Saturday, November 7, 2009

Is this all there is?

Every day I get up early to have prayer time. Some days it is very difficult to get up. Some days it is almost impossible. Some days my job invades my prayer time and, eventually, gradually it totally absorbs me – drawing me subtly from my quiet time to begin the day. I hate it when my day starts out this way.

Immediately after prayer time, my day begins. Usually, my day is full of hurry, noise, deadlines, meetings, disagreements, successes, failures, decisions, worry, and just plain chaos. Always, there is more to do than there is time to do it. Needless to say, I don’t often entertain thoughts of God during all of this. It just does not seem like God fits in all of that. It certainly does not feel like He matters. There seems to be a great disconnect between the work-day and the holy-day.

Cognitively, it makes sense to me that there is no reason that I can’t be just as spiritual while I’m at work as I am on Sunday morning or during my quiet time. But, experientially, the more I try to affirm that notion, the less spiritual my Sunday mornings and quiet times become, rather than my work attitudes becoming more spiritual. Can the transcendent not invade the common and transform it? Does the profane (common) have to weigh-down (cloud) the transcendent? Can’t my desk and keyboard be ‘on fire’ and ‘not consumed’ as holy ground? Perhaps the problem is that I don’t take off my shoes (i.e. recognize that I’m on holy ground)?

Recently I started a weekly discipleship time with a man in our church whom I’ve learned to respect. We meet each Monday evening immediately after work. The contrast between “work” and “faith” is never as apparent as it is at 4:00PM on Monday when I’m driving to my friend’s office. I try to pray while driving. I ask God to invade our time together, quiet my heart, and focus our attention on Him. Alas, even prayer is hard right after leaving work.

As Jim and I talk, pray, and share – slowly the transcendent takes over. The worries of the day melt away and priorities are again balanced. By the time I leave Jim’s office, I am transformed, the day is transformed, and I am renewed. Oh, that I could maintain that perspective, that spirituality, and that balance throughout the work day.

Every day I am confronted with the profane (i.e. common.) Life seems to contradict spirituality. The things I ‘have to do’ to live seem at odds with my faith – not like gross sin is at odds with my faith, but more like faith is irrelevant in the hustle and bustle of the ‘everyday’. There is a real tension between flesh and spirit.

When Pam and I got married, we adopted a mission statement for our family:

To recognize, experience, appreciate, and demonstrate in everyday living that He matters. (acrostic: R.E.A.D.)

We define “matters” in three ways (S.R.C.):

- substance

- relevance

- consequences

With that said, I have to admit that it usually seems more like He does not matter. (A side note: If He matters because ‘we’ determine it so, does that not make us ‘god?’ It seems that God should ‘matter’ regardless of our declaration.)

I wish I could say that we have it all figured out. There are days that I wonder if I even have a clue.

So is this all there is? Am I destined to do battle every day as faith and life collide? Is it possible to have a close walk with Christ while working, living, loving, and doing the everyday? What does the ‘abundant life’ look like anyway? What answers does Christianity provide when we are confronted with the mundane, the boring, the pressure cooker of life, or the chaotic?

I can remember as a child reading the stories of ancient Israel. It seemed so obvious to me that they would (or should) “remember the LORD.” How could they fall away? How could they get caught up in the pagan lifestyle which surrounded them? Wasn’t it apparent to them that their blessings were from God? How could they not follow God when they shared such a rich heritage? The stories of how God had supernaturally delivered them from bondage, how He had caused them to defeat their enemies who had superior numbers and armaments, and the rich way God had communicated himself to them surely would have been more than enough to keep their attention and to make them shun the common. Surely it was easy for them to remain faithful? Not!

I suspect that they, too, had a problem with “the common” profaning “the holy.” How they should have behaved is only obvious to us as we review their heritage. Their daily lives were just like ours … full of distractions, noise, worry, success, failures, meetings, laughter, tears, and “stuff.” When we review our heritage, it is obvious (just like it is as we review Israel’s heritage) how we/they should have behaved.

Just like Israel did, I easily fall into a pattern of living where it seems less and less likely that God matters. And by living that way, we make it so and miss God and His Glory.

Mt. 15:6 b

Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition

Tradition (def): the way we get used to living; the norms and customs of our society.

Jesus said that we, by the way we accustom ourselves to living, can experience a life where God does not matter. That is exactly what happened to Israel. It is exactly what has happened and is happening to me. If I live as if God does not matter; should I be surprised if I have a life where God does not matter?

The other day, while they were experiencing a thunderstorm, I was on the telephone with my grandchildren. Each in turn shared their fear of the wind, thunder, and warnings of tornadoes that surrounded them that evening. The sound of the rain was noisily coming through the receiver as we tried to talk; they could converse about nothing else. Yet, rather than praying with them, or assuring them based on a faith response, all I did was make small talk and lamely reassure them that they would be okay. I acted as if God did not matter at that moment, and guess what? My grandchildren now have another life experience/lesson where they endured a life moment without the help of the living God. By my way of living, they now are (as I am) closer to having a God that does not matter.

In the Mt. 15.6, partially quoted above, there are two lessons: 1. the plain/obvious lesson, and 2. the hidden nugget or implied lesson:

1. Jesus scolds the Jewish leadership for generally putting their teaching and tradition above God’s commands, and specifically for making a distinction between personal relationships and their corresponding duties and our relationship to God. (I wonder if the general tenor of the challenged teaching is not really, “I’ve got more important things to do, I can’t take care of you or this right now.”)

2. When God’s word is effectual in my life, I will make no distinction between personal/everyday obligations and my responsibility to God.

If God does not have an affect in my “everyday,” He will not have any affect in my “any day” either. By acting as if there is a difference between how I live everyday and how I live on Sunday, I end up with a God that does not matter any day - even Sunday.

That is exactly my problem: I expect to have a God that matters all the time; but at work, He seems so remote, so unnecessary, and so irrelevant. I have made a distinction in and by my life between Sunday and Monday and have rendered God powerless in my life. And then I pray and ask God, “Why am I not closer to you? Why do you seem so distant?”

So I guess the burden here is on me. Will I live like He matters or will I experience a life where God is seen as powerless?

2 Tim 3.5: Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof…

2 Tim 3.7: Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

And today, at work – how will I behave?

Is this all there is?

Perhaps, it is, if that is all I recognize and respond to.

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