Spoiler alert: Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
Okay, fine, so you’ve known that since your juice box days. But not everyone does. This is what’s so fun about teaching American history to a group of immigrants to help them prepare for a citizenship interview: basically everything is a plot twist.
Columbus thought he was going to the East Indies? George Washington owned slaves? France just up and sold all of the Midwest to baby America for a cool 15 million? (One of the men in the class was quite sure there was some blackmail going on between Jefferson and whichever Roman numeral of Louis was in charge at the time.)
Every little detail from the Civil War to civil rights is fascinating to them, and the students always ask great questions. (“If you were a slave, how much would you cost?” “Why didn’t all of the slave states join the Confederacy?” “Eisenhower sounds like a German name. Why did he fight against the Germans in WWII?”)*
It makes me more interested in my own country’s history, hearing from people who are so surprised by the endings to what are, to me, old and familiar stories, dry points on a timeline I once had to memorize for exams.
One of my small group members said something similar about telling the Bible story of Joseph to a group of preschoolers. They stared wide-eyed through the twists and turns of a page-turning plot that we forget is fascinating because we’ve known the story for so long.
Only a few years later, some have lost this childlike excitement. I help teach 3rd-5th grade kids’ church on Sundays. And sometimes, when they’re feeling particularly—how shall I put this?—churchified, they’ll hear what we’re going to talk about and whine, “We already know this story.”
To which I reply, “No. No, you don’t.”
I say this as an echo of what I lecture myself when I skim the Bible chapter to get to the “good stuff,” when I am disappointed because the sermon application is something I’ve known I’m supposed to do since I was out of diapers, when a testimony starts, “I grew up in a Christian home.”
No, you haven’t heard this story. And you won’t hear it now, either, if you don’t snap out of your cocky, self-assured attitude right now.
You may know how the story ends, but there’s something you don’t know about the God who works out that ending, or about what you should change in your own life, or about how the story points to Jesus. You’re hearing, but not listening.
I say that to myself, I say that to squirmy elementary kids, I say that to you if you need to hear it.
And with it, let me say something even harder: if the gospel feels tired, it’s not the story that’s worn out; it’s you.
That’s good or bad news depending on how you take it. If, like me, you prefer to assume that anything else is the problem—the worship pastor’s style just doesn’t move you or that section of the Bible just doesn’t have much for you or you just don’t have time right now—it might feel like an attack, a kick when you’re spiritual down.
But guess what? If you are feeling tired, that’s when Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
I’ll be honest: Lately, I’ve been feeling weary. A little stuck. A bit slower to reach out and quicker to resent. Singing the bare words to praise songs without letting them change me. It’s been a while since I was surprised by joy. Don’t get me wrong; I’ve scheduled it in here and there. I’ve prayed without saying much, served from wrong motives, and read the words without hearing the story.
But until recently, I hadn’t asked God to reveal anything new—either a truth about himself or an area to work on in my life. (Because that might involve, you know, work.) It had been a while since I’d been still. I had gone a long time since looking for the unexpected in the Bible.
It’s a good change to make.
If you’re weary, come to Jesus. Come to his word. Come into community. Ask, seek, and knock, instead of kinda-sorta drifting along on a stream of halfhearted choruses and half-remembered Scripture verses.
With Paul, I pray “that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
His grace is big and bold and beyond our comprehension.
Let’s let it surprise us.
*Stuffy Educational Footnote for the Dedicated Reader: Answers—As a woman of childbearing age, I’d be worth up to $800 by the 1850s (until they found out I know almost nothing about harvesting crops or cooking over a fire, at which point my value would drop sharply); it’s complicated, but basically the majority of people in charge chose to stick with the Union/federal government and also were playing the odds of one side winning; and apparently yes, Eisenhower was of German descent, but that does not automatically make him a Nazi.