Monday, July 19, 2004

"What About MY Life?"

One of the primary issues so prevalent in the American church today is the idea of practicality. Practicality is the quality of being useful. We ask questions such as, "How do I apply forgiveness to my life?" "What does joy look like lived out on a daily basis?" "How do I exhibit faith in times of trial, or when someone is in need?" These and thousands more questions like them permeate our churches. Pastors spend thousands of hours preparing and giving multi-part sermons on applying the principles of Christ to daily living. Again, this misses the whole point of Christ.

Luke 21:34-36 says,
"Be careful or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man."
Verse 34 especially hit me like a ton of bricks the other day as I read this chapter. The largest part of chapter 21 concerns signs of the end of the age, or signs of Christ’s return and rule. Jesus tells his disciples to be careful not to be weighed down with the anxieties of life because that will prevent them from being ready for the day of the LORD’s coming, and they will not be able to stand (in other words, be victorious) on that day. Jesus also told other stories about this lack of preparedness like the story of the 10 virgins in Matthew 25 or the story of the great banquet in Luke 14. So what does it mean?


"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." --Matthew 6:25-34

This seems to be a popular passage of scripture. But the meaning is lost on most people. It has not been understood for thousands of years, and obviously, it was an issue before Jesus’ day as well. However, it has not always been this way. I have been made aware, from at least two separate sources, of a little bit of history. The first place I heard it was a Christian radio broadcast and the second was my Introduction to Philosophy class in college. The story is this. The first century Christians believed the time of Christ’s return was near. Jesus Christ himself had said he would be back soon. Many of these believers, because of this idea, devoted their time to praying, fasting, fellowship, and the teaching of the Apostles and leaders. This is reflected in Acts 2:42-47:
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the LORD added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This was characteristic of the first century church as well as the second century church. The attitude in the second century was, "well, God’s ‘soon’ may be a little longer than our ‘soon.’ We know, however, he is coming soon." So they continued to devote themselves to Christ and his kingdom.

However, in the third century a change of paradigm occurred. Now the Christians took on the attitude of, "Well, the first century believers thought Christ would return in their life times, but He did not. The second century church thought He would return during their life times for certain, but still we wait. Perhaps it is time we begin to prepare for a much longer stay." They made this paradigm change as if God had not been providing for them during the first two centuries. At this time, the focus of the believers moved from devotion to prayer and fellowship and teaching and growing in relationship with God to developing doctrine and theology and studying how to apply Biblical principles to daily life and jobs. The focus was no longer first on God’s "kingdom and his righteousness" but on how to practically live our lives in this world. The focus was marrying and giving in marriage, getting jobs and making a living, providing for family and protecting lifestyle. Today, much more of the focus is finding how to overcome stress and worry, to be joyful, to find time for God in the midst of our busy lives (all problems created by our lifestyle), but still the focus is on our lives and finding a place for God within them, not on God.

Often today, we only attempt to practically apply Matthew 6 to our lives while completely ignoring what Jesus Christ was actually saying in it. We try to stop worrying about whether we will be fed professing to believe God will provide a job to feed us. We try to stop worrying about our clothes professing to believe God will provide a good enough job for us to afford them. We try to stop worrying about a vehicle to drive or a house to live in professing to believe God will provide that loan we think we need. Jesus was speaking of something deeper than this lack of worry. He was attempting to move our focus away from those things which we think are so important, but truly are trivial. (We think our needs are the most important things in our lives to be fulfilled. God thinks our needs are simply those things he will automatically give us.) Jesus was attempting to shift our eyes from those things Satan was able to fix them on (i.e. ourselves, our situations, our survival, etc.) and fix them on what we were initially intended to be focused upon, God’s Kingdom. Jesus is speaking of a change in our world view.

I am a husband and hopefully one day will be a father. I do understand the tension and stress which comes from concern over providing for a family. I often wonder about what kind of job, or college degree, I should pursue, or even if I should. The LORD is leading me into a ministry which is rather unorthodox and I struggle with how I may provide for my family. The answer I receive from Him and his word is "You are not your family’s provider, I am." Somehow we have gotten the mistaken idea the man, or even today, the woman, of the house is the provider, or "bread-winner" when in actuality Jesus was trying to remind us God is the "bread-maker."

"So," you may ask, "in practical terms, what does this mean for our lives?" In Matthew 6 Christ tells us to devote ourselves to God and his righteousness. We have set ourselves up in a busy lifestyle running from thing to thing, event to event, place to place and trying to find time to fit God in and not get stressed out. Jesus said, echoing Solomon in Ecclesiastes, this is all meaningless. Practically speaking He says "Stop! Slow down, none of those things are even remotely as important as you have thought. All that matters is to ‘fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.’" (Ecclesiastes 12:13) We need to reshift our paradigm. The church needs to redirect its attention from how Christianity affects our lives to how we are reborn through Christ.

Jesus warned us in Luke 21 not to become weighed down with this life, but "when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8) We need to take heed the story of the great banquet so we do not fail to participate in the wedding feast of the Lamb because we were too busy with our own "lives." Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:14) Are you certain you have found it? Are you certain you will find it? "LORD help me with my unbelief!!!"

3 comments:

Master Dranzer said...

David, I found this message VERY inspiring to me. I have been stuggling with some of my non-Christian friends not accepting me and I sometimes doubt God. Now I relise that God really cares and I need Him to help me with my unbelief! Thank-you for all the inspiration you've given me. I can now go forward in my Christian walk.Thanks!
Meghan

MP3 Addict said...

Amen

Bob E. said...

Thinking about the same things. I refuse to be caught with my wicks not trimmed and out of oil. Prayers that begin and end with things we want instead of praise and worship..

The questions have changed that society asks about God.. They used to be "What do I need to do to be right in God's eyes?" now the question is What do I need to do to feel good?

We have almost become too busy to breathe in the Spirit of God and let it refresh us.. case in point "One Minute Devotionals".. It's almost a contridiction in terms.. How can you truly say you are devoted if you only give one minute?