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Not Stressed Out Enough
In the slave cabins of the antebellum South, in the gulags of Russia, and in the house churches of China, believers have kept their priorities straight. Highly stressful situations are like that. Christian history bears out the fact that our faith flourishes under the toughest of circumstances. The early Christians faced the pain of rejection by family and friends, the loss of jobs and homes, and even the danger of imminent death. They quickly learned that the usual priorities in life were not as important as they had assumed. As the Psalmist wrote, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And having Thee, I desire nothing else on earth” (Ps.73:25, KJV).
The believers’ priority is no longer things, but a person: Jesus Christ. Nothing else matters as long as we can love him, be loved by him, and tell and show his love to others. Far from losing focus in the most stressful situations imaginable, we can say with St. Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).
You and I are in an enviable situation as First World Christians in a free country. We have high-speed internet access, a Starbucks on every other corner, safe places to worship, and decent places to work. Like the Puritans, we try to do good and wind up doing well.
Too well, in fact.
Jesus was more worried about his disciples losing focus, not when things were going badly, but when they were going well. Recall the climax of the Parable of the Sower. Jesus issues the gravest warning to those who are “being choked by life's worries, riches, and pleasures" (Luke 8:14). In the midst of “normal” life, there is just enough stressful distraction to cause us to mix up our priorities, but not nearly enough stress to force us to run to God, immerse ourselves in Scripture, cling to fellow believers for dear life, and pray like we’ve never prayed before.
It took the most degrading circumstances before the prodigal son came to his senses and returned home.
Are we then to hope for persecution and privation in order to gain a laser-like focus on what matters to God? Fortunately, we do not have to, if we learn to see the numbing danger in the ordinary circumstances of life. We need to gain God’s perspective on the perils of everything from cable television to VISA cards to pursuing the American Dream instead of the Kingdom of God.
If we see that our work is a high calling, we will realize the dangers of careerism and conformity to the ways of this world. If we see that our devotion to Christ must be lived out in our daily work, we won’t relegate Him to being the God of Sunday morning and Wednesday nights. And if we realize that we are God’s plan for doing His will in the world, we will seek God’s priorities for the high calling of our daily work.
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