It was rainy day. We were sitting at our timeshare in Williamsburg, VA with nothing planned except enjoying each other. So we decided to break out a puzzle our eight year old has been wanting to do for awhile. Its a complicated one with pieces that are not exactly normal puzzle shapes. With 1500 peices, it is a doozy for an 8 year old so teamwork to get it done in two days was what it would take.
I have a deep love of puzzles. As a teenager, I would spend hours on my bedroom floor assembling any puzzle I could get my hands on. My grandfather taught me that you sort out all the edge pieces first and put them together, then you sort the pieces into like colors. When you do it this way you do not need the box cover to put the puzzle together. His advice was not to look at the whole picture but to look very carefully at the details of the piece you needed to find a match for. His wisdom was that very often the pieces that belong together do not look like they belong together if you are looking at the puzzle as a whole.
Working on this puzzle as a family, made me realize that some are more gifted in seeing the details and putting them together than others. My eight year old, like her mother, can look at a pile of puzzle pieces and pull out just the one that is needed. My ten and twelve year olds threw their hands up in frustration because they just could not see the details in the shape of the piece, the minute variations in color and pattern. They would pick up a piece and try it over and over again only to have it go in a completely different part of the puzzle.
Leading a church to revival is much like putting together a puzzle. Leading a particular people to Christ is like matching puzzle pieces. The challenge for church leaders is that we do not get caught up in needing the big picture, the picture of what is going to be, but we spend time carefully considering the edges, the patterns and textures.
At the Festival of Homiletics, one of the speakers suggested that we should continue to point out parables as a way of understanding God. The parable that came to me on that rainy day is this: The kingdom of God is like a puzzle without the box, its messy and chaotic and overwhelming at times. It calls us to patience and persistence. It demands we pay attention to tiny details: peoples lives and struggles, the churches history, the communities needs, the words of scripture, the hope of Christ which is found in the mundane.
The kingdom of God is like a puzzle, we can try to work it out alone but when we have help, the vision emerges faster and the burden of putting it together is filled with far more laughter and joy.
My eight year old and I discovered that we could put the puzzle together by ourselves very quickly. But we also discovered the joy of leaving the “easy” pieces for others to come along and add. It gave us more pleasure to hear squeals of excitement when the others came along and put in a piece that was waiting. The baby of the family put in the last two pieces (the only two she was able to fit together on her own), and we all rejoiced because the picture was beautiful; because the work was worth it; because we did not do it alone but helped each other along the way.
We have a pile of pieces in the church, locally and globally. We actually have a picture, a very clear picture, of what is supposed to emerge from a pile of believers and communities and opportunities that are very different from each other. The picture is that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.
It is going to take all of us, conservative, liberal, and inbetween. All of us, those who believe women should preach the word of God and those who believe women should use their gifts only to support men. All of us, random, seemingly unrelated, pieces. The ones who love high church organ music and those whose souls resonate with loud rock music. The ones who love color and texture and those who love stone and flying buttresses. The sinners and the saints. The ones who are absolutely certain about what they believe and the ones who have more doubt than faith.
I hope we will not stop working together. I hope we will continue to sit beside each other, examine tiny details, the curves and colors of the pieces, remembering that it is not for our own glory we labor, but so that Christ will emerge with love and grace. We might be tempted to toss aside the pieces that don’t look like us, the ones whose shapes seem a little off and whose coloring is not quite right, but if we do we will find ourselves with holes in the picture when we run out of pieces.