Perseverance (1): IntroductionSunday, February 19, 2012
I don’t think I realize how much my culture has its claws in me. Perhaps none of us really does. In particular, Westernism, with its promises of wealth and success through its messages of motivationalism and self-help indoctrination, somehow mysteriously end up creating a host of expectations that I don’t even realize I’m carrying around most of the time. These expectations come to be developed, some even to maturity, as I do not check them at the Bible’s doorstep. The result is often frustration, confusion, discouragement, and even depression when I wake up and realize that things are not going the way I expected them to.
I feel like I get knocked down pretty often, honestly. There are at least a couple of days each month when I end up face down with a reality check. Like most of us I push it pretty hard from sun up to sun down. Getting so caught up in the events, demands, tasks, and goals of the day it becomes frustratingly easy to drift spiritually. I can wake up in prayer, think through the day with God, ask Him for His blessing, plan with His glory in mind, only to find myself by lunch-time never having given Him another thought. The result is working for my kingdom to come and my will to be done…on earth as I assume it’s being done in heaven.
A few days of drifting one degree off course eventually means a mile or two off course by the end of a month. And mentally grasping the course is rather simple for the follower of Jesus. It’s simply understanding and agreeing with key theological concepts about the sovereignty of God which slowly shape what our expectations should be. Three texts from Proverbs make this plain enough.
“We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (Prov. 16:9). “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” (Prov. 19:21). “The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way” (Prov. 20:24)?
This is just one of my many flaws. But it’s one that causes no small degree of emotional and mental and spiritual suffering about once-a-month, or so it seems. Getting thrown from my horse while trying to make a jump on a path I feel like I should have never been down in the first place is bewildering. Seeing stars I regain consciousness and think to myself that all along I’ve just been trying to feed my family, shepherd God’s flock, disciple my family, grow a business, love my wife, raise my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, make wise decisions, etc.
Here’s where my culture has spread its claws and sunk them deep into my soul. It preaches a doctrine of success that leaves me feeling that if I done things differently I wouldn’t be in a particularly rough spot. There’s a little wisdom to that, when it comes to clear-cut issues, as long as those issues are biblical. But what about issues that are not?
That’s a key question, because there are a ton of issues that are not addressed in the Bible, like should I or should I not go after this or that potential client? Should I or should I not spend another hour or two counseling with a seemingly rebellious person? Should I or should I not have implemented that disciplinary measure with my child? Could I have loved my wife in a more impacting way in this or that act? Obviously one can see the almost endless degree of “what if’s” we could ask ourselves. The result often leaves me, personally, in a spiritual conundrum…frustrated, confused, discouraged, and sometimes depressed. Constantly questioning is not helpful at all, I suppose. Proverbs 20:24 made that pretty clear...but it gets cloudy as the days unfold. My expectation is that I should eventually get the right answer to all of these questions all of the time.
There’s also a little wisdom in my culture’s indoctrination, when it is connected to learning how to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow His still-small voice of guidance and direction. But even here there is bewilderment. The Holy Spirit does not speak to us about every single little thing, despite the best intentions and desires of some of the greatest teachers on this subject.
He’s sovereign. So He can determine to speak and to be silent as He wills. And in so doing He is just as good to us when He is silent as when He speaks. When He is silent however, I mistakenly assume – almost every single time, it seems – that I have missed Him. My expectation is that I will hear Him correctly every single time on every single thing. My expectation is that I should be disciplined to pray or think or a certain way about everything all the time.
My expectation is that I should be disciplined so that I manage my time the perfect way each and every day…that I will be able to make the wisest parenting decision each time an issue arises…that I will be able to tell the right fit between my business and a potential customer so I don’t waste my time…that I will be able to do just the right thing for my wife when I desire to serve her…that I will say and do just the right thing for someone I’m counseling or discipling so they will obey Jesus more consistently. My expectations however, seem more driven by the Western, American doctrine of motivation, success and self-help rather than a biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty.
After turning forty years old I had an epiphany one day. It was a rather large epiphany, a massive “AHA!” moment. What’s funny is that I had the same epiphany about eight or nine years ago after I had crossed the thirty mark. Maybe there’s something about crossing another decade that makes a person reflect back on the last ten years, sometimes in regret, but always in hopes of getting it “right” or making it better on the next ten. Regardless, the fact that I had the epiphany again as well as the nature of the epiphany have made a deep impact on my thinking. The epiphany, as best as I can state it, is this: perseverance with the sovereignty of God is what following Jesus is really all about.
Life is not about succeeding, as my culture makes it out to be. My culture tells me that if I do certain things right I will eventually “arrive”, whatever that’s supposed to mean. Constant, consistent comparison is the primary education method of my culture. It keeps putting out books, billboards, radio ads, commercials, magazine ads, magazine articles, internet videos, and blog posts on how everyone else is doing something. For some that may be helpful, especially if it emphasizes that so-and-so’s way of doing something is just one way of doing it. But instead, our culture spins all this stuff in such a way that we come to believe that so-and-so did it the “right” way. Why? Because of their “success.” After all, one can’t argue with “success”, right?
I can. And I will.
Two epiphanies, ten years apart, both rooted in and springing from Scripture, both filling me with joy and peace, tell me I can. And I will in the posts that follow in this brief series. Stay tuned.
About the Author: Rob is a church-planter and entrepreneur in Statesboro, GA. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 18 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.