You’re walking into a mess,” my mother-in-law said in a fair-warning tone. Peggy had gone to visit her for the weekend, and upon arriving, learned a pipe had succumbed to Michigan’s winter temperatures, bursting and flooding the furnished garage-apartment that stood a short distance from the house. Where does one start amid so much damage but at triage? So, that is what Peggy did—assess the situation, begin at “first-things-first” and go from there.
Most of us would agree that when Jesus comes to us, He too walks into “a mess,” one of the spiritual variety. What we learn from the story of Zacchaeus, fortunately, is that God doesn’t leave us that way; He begins at once to restore us from the inside out. For a chief tax collector turning from greed, first-things-first was generosity and restitution. “Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount,”1 exclaimed Zacchaeus. It was an exciting beginning to an undoubtedly long transformation, for surely not all his sin was greed, and certainly not all his change was immediate (as I’m sure Mrs. Zacchaeus would attest).
We only come to know our heart as God reveals it. “My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent,”2 confessed Paul of his natural inability to know the depth of his own sin. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts,”3 implored David, for he himself could fully understand neither one. Yet even these, our shortcomings, ultimately glorify God, for He does know the depth of our sin, and His love reaches deeper; God does know the breadth of our wrongs, and His forgiveness reaches wider. God knows our “mess,” and He transforms us in His time.
Occasionally we wonder if we’ve progressed at all in our relationship with God. In such times of discouragement, we do well to remember it was Jesus who “came to seek and to save what was lost.”4 He is the initiating God—faithful in all He does—so, with the confidence of Paul, we can live in the assurance that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”5 Salvation is just the beginning.
Father, thank you for sending your Spirit to change me increasingly into the image of your Son. I need Him. When I am discouraged, may He remind me of the work He has already accomplished and assure me of His faithfulness to complete what He has begun. Amen.
1 Luke 19:8
2 1 Corinthians 4:4
3 Psalm 139:23
4 Luke 19:10
5 Philippians 1:6