Worth It

What you do with your time is what you do with your life.  Is your life worth what consumes your time?

J.R.R. Tolkien tells a story about writing a story.  He feared he would die before completing “Lord of the Rings” which he had been crafting for decades.  He expressed his feelings in “Leaf by Niggle.”  Niggle was a painter, and imagined a grand forest of trees.  He started painting that vision but obsessed over the details of individual leaves and progress was slow.  One day, he left on a one-way trip to a new country and saw in person that grand forest, real and vibrant.  All that was left of his painting back home was a single leaf, placed in a museum.

Most of us want to be successful, and to enjoy and improve the world around us.  In fact, we derive so much satisfaction from doing something well, accomplishment may be vital for our well-being.  The problem is that success can seem just beyond reach, making drudgery of what you do every day.  If you work only for wages, serve just for recognition, or seek simply a life of leisure, then you devise your own drudgery.  Life is  more than money, fame, or pleasure.  The Bible says God created men and women in His own image (Gen. 1:27).  Since He loves, creates, and works, so do we.  Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working” (John 5:17).

What’s amazing is that He invites us into that work.  Note, that invitation does not apply only to “ministry,” like preaching, teaching, and witnessing.  It says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Col. 3:23-24).  He is not just an imaginary boss.  He actually orchestrates your daily assignments.  John Calvin wrote, “No sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when every person applies diligently to his or her own calling.”  The words vocation and calling share a Latin root.  So your job, your work, is God’s calling to join Him, even if your part seems irrelevant, inconsequential, or incomplete.  Do that, and you are already successful.

Niggle’s unfinished, small work pointed to a truth larger than himself.  In “Every Good Endeavor” Tim Keller writes, “If the God of the Bible exists, then every good endeavor pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.”  A famous tentmaker said the same, “Your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).

“Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well” (Psa. 139:14).  You may never know on this side how He uses your time to re-create a world that points people toward Him.  But it is wonderful to know that He does, and that makes life worth it.

Burdened Beyond

“God won’t give you more than you can bear,” so they say.  Oh, yes He will.  And that’s a good thing.

That notion comes from a verse that says God “will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able” (1 Cor. 10:13), but that’s about avoiding sin.  To the contrary, Paul said, “We were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of life.”  God gave him more than he could bear, and Paul knew why.  “So that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).

How could a good, loving, and all-powerful God allow pain?  The question assumes we know what is good.  If God exists, wouldn’t He know what we cannot?  In the Bible, Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, enslaved in Egypt, unjustly imprisoned, and forgotten.  All bad.  But history tells us those events led him to be prime minister of a world power, rescue an entire nation, and preserve the lineage of the Messiah.  He told those brothers, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).

God’s best for you is to trust Him, so in love He uses life on earth to teach you that.  You can trust that “God causes all things to work together for good” and that “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (Rom. 8:28, 2 Cor. 12:9).  Faith teaches us that misfortune can have meaning.

An acquaintance of mine has lived with heart-wrenching tragedy.  She and her husband lost their first baby.  Last year they lost a grown son.  Her conclusion?  “God is faithful in all His ways and even when we can’t see what His plans and purposes are, we can know that He is working in ways far greater than we can understand.  Life is a matter of choosing to trust when we don’t understand.”  Horatio Spafford also lost children and wrote, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’ ”

Churches were full after 9/11.  Pain pushes us toward God.  C. S. Lewis said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  What is He saying?  “In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

When the world hurls its worst at you, take comfort that God knows and provides the only way to escape: by grace through faith.  When your story has conflict you can play the victim, or be the protagonist that finds strength and hope in God.  If having more than you can bear makes you see that, it is eternally a good thing.

Free Indeed

The U.S. State Department convened a three-day, first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom last month.  Political and religious leaders from over 80 countries attended the gathering in Washington, D.C.

During the event, Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom, announced the release of the Potomac Declaration.  This document notes that 80 percent of the world’s population endures limitations on the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, and declares reasons to promote that right.

It is fitting that America lead such an effort since it’s in our DNA.  The Pilgrims were separatists, harassed by the Church of England, and came to these shores seeking religious freedom.  But more to the point, this freedom is under duress not just then, but now; not just in foreign lands but in America’s court rooms.

Speaking about a Supreme Court ruling, Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, called it a “defacto and legal catalyst for the marginalization of Americans who embrace a biblical worldview.  The moment Biblical truth stands defined as hate speech in our nation, America as we know her will cease to exist.”  That is serious.

In some quarters, sexual freedom trumps religious freedom.  Vince Vitale, Director of the Zacharias Institute, said, “Culture seeks from sex what is found in God: meaning, intimacy, identity, freedom.”  Our post-truth culture wants to be autonomous, liberated from God, and it confuses that for freedom.  Autonomy is an insidious form of captivity whose cellmates are chaos, confusion, and despair.  It is also a pretext to restrict religious freedom.

The 17th C. scientist Blaise Pascal said, “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is.”   I like his optimism!

Jesus said, “The truth will make you free.”  He was talking about something reasonable, worthy, and attractive.  Don’t you wish it were true?  It is!  He is talking about Himself.  “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31-36).  Abdu Murray, author of Saving Truth explains what this means for everyday life.  “Freedom is linked to Truth, and that means that we have the freedom to do what we want, in accordance with what we should, based on what we are, creatures made in God’s image.”

With or without religious freedom, we still offer Jesus to our friends, and to a world deceived into captivity by truthlessness.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter from a Nazi prison wrote, “May God lead us kindly through these times, but above all, may God lead us to Himself.”  Well said.  Only then can you be free indeed.

The Search

We are searching creatures, sometimes due to real need, but often to escape boredom or pain. We may not even know what we are really searching for, or that we’re even searching!

The winter snows in Chicago chased the middle-aged couple to Arizona for kinder weather. On Sunday as they explored Cave Creek, they spotted a charming little church building. On a whim, they joined the worshipers. The minister spoke with simple elegance about obedience to God. The man was so unexpectedly moved that he responded to the altar call and was baptized that day in 1971, 1700 miles from home. You know the man as Paul Harvey, the legendary radio commentator.

Years prior, it was John 3:16 that moved Harvey to place his faith in Christ. But as he explained, “Something was missing. There was a vague emptiness in my life.” That country preacher hit the mark when he called for total submission to God, with the first act of obedience being believer’s baptism. Harvey recounted, “Submission to God. I began to realize how much of me I had been holding back. Could this be the source of my uneasiness? Afterward, I cried like a baby, a kind of release I suppose.”

C. S. Lewis was also caught off guard. His early life was marked with the pain of losing his mother, the coldness of his grieving father, and the ravages of WWI trench warfare. As an Oxford don, he conducted an intellectual search for truth in atheism, idealism, and pantheism. He was 31 when he finally admitted that God exists, but his theism was only an intellectual position. He often engaged his Christian friends J.R.R. Tolkien and Hugo Dyson, like that long talk during a stroll on Addison’s Walk near Magdalen College one fall evening in 1931. A few days later, he realized that he believed the claims of Christ, and that long talk had much to do with it.

Zaccheus was a rich tax collector, apparently corrupt. He climbed a tree to see Jesus passing by. To his surprise, Jesus wanted to visit with him. As a result, Zaccheus was moved to make amends and Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house!”

Paul Harvey was just attending church when Jesus called him to full surrender. C. S. Lewis was just riding in a motorcycle sidecar to the zoo when Jesus became believable. Zaccheus was just a Jericho paparazzi, but Jesus saved him that day. See the pattern? They were seeking something in their own way, and were startled by living Truth writ large.

The Zaccheus story concludes with, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Just like that, you realize yours isn’t the only pursuit, since He was searching for you long before you were searching for Him.