Monday, February 06, 2006

Things Undone, Hobbies, Rest and A Successful Christian Life

Stumbling into the Month of No More Holidays, there's:
book pile
Reading Not Completed
Teddy Bears Unsewn

Egads! Christmas Pressies Unopened

Gula Melaka
Gula Melaka Unexperimented

Paintings Not Completed

Then there's prepping for multiple bible studies, meeting people who need to talk, CLOBS-LOBS, ministry planning, prayer groups, visiting and encouraging, service, ministry training, special evangelistic events...

What is the place of hobbies and rest in the life of a Christian?
Are we to fill time not spent at school or work with Bible studies and ministries? Do hobbies and times of rest constitute a sinful, foolish, ungrateful stewardship of our lives and gifts? Is the doing of daily chores a waste of precious hours and energy, or as one wag (you know who you are) put it,"Why should I clear my desk when the world is in a mess?"?

And first, what does it mean to live a successful Christian life?

A Successful Christian Life
All Christians want to live a successful Christian life. But what does it mean to succeed?

Success is usually found in measuring up to, or even exceeding, certain standards. In our Christian lives, whose standard do we measure up to?

We are called to serve our brothers and sisters within the church family, and amongst them there are surely varying standards of success. Some might expect us to be fully prepared for Bible studies, or to lend a listening hear to their problems, or to help out whenever a call goes out for assistance, or to donate money to missionary work, or even to remember their birthdays as an indication of love of their persons.

We cannot escape the often differing and competing expectations and demands of others. It is part and parcel of being within any human community (as the oft-told moral of The Man, the Boy and The Donkey suggests). However, if we attempt to meet everybody's expectations and demands, we will undoubtedly go down in flames.

The successful Christian life however, is not determined by a popularity poll of how many people we have pleased and pampered in our service. Neither are we participants in a talent contest where the judges (aka the people we are to serve) sit on the sidelines waiting to lift up the score cards and make witty biting criticisms of our performances. Those things make idols of our brothers and sisters and worldly achievement.

The successful Christian life is predicated on God's standard of success, that is: faithfulness.

All Christians want to be faithful; faithful to God, faithful to God's word, and to serve God faithfully. Hardly a believer would set out happily intending not to persevere in the faith at all, thankyouverymuchforasking, for that would make a mockery of his stated belief.

Why do we serve faithfully?
Let us begin at the very beginning (and where we still continue): justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone.

Despite our rebellion against God and the judgement and punishment that we have rightly wrought upon ourselves, we are now pardoned, washed clean, declared not guilty and free to go through the simple wholehearted acceptance that Jesus' death on the cross did indeed pay for the horrible fruits of our insurgent attempts to usurp the Lord of the Universe. Because the penalty of our sin has been paid for, not only are we forgiven, we are actually welcomed into the very presence of the holy God, now and for all eternity!

And it is God himself in his grace who showed us further undeserved favour by drawing us irresistibly to the point where we realised the foolishness and pretension of our attempted self-righteousness and self-salvation through our own good works or morals, and turned to rely solely on Jesus to rescue us.

Having been shown this unconditional love and grace, we are spurred to faithful service:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
How do we serve faithfully?
As each has received a gift, we are to use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace (1 Peter 4:10), in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ (v11). The outworking of love for God and love for neighbour.

Faithful service means serving God not men, while serving men. Every human being wants to be accepted and valued. And we sinfully look to others around us for this acceptance and value. But how can we forget that every Christian is already valued by the person whose opinion matters most: God – the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, the Lord of All, the One of whom there is no one greater? Justification by faith means for us and for our faithful service that our self-worth and esteem are not dependent on our performance or our achievements in ministry.

So in our service, we are not to bother about others assessing us by our performance or worry about boosting our approval ratings. Content in the knowledge that we are already infinitely loved and treasured, we can be secure in being faithful in our responsibilities, no matter the displeasure of others. Satisfied in deriving our praise and energy from Christ, we are kept from seeking our worth in the fickle unstable sands of human applause.

And what quantity of our lives is to be taken up with the service of others?
The festively-named British evangelist, Christmas Evans, declared,"I'd rather burn out than rust out in the service of the Lord." And many other earnest Christians have this same pithy motto tattooed on our hearts.

Replied non-evangelist, non-pithy-motto-giver, James Berkeley:
I admire the bravado. It sounds dedicated, bold and stirring. However, when I view the burn-outs and the almost burn-outs…the glory fails to reach me. I see pain and waste and unfinished service. Is there not a third alternative to either burning out or rusting out? In Acts 20:24, Paul stated,"I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me". Herein lies the model I choose to follow. I want neither to burn out nor rust out. I want to finish the race.
Faithful service based on rightful dependence on God alone, aiming to please him alone, not based on the expectations of others, or a desire to save the world, or a need to be noticed and appreciated, in fact enables us to draw on God-given resources to help us in further faithful service.

And the God-ordained resources to fuel us up for more faithful service is, as ironic as it seems to the world's thinking, rest.

Lots of well-meaning Christians feel terribly guilty about saying "no" to taking on more responsibilities in our local churches or ministries, and saying "yes" to holidays and breaktimes.

But rest is a biblical command enjoined by God since the beginning of his progressive revelation to his people en masse (Exodus 20:8-11). Sabbaths, as they were called, were enforced times of rest by God's people to cease working, gather with family and friends and thank and worship God.

And more than that, Sabbaths were to teach the people, in a very real way to realise that their very existence and sustenance was not dependent on their own work, but on the work of God who alone created them and maintained and preserved the whole world. All sorts of sabbaths (eg Exodus 23:10-12) were to remind them to trust wholly in God for life, for example:
after the people came out of Egypt and were in the desert, God provided enough bread and quail afresh for them each day. They were not to keep any overnight for the next day, but trust that God would be true to his word that there would be food the day after. This continued for 6 days a week, and on the 7th day they were to rest for God would have given them enough for 2 days, the day before (Exodus 16).
The Sabbath was a sign between God and his people that it was the LORD (and not the people themselves) who first took the initiative and did the work of sanctifying the people, making them holy. Therefore, so important was the Sabbath that people who worked on it were to be put to death (Exodus 31:15, 35:2)!

Rest is God-commanded for it is how we were built to be refreshed for living a successful Christian life, for faithful work during the rest of the days. And rest is also how we show our dependence on God. For it is not us who can save people (in fact, we could not even save ourselves), but God. So we must trust that God will do his work through our faithful service on the other 6 days and rest on the 7th. And we are prevented from the opposite error of slothfulness and laziness by our faith in God which spurs us on to faithfulness.

Lemon-cheese Kitkat, ACM, John the Baptist and Pastor-teachers


At February 07, 2006 3:52 pm , Anonymous ~wb said...

I like that! I can say to my boss "sorry I can't work today or else I will be executed"!

At February 08, 2006 12:19 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's interesting: fulltime ministers are to take a day off every week, but working people do ministry on their days off. does that mean that working people are working 7 days a week?

At February 13, 2006 3:53 pm , Anonymous encouraged said...

encouraging post! Andrew Cameron also wrot a good article on his church planting on the Central Coast.


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