In the early 1980’s as I was beginning what would become a lifelong study of the martial arts, I went to see what has become one of my favorite movies of all time, “The Karate Kid.” Much like Daniel in the movie, I too had a Mr. Miyagi, who was teaching me the mysteries of karate through many different aspects of training that I did not understand at the time but grew to greatly appreciate.
Mr. Miyagi’s methods
Most readers will remember the plot of the movie; Mr. Miyagi agrees to train Daniel in karate, but he begins by directing Daniel to perform what seem like menial and completely unrelated tasks. Daniel sands the floor, paints the house, refinishes the fence and waxes Mr. Miyagi’s entire collection of cars. Daniel is becoming increasingly irritated, feeling more like Mr. Miyagi’s slave than his student. But with every chore, Mr. Miyagi gives Daniel careful instruction as to the way he is to perform it. The “wax-on” clockwise motions and the “wax-off” counter-clockwise motions are the foundation for specific martial art movements that will be used as defensive blocks . . . but Daniel is entirely unaware of Mr. Miyagi’s purpose.
Eventually Daniel’s frustration boils over, and he begins to storm off, but Mr. Miyagi sternly calls Daniel back and instructs him to demonstrate the movements of each of those “unrelated” tasks he had performed. Suddenly, Mr. Miyagi throws a punch at Daniel, and Daniel instinctively blocks it with the movements he had been using to complete the chores. The muscle memory Daniel developed through the countless movements of sanding, painting, refinishing and waxing, had prepared him to defend himself when Mr. Miyagi delivers a series of punches and kicks at Daniel. Daniel’s eyes light with dawning understanding; every seemingly mundane chore Mr. Miyagi had assigned was teaching him the basics of karate.
Isn’t that just like our God in the way He has purposed and planned to grow and mature us in our faith?
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Our God is the all-knowing, all-seeing, everywhere-present God of the universe, and He is Lord of every aspect of our lives. No matter how often we come into His Presence, there are many things He is doing in our lives that we simply will not understand. But this mystery is not to cause us to doubt Him; rather, it is designed to deepen our dependence upon Him. Jesus is in the business of strengthening our trust even when He seems not to be strengthening our understanding. God has told us that His ways are not our ways; thus, it is best that we stop trying to figure everything out and simply follow Jesus wherever He is leading us.
God will often lead us in a way that seems strange and foreign. There will be times when, much like Daniel in “The Karate Kid,” we are convinced that God is leading us in the wrong direction, away from our desired destination. At those times, we must keep in view the fact that the signs on the path God has set before us read Follow Me, not Figure It Out.
When Jesus lovingly and graciously restored Peter to fellowship and ministry after Peter’s three craven denials of our Lord, Jesus simply said to Peter, “Follow me.” They began to walk together, and we read that Peter looked behind him and saw John following them. Puzzled, Peter asked, “Lord, what about him?” Our Lord’s response was enigmatic: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:19-22). “Don’t try to figure it all out, Peter,” Jesus was saying; “Just follow Me and trust that I am working all things together for your good and My glory.”
When I look back over my life, I can see that everything God has asked me to do, even the most seemingly insignificant acts, had infinite meaning and value in growing and maturing me in my faith. The words of the prophet ring true: “They do not know the thoughts of the Lord; they do not understand his plan” (Micah 4:12). This has often been my own experience, and surely it was the experience of Peter and the disciples when Jesus provided a miraculous catch of fish.
“Jesus . . . said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break” (Luke 5:4-6).
The disciples had fished all night with nothing to show for it. When Jesus instructed them to head back out on the water for a catch, it made no sense at all to Peter. “We’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything,” he said doubtfully. But Peter trusted his Lord; he followed Jesus’ instructions, and a wholly unexpected blessing followed.
Understanding is not a prerequisite to obedience. And being faithful in the little things will prepare you to be faithful in the bigger things that God has planned for you in this life. After years of walking with Jesus, I have learned the value of simply trusting Him, especially when I cannot trace Him. This has brought an entirely new depth of understanding to my reading of Proverbs 3:5-6 – “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Wax On Wax Off Wisdom
Here is the best way I know to summarize all that Jesus has taught me; I’ll use the pidgin speech of Mr. Miyagi: “First learn crawl; then learn stand; then learn walk; then learn run; then learn fly.” This is what I call the Wisdom of “Wax On, Wax Off,” and it will serve us well in our walk with Wisdom Incarnate — our true Teacher and Master Instructor, Jesus Christ.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!
Dr. Tommy Boland is senior pastor of Cross Community Church in Deerfield Beach (www.thecrosscc.org). He blogs regularly at tommyboland.com. For more articles by Dr. Tommy Boland, visit goodnewsfl.org/tommy-boland.