When I wrote Invest (Part 1), it was only half thought out. Our children woke up, and I wound down what I was trying to say, but there was more. This is the more.
I have always leaned towards a black-and-white interpretation of scripture. This has led to a dull, color-less life. Growing up, I didn’t like to make decisions. I was not thoughtful or patient. Decision making was work. Too much for this boy. I liked preachers and authors who gave me the straight answers. “Don’t tell me how important discernment is. If it’s in the Bible, I’ll do it. If it’s not… well, tell me anyway what I should do, because I don’t want to think too hard about this. It hurts.” I was mentally lazy, and I did not value the intricate mind God gave to me (to all of us).
In college, I continued in the same direction. I started attending an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Wheaton, IL. The reason I went to this church: I started dating a girl who went there. (I’m going to make a right hand turn here, but we’ll get to where we’re going. I just want you to see some of the back-country.)
The courtship was old-fashioned, but I appreciated her parent’s involvement. She wanted to wait for her father to make a trip out so he could meet and talk with me. Finally, he came. I was not expecting a just-the-men meeting. He and his youngest son were waiting for me in the college dining room. I don’t recall any small talk as we sat down with our early morning breakfast. The first thing I remember him saying was, “Do you know what the five points of Calvinism are?” My throat and gut tightened, and I mumbled out an unsure, “No.” “Do you know what the sovereignty of God is?” I thought I ought to know by this point in my life. But no words came to mind, so I said, “No.” He graciously went on to explain (as well as such things can be explained in a half-hour).
Though I was un-schooled in these doctrines of grace, this man was very gracious to me. His heart was that I knew the Lord and was “thinking rightly” about doctrine. He wanted a “solid” husband for his daughter. Whether I agree with his approach is not relevant. He was a kind and caring man. He provided me with resources to wrestle with. And he let me date his daughter even though I doubted these doctrines.
Sadly, I believe this caused me to take a giant leap forward toward legalistic thinking in my life. Calvinism seemed to have the answers, and I suspected the rest of Christianity should be the same: something to give me the answers for every situation. Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints. Absolutes. I wanted more absolutes in my life.
I ended up leaving Wheaton College in the middle of my sophomore year because I was burned out. I didn’t want to attend class. I didn’t want to study. I didn’t even want to play the piano. (I ended up taking a six year break from playing or listening to music, but that’s another story.) My parents started attending Sovereign Grace Church (part of Sovereign Grace Ministries) while I was away at college, so when I came back, not wanting to return to my former, extremely charismatic church, I went with the more conservative option, also hunting for more answers to my moral and ethical questions.
Memorial day weekend, 2007, I attended the “New Attitude” conference in Louisville, KY. Eric Simmons spoke on “Gray Matters”. Are there gray matters in life? My short one word summary of his two messages are, “No.” (Tim Challies has a brief summary of Eric’s messages here.)
My one word answer in no way does justice to all Eric Simmons said. But what I left with was, “If there are no gray matters in God’s eyes, then I need to do everything I can to figure out how God sees things, so I don’t transgress the boundaries in life.” (His full articles which the sermons were based on can be found here and here.)
I pick on Mr. Simmons, but there are many, many other influences. Particularly notable are Francis Chan’s Crazy Love, and Radical, by David Platt. (Please read: I do not blame these men, but rather, I attribute my poor application of their message to my lazy mind.)
Regardless, the silent hum of low-lying guilt over everything I did crept in and remained. I was constantly asking myself questions like, “Should I buy that cup of coffee? Should I eat that thing that probably will make me feel sluggish? Should I go see a movie with friends? Should I go serve the poor in Camden instead of [fill-in-the-blank].” Many of the things I agonized over had to do with spending vs. saving vs. giving money.
Sadly, I eventually got to a place where I felt guilty if I was enjoying myself, whether that was through reading, writing or listening to music, spending time with friends, watching a movie, taking a nap. Anything pleasurable. If what I was doing was not filled with “purpose”, then it felt like a waste. In Invest (Part 1) I said, “I feel that since I am a follower of Jesus, a homeless man, how can I spend money on myself? How can I spend money on a new computer when there are 21,000 thousand people dying from hunger everyday?” A similar thought pattern plagued me through college and through the early years of our marriage: “If I am not evangelizing and telling people about Jesus, then my time is wasted. How can I have fun when souls are at stake?”
This is where Globalization has hurt us. We have more information (and “friends”) than we know what to do with (because of the Internet and Social Media). The knowledge of the world is too weighty for us. We know both good and evil, and it crushes us.
Is there a way to engage the world through these modern tools, and yet still not be crushed by how much we “know”?
T.S. Eliot said in his poem Ash Wednesday:
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
To me, this means: we should care about all of the woes and injustices of this world, and yet not care, lest the weight of it all crushes us.
Similarly, in the Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
We need wisdom from the Holy Spirit to discern the things that we can change vs. the things we cannot change. For myself, at this particular time in my life, as much as I would like to get involved in the fight against sex-trafficking, I cannot change the hearts of those involved at the most recent Super Bowl. There is injustice all around, even within our own homes and hearts, let a lone our neighbors’. What things are within the sphere of my influence now? My heart. My home. My friends. My church. My neighbors. My co-workers. My environment. Later, this sphere may grow larger, particularly once my children are less dependent.
Disease, malnutrition, abuse, rape, suicide, drug addiction, sweat shops, and every other dehumanizing thing under the sun. Some are called to fight on the front lines of these battles, but most are called to be faithful in their homes with their spouse and children, nurturing them to be the next warriors in these battles of injustice, preparing ourselves for battle whenever we’re called to fight. If we are constantly dwelling on these larger battles, at times when we aren’t called to fight them, we aren’t engaging our hearts and minds where they should be engaged, with the problems (and joys!) that are right in front of us. We are not living in the here and now.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will direct your paths.
In matters of investing our time, energy, and money, we must respect the mystery. God’s ways and thoughts are higher than ours, and so is his perspective.
A wise older couple regularly tells us, “Freedom first. Service second.” They have reminded us that “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1). When we were giving, giving, giving – monetarily, mentally, physically – we burned out. We kept doing it though because we thought it was what Christians were supposed to do. I wonder, how many other Christians feel the same way, and are afraid to say no to others, for fear of selfishness? Not necessarily because it is selfish, but because it may appear selfish to others.
Continuing to “serve” out of fear is poor motivation. 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We should give and serve out of love. I’ve heard some say (and I’ve said it myself), “We should push through those dry times in hope that refreshment will come again.” Yes, it makes sense to not just go with the ebb-and-flow of our fickle feelings, but it doesn’t make sense to keep pushing, pushing, pushing if we are on the brink of mental, physical, or emotional breakdown. Even if we are not at the brink, if something isn’t working, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Why am I doing this?” and let ourselves feel the freedom to change or try things differently.
I tried this with my “devotions.” I didn’t even know why I was reading my Bible in the mornings any more. So I stopped. <Gasp!> I stopped “praying” too. (By “praying”, I mean the perfunctory get down on your knees in holy supplication for 20-30 minutes with hands folded and head bowed and eyes closed with a list of people and things, world events and politicians.) I stopped because God felt distant. God’s word wasn’t tasting sweeter than honey to me. I didn’t fault God or his word for this. I don’t really know why it happened, but it was going on for three years. I persisted, yet nothing. So I stopped. I took a break and read things I wanted to read on the train ride into work instead. During this time I read N.D. Wilson’s book, Death By Living, and N.T. Wright’s, Case For the Psalms. (And yes, during that time, I kept confusing the two. “Rache, this morning I was reading N.T. Wilson’s book, Death By Psalms, and…”) Wilson showed me how to worship again. Wright gave me a taste for the beauty of the Psalms again. Rachel and I started reading scripture at night with our children. At the same time, we started reading together for five minutes or so before we went to bed. (Not even every night, though.) This has been very refreshing, yet so different from what I used to do. But this is what we both need now.
There used to be guilt when I hit a rut, ditch, or canyon in the road. I’d think, “Why is this not working? This is what I’m supposed to do as a Christian.” My mark or measuring line was what I observed most other Christians doing, thus, not letting myself be led by the Spirit of God.
I don’t write this as a prescription for others to do the same things as us. (I’d be setting up the same trap that I fell into myself.) I write to provoke the following questions: “How am I called to serve the Lord in my own, unique way right now, that may look totally different from the majority of those around me? Do I feel the freedom to break the mold and try something different? How am I called to invest my God given talents? How am I called to nurture my God given desires, here and now, in myself, spouse, children and friends?”
Pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Investing is about far more than green paper and 401Ks. Every decision, action, and word is an investment into ourselves and those whom our decisions, actions, and words affect. My primary calling is to love and serve within my home right now, but that will change over time. What is yours?