Lessons from spilled milk

June 1, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 12
Phil Wagler,

“Don’t cry over spilled milk.” This little English phrase must have been coined by a parent watching her child pour milk into a cup. When our emerging independence turns to “needing” to pour our own milk, a parent can only watch with horror. The cup is off-centre, the pitcher trembles, and the liquid is like a tsunami bursting onto a beach. Nothing in this scenario is ever “all in.” Inevitably the deed is done, and the child’s disappointment is not helped by a justifiable “I told you so.”

I’ve often felt like that child. My attempts to do something “grown up” in front of my Heavenly Father can be messy. These attempts to please can be noble, but I’m learning the joy of letting him centre things so that “all in” can happen. He never cries over spilled milk but he definitely beckons me to trust his ability to pour in life. This is a necessary lesson as we grow as healthy disciples and missional leaders, and one often forgotten in the rush to prove ourselves.

The contrasting invitation of God is to surrender and centre, to let the Father do the pouring, and the overflow of the kingdom be sourced in him. When Romans 5:1 says: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit,” we are reminded to position ourselves as the vessel receiving the outpouring.

But—and this is crucial—the real point is what is being poured. Paul is clear that what the Holy Spirit fills us with is not, first of all, gifts or dreams, but the wonder of love. We are the beloved. Awakening to this is the first manifestation of the Spirit. We are his cherished kids.

In Life of the Beloved Henri Nouwen asks a penetrating question: “If all those who shower me with so much attention could see me and know me in my innermost self, would they still love me?” It’s human to cover this soul storm with bold attempts to prove ourself. This usually ends up messy, as we strive towards the unfortunate cemeteries that Martyn Lloyd-Jones saw filled with sad tombstones reading “Born a man, died a doctor.”

In other words, we “grow up” and sacrifice our first identity as beloved children of God. The good news invitation is not to try harder, but to be filled with the Spirit, to realize that:

  • Our innermost self is known by the Father;
  • Our innermost mess has nonetheless been dealt with through Christ, who gave himself for us; and
  • The Spirit now pours in the awesome awareness of the love of God, leading to new life, creation, desire and mission.

This is why Jesus’ “theology of leadership,” as Gunter Krallmann in Mentoring for Mission calls it, “is essentially centred around ‘the truth of God’s Fatherhood.’ ” Over and over again, Jesus invited his disciples into the loving relationship he had with the Father. He modelled being “poured into,” and the overflow transformed the lives of those who carried forward the movement of the kingdom after his ascension and the outpouring at Pentecost. This outpouring of love continues still.

Are we living transformed lives, and overflowing from this place?

Phil Wagler (phil_wagler@yahoo.ca) lives in Surrey, B.C., with his bride and the six kids God has blessed them with. He’s learning that there is plenty in this world worth crying about, but spilled milk isn’t one of them.

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