I’ve been reading a lot lately…a dangerous endeavor for sure. It’s been messing with me. Margaret Feinberg’s Wonderstruck and Scouting the Divine challenged me to look for God in the details of life. God’s divine intervention and handiwork are all around me if only I would open my eyes and become sensitive to it. Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess has me questioning everything from what I eat to what I wear, what I watch to what I spend, and even where I spend it. I’m telling you, MESSIN’ WITH ME!
But isn’t that what reading and writing are supposed to do? Shouldn’t my current way of thinking and acting be challenged as I gain new insights and knowledge? How else will I grow more like Christ? As I study God’s Word (and read other authors who have studied God’s Word), my heart should soften, my mind transform, and my behavior become more like Christ’s. If it doesn’t, what’s the point?
Either I believe that what Jesus taught, and what he modeled, is really how he expects me to live or I don’t. Either I believe God’s Word is true or I don’t. Either I learn from the Israelites’ mistakes, heed God’s warnings and stay faithful or I suffer the consequences. Either I believe God is faithful to those who put their trust in Him (Daniel, Gideon, Elijah, and even Jesus) or I don’t. Either I believe God cares about the poor, the orphan, and the widow and calls me to do the same, or I turn away. Either I take “love your neighbor” seriously, or I don’t. Either I forgive others or I harbor bitterness and resentment. Either I step out in faith and risk looking a fool, or I stay in the boat, which might make sense with earthly eyes, but doesn’t allow me to walk on water.
Now those are nice things to say and easy things to think. Here’s the catch: if I actually believe they are true, then my behavior has to reflect that. I have to live life differently. And that is frightening. What if I ACTUALLY DO what the Bible says I should do? What if God really wants me to go through my closet and give away everything I don’t need – not the “American” definition of need but “third world country” definition of need? Because let’s be honest, I don’t NEED six coats (and sadly that was just off the top of my head). And don’t even talk to me about or think about touching my shoe collection! (Read addiction.) What if God wants me to slow down instead of speed up? What if God wants me to turn off the television, or give it up completely? (GASP – as long as I can have it back before football season and fall sweeps!) What if God wants to use my natural tendency to compare as a way of making sure others have as much as I do instead of making sure I have more? What if?
And why does this all feel so scary, so crazy, and so threatening? I think it is because my identity is wrapped up in the very things God is asking me to let go of and sacrifice for Him. Let’s be honest, I’m a lot more like the rich young man who asked Jesus what he must do to follow Him and then walked away dejected when Jesus said, “Give all of your possessions to the poor” than I’d like to admit. It is comfortable and safe to have a lot of stuff. It is easy to ignore the “have nots” and forget that I’m one of the “haves”. Accumulation feels so good and denying myself doesn’t seem very appealing at all! It is nice to fit in and all the stuff and all the busyness help me create an identity, albeit a false and shaky one. You see, the food we eat, the entertainment we watch, the money we spend, the conveniences of life, the stress and busyness we participate in have all become idols. We worship and define ourselves by these things.
On the other hand, choosing to live how Jesus lived makes me stand out – and not necessarily in a good way! I might get criticized for making decisions that don’t make sense to the world, but store up treasures in Heaven. And then Jesus comes along and says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)” Jesus commands people who love him to love their enemies and to give to any one who asks (Luke 6). Anyone!? Really? Even the annoying neighbors upstairs?
So Jesus, can’t I give to the poor and still have my vast shoe collection and keep my brand new genuine leather jacket? I don’t know the answer to that. (Actually I’m afraid I might and just don’t want to acknowledge the truth about my choices.) Jesus, can’t I just love the homeless from a distance, do I really have to actually touch them? Jesus, can’t I eat my $10.00 take out in peace, do I really have to consider those going hungry right now? I know, I’ll donate to the food pantry, that’s good enough right God? Jesus was pretty clear when He said, “That which you do unto the least of these, you do unto me (Matthew 25:40).” He’s onto all of the ways I don’t follow His lead. I’m certain it was with grief, frustration, and a mix of other emotions that He said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say (Luke 6:46)?” I’m afraid that I don’t often do what Jesus said I am to do.
I don’t know what all this means for my lifestyle and I certainly don’t know what it means for yours! I know I’m embarrassed to admit how much anxiety I feel from the thought of shutting off my cable. I’m ashamed to admit how many flips my stomach does at the thought of thinning out my shoe collection (obsession). I’m overwhelmed at the thought of actually getting close enough to care about “the least of these.” But I know what God commanded and I know it is worth wrestling with. I know that I want my identity to be found in Christ and not in the clothes I wear or the activities on my calendar. I know I want my treasures in Heaven and not in the deep recesses of the drawers and closets in my apartment. And how else will I grow if Jesus doesn’t MESS with me once in a while?