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"And the Lord said, 'Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes.'Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few." Luke 12: 42-48 NASB
In case you're just joining us, we have taken a little segue for the story of Alfred the Butler. It's an allegory and it has surprised me as much as anyone.
Alfred has been a butler for a long time. He has a great master who recently announced he was giving Alfred a new job. Instead of being a butler, he is now in charge of grain distribution. The warehouse is in such a mess that he has to clean and straighten before any distribution can begin. You might want to read the previous stories to get caught up. Alfred # 1, Alfred # 2, Alfred #3, Alfred #4, and Alfred # 5.
In yesterday's story, Alfred was exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready to resign. The master stopped by, however, with a picnic breakfast. While Alfred finished his coffee, the master brought in a mountain of boxes and stacked them in the corner beside a large cooler.
"Master, let me help you with those boxes," Alfred offers.
"Nonsense, Alfred. Finish your coffee. You've earned a break. It won't take me but few minutes."
Alfred finishes his coffee and, in true butler form, gathers up the remains of the picnic and puts the leftovers in the refrigerator. No mice will get this good food. He folds the cloth and packs it in the basket, then washes the dishes and packs them, too.
By this time, the master has finished unloading his truck. He wipes his hands together to brush away the dust. "There we go, Alfred. Now, first things first." He opens a big box as Alfred looks on in astonishment. Master rummages around until he finds what he wants. "Here they are!" He turns to Alfred with two large packages in his hands. Industrial ultrasound mice-chasers.
"The first thing to do is chase the mice out. We need to stop their destruction. Here, Alfred. Let's plug these in every room. We'll put four in here because it's so big. Be sure to put one in the kitchen and one in your bedroom."
Alfred has to swallow hard because of the lump in his throat. "Thank you, Sir. I hate mice."
"I know you do, Alfred. I could have installed these before you arrived, but I wanted you to see the extent of our mice problem."
"That's right. Too big. Because you've seen the problem and the destruction they can cause, you'll be more diligent about mice prevention. It's a hard lesson well learned."
When the last ultrasound machine is installed, Master turns to Alfred. "Now, it will take weeks to get all this garbage up with that push broom. I've brought you some big scoops. We can scoop up the trash and pile it in the garbage bags. Here, see how much better this will be." He retrieves a large scoop.
The new scoop will hold far more than Alfred's dustpan. This will help. "But Master, you have brought quite a few scoops."
"You never know what you'll need, Alfred. They're just in case. Let's get started."
Alfred takes the scoop and gets to work. He pushes the scoop along, gathers the garbage and wasted grain, and dumps it in the garbage bag. He turns when he hears a scraping sound. The Master has one of the extra scoops and is hard at work beside Alfred. "Master, what are you doing? That's my job."
"Nonsense, Alfred. This is my warehouse. The work will be much faster with two of us."
The master is right. He and Alfred work side by side for the next few hours. They manage to clear Alfred's goal of 1000 square feet before they stop for lunch.
Alfred has begun to think about a spoonful of peanut butter when the master says, "I'm hungry."
"Me, too. We have the banana bread Cook sent and some of the fruit from this morning."
"That's for your breakfast tomorrow. I have lunch in the cooler. Let's roll it to the kitchen." Master grabs the handle on the cooler and a bucket of cleaning supplies and heads to the kitchen.
"Gross, Alfred. This is worse than I remembered. Let's clean this kitchen before we unpack the food. You work on the refrigerator and I'll take the cabinets and counters."
It doesn't take long to have the tiny kitchen clean and spotless. "Here, Alfred, put down this shelf paper and I'll unload the cooler." While Alfred measures and cuts and places, the Master unloads his cooler. Fresh fruit and vegetables. Condiments. Heavy cream. Milk. Orange juice. Homemade stew from Cook. Four small casseroles for the freezer. Frozen ground beef and chicken in individual packages. He sets two covered bowls on the counter top. "Cook sent chicken salad and green salad for lunch. I almost forgot. I have another kitchen box."
Master hurries back to the warehouse and retrieves a large carton. He unpacks it and stocks the cabinets. Small canisters of sugar and flour. Coffee. Loose leaf tea. A kettle. A pot and skillet. Dishes and utensils for four. Four glasses. Salt and pepper. A fresh jar of peanut butter.
Alfred looks at the cabinets. It's too much to believe. A few hours ago, he was planning to ask for his butler job back. Now, this job looks promising. He has food to eat. A tiny but clean and well-stocked kitchen. The mice will be gone and there's a new mattress on the way.
Alfred and Master sit down again on the warehouse floor and enjoy a picnic lunch. "How are you feeling about this job now, Alfred?"
"I love it," Alfred tells him. "You've restored my hope today. I will never forget what you've done. Thank you."
"You're welcome, Alfred. I'm proud of you. I thought you'd be able to make it through a hard night, but now I'm sure of it. I hope you never forget that dark night of the soul, either."
"I don't think I ever will."
"Good. Let's work on the little bedroom before we get back to the warehouse. I want it clean before we bring in the new mattress."
Alfred will not have to sleep on the floor tonight. He can't wait!
It has been an eventful morning. Already, Alfred has learned that the dark night of his soul was not an attempt on his master's part to be malicious. He was not neglecting Alfred. His master was teaching him.
That dreadful night provided Alfred an important lesson in the importance of diligence in the warehouse. He's learned the destruction mice can cause. He's seen first-hand how people can suffer when the warehouse is not open for distribution. He's seen the importance of a faithful steward.
He's also learned about his master's care for him. Before, Alfred was one of many servants. For the first time, Alfred is one-on-one with his master. He has seen his master's tender care for him personally, rather than as one of the crowd. His love for the Master has expanded exponentially.
Alfred has embraced his lessons quickly and does not intend to forget them. There's no need to keep teaching the lesson. Alfred has passed the test already. It's time to move to the next lesson.
He is beginning to get an inkling of Jeremiah 29:11. "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."
When we experience hard times, especially those dark nights of the soul in which despair engulfs us, we have a choice. We can embrace the lessons God has provided and allow Him to change us through them or we can run from them, refusing to be changed.
It is through embracing the lessons of our hard times that we take a step closer to our Lord and experience first-hand the tender care of our Shepherd. Have you gone through hard times? How did God meet your needs? What did you learn from the hard times?
Look for the ways God's plan for you has unfolded. Recognize that what seemed like a calamity at the time was used to give you a future and a hope.
God is good. All the time. No circumstance can change that truth.
Our Father, thank you for your tender loving care. Help me to recognize Your hand at work in my life and to learn from the lessons you provide. In Jesus' name, Amen.