Sunday, 6 November 2011

The Donkey In The Ditch

ericliddle111I have been thinking a lot about the tension that is sometimes felt between legalism and liberty. I know I am free in Christ – but I am also constrained to do keep his commands, and do the Right Thing. As a child, I was told the story of Eric Liddell who refused to run on a Sunday as he believed it was breaking the 4th commandment about Keeping The Sabbath Day Holy. He still won a Gold Medal at the Paris Olympics in 1924.

That part of his story was told in the film Chariots of Fire. Eric went on to be a missionary in China – and was interned by the Japanese. In the camp, the children called him Uncle Eric, and he arranged sports for them to help them keep fit – but they played them on a Sunday – because that was the only day it was allowed. Eric was willing in 1924 to forego personal glory if needed, because of his faith, but twenty years later he recognised that the children's sport on a Sunday was important for their well-being. [more on Eric here]

I thought of Jesus’ words about the donkey in the ditch – Luke 14:5

ass in pit

We shouldn’t take rules lightly or break them easily – but there are times when the important thing is to do the Right Thing in a situation.

It’s all about finding the answer to the ‘what would Jesus do?’ question.

Having found the answer, and acted upon it, then it is also important to leave it up to God. I confess that I often struggle with this one…have I done the right thing? …perhaps I made the wrong choice?… And if I am not careful I can blame myself, and feel guilty about decisions when I do not need to.

As I meander through blogland I have noticed that many bloggers are prone to self-imposed rules – particularly regarding dieting and spending. And then they waste time and energy beating themselves up, and wallowing in guilt when they break them.

mirror“This month I will not buy anything new” is a fine aim – but if someone breaks off the wing-mirror of your car, then it is the Right Thing to replace it – for your safety, and that of others.

“I will not eat any cakes or biscuits until I have lost another 5lbs” is a great target – but if you visit Gran and she has made a cake especially for your arrival, it may not be kind to refuse it [especially if it will go to waste – and that would upset her too] The Right Thing is to eat it graciously, without fuss, and cut back on calories later.

By God’s grace, I hope I am learning to make the wise decisions and do the Right Thing - even when it may seem at first that I am doing the wrong thing and breaking the ‘rules’.

ass pit rescueI’m truly grateful too, that on those days when I have been the donkey – and my thoughtless action has caused me to fall into the ditch, that loving friends have been quick to help pull me out!

And I hope too, that I do not judge others, when their action appears to be the opposite of what I might have expected. Jesus certainly never did – and so often he commended people when the rest of the world condemned. Think of

  • the woman who put all she had in the offering [Mark 12;42]
  • the woman who stopped the housework to sit and listen to Jesus [Luke 10;40]
  • the woman who poured her ointment over Jesus’ feet [Matthew 26;7]
  • the blind men who called out to Jesus [Matthew 20;31]
  • the mothers who brought their children to Jesus [Mark 10;14]

Those people were [according to others]

  • wasting things which could have been sold for charity,
  • not helping the family,
  • being apparently careless with personal finance,
  • disturbing Jesus when he was possibly busy with another task

…but Jesus pointed out each time that their actions had been the Right Ones. As usual, its all about Grace, isn’t it?


  1. Wow, I knew the first part of Eric Liddle's story, and that he went on to be a missionary, but I never knew the rest - thanks.
    Thank you also for sharing this. I've been thinking a lot about balance recently, and this is yet another poke to continue thinking along these lines.

  2. Very well said, Angela. I think we often get caught up in our own invented rules because surrender of control is difficult. We share them with others because we want to repeat them to ourselves, shine them up, and enjoy some pride. Obedience is for His glory, not our own. Was it Henri Nouwen that said our motives are mixed at best? You give wonderful examples of reckless devotion to the King of kings.

  3. Tracing rainbows, guiding gently through the mire. I have this personal definition of wisdom that it's knowing the right thing at the right time, but I pray often about the James verse- without wisdom being buffeted on the sea. Here and there. Directionless. It's nice to read directions now and then!

  4. Good, good, good stuff, Angela. We have lots of livestock and very often on Sunday we have a "donkey in the well" situation that causes us to miss church. Why do the bulls always get out on Sunday?


  5. Grace.... outrageous generosity... the latter a manifestation of the former.... perhaps?

  6. Wonderful post, Angela. Chariots of Fire is one of my favorite movies, and I've often thought over the years of Eric Liddle's admonition to the children about playing football on Sunday. Interesting to hear the later story. It's wise to know when it's time to keep a rule and when to break it.



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