slip from the clutch. My wife, a true Blessing in situations like that, defused me with a single word: “Gun”. Meaning he probably has one, and I don’t. I didn’t lose the anger, that came later, but the need to retaliate was defused.
My wife struggles to accept she and I are good for each other. It doesn’t seem to matter what the circumstances recently, but historically we’ve been good together. Not always easy, good. Today was just another example. Meat, not garnish.
So don’t be a Parsley Believer. When I was, I was forgotten immediately by me, never mind the people I spoke to. Parsley is almost worthless. Don’t let that be the fate of your testimony.
By the blood of the Lamb and the Word of their Testimony promises Revelation that we will overcome the beast. Make no mistake, the beast is here.
He is called “Apathy”, and he feasts on Parsley testimonies.