[notice]A monthly column that reflects on living in the Kingdom of God.[/notice]
In my line of work, I am approaching a very emotional time of the year. Leading a church that is mostly made up of university students, we are about to say our goodbyes to a good number of men and women whom I have had the privilege of walking with and seeing them come into their own. In many ways, I feel like a parent seeing their children going off into the big wide world. At our final leaders meeting, I asked all those leaving at the end of this year to stand. Almost half of our leaders stood up. Now you know why I am getting all emotional. Like any parent in this situation, you are thinking about one thing as the day of departure approaches: Will it go well with my child? Your heart’s cry is that which John wrote about in 3 John 1:4 where he said: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. Meeting former students years later has been a chequered experience. Sometimes I experience the joy expressed by the apostle John, sometimes I tragically do not. On these occasions, it feels a bit like the apostle Paul’s cry in Philippians 3:18 where he writes...For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. In her incisive book Total Truth, US author Nancy Pearcey speaks about a young woman who grew up as a Christian and yet somehow ends up working at Planned Parenthood, advocating that women have an abortion for an unwanted pregnancy. How did that happen? How does that happen? I believe that a lot of the answer lies in what we do with our head, heart and hands.
Concerning our head, if we are immersed in the world and only dabbling in the word of God, it may just be a matter of time before we turn from the truth. Why? Because we are bombarded with ideas that militate against the Bible, and if we don’t drink deep from the Scriptures, the chances are that we will soon surrender and raise the white flag. Humanist Charles F Potter described the assault of humanism (the idea that we, as human beings are our own Saviours apart from God) on the average Christian when he wrote: “Education is thus a most powerful ally of humanism, and every American school is a school of humanism. What can a theistic Sunday school’s meeting for an hour once a week and teaching only a fraction of the children do to stem the tide of the five-day program of humanistic teaching?” What occupies your mind?
When it comes to the heart, our default state can either be one of gratitude or bitterness. Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, and our response to them is critical for our walking in truth. There is much wisdom in the saying that life begins at forty. Why? Because it is only later on in life when we are ‘adulting,’ that we face the full spectrum of what life can throw at us. Youthful optimism is fleeting. Sooner or later, young men stumble and fall. How will I respond when I don’t get the job “I deserve”, or when my spouse doesn’t treat me as “I deserve” or when I am being treated unfairly because of my skin colour or my gender – these curveballs will come. These are things that can make or break us, and our deepest battle is not out there as much as in our very own hearts. No wonder Proverbs warns us to guard our hearts, for from it flow the issues of life (Prov 4:23). The best guard I know is the gospel. If I am deeply immersed in the gospel, gratitude flows from God’s forgiveness towards me and guards my heart against the bitterness of unfair circumstances. This gratitude lies at the very essence of what it means to be a Christian. C S Lewis put it well when he thus said: ‘To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.’ Without this truth deeply anchored in our hearts, we will no sooner descend into bitterness and the blame game. Look around, the world has plenty of options being thrown at us. In a world that is steeped in bitterness and blaming someone else for our circumstances, RC Sproul reminds us of the gospel with this inconvenient and yet liberating truth when he asks: ‘Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once, and He volunteered.’ Gratitude does not sidestep injustice, but it does declare that I have received way more than I deserve from God than whatever has been meted out to me on earth.
Finally, our hands. Have you noticed how many causes are vying for our attention? In the midst of this worldwide ‘cause-overload’ pastor John Piper recently reminded students of where to put their shoulder when he said: “There are a thousand needs in the world, and none of them compares to the global need for the gospel.” Why reach and disciple people with the gospel? To be sure, we do so for their own sake, but also for the sake of the world. AW Tozer was quite right when he said: “As God is exalted to the right place in our lives, a thousand problems are solved all at once.” Take a look at the issues facing South Africa. From #feesmustfall to race issues to government corruption to poverty and everything in between, without the gospel reconciling men to God and to each other, we may cut off a branch here and there, but the tree of sin will still remain and sprout forth with new problems. On top of all this, reaching and discipling others with the gospel also rescues us from the obsession with self, one which slowly but definitely drains the life out of us. Will it go well with you in the end? I hope so. That is highly dependent on what we feed into our head, what we store up in our heart and what we cause we give to our hands.