We tend to make prayer the preparation for our service, yet it is never that in the Bible. Prayer is the practice of drawing on the grace of God. Don’t say, “I will endure this until I can get away and pray.” Pray now — draw on the grace of God in your moment of need. Prayer is the most normal and useful thing; it is not simply a reflex action of your devotion to God. We are very slow to learn to draw on God’s grace through prayer.Oswald Chambers, “Drawing on the Grace of God–Now“
Currently we live in what the theologians call the “overlap of the ages” or the “already/not yet,” when the new world to come is breaking in but the old age which is passing away has not yet given up its last breath. And this basic biblical truth about the Christian life creates the right approach to understanding our work and our desires. Our work, like all our lives, lives between our redemption and the consummation of history when Jesus returns. The new age is breaking in but not fully here. The old age is passing away but not fully gone. And in that overlap, work can be what it should be, but it is not there yet, nor will it be until Jesus returns. Work, like all the Christian life, is between the times, a mix of curse and redemption, because the restoration of our world is not yet complete, not consummated until Christ’s return.
Why drag that out? Simply put, to say this: do not be over idealistic. What we want matters deeply, even to God. And work should be great; it even can be great. But it will not be fully great until Jesus returns. So, we must know now that our vocations in this life will not be fully what we want. Such an admission is neither settling nor inauthentic; it is simply the way the world really is. We recognize that we will not get all the way there in this life.Bill Fullilove, “‘Because I Want To?’ – A Christian Approach to Desire and Vocational Calling“
We all want to love what we do. But sometimes, work is a drag.
One of the big questions human beings ask is this: “What is going on?” Another is, “What time is it?” The first question puts us in touch with reality–external realities, like world events, and inner realities, like our emotional, mental, and spiritual state.
The second question is an eschatological one, framing our perceptions within time. For Christian people, we live in a moment in history in which God has moved in decisive ways, yet the consequences of those decisive actions, such as the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection of Jesus, are still working themselves out, moving toward a day all history will be consummated.
That means work can fulfill us. Some days we will accomplish tasks, have interactions, and claim victories that we find fulfilling, meaningful, and satisfying. But other days we’ll experience setbacks, discouragement, and disappointment. Some days will be exciting. Some will be boring.
If we seek our ultimate fulfillment in our work, it will always lead us to disappointment. But if we set our hope in the Lord we can endure our most difficult days and look forward with anticipation to the day when God will set all things right.
Addendum: When I went hunting for an image for this post, I searched “work” in the online database Unsplash. Almost every result showed people at a computer, or sitting around a conference table with computers. Knowledge work. In order to come up with an image showing people making stuff in the physical world, I had to search for “construction.”
Last month I did one hundred push ups a day. Thirty-one days in May. Three thousand, one hundred push ups total.
I made the commitment on a whim. It had been a while since I’d been in the habit of doing push ups. So I started with sets of ten or twenty, kept tallies in my daily journal. Keeping tallies is a technique I borrowed from Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said “There are no shortcuts. Everything is reps, reps, reps.” Not only did he keep count of reps when he was a bodybuilder. He would put tallies at the top of his speeches when he was Governor of California to keep track of how many times he had practiced his delivery.
And I’ve kept it up. I even increased my daily count to 150. It’s a daily habit that helps me build muscle and maintain a basic level of fitness.
Push ups are just one part of my overall program.
In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers writes, “No one is born either naturally or supernaturally with character; it must be developed. Nor are we born with habits— we have to form godly habits on the basis of the new life God has placed within us.”
Habits must also be cultivated which develop character, bringing forth the fruit of salvation God has granted through the completed work of Jesus Christ and the present power of the Holy Spirit.
To have faith is to believe, to trust, to declare allegiance to God. To then exercise that faith is to act in accordance with what one professes to believe. One way to exercise faith is to develop daily habits of holiness, ways of engaging with God and relating to others that develop the character of Christ in us.
The second influence impoverishing the modern practice of forgiveness is a rising shame and honour culture that some have called a new secular religion.
According to Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, the therapeutic culture has converted us into a collection of “self-actualizers,” whose primary concern is to get respect and affirmation of one’s own identity. But the therapeutic culture also taught us to think of ourselves as individuals needing protection from society and from various groups with power who oppress us. So, ironically, we have developed “a shame and honor culture of victimhood.” Greater honour and moral virtue are assigned to people the more they have been victimized and oppressed by society or others in power. So the further down the existing social ladder one is, the greater the possibilities for honour.
In the new culture, companies, institutions, and governing agencies are now tasked not with treating all individuals equally, but with the moral obligation to defend victims—those who have been oppressed by the powerful. This provides a second ring of honour in the emerging culture. While highest honour comes to victims, it secondarily comes to defenders of victims. So now there is no better way for a business, school, or government to gain honour (and, frankly, to divert attention from their own wealth and power) than to mercilessly punish anyone seen as a victimizer.
Forgiveness is seen now as radically unjust and impractical, as short-circuiting the ability of victims to gain honour and virtue as others rise to defend them.
Campbell and Manning’s critique is that this new honour society—also called “cancel culture”—ends up valuing fragility over strength, creating a society of constant, good-versus-evil conflict over the smallest issues as people compete for status as victims or as defenders of the victim. It atrophies our ability to lovingly overlook slights (cf. 1 Peter 4:8: “Love covers a multitude of sins”). But most of all, it sweeps away the very concept of forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is seen now as radically unjust and impractical, as short-circuiting the ability of victims to gain honour and virtue as others rise to defend them.
It’s no wonder that this culture quickly becomes littered with enormous numbers of broken and now irreparable relationships. Politics itself becomes a new kind of religion, one without any means of acquiring redemption or forgiveness. Rather then seeing some people as right and others as mistaken, they are now regarded as the good and the evil, as true believers or heretics.Timothy J. Keller, “The Fading of Forgiveness,” writing at Comment
Keller’s analysis is worth reading in full.
I happened to be on a walk recently, and as Hondo and I made our way around the neighborhood I listened to Keller’s 1991 sermon “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.” Keller remarked then that forgiveness was falling out of fashion because it was seen as making a person too vulnerable–those asking for forgiveness feared being exposed as weak; those willing to grant forgiveness were thought open to being taken advantage of by the person committing the wrong.
I hold the conviction that the Christian message has the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation at its center, first between God and human beings, made possible through Jesus and his atoning work, completed in his life, death, and resurrection. I also hold the conviction that that message works itself out in communities of forgiveness and reconciliation. The church is a place where enemies can become friends, a work that often begins within families, who, on the basis of proximity, inevitably wound one another.
A culture without atonement, without forgiveness, without a means of reconciliation will inevitably become one of violence. That’s why Keller’s analysis is so important. We need to understand why forgiveness is fading, why Christians are formed to forgive in light of core beliefs and doctrines, and why the Christian witness is so critical–it provides an alternative vision for how human beings can live in community with God and one another.
“The way someone else perceives what you do is a result of their own experiences (which you can’t control), their own preferences (which you can’t predict), and their own expectations (which you don’t set).
If your choices don’t match their expectations that is their concern, not yours.”James Clear, 3-2-1 Newsletter, May 13, 2021
Easy to say. Harder to do. But it can be done. With practice.
As a Christian, Romans 8:31-39 has helped me tremendously in this respect. Why? Because I know that God perceives me fully (no one else does), that God’s preferences are eternally good and just (distinct from any other being), and that God’s expectations for me rest in the calling I have in Jesus Christ, who has redeemed me and called me his own.
I’m called to be steward of his grace and to live my life for him. When I do what is expected of me, I give thanks for the good work God has done in me. When I fail to do what is expected of me, I find mercy in the power of his forgiveness.
In Jesus, I have the approval of God, who is the one person who ultimately matters. Therefore, I can live free from the fear of judgment of any person, and rest in God’s eternal grace.
I happen to like memes, so I collect them. I’ll share one with a group of students while leading a class, often to raise a question that we will address that day, or to make a connection with our cultural moment. I text the weirder ones to a good friend.
This one struck a chord with me. There’s a lot going on here. I have no idea why Jesus is flashing the horns. But he does have a kindly gaze. He’s blasting light from his sacred heart. He even has a message: “Good morning, sinners.”
I think that’s a message many of us have internalized. It’s a dominant narrative. Jesus is up with the dawn. He’s a morning person. He rose early on the third day. He raises us up every day. He shines blinding light in our eyes. That’s who he is. He speaks. And the sound of his voice is so sweet the birds hush their singing.
We might think of ourselves foremost as sinners. Who isn’t a sinner? Who doesn’t “drop the ball?” We all mess up. We leave things undone. We commit wrongs. Sometimes we do so intentionally. Sometimes, we’re clumsy, and we break things.
We’re sinners. So every morning, we could wake up and imagine hearing this message from Jesus. But maybe there’s another way of looking at it. Maybe there are other names that might stir us awake more than our first cup of coffee, words Christ may say to us that enliven our hearts.
Hebrews 12:1-2 says:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Maybe Jesus says, “Good morning, my joy.”
And maybe then, knowing that we are the beloved of God, we cast off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
When I undertake all my activities, I am not doing them on my own, I am doing them in confidence, vision, and expectation in the spirit and character of Christ. If I am writing a paper or preparing for a conference or outlining a course, I don’t just do that looking to myself, I do that in expectation that God will act with me.
The gospel of the kingdom of God which Jesus preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” is precisely the good news that, in everything I am and do, God invites me to invite him to be my co-worker. He invites me to look to him, to act and move in tangible ways no matter what it is.
[ . . . ]
You have now heard the gospel that you are accepted by God where you are, that he put you there. You’re in your world to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth — and it is God who makes that possible. You accept the fact that you are finite, that you make mistakes, that you’re not perfect. And in so doing you get on with the work that God has appointed to flow through your life as you become the person he intended you to be.
You see, God has very high aims for you and me. His aim is that each one of us becomes the kind of person he can empower to do what we want. I am going to say that again. You and I are being trained and cultivated and grown to the point where God can empower us to do what we want. Now you recognize that a lot of work has to be done on our “wanter” before that can happen. But that is what life is about. And that’s what we are learning to do as disciples of Jesus Christ.Dallas Willard, “Acknowledging God in All We Do“
What struck me most was Willard’s remark about our mistakes and how liberating that is, but all of this is gold.
I often feel pressure to do stuff. I want to produce. Make the most of the time. Accomplish things.
I makes lists. Lots of them.
I make lists of things I want to do someday/maybe. That’s the name of the list: “Someday/Maybe.”
I also make lists of books I want to read, places I want to go, and restaurants where I want to dine.
In reviewing my lists I find that I do a lot things. Tasks do get completed and marked off. Some are the necessary things. Some are priorities. Others are routine: life maintenance tasks, healthy rhythms, chores that sort of thing.
That means on days when I’m less productive, when my energy wanes, when I’m just flat out tired, I feel like I’m a slug. Fading. Falling out. The word for that is “languishing.” Austin Kleon writes about this feeling, arguing that maybe languishing isn’t the best term. Maybe dormancy fits better.
Kleon writes: “It seems to me that the reason that so many of us feel like we’re languishing is that we are trying to flourish in terrible conditions.”
This doesn’t negate the possibility that we might be languishing. But our bodies, minds, and souls might be telling us, “you need to rest.” “You need to regain your strength.” “You need to be outwardly idle for a little while, solidify some inner growth.”
Then later, when the time comes, burst forth.
Timothy J. Keller, in Hope in Times of Fear [affiliate link], writes this about what happened to Saint Paul when he began to look at everything in the Bible (for Paul, the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament) in light of Jesus’ resurrection:
Once Paul began to look at everything in the light of Jesus resurrected and vindicated by God, the Bible fit together and everything in the world and in his life looked different. Certainly he had not worked out all the answers to his original objections to Christianity. But once he realized Jesus was risen, he knew there had to be answers to all those objections. So he believed in Christ, began to preach, and proceeded to work out the details as he went along.
We should proceed the same way. Think of all the objections to Christianity regarding repressive sexuality or the record of the church’s injustices. Do any of these things, if true, mean Jesus could not h ave risen from the dead? That’s the first and foremost question to ask. Have we looked at the evidence for the resurrection thoroughly? All our objections actually hang on this issue. If he did not rise from the dead, who cares what the Bible says about sex or about the history of the church? But if he did rise from the dead, then Christianity and its gospel is true, and while we don’t yet have solutions to all those other objections, we can move forward knowing that answers to those questions exist.
If you are looking at Christianity, start by looking at Jesus’ life as it is shown to us in the gospels, and especially at the resurrection. Don’t begin, as modern people do, by asking yourself if Christianity fits who you are. If the resurrection happened, then there is a God who created you for himself and ultimately, yes, Christianity fits you whether you can see it now or not. If he’s real and risen, then just like Paul, even though he had none of the answers to any of his questions, you’ll have to say, “What would you have me do, Lord?”
The resurrection is not only a vital belief for Christian people, but it is a powerful reality that animates all of Christian life. Hope in Times of Fear makes a case for the resurrection, but also shows the ways it shapes our moral choices, relationships, vision of justice, and our future hope.
Words cut like scalpels in the surgery against depression, and vocabulary selection makes a difference. I choose not to say, “I’m depressed.” That centers things too internally and ontologically. It implies I am my emotional state. But we are far more than just our feelings. In fact, we are not our feelings. Our identity is grounded elsewhere. I also choose not to say (out loud or internally) “I struggle with depression.” That feels too even-handed, with the outcome too much in question. I am the victor in this battle or, at least, I need to be. How I see and express things tilts the scales either in my favor or against it. I advance in the battle with words carefully chosen. I don’t just struggle with depression; I push it back. I battle against it. I fight.
Not all Christian discourse about mental health is helpful, but this essay by Randy Newman is an exception.
If you’ve battled depression, wondered how to think about depression in light of Christian convictions, or have a friend you are trying to help as they face depression, read Newman for counsel.