I am tired.
My soul and psyche drained of life by the life that surrounds me. Parasitic entities designed for market and consumption control that which should never have been given over. At 29 years of age one should not feel so confused and cynical. I was always under the impression that a college degree came in the shiny wrappings of clarity and purpose, and that cynicism was simply the gift of age.
I can’t be the only one out there that feels lost in the midst of a society driven by money, success, and fame. Everyone fighting for their place, purpose, and mark in this world. “We are the catalyst of change! Become a better you! Change the world in three easy steps!” We’ve been fed some kind of line since the moment we were born. We are as royalty and should be treated as such. Live out your dream.
Do great things for God.
What has happened? Where did we go? How do we change? In our efforts to make our children and ourselves someone great have we in fact planted a seed of disappointment and hopelessness to those of us who may never see that greatness? Are we fostering a generation of people who have lost the ability to just live?
I think we have.
I think this influence, this mindset, while fairly obvious in the secular, pop culture world of our day has, in subtlety, begun to seep into our churches and has ultimately impacted our personal and spiritual intimacy with God.
I candidly admit that I am one of the restless.
I like to write, therefore in my mind I have often set forth to become a prolific and successful writer. I love to sing so of course nothing less than a professional, well paid singing career will do. I also love stage acting therefore I must be destined to move to NYC and become the next Broadway star. I love travelling, I love people, and I love sharing the gospel through words and service which means God must have great plans for me to be an overseas missionary. I’m supposed to change the world.
Greatness. Has this lovechild, born from the god of self, been clothed in priestly robes and given a seat upon a throne in our own sanctuaries?
The more I think about it the more I am convinced it has. I fear that we have made our faith an object of glamor, and our service and personal walk with God an object of fame. All of this under the guise of living out loud and doing great things for God.
Whatever happened to just living for God? Wait, let’s pull that back even further and ask the question “Whatever happened to just living?”.
Who would have ever imagined that the lives of Amish communities and fishermen, oil riggers and pageant moms, would ever be considered lives of glamor and fame. Before the era of reality television who ever cared? Yet here we are, in the year 2013, a culture of “greatness”. Its not enough now to just live quiet lives of normalcy.
I love listening to my mom tell stories from her youth. A child of the 60’s and 70’s. A product of a small, close knit town in Indiana she often recounts her memories of neighborhood block parties, summer romances, and youth camp in Colorado. The town was a community and churches were family. This was a time when people, families, and children just lived. It wasn’t until the 80’s and 90’s, with the introduction of MTV and Nintendo that we began to really see a shift in corporate social behavior. Our kids began spending more time indoors and the worship of fantasy and celebrity really began to settle in as norm among youth.
I think we have reached a time when the things that stream out of popular culture should no longer surprise us or take us off guard. Yet more pressing and more concerning is the fact that the impact and influence of our culture has permeated the walls of some of our churches. This intrusion has now secularized the holiness of worship and has complicated the simplicity of our faith and how we live it out on a daily basis.
Sometimes I feel as though I am drowning in a sea of ambition and service without a real sense of power and joy. This leads me to ask the question, has our service and role in the Church lost its joy and authenticity? Has it become simply an exercise in survival? Are our over-spiritualized Facebook statuses and tweets merely a lifeline that we cling to in order to feel assured of what we fear we might be missing out on?
Or worse, what we fear we might be losing.
While I cannot speak for the spiritual walk of others I can say that I have found these questions to be answered in my own life with a resounding yes. Still I do believe that God gives his people a measure of discernment when it comes to the Church. I will say that I sense, not just in others but also in my own life, that something is off. And like I said earlier, I fear that it has to do with the influence and impact that our culture has had on the life and pursuits inside the walls of the church.
In Jerusalem there is a church called The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church is purportedly the site of the resurrection of Jesus. I remember, during one of my trips to Israel, visiting this church simply for its historicity. From the moment I walked in I remember every one of my senses being assaulted by the sounds, sights and smells that emanated from this relatively small sanctuary. There were droves of people there, many of which were church officials performing ritualistic prayers and chants. There were candles and incense and quite simply more stimulation going on than one person can mentally or emotionally handle. I left about as quickly as I arrived and never even made it to the part of the church that housed the rock that supposedly experienced the resurrection of Jesus.
It grieves me to admit that this is often how I feel entering the doors of our own churches. Overwhelmed by stimulation and confusion, I struggle to find a place and a source of unencumbered and uncomplicated joy and purpose. In short, I feel that I have lost sight of God’s face and the purity of His essence in the midst of all that the modern Church calls worship. Now let me be clear. I am not saying that those who find a way to participate in what we consider “great impact” are in any way wrong or misguided. On the contrary I find it exciting and God glorifying when He chooses to use us in ways that have maximum impact on our church and culture. But at the same time, it is easy to forget that often things done in earnest and passion can also be made an object of idolatry in our lives. When what we do and how we do it becomes the focus of our walk and ministry then I think we can safely say that our focus off.
In first Thessalonians 4 Paul instructs us in how we ought to walk and please God that we will “excel still more.” (v.1) Paul uses this phrase “to excel still more” again in verse 10 leading up to verse 11 which says, “…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend your own business and work with your hands just as we commanded you.”
Quiet lives. Attending our own business. Working with our hands. This is what Paul refers to as excelling. For me I find this incredibly encouraging! For me this means that I may not be not be missing out on some great plan that God has for me simply by working a nine to five job with the occasional extra-curricular.
When was the last time you had coffee with your next door neighbor? Maybe your child’s best friend has a troubled home and simply needs a place to come and unwind and escape for a few hours. Or perhaps you’ve been noticing that a coworker has been keeping to themselves a lot lately. Have you asked them to go to lunch with you?
I think this is the part of our Christian walk that we have set aside to make room for our personal aspirations of “greatness” in the Church. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that there are greater works and there are lesser works. I fear that part of the reason we continue to see a decline within the present generations in respect to Church is because we have forgotten how to simply be a community and have made our ambitions and our aspirations of greatness an object of worship.
Fellow believers, we must evaluate our hearts! We must strip away the noise in order to truly see and experience God’s presence and power again. We must get back to His Word and let it consume and transform us. Our efforts and ministry must flow not from our desires to do great things for God but from his desires to do his work in and through us. For some that may look like the foreign mission field. But for others it’s the unseen acts of listening to, caring for, and having coffee with a co-worker. Those acts we would simply call living while God sees them as living for him. We need to let go of our ideas and pursuits of greatness and let God work in us the way he always has, in our life and relationships. Only then will we ever see how great his Glory can truly be!