[This is the second of a series of three articles from 2005 about discipleship. The final one will be posted in a fortnight’s time]
Each time we travel to an affluent Western country, I see at least five ‘mirages’ shimmering away in our churches and among believers, each choking out the words of Jesus. Five mirages which distract us and stop us from fulfilling the mission Jesus has set before us in this life (to share his love and liberation with all the world, and especially with the poorest and those who are suffering. (For the sake of tidiness, they all start with ‘m’!)
1. Materialism – This is the first and most obvious mirage, which is probably why Jesus spent so much time speaking against it. As mentioned above, it is the goal of the marketing conmen to create in us an artificial sense of need, and eventually (they hope) an insatiable greed – for more and more of whatever they’re selling. God forbid that we should ever be content with what we have! (1Timothy 6:6-10). So one of the issues here is: who are we letting wash our brain? and from where are our we drawing our values? I read recently that the average Christian spends seven times as many hours per week watching TV as they do reading scripture, praying or worshipping …and what’s the central message in those glossy magazines on our coffee table…?
2. Marriage – what?!? OK, this is what I mean. When I first became a follower of Jesus (during my second year at University), many of my peers had also just come to faith, and were so full of passion and determination to change the world (and perhaps go into world missions) that we thought fulfilling the Great Commission was just around the corner! Man, we were building up this great, passionate army that was really going to turn things upside down! But then the next thing that happened in their lives was that they went and fell in luuurvvve, and then got married. No problem with that, in fact that would have been beautiful – if it had been to someone who shared their vision of living radically for Christ. But often it wasn’t. And sometimes it wasn’t even someone who wanted to follow Jesus at all. So those guys all started to drop out of the race. Like Paul and Jesus, I reckon it’s better to remain single than marry someone who doesn’t share our passion for Jesus and his mission in the world. I mean, why settle for second best?
3. Mortgage. After the marriage usually comes the mortgage: our own little piece of the NZ/Australian/American/Western dream. Nothing wrong with that…except where its so expensive both partners now have to work huge hours for years and years to pay off a figure which, because of interest rates, is way more than the actual value of the house. A waste of God’s money really. And a real worry if we become so emotionally attached to it that we couldn’t bear to leave it for somewhere less beautiful. Hello? Did anyone say the word ‘idol’?
4. Minors (or maybe that should be midgets? Yes, I’m trying to think of an ‘m’ word for children). Now once more, there’s nothing wrong with having kids (why, I even have a couple of my own). But when having them is more important to us than God’s call on our lives, or his mission in the world, something is seriously out of wack. Again, it’s that little problem that the Bible refers to as ‘idolatry’- an idol is anything that takes the place of God in our lives. You don’t believe me? Check out Luke 15:25-27.
I have met people in the west whose lives revolve so totally around their kids that there is hardly any room for anyone else, let alone the poor and the lost. I even know people who buy certain houses in certain suburbs so their kids can one day go to certain ‘good schools’. And this is even before the kids are born! Their lives are so mapped out and locked up, the Holy Spirit hasn’t got a hope of moving them out into mission across town, let alone across the globe!
5. Middleclass and Mediocre – which is what we become once we’ve given our lives over to chasing these mirages. Jesus doesn’t want us to live mediocre lives, but extraordinary lives. Not extraordinary in terms of great achievements, but in terms of our passion, our compassion, and our love. Mother Teresa once said “I don’t set out to do great things, but small things with a great deal of love”. And that’s when miracles start occurring.
Personally, I don’t want to grow old and one day look back on my life with regret that I didn’t fulfil the call of Jesus on my life. I don’t want to be standing before Jesus one day, desperately trying to explain why I buried my life in the ground instead of multiplying it . No, I want to live passionately, adventurously, riskily! I am convinced, that with the right sense of perspective, these ‘mirages’ needn’t be stumbling blocks. They can actually become beautiful resources, solid stepping stones and dynamic launching pads – but only if we keep them fully surrendered to the Lordship of Christ.
And maybe the first step is to realise that it’s not really on Jesus’ agenda to make us all happy. He has far better plans than that.
[The author, Kristin Jack, is happily married, with a small mortgage, two great kids and a cat; but along with his beautiful and adventurous wife Susan, has still managed to live the last 11 years in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, pursuing Christ’s call to mission amongst the urban poor.]