Monday, April 13, 2009

Don’t Miss Life by “Passing Go and Collecting $200”

There are shortcuts to everything in this 21st Century life. Generation Y, for instance, are renowned as being the ‘instant generation.’ Everything is available immediately, or should be... apparently.

There’s the instant car and digital television, the instant relationship, then the instant career with its instant promotion, and we mustn’t forget the instant family. And it’s not just the young that want it all now. We’re all caught in this cycle. All things can be acquired with the minimum of fuss these days it seems.

Not so much. Some things cannot be shortcut. Let’s discuss the journey toward holiness:

“Some even believe that by such imitation[1] they have really become saints and prophets, and are unable to acknowledge that they are still children and face the painful fact that they must start at the beginning and go through the middle.”[2]

This above is a critical gem of truth for anyone wondering why their walk with God (and any other ‘walk’ for that matter) isn’t working.

The contemporary Christian life is a lot like Monopoly--the Parker Brother’s game. People will read their Bibles and pray through the motions but otherwise live as everyone else does i.e. not set apart, and wonder why their Christian actions don’t make any real difference. We routinely want to ‘pass go and collect our $200,’ skipping the real journey. We don’t want to go through the middle. We don’t want to suffer the necessary indignities often required of the authentic Christian life, (and then still, we don’t reap the blessings).

Yet, this runs counter to human experience and common sense. Andrew Carnegie was famous for saying, “Anything in life worth having is worth working for.” Life was never meant to be easy, especially for those wanting to shortcut it.

Now we turn on dime...

Life is actually easy for those who embrace the hard thing. Though at times it gets tough, by and large, these have a knack for resiliently paying now and living later, and not the reverse.

“His [i.e. Jesus’] commands are not burdensome” –1 John 5:3 (NIV). The gospel message was never meant to be perceived as that hard to live that it lent itself to idealism, though many millions just simply cannot grasp the message to the Sermon on the Mount, let alone attempt to live it.

Yet, Carl Jung is quoted in M. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”[3] In other words, we go out of our way to avoid dealing with the real issues of life because they’re often self-perceived as being too hard for us. But we’re confounded in our avoidance by the fact that we, all too often, develop maladaptive methods, treatments and scripts in skirting the issues we were meant to deal with from the beginning. Pass go and collect $200. We want to escape the middle... the necessary and arduous process. We want to circumvent design. We want to risk our inherent, designed happiness and fulfilment because we think, to our foolishness, that we can achieve it with less than the required effort.

“We intend [to do] what is right, but we avoid the life that would make it reality.”[4] We want something but we’re not prepared to make the sacrifices required to make that something a true, verifiable and cogent reality. We are weak-willed when we live like this, and we know it.

Preparation is everything. “A successful performance at a moment of crisis rests largely and essentially upon the depths of a self wisely and rigorously prepared in the totality of its being--mind and body.”[5] (Italics added.) Actor Denzel Washington has said, “Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.” In other words, there’s no such thing as luck--we’re in the right place at the right time because we have prepared for the opportunity and are able to embrace it when it comes. Looking back, we planned and saw ahead; we then had the courage of our convictions.

The opportunities of life await, and they occur, and they wait for no person. When we’re prepared it’s great; when we’re not it causes us to panic as if the world were coming to an end in that moment.

Why do we want to start and end at the end, skipping the tough but necessary bits? We ask, ‘What will the gospel do for me?’, yet we only realise afterwards that the more pertinent question was, ‘How could I have truly lived without it?’

True Christlikeness “comes at a point where it is hard not to respond as [Jesus] would.”[6] (Italics added.) It’s an inside job based on a full, comprehensive, ‘professional’ commitment toward discipleship.

A life of total commitment to Jesus is not about living worldly ninety percent of the time and expecting to change over in the moment to a different modus operandi, but it’s about living the life where solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, service and celebration--the disciplines of the spiritual life--are key tenets and well practiced regimes.

The authentic Christian life is like the arm I drape around my wife in the church services we attend together. It holds her lightly, not clingingly. There’s balance in the hold. When I’m not thinking I hold her too tightly, and she’s not loved properly. Like the loving and thoughtful arm, the yoke of Jesus is light and not burdensome. If we truly embrace the whole Jesus life we too will see this.

The most important principle is this:

It is hard to live the authentic ‘Sermon on the Mount’ Christian life, but it is harder to live as the world would have us live--the default drive. The latter life involves more pain, all things considered, than the authentic Christian life--much more. In this way, the choice is made for us. The hard choice becomes comparatively easy.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] The preceding part of the quote featured reads: “There are many people I know who possess a vision of [personal] evolution yet seem to lack the will for it. They want, and believe it is possible, to skip over the discipline, to find an easy way shortcut to sainthood. Often they attempt to attain it by simply imitating the superficialities of saints, retiring to the desert or taking up carpentry...”
[2] M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), p. 77. Cited in Willard (below) on page 7.
[3] Peck, Ibid, p. 17. Cited in Willard (below) on page 7.
[4] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York, USA; HarperCollins, 1988), p. 6.
[5] Willard, Ibid, p. 4.
[6] Willard, Ibid, p. 8.

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