My sister knows me well. For my birthday last year, she gave me the perfect gift combining two of my favorite things… the popular TV show, NBC’s “The Office,” and Lego. This Lego set provided all I needed to recreate in great detail: front reception, Jim and Dwight’s desk clump, and Michael Scott’s office of the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. I was as giddy as an eight-year-old.
A few weeks went by before I finally dug into this fun project. As I dumped out the contents of the box onto my coffee table, a wave of nostalgia washed over me. I recalled the very first Lego set I ever owned. It was the mid-’70s and Lego was the hot new toy in America. My first set was the biggest gift under the Christmas tree and I couldn’t believe it was mine. Those early sets contained bricks of different sizes, shapes, and colors, with one platform piece upon which to build. The box it came in showed images of different things that you could create, but there was no theme, no instructions, just colorful bricks, and your imagination. As a creative eight-year-old, I was in heaven. Now, as the five bags of more than 300 pieces fell onto my table along with a 30-page picture book of instructions, I realized this experience was going to be different than what I remembered.
“How hard can this be?” I thought to myself. “It’s Lego. I’ve built hundreds of things with these bricks!”
The inside cover of the booklet showed the types of pieces the set contained along with three sentences of instruction. As I looked over the first diagram outlining steps one and two, I began my hunt for the correct pieces. There were five plastic bags of varying sizes. There was no apparent rhyme or reason as to what pieces made it into which bag. The only distinction I deduced was the smaller the bag, the smaller the pieces, but that was of little help. I also realized that since many of the pieces looked alike I was going to need to count the number of studs on each piece to ensure I had the correct ones for each step. That meant counting everything at least twice. First, counting the number of studs on the piece depicted in the booklet, and then counting the studs of whatever pieces I retrieved from the random bags.
After an hour of this “fun” project, I had five bags of pieces torn open, an instruction booklet folded over to show page 4 – step 4, exactly 19 of the 369 pieces stuck together, and a migraine. Frustrated, I shoved the plastic bags back into the box along with the instruction booklet, tossed the box underneath the coffee table, and went to bed.
A couple more nights passed before I returned to the project. I really wanted to get to the finished product. I wanted to see this thing come together. I wanted to get into the heart of it, putting each of the desks together, and putting up the walls to Michael’s office. I couldn’t wait to add some of the finishing touches, like putting on the stickers that were included to give the project its authenticity, and pose the little figures of Michael, Jim, and Dwight. So, I once again dragged out the box, dumped out the bags of pieces, and began again.
It took some time but I was slowly able to distinguish some of the details and nuances of the instructions that had illuded me the first time. I moved a lamp closer to the table to make it easier to see what I was doing. And, I followed the illustrated steps to a tee. The instructions weren’t how I would have put this set together had I just been given the picture and the pieces. It was done in layers by section. For example, one step might be to put down the pieces for the bottom of a desk, the bottom drawer of a nearby file cabinet, and the base of an office desk chair. The next step would be to add the next layer to that desk, file cabinet, and chair. If it were left to me, I would have put the whole file cabinet together, then the desk, then the chair. But as I went along, I could see that my way wouldn’t have worked. There were pretty tight spaces that all the pieces had to fit into and doing it my way would have been more difficult and in some cases impossible.
As I saw the set come together I was astounded by the detail. The file cabinets, for instance, not only had pieces to show the actual drawers, but each drawer had a handle. Another detail was the stack of boxes of Dunder Mifflin paper in front of Dwight’s desk. They were comprised of white bricks as one might expect, but those bricks were then topped with a thin, bright blue brick in perfect proportion to what a blue lid on a box of paper would look like. The entire set was filled with these miniature particularities that would be especially meaningful to true fans of the show. The more I assembled this masterpiece the more I appreciated its detail.
Ultimately this was not a simple project and not all of it was exactly “fun,” but the outcome was far better than I was expecting. It was certainly more than what I saw on the box when I first opened the gift. It was only going through the process, following the instructions step-by-step that I really saw and appreciated what I had been given. With each step, I got to experience exactly what the designer had intended. Had I done it my way and ignored the instructions it would never have looked like what it was intended to look like. Had I not had to put it together at all, had the gift been a completed set, fully constructed, I would have never come to fully appreciate the detail and subtle nuances that made this masterpiece so special. And, had I thrown in the towel after my frustration on that first attempt, I would have missed out on the gift completely. There was something about the whole process, struggle and all, that made this gift so fulfilling.
I recently read the Book of Exodus. In Chapter 23, God says this to Moses,
“See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you. Pay close attention to him, and obey his instructions. Do not rebel against him, for he is my representative, and he will not forgive your rebellion. But if you are careful to obey him, following all my instructions, then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and I will oppose those who oppose you. For my angel will go before you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites, so you may live there. And I will destroy them completely. You must not worship the gods of these nations or serve them in any way or imitate their evil practices. Instead, you must utterly destroy them and smash their sacred pillars. You must serve only the LORD your God. If you do, I will bless you with food and water, and I will protect you from illness. There will be no miscarriages or infertility in your land, and I will give you long, full lives. I will send my terror ahead of you and create panic among all the people whose lands you invade. I will make all your enemies turn and run. I will send terror ahead of you to drive out the Hivites, Canaanites, and Hittites. But I will not drive them out in a single year, because the land would become desolate and the wild animals would multiply and threaten you. I will drive them out a little at a time until your population has increased enough to take possession of the land.” Exodus 23:20-30 (NLT)
As I read those verses I was reminded that the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hadn’t been left dormant and unoccupied for the hundreds of years that their descendants grew into a nation while enslaved in Egypt. As this great throng of people was now about to take possession of the Promised Land, they were to take it from the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites, and Jebusites. This promise of God wasn’t just handed to them as a gift. They didn’t merely step across the threshold of the boundary lines God had laid out for them and begin feasting on the milk and honey. There was a process they had to go through. There were instructions that needed to be followed. There were battles that had to be fought. They needed to fight the “ites.”
God assures them in these verses that He will go before them. He will destroy their enemies. He will strike terror in them, creating panic as Israel invades. He will make their enemies turn and run. But, the possession of this land wasn’t going to happen overnight. It wasn’t going to happen without their obedience to the instructions God had given them. And, it wasn’t going to happen without a struggle.
I think too often we are expecting the promises of God to be like a Christmas gift to a child. We can’t wait to tear into it, play with it, and let our imagination and creativity run wild. We don’t want to read the instructions, we want to see the finished product, put the cool stickers on it, and play with it the way we want to play with it. But that’s not usually how God fulfills His promises to us.
Instead, we need to be prepared and ready to fight the “-ites.” God may go before us just as He promised Israel, and send our enemies running away in panic, but it doesn’t mean there won’t be a confrontation. It doesn’t mean that we won’t face the opposition or have to struggle to take possession of what He has promised us. The “-ites” may even be there to test our obedience to Him, to see if we will actually follow the instructions He gives us. Not because He’s a mean God wanting us to jump through His hoops for sport. But because He wants us to appreciate the details of His design, experience His promise the way He intended us to experience it, and He wants to build us up so that we can fully take possession of the masterpiece He has created for us.
I have certainly been guilty of backing away from God’s promise because it didn’t come easy. I fall into the trap of thinking any sign of a struggle must mean that the promise wasn’t really mine, that I must have misunderstood Him, that surely He would make it easy for me. I find myself settling for something less than what He has for me because I’d rather be comfortable than face the struggle that is in front of me. Or maybe, I’ve tried to do it my way and thrown in the towel because I feel like I’m on my own, instead of realizing I just need to do it His way and all the pieces will fall into place. And how many times have I given up on a promise because it’s taken too long for Him to fulfill it? I’m so grateful He does not give up on the promises He’s made to me.
If you have received a promise from God, He will fulfill it and it will be beyond what you could ever have asked for or imagined. The fulfillment of His promise will most likely take time. He will probably have a list of instructions for you to follow. And rest assured, He will not do it even remotely close to the way you would do it. But if He has made you a promise, you can believe He is faithful to carry it through. Are you willing to fight the “-ites” to not only receive the promise that God has for you but to also experience every detail and nuance He has created for you to appreciate?
Lord God, you are faithful and we are not. You are God and we are not. Your thoughts are not our thoughts and your ways are not our ways. I praise you for that, Lord! Father, forgive us for the times we have talked ourselves out of receiving your promises because we were intimidated by the “-ites.” Help us to see you in the midst of the struggles we may have to endure to take possession of the promise you have made to us. And help us to take in the beauty of every detail you make a part of the process. Help us to appreciate those details. Thank you for always having our best interests in mind and for loving us and giving us promises to look forward to. Thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus, and it is in His name we pray, amen.