Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The fulfilling life

I've been thinking lately about expectations and how they are more often than not a hindrance to God's rule and reign in our lives. If ever there was a challenge to God's Lordship over us, it is the earthly expectations we place in the path of believers.

I'm talking about those things which are fine if they are hopeful -- happy marriage, healthy children, long life, moderate abundance. But we, as a Church, don't leave these as hopes. We endorse them to the point they are implied mandates.

Not everyone is called to be married, have children, have perfect health, or live upper middle class lives. Frankly, these are the kinds of pursuits the NT authors often saw as distractions, and it's possibly why they spent so much time explaining the ground rules for these four things. Paul seemed to think of marriage as a concession to fleshly weakness, not an absolute path to virtue.

For those of you picking up your John Piper references, you can put them down. This is not an opus to depressed or morose living. If God has blessed you with those things, by all means, live in the blessing and be thankful.

But for those who may feel outcast from the Christian template, there we have a different kind of challenge. We are challenged to not allow bitterness in our hearts. For some, it's a minute-by-minute exercise in conscious submission to Christ.

These kinds of expectations are nothing more than discontent in its earliest stages: I must have three children to live a full life; I won't be complete until I am married; I couldn't go on living if I wasn't physically able to walk; I am a failure if I don't at least equal the lifestyle of my parents.

These are common thoughts, common expectations of life, particularly in the success-driven church. And they put the focus of contentment squarely on some kind of earthly achievement where it is nowhere promised in the Gospel.

This is why I am liking John Piper more and more:

God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in Him.

To many who have already allowed bitter roots to grow in their hearts, this kind of word burns. At best, the bitter rumble about its trite nature. But it is truth, as simple as the Sermon on the Mount.

Putting down expectations is not easy because time creates emotional attachment, and pride stamps them with necessity. As those closest to us reinforce them, it is impossible to not take them for granted -- until something happens outside of our plans. That's often when faith is challenged the most, when we put down God's justice for our own, and those three famous words come out of our previously pious mouths:

It's not fair.

I can't think of anything more unBiblical than that phrase. No doubt, it's probably one of the most instinctive phrases we could utter, the flesh being so reliant on self-preservation, but it is nothing more than a reflection of our sinful nature.

Of course, it's much easier to reflect on all of this if you haven't been challenged. You can prepare your heart all you want, but until faith is required to be exercised, no confidence should be established about moving mountains any time soon. On the other hand, if we have put all of our hope in Christ, then these types of spiritual hurdles are never going to block us from finishing the race.

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