I find myself weary of dramatic hyperbole in descriptions of the ideal Christian life. Extreme! Radical! Passionate! Awesome! Edgy! On fire! Dramatic!
I can understand the emotional appeal of such hyperbole. After all, who wants to live half-baked, mediocre, listless, dull, bland, and boring?! But the opposite of listless is not necessarily all fired up. Our faith contains a wonderfully curious surprise.
For starters, I don’t think many of us are capable of sustaining the adrenaline level. If you did manage to sustain your passion for a week, a year, a decade, it bears pondering whether the wider culture’s obsession with extreme adventure and radically awesome hyperbole might have infiltrated your operating system with a virus. If the passion ebbs, is what really matters lost and gone?
Or does it mean that it’s time to grow up?
Consider the graces that God steadily works to produce in us. They are certainly different from what we naturally gravitate to. In that sense, his purposes are Extreme! Radical! On fire! Exceedingly beyond all you can ask or even imagine! Glory, glory, hallelujah!
But then again, the Holy Spirit seems on fire to produce a life afire with rather unfiery things. His view of what is significant cuts Awesome! down to size (while being the farthest thing from dull). He is forming in you things that are good for the long haul. Good for times when your feelings are marked with pain or loneliness. Good for days or months or years of perplexity and struggle. Good for the small deaths of old age and then for dying. Good for helping others going through the same troubles. Good for Job, good for David, good for Jesus, good for an innumerable company of those who endure purposefully and fruitfully. He is forming what is good for living life well, wisely, and on purpose. Good for sustainability. We long for dramatic action: “Deliver Israel, O God, from all their troubles” (Ps 25:22). But right now we need the good graces to carry us through all that happens until the Day when dramatic finally happens once and for all.
Consider a baker’s dozen of graces that are set on fire with the odd fire of God’s purposes. Ponder each one for a moment.
Bearing one another’s burdens
Sense of need and weakness
Reliance on another
Not one of these sets off conspicuous fireworks. But these are worth more than anything else you could ever desire. Jesus lived this baker’s dozen of good graces. He is making you into this image.
I was talking with a dear friend recently, and I asked him how I could pray for him. He made a twofold prayer request: “Ask God to make me childlike in faith, and to make what I do and say helpful to others.” The more I think about what he asked me to pray, the more I realize that my friend’s sense of need is drawn from the fountain of life. He asks for what makes all those good graces become necessities and realities.
Make Me Childlike in Faith
“Childlike” is free. It is free of self-consciousness, free of pretense, free of becoming a personage or playing a role. Childlike is free to live simply, humanly, humanely. It is free to live depending on others, on our Father and our family. It is free of pride, of autonomy, of primal willfulness. It is free of the waste of wraths and sorrows, free of the waste of apprehensions and regrets. Childlike is free to live within weakness and limitation. Childlike is simple, pure, uncluttered, not knotted together, not frayed, not fretful. Childlike is unambivalent and straightforward. It is what we see happening in Psalm 131 and Psalm 23. Childlike is free of the frenetic pursuit of innumerable impossibilities. Jesus is childlike.
Make us simply children toward you, our Father.
Make What I Do and Say Helpful to Others
“Helpful” is free. It is free of messianic delusions, of pride, of condescension, of despair, of burdens impossible to bear. It is free of selfish withdrawal from the tasks of living in a world of toils and troubles. Helpful is free of making impossible demands. It is free of trying to fulfill impossible demands. Helpful is humble, caring, and forgiving. Helpful is simply constructive in innumerable small ways. Helpful is the very best we can be for each other. Bear one another’s burdens—each must bear his own burden. To help one another runs in both directions. Both of us need aid, both of us give aid. Neither of us can ever make it all better or make it all go away. But we make a difference. There is divine balance in helpful. Helpful is what we see in the Gospels when the Messiah lives among us, as one of us. Jesus’ timely words and constructive actions, his noticing and paying attention, the pacing and tempo of his life—he did not make it all better (then or now), but he made a decisive difference. Jesus was and is helpful. One day the help that he is and does will make it all better.
In the meantime, make us simply helpful to each other.
A Wondrously Moderate Makeover
Make me childlike toward God, and make what I do and say helpful toward others. A moderate makeover, in other words. Not necessarily dramatic. No adrenaline rush. No scaling the emotional heights. No doing a fire dance on the high wire. No latest, greatest, hottest, best-kept secret.
Moderate has this advantage: no odor of hype. No excessive hopes that breed disillusionment. No danger of overpromising but underdelivering. This makeover always delivers more than you think it was promising.
This moderate makeover is the best thing imaginable—exceedingly beyond all you can ask or even imagine. Childlike toward God and helpful toward others. Make that your prayer. I hope that you will bear all this in mind as you make your way into the rest of this issue of JBC. As you read on, you will have already caught the fragrance, the good sense, the spirit of the whole. You will have breathed in the fragrance of Christ that makes biblical counseling different from the alternatives.