“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc, is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. (v. 1)
Hebrews is written to first century urban people who are so weary of troubles and difficulties that they are in danger of giving up.
Eight times in 11 verses we see the word rest. It’s not just crucial for them. We live in a culture that’s probably more in need of this message than any culture in history. Let’s take a look at what this passage says about rest.
We’re going to see:
The Importance of Rest
The Levels of Rest
The Ordeal of Rest
The Author of Rest
First, The importance of it
In verse 3 we have a quotation from Psalm 95: “As God has said, I have declared an oath in my anger that they shall never enter my rest.” It is recounting a time when the children of Israel were in the wilderness. They had been delivered from Egypt, and were on their way to Canaan and they begin to turn away from God, incredibly ungrateful. What’s the worst possible punishment for that? It’s no rest. Rest is fundamental to our human condition. Fundamental to our human life, joy, fulfillment.
A couple years ago a woman named Judith Schulevitz wrote an article for the New York Times where she recounted that she had a religious Jewish upbringing, but she rebelled against it. Specifically, she rebelled against the detailed Sabbath observance, but then as time went on, she found that there was a problem and she writes this:
My mood would darken every weekend until Saturday by afternoon I would be unresponsive and morose. My normal leisure routines left me nonetheless feeling impossibly restless. Then I began to do something that as a teenager profoundly put off by her religious education I could have never imagined wanting to do. I began dropping in at a nearby synagogue. Finally I developed a theory for my condition. I was suffering from the lack of Sabbath rest. There is ample evidence that our relationship to work is seriously out of whack. So let me argue on behalf of an institution that had kept workaholism in reasonable check for thousands and thousands of years.
Now Sabbath, rest, resting, is one of the ten commandments. Do you realize what that means? A society that encourages overwork is as brutalizing, as depersonalizing, as dehumanizing as a society that encourages stealing, adultery, killing. It’s in the same list! Overwork is in the same list as those things. And Judith Schulevitz found herself sucked into the greatest most workaholic city – living in New York, the capital of workaholics – and found herself struggling.
Now why is it that it is possible that we as a society are the most overworked that we have more workaholics than anyone’s ever produced in history? (whether or not that’s true or not doesn’t matter, we just know we’ve got it BAD). There are two reasons, I think they’re both true.
The first is the technological reason. Our work is more accessible, and we are more accessible to our work. There is no escape. Technology also means the work has shrunk. Whatever product you are producing, you are competing with the rest of the world that produces that product. Technology has made work more domineering and dominant in our lives.
There is also a cultural explanation. In traditional societies you got your identity and value from being a part of a family or a community. In other words, you got your identity and value from being a son or daughter or husband or wife or neighbour or citizen. We, however, live in a culture that is the most individualistic in history. We have “freed” people from assigned social roles so we can be who we want to be. But what this means now is that your value and your identity is now something you must earn, you have to achieve it. Individually. You have to get out there and do it. What that means is our relationship with work is completely changed. At one time, work was what we did to get our family ahead. But now even family is a way for us to have individual achievement. Your work is how you get your value and worth, by how much money you make and the social class your work propels you into, and as a result, we are tired. There has never been a more workaholic culture. Things are even reversed when it comes to family.
Schulevitz in an article on parenting from today’s NYT magazine said this:
Parents no longer set up metal swingsets by themselves in the corner of their backyards. They hire professionals that erect sprawling wooden castles that take up half the lawn. Parents line up at 5 am to get slots in the right neighbourhood preschool and bring their children to specialists upon noticing the slightest delay to maximize their child’s developmental capacity and flash baby einstein cards at their three-month-olds.
In a society that measures status in achievement, in grades, awards, in getting into the right schools, the scramble for advantage is bound to propel us into overparenting. Overparenting, however, is closely linked to overwork. It’s harder to opt out than you think, for now we use our children to jockey for individual status.
Everything is reversed. It used to be I worked to get my family ahead. Now I use my family to get individual status. That is why we are the most weary society, the most workaholic society. Even when we try to stop, we lay down our work for the day, there’s a voice that says, “You’re getting behind…”
We are in trouble. There has never been a society that’s ever been so restless.
(There’s never been a preacher – because I live in New York City – that has had to listen more to his own sermon).
Second, There are Two Levels of Rest
The author of our passage today is using the word rest in different ways, that interrelate to one another.
The first way is The Rest of the Promise Land. In v. 3, “I declared an oath in my anger they shall never enter my rest,” that’s God warning the children of Israel that if they keep rebelling they’ll never see the promised land. Why call getting to Canaan “rest”? The children of Israel were slaves. They were being brought out of Egypt, where they were worked into the ground.
Deut. 15: Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. Therefore, observe the Sabbath day.
God says, when you rest, it’s a declaration of freedom.
Anyone who overworks is a slave.
When you rest, when you put your work down you are saying, I am not a cog in a machine, I am not a slave to the materialistic society in which I live, I am not a slave to the identity system in the society in which I live. I am not a slave to the identity that my society demands of me rather I declare my freedom and my identity in God.
When you rest, when you truly rest, it’s a revolutionary act.
And by bringing the children of Israel out of slavery to the social/wealth system of Egypt to where they can rest, and put limits around their work, we understand rest as a declaration of freedom.
The second way “rest” is used: How God Rested at the Beginning of Time from His Work
God created the world in Gen 1 & 2 and then we’re told God rested from his work.
That is helpful because you realize that God can’t get tired, physically or emotionally weary from his work. You can’t hammer a nail without after a few minutes resting. But God’s not in that condition. So what does it mean that God rested from his work? If you go back to the context, Gen. 2:2, you’ll see that it means God rested because he was satisfied with his work. He said it was good, he said it was finished. He was pleased with what he had done, so he set the hammer down. He had been satisfied with what he had done.
Just as sleep will not really refresh you at night if you don’t have some REM, deep sleep, so external rest, physical, emotional rest from your labour isn’t all you need – there needs to be a deep, inner spiritual rest. No amount of vacations will cure your restlessness unless you get to that.
Schulevitz is good at describing this. This is a quote from her article on the Sabbath:
Most people believe all you have to do to stop working is not work. The inventors of the Sabbath understood, though, that it was a much more complicated undertaking to rest. You cannot downshift casually and easily. This is why the Jewish and Puritan sabbaths were so exactingly intentional. Even our secular leisure activities cannot do for us what sabbath rituals can do, for religious rituals do not exist just to promote togetherness, they are designed to convey to us a certain story about who we are. The story told by the Sabbath is the story of creation, God rested and we rest in order to honour the image of the divine in us, to remind us that there is more to us than our work. The machinery of self-censorship must shut-down, too, in order to rest. Stilling the eternal inner mumur of self-reproach.
She says it’s one thing to stop physically. But deep inner rest, that allows you to put down your work and walk away from it, is about being at rest with who you are. What you have to get rid of is that deep restlessness, “the eternal (spiritual) murmur of self-reproach”. What is that deep unrestfulness? The need to prove ourselves, the deep unhappiness with who we are, the feeling that “I’m not ok, I’m not acceptable,” and so we’re working and working and working to prove ourselves to ourselves, to others, to God. And that’s the deep restlessness that we need a cure for. The work underneath all our work, that all the vacations in the world won’t cure. The restlessness underneath the weariness.
No matter how good the work is, no how much we do, we’re a slave to our social systems, slaves to our own ridiculous expectations and the opinions of others unless we get that deep, inner rest.
So how do we get it?
Now there is a third level of Rest.
In v. 2 & 3 we read this: For we also have had the Gospel preached to us just as they did but the message they heard was of no value to them for those who heard it did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest.
Present tense. Believing the Gospel brings you into that rest.
One of the things that’s so interesting about the argument here (v 8) is that there is a deeper rest that you can only get to through the gospel. Joshua got the children of Israel into a socially just, physical rest in the Promised Land. Yet God continues to warn them in Psalm 95, many years later, that you can still miss the deep, cosmic rest. Therefore, there is a rest beyond the physical and social, it’s deep. And it can only be gotten through believing the gospel.
The Horrible Ordeal
There is a horrible ordeal if we’re ever going to get to this rest. V. 12 & 13 are somewhat famous verses. I had never realized until I studied them how horrible threatening they are. They don’t seem to fit at all with the rest of the passage. The rest of the passage is about peace. Then suddenly v. 12 & 13 says:
The word of God (Scripture) is like a sharp sword that cuts through everything, penetrates through everything, and it’ll get to the place where it will show you your real motivations, the real reason you do everything. And when you get to that level, v. 13 you will feel naked before God. Defenseless. Stripped. Then it says that everything has been uncovered and laid bare.
What an awful statement. What is this doing here connected to this whole idea about rest?
It’s talking about how you will never get into that deep rest unless you come to grips with spiritual nakedness. It’s harkening back to Genesis. In Gen. 2&3 we’re told Adam and Eve were originally naked and it wasn’t a problem. They were naked and unashamed. They were absolutely at rest, absolutely satisfied with who they were. They saw who they were and it was good. They had the rest. But the minute (Gen. 3) we turn from God, and decided to be our own saviours and lords, they knew at the deepest level that they are radically unfit to be saviours and lords. We are radically incapable of that, unfit for the job. As a result, we experience (like Adam and Eve did) a sense of inadequacy, a sense of not being right, not being acceptable, a deep sense of spiritual nakedness and they begin to cover up from each other with fig leaves and hide from God in the brush.
Unless you have the experience of spiritual nakedness and realize that you’re not ok, you won’t understand your drivenness, you won’t understand your restlessness. It has to be revealed to you, you have to see it. It’s a horrible ordeal to see it.
Franz Kafka, The Trial. A book than an awful lot of people have to read in college. It’s about Joseph K who one day realize he’s been arrested. Never told what for. At first he thinks, there must be a rational explanation, but the more he tries to extricate himself, the more he gets in trouble, and in the end he is killed.
The Cliff Notes say this is a parable of our contemporary situation. We think there is a rational explanation for what’s wrong with the world. We don’t believe in God or sin or guilt, and yet there is a voice inside us telling us there’s something wrong. There’s a voice inside all of us calling us fools, cowards, there’s something wrong with us, we’re not unacceptable.
We used to call it complexes. Or we blame our parent’s raising. But we can’t get of it There must be a rational explanation, and we are driven, and we’re covering.
Why do some of you never even imagine dating someone who isn’t really good looking? Or work so hard because “everything will be alright” if we just get that promotion? Or strive for perfectionism? These are fig leaves. Until you recognize what the deep restlessness is, you’re covering something, that’s why you’re working so hard, and not until you see that, will you understand verse 10.
It remains therefore rest for the people of God. …he also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.
Wait a minute? What’s wrong with good work? Why should we need rest from that kind of work? If you work hard at your job that’s good! If you work hard to love that’s good! If you work hard to be a good person, that’s good!
St. Paul’s answer is that there’s nothing wrong with work, what’s wrong is our motivation. When the reason we’re being kind is to get a feeling like, “I’m alright,” that’s self-justifying work and that will kill you. When the reason you’re doing good so that God will bless you, you will never ever ever be satisfied. When the reason you’re doing good things is to feel good about yourself and to see other people respect you and to get God to bless you, then your work is self-justifying, then you’ll never be able to lay it down and say, “It is good, it is finished.” There will always be flaws. And at some deep subliminal level everyone who does good not because you already know who you are but because you want to construct a self-image of being a good person, you know that all your unselfishness, is selfish. All your loving others is really loving yourself.
And this is the reason why John Gerston used to say,
The thing that’s really separating you from God and rest is not so much your sins but your damnable good works. He’s saying of course you should repent for the things that are wrong, but pharisees repent for things they do wrong but they’re still pharisees, still anxious, still insecure, still looking down on others, still cutting others down so that they can feel better about themselves. The way to rest and the way to God is not basically repenting for what you’re doing wrong as it is repenting for the reasons you’re doing everything right. It means you utterly change why you do them.
A lot of people say, I’m going to be a Christian and repent of my sins.
Good. Sins are bad. Stop.
But just repenting things that are wrong does not get at the self-justifying work that’s really destroying you.
A lot of secular people working like crazy feel they need spiritual rest and they say, “I’m going to repent of my sins and go to church and read my Bible,” but you’re going to more tired.
It’s just the same thing. It’s religious justification but it’s the same thing.
In Chariots of Fire, Harold Abrams says, when I run the hundred mile dash because when that gun goes off I have ten seconds to justify myself.
He says I’m working hard so that I can feel good about who I am.
Eric Liddle says, God made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure.
One man in order to be sure of who he is. One man running because he knows who he is. Two men working hard, one man always weary, and another man always resting even when he’s working.
Which do you want to be?
How do I get there?
The last point. The Author of Rest.
V. 13 “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him who we must give account.”
“laid bare” in the greek, trachelisoame, had a very specific meaning, meant to stretch the neck back so that you could cut it and kill. Because v. 12 has the image of the sword in it, that’s definitely the grisly metaphor the author had in mind. It’s always used in reference to the sacrifice of animals – it’s how you held the animal’s head back to kill them for sacrifice.
(Francis Schaffer allegory) If you were held only to your OWN standards, on judgement day, you were only held accountable for the things you said people should do, not a single person would pass that test.
If every person with a heart looks at the injustice of the world hopes for a world that will put everything right, then we’re all going to be cut off.
The next verse, v. 14, starts another section, but it says, “He is a high priest, go to him, and he will give you grace and mercy in time of need.”
v. 12 & 13 say according to simple justice we’re going to be cut off, but v. 14 says the merciful high priest will give mercy…
that’s the answer. We are not going to be sacrificed, because he was the sacrifice. Jesus was cut off from the land of the living, so that we could live. Jesus was stripped naked so that we could be clothed with the glory of God. Jesus experienced radical restlessness, “My God, My God why hast thou forsaken me?” He was cut off from the source of eternal rest, he was thrown into hell, so that we could have rest. And when he died, he said, “It is finished.” What’s finished? the work that every human heart is trying to do. The self-justifying work. He’s said, “I’ve done it.”
How can you lay down your work and walk away from it? Because you’re absolutely sure about who you are. And you know you’re delighted in by the only set of eyes in the universe before which you have to give account.
Matt 11: Jesus says, Come to me and I will give you rest.
I don’t know if you believe in Jesus, I don’t know if you believe that he’s done this for you, but I urge you do to everything you possibly can to find out a way to do it, because how else will you find this deep rest? How else will you be able to walk away from your work, lay it down, unless in the deepest recesses of your heart you’ve laid your deadly doing down, down at Jesus feet, and you stand in him and Him alone, gloriously complete? How else are you going to know you’re loved and so valuable that you don’t have to earn it through all this restless work?
I don’t know if you believe this yet, but I urge you to try because this is the way to rest.
To those who do believe, to the Christians:
V. 11, is that it indicates there’s something in the future:
let us therefore to make every effort to enter that rest,
In v. 3 – I believe the Gospel and get rest, present tense, yet here is future rest in v. 11. And on one hand, the full rest is the new heavens and new earth. But I think it’s also saying, you never get all the rest, you have to keep going back to it, keep going back to the gospel to get rest. The gospel is like a fire in my life, and the natural condition of the human heart is to forget the gospel and turn to self-justification. You can mask that when things are going well, but failure, criticism, something goes wrong, and what I do is I start making longer lists, I start working longer hours. I start jumping around trying to generate heat, but what I need is to do is return to the fire.
If we start each day with our personal security not resting on the accepting love of God and the sacrifice of Christ, but on our present achievements, such arguments will not quiet the human conscience and we are inevitably moved either to discouragement and apathy, or to a self-righteousness or some form of idolatry that tries to falsify the record to achieve a sense of peace. But the Gospel faith that is able to warm itself at the fire of God’s love and what Jesus has done for us, instead of having to steal love and self-acceptance from all these other places, is the very root of peace.
Warm yourself at the fire, and you can face anything. You can lay your work down.
5You humble yourselves
by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
Do you really think this will please the LORD?
6“No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
7Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
The above is a passage of scripture from Isaiah 53. Isaiah, a prophet, is telling the people what God wants to say to them, and God is mad at their hypocrisy. They had a tradition of “acting pious”: going to temple every day and making this big ceremonial deal of their no-spend mon- er… I mean, their fasting, and God is like, IS THIS THE RELIGION I WANT?
Even while you fast,
you keep oppressing your workers.
You can look real shiny on the outside, and wear all those things that makes people know: Yea, they’re good! But then you’re a jerk. You’re a self-involved jackass that treats people like crap and is dressing in burlap because it makes you look good.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Sharing your food with the hungry is mentioned twice. Repetition in the Bible is kind of like, underlining, bolding, italicizing, increasing the font size, highlighting in yellow, and putting it on a magnet and sticking it on your fridge.
So … there’s that.
So here are some dos & don’ts, modified from the email I got today from Ruth Soukrup’s blog, Living Well & Spending Less.
What to do: Do a regular inventory of your pantry and freezer, so that you can use what you have, and quit storing things like it’s the apocalypse. You’ll have an emptier fridge, and a pantry that doesn’t look like Hoarders, but the point isn’t tidiness.
Why do it: You’llspend less on your grocery bill, freeing that money up to donate to the food bank, or feed the hungry some other way.
What to do: Curate your clothes. I’ve been using the Konmari Method (does this bring me joy?). You’ll have fewer clothes: laundry will go faster and putting things away will be easier.
Why do it: You’ll have more time to spend on people rather than things.
“only spend money on items you truly need that are quality made and will last. No more buying simply because it was on sale.” (emphasis mine)
What to do: Gifts for birthdays and Christmas: DIY. Last year my brother-in-law’s girlfriend made each of the siblings cookies – seriously, so simple, and yet perfect. We ended up doing a cookie exchange because we all got different kinds. It was so much fun and memorable. I want to do something hand-made this year, crafting brings me joy. Another great quote from Ruth:
Think of ways you can give of yourself, rather than resort to another gift card or store-bought item. Learn a new craft and use those skills to create gifts for the next holiday or birthday.
Why do it:
There is a promise attached to all this. It is God himself. Do this, get Him.
May God’s will be done.
“Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
and the glory of the LORD will protect you from behind.
9Then when you call, the LORD will answer.
‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply.
“Remove the heavy yoke of oppression.
Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumors!
10Feed the hungry,
and help those in trouble.
Then your light will shine out from the darkness,
and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.
11The LORD will guide you continually,
giving you water when you are dry
and restoring your strength.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like an ever-flowing spring.
Here are some reflections on the month of no spending as I near the end.
The world I live in looks like one big shopping mall
Unrequested, flyers are delivered to my doorstep almost every day. And you know what? I finally read them. I decided for our next kettle I want one that has a variable temperature setting for green tea, and aaaaaaaaaaaaggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh….Canadian Tire how do you know how to show me what I didn’t know I neeeeeeededdd.
My work is within a comfortable walking distance of Yonge Street, a cornucopia of adorable unique shops and coffee shops and restaurants. I almost justified buying stuff from Roots because they had a 40% off sale. Then I realized the sale was only 25% off, and I felt strong enough to resist. Clearly my integrity has a price, and it’s 40% off.
I go to the gym three times a week in a strip mall. Even in the gym, there are things for sale: clothes, meal replacement and snack bars (chocolate mint!!!), and this past week has been a bake sale (!!!) to raise money for breast cancer.
I pick up my medication in a Shopper’s Drug Mart, which sells absolutely everything under the sun.
I am not just shaped by my culture. I am not just “influenced” by it. I am a PRODUCT off my culture. And what does our culture make? Consumers, of whom I am the worst.
CONSUMERISM. 1. the promotion of the consumer’s interests. 2. the theory that an increasing consumption of goods is economically desirable; also : a preoccupation with and an inclination toward the buying of consumer goods.
Even though I bought things for my dad, or for my job, and went out to social events (in order to not socially isolate myself in an attempt to spend less), I still felt like I was missing out. It felt unnatural, like I was depriving myself of something good. This is – honestly – not a challenge I could have accomplished while struggling with anxiety like I was a year ago.
And here’s the crazy thing. I’d find myself scrolling through websites, pinning things, and doing research on products, and adding items to my favourites on Etsy, because I knew the month would eventually end. Other days, I would open up a website and eventually get bored because I knew I couldn’t make the purchase. That high, that satisfaction from “getting” something, wasn’t available to me.
My entire life, it seems, has been built around deals and shopping on my way to or from other destinations. It was a habit so deeply ingrained I wasn’t even aware of how I taught myself to know all the stores in my neighbourhood and what they sold, so could mentally go through a check-list to see if I “needed” anything when I drove past.
The sad reality
I felt like I had more time. That’s right, the constant QUEST to search out and find the next thing I “needed” and to get it “on sale” (if possible) took time. So. Much. Time.
With that time I was more creative with what I already owned. I used my art supplies and started watercolour painting for the first time. I created meals I’d never made before to use up freezer foods and pantry items. I wrote a letter to my sponsor child for the first time and mailed it. I started my first sewing project in a year using supplies I already had. I even read the books I’ve been waiting to have “time” to read.
Consumerism, it turns out, makes us fairly boring people. I know the appeal – trust me, I know the appeal – it gives you a sense of security, your possessions become part of your identity. New, shiny, beautiful, functional, cool, whatever it is, you get to share in that glory when you own that thing. We strive to have the right stuff, to curate our image – which is really an image of us with our stuff.
But then life is short, and maybe we should be a bit more of a homebody, inviting people in to our kitchens, inviting people over to chat and play some old board games. Maybe we should have “down time” to explore the art supplies in our closet, or the books on our shelf we wanted to read. Time to be “bored” so-to-speak so that we can have some peace and rest. To have enough time to go for a walk because there’s nothing more pressing to do.
When I talk about giving money away
The “No Spend” part of the “Living Well Spending Zero” challenge suggested that I don’t purchase things for myself. But it doesn’t say anything about giving my money away for nothing in return.
When charities asked for money, when people were fundraising, I gave, and I gave freely, without thinking too much about it, because I knew I had not spent what I normally spent on myself. I was USED to spending. It came easily. But this month, I wasn’t obsessing over what I might want/need, so I was more open to listening to the needs of others (and not surprisingly, their needs were way more compelling). Key to this freedom to give, I believe, was that I realized just how much I had. At the beginning of the month I did an inventory. I have a drug-store’s worth of first aid and cold and headache medicine. I have a full pantry (slightly less full now, but still surprisingly full). I had a full freezer. I knew I had enough.
And I suppose when you know you have enough, you can be more free to meet the needs of others.
Would I do it again? Yes. Will and I are already talking about doing it again next year. The coolest part? I realized I could save AND give more money away, if I just didn’t buy clothes for a month or go out to restaurants. Now THAT does more for inner peace than a thousand McDonald’s coffees.
some truth from a sermon by Tim Keller.
In every single one of us there is a raging thirst. There is an unquenchable all consuming thirst, that eventually – if it’s not spiritually dealt with, if there is not a supernatural intervention of your life – eventually you will find nothing good enough. It will make you unhappy with anything. Food from heaven, paradise itself. You will never be satisfied. We have an infinite capacity for boredom, for irritability with the best things.
This syndrome, this sickness we all have develops and progresses faster if you’re successful. The more successful you are the more you come to realize you have a bottomless pit inside. You have a black hole. An infinite vacuum. You put someone or something in there, and at first it’s great, and then you detest it. At first she’s great, he’s great, it’s great, and then you find fault, and you don’t like it, and you want it to go away.
It goes faster if we are successful, but we are all on our way. Unless there is some sort of treatment or intervention we are on our way to being unhappy with everything, nothing will be good enough. This is the reason why we’re so unhappy with where we are in our career, but would be more unhappy the further up we go. This is the reason why we’re unhappy with our spouse, or with our singleness, or with how we look. We’ll never be satisfied because there is something in your centre that is sick. There is a poison in our heart, a raging fever, an all-consuming unquenchable fire that devours everything you throw in there. And nothing will be good enough, until we get treatment.
There are three prerequisites for healing.
- Trouble. The basic principle is that trouble wakes you up to your need. You don’t see what’s wrong or are willing to admit the diagnosis until you start to die. Almost all spiritual growth happens because something comes into your life that forces you to go to the great physician. This was the first prep for the healing of any spiritual trouble, the material trouble or circumstantial or social or economic or physical trouble. Trouble that wakes you up.
- Friendships Kept in Good Repair. You almost never have life-changing encounters with God without friends. The way you meet God the first time is almost always through friends – friends who help you process, who listen, who argue with you, sympathize with you, that might be a bit further ahead than you spiritually. You can’t face the troubles of life, the difficulties of the wilderness without friends. They support you and pray for you and build you up. However, friendships are like houses – they require maintenance, upkeep, they automatically deteriorate and you need to work on them. Unless you’re constantly keeping your friendships in repair, saying sorry, asking for forgiveness, telling people when they’ve sinned against you or you’ve sinned against them, unless you’re continually doing spiritual repair they won’t be there for you to do spiritual healing. Soul repair is made possible by constant friendship repair. Your typical New Yorker doesn’t tell friends about their presence at church. But this whole spiritual journey will go a lot slower if you don’t have friends. You need to make friends at church. Go to small groups. Have people that can help you process and think out and work out what you’re hearing and find out how they work it into their lives. Not only does it take longer without friends, but your spiritual search may not have a successful end without friends. “This is what I don’t like about church. All this repair work. Rubs and snubs and reconciliation. It shouldn’t be this hard!” Yes, it should. Let me show you why: (a quote by Don Carson) “The reason why there’s so many exhortations for Christians to love other Christians because the church is made up of natural enemies. The church of Jesus Christ is not made up of natural friends, but natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income, common politics, common nationalities, common jobs or anything else of that sort. Those are the things that bind other groups of people together. Christians come together because they have all been saved by Jesus Christ and owe him a common allegiance. In this life we should understand the church to be a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.” The fact that keeping your friendships in repair in the church is such hard work is not a sign that it’s a bad place but actually a sign that it’s supernaturally created, better place. It’s harder in here than out there, but there are people in here that you would never know otherwise. If on the basis of Jesus you keep your spiritual friendships in repair, they are the ones that can help you, the ones that you can have strength.
- The End of Blame Shifting. They know their problems are self-induced. There is not a word of excuse. “We sinned.” Spiritual healing starts when blame-shifting stops, and not til then.
What is the treatment? What is the medicine? Jesus took the poison on himself. He became sin, who knew no sin. He became sin on the cross. He got what evil and sin deserves. He said, “I thirst.” Jesus got the soul-poison, the all-consuming thirst of infinite dissatisfaction. He said, “You have forsaken me.” He got the hell of eternal dislocation. He experienced it so that we could be healed. He got what we deserved so that we could be healed.
“By his stripes we are healed.”
He carried our diseases.
Why can’t God just forgive? Whenever someone wrongs somebody, there is a loss. There is a cost. Either the wronger or the forgiver will bear the cost, but the cost doesn’t go away. Either you bear the cost or I bear the cost. No one “just forgives.” The forgiver always bears, absorbs the cost. God forgives us by lifting up Jesus, endures the infinite thirst. The eternal, ultimate, spiritual, cosmic hell on the cross.
How do we get this medicine? “Look.” “So whoever believes in him will have eternal life.” You don’t need only to be forgiven, you need to be repaired. You don’t just need to be pardoned, you need to be healed, restored to life. It’s “looking” rather than “doing.” What we need is to be born again. No one plans or strives or performs their own birth. It is the labour and love and planning of someone else. We get the medicine by stopping “doing” and starting “looking.” We’re born again in an instant. We are born by the labour and suffering of someone else.
Charles Spurgeon was out walking once, during a snow storm, and stopped in a small church.
The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now it is well that preachers be instructed, but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was—“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH” (Isa. 45:22)
He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimmer of hope for me in that text.
The preacher began thus: “This is a very simple text indeed. It says ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pain. It aint liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look.
“But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” he said in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some say look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ “
Then the good man followed up his text in this way: “Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me, I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sitting at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!”
When he had . . . . managed to spin out about ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger.
Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did, but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “And you will always be miserable—miserable in life and miserable in death—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but look and live!”
I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said—I did not take much notice of it—I was so possessed with that one thought . . . . I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me. Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away.
Salvation is not subscribing to doctrine but seeing what he’s done, seeing him sweating drops of blood, seeing him taking the poison for you, now you know your worth, your saviour, the things that used to drive you and used to define you and inflate you and deflate you don’t do that anymore. Your identity has been changed. Not completely – things still drive, define, deflate – then you look again. And the healing continues, and continues, and continues. Look to him. And be ye saved.
Day three. I suspect this is what withdrawal feels like. From a heroin addiction.
I never realized how attuned I was to the possibilities of consumption when I drove around. I imagine it comes from that genetic history of hunter-gatherers, constantly on the look-out for where there might be nuts, edible roots, and berries… except for me it’s groceries and coffee shops… those are the things I always scanning the horizon for. And now I’m hyper-aware.
It feels a bit like fasting, where suddenly you really notice just how many advertisements there are for food on television, because you’re sooo hungry.
I wonder what the hunger is that consumerism promises to satisfy?
One of the first CHALLENGES (from the Living Well & Spending Zero blog) that serves as a helpful DISTRACTION and as a practical tool is to create an INVENTORY of your FOOD.
There’s a printable, colourful PDF, or you can draw your own (like I did!)
What blew my mind is the fact that I intentionally did not stock up and yet my freezer is FULL. And now I’m kind of excited. And I want that donut.
Isn’t it funny how we often have way more than we realize?
UPDATE: I did my Pantry, too.
September for a Children’s Minister is exhilarating and exhausting. At least it is when you’ve decided to start a new curriculum and you have to prep three classrooms-worth of materials every week. It’s been a blast so far, honestly, and I’ve appreciated so much the volunteers that have committed to teach, but these last few days have been the first time I’ve really stopped probably in two months, and that’s because I am very. very. sick.
A woman named Ruth (check out her downloadable PDFs!) has created something called, “31 Days of Living Well & Spending Less,” which I’ve signed up for in an attempt to create some space to think about my finances – right in the midst of the flurry of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and prep for Christmas. Ruth’s blog provides worksheets and a helpful sense of community and daily emails to keep you busy.
I need this. I’ve let my spending go unchecked for a good month and a half now (foregoing recording expenses because “I’m too busy” or “have better things to do”). I know I need to rework my budget. We’re one day in, and already I feel like I have some room to breath. It’s easier to halt the distracting call of consumerism when spending money isn’t even an option. Cataloging “possible” purchases on Pinterest or Etsy; the quest for the perfect purse, or justifying an iPhone 6, or new wardrobe pieces just aren’t on the table right now – I don’t have to worry about it (and I didn’t know I was worrying about it until I stopped).
If you’re anything like me, big things require some time to work up to. I came across the challenge at the end of August and told my husband about it. Emails from Ruth have helped me mentally prepare, and avoid the temptation to stock up. My hubs and I agreed ahead of time we’d buy some sweet potatoes or something to bring to Thanksgiving, but other than that, we’re committed – together – to not spending on non-essentials.
Here are the exceptions we agreed to:
- obviously, we will pay bills and continue our charitable giving
- OK to buy: toilet paper, milk, cheese, and fresh fruit
- paint for our living room (a project that’s been in the works for probably the last year)
- we’re going to see the Martian when it comes out, as we’ve been planning that for months
There is no “good month” for this to take place, and since it’s October, we don’t currently have any plans to buy candy or celebrate Halloween with anything other than decorations we already own. I am looking forward to the challenge of using creativity and resourcefulness to accomplish things without spending money. I’m even cancelling Netflix (gasp) but it’s not that big a deal since I signed up for the free month of Shomi. 😛
I’d invite you to join me for the accountability, but I’d rather just say that I’m trying this and will keep you updated on anything interesting that develops. If it sounds appealing, let me know. It’s like a little bit of lent in October 🙂
There are stories that our culture tells us over and over again that shape our reality, like that of the Superhero. These stories ring true for us; there is real evil and we need real saving. It’s easy to think, however, that incredible good is only done by those with incredible power. We justify our position or choices because we don’t view ourselves as having anything particularly special or purposeful about us. We keep doing what we’ve always done – or aim for the status quo – because we think it’s all we can do. We wind up guilty of doing nothing, on the wrong side of history because we thought our actions didn’t matter.
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Or maybe you’ve been raised in the Church and have heard stories about saints or missionaries who sold all their possessions to live lives of radical service, and thought, “I will never be a missionary,” or “I’m obviously not Mother Theresa“. Maybe the people you have put on a pedestal of having purpose and value are your friendly neighbourhood clergy – pastors or priests – or youth workers or professional counselors and psychologists, you know, the people trained to love and care and make a difference in the world. The people called to do incredible work.
Maybe, without realizing it, you’ve internalized a narrative that suggests you don’t have some higher purpose and you aren’t that powerful. I challenge you on that, Christian. I do. You’re not called to sell all your possessions or become a missionary overseas? Great. But chances are, you are still going to have to give up doing what you want. His call, wherever you are, is nevertheless to still, “Come, follow me.”
Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.
– Matthew 16:24 (NLT)
It’s not as though our steps of righteous cross-carrying will somehow save the world or ourselves (remember, that was Jesus’ job, and it is finished). We carry our cross in order to follow a person; in order to be close to the one we’re following.
… 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 …
– Hebrews 12
Following Jesus is something we do most often without grand gestures (though there’s a time for those). One step at a time, day in, day out, often with great difficulty, we “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” (Romans 12). Our spiritual reality can only be lived out in physical action. We must take literal steps of service and self-sacrifice that looks like feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, inviting in the stranger (be that the refugee or the relative with dementia), clothing the naked, and being company for the isolated sick or imprisoned. It can be fairly radical stuff that I’ll be honest I haven’t enough experience doing, especially when practicing hospitality and serving the “least” members of society counters all that’s inside me that wants to be comfortable and safe, but Christ promises that when we do this…
we are brought closer to God himself (where I’m getting all the social justice stuff) and God has never been particularly safe.
Yet, our Father chose to use humans, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to accomplish his purposes on earth. You may not be a missionary or saint or superhero or paid staff of the church or a professional psychologist or personal support worker or politician or as rich as the next guy, but you have been created by a God who does not make mistakes and has called *you* to follow him. There’s some serious good work to be done and the status quo – an ordinary life – is not an option.
Go. Follow Him.
Have you ever wanted to buy a gift from one of those charitable gift catalogues? Maybe a goat, or chickens, or school supplies for people in need. These are incredible opportunities to teach your kids to think of others – I’ve done it in Children’s Ministry – and for those of you without kids, it’s also just a really fun way to do charity.
But most gift catalogues also imply that you will tell people about the gifts you buy, suggesting that you do it “in their honour” over and above or instead of buying “stuff” for them. Have you ever given your grandma the gift of “books for Guatemalan schoolchildren”? I have. It’s awkward. It might’ve been thoughtful, “because you love schoolchildren, too, right?” But what grandma wants is a token – and it doesn’t have to be big – that communicates I care about her.
But let’s not give up on those gift catalogues just yet…
Jesus, I’m sure anticipating the temptation to use Christmas to buy baby goats for people and brag about it, said this:
“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Matthew 6:2-4
I’d say that’s a Biblical imperative not to give your gift catalogue gifts away if there ever was one. Just give to the Guatemalan schoolchildren, and your Father, who sees what you do on the internet, will reward you.
But back to the Bible for a sec. Why the hyperbole? Commentaries suggest that the trumpet thing might’ve happened, but was likely as extreme sounding as suggesting you could keep something secret from one of your hands…
Jesus challenges us about the danger of public piety with such forceful language precisely because we don’t think it’s a problem for us. – IVP NT Bible Commentary
This isn’t saying that if you could do something good that will draw public attention you shouldn’t do it, but rather that we have a tendency to see an opportunity for doing good and use it to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others.
Doing good isn’t for the sake of doing good, rather it’s for the sake of deeper intimacy with our good God.
If you want to know what intimacy with God looks like, look to Jesus. He loved – and trusted – the Father enough to say “thy will be done, not mine.” Jesus’ actions were not an attempt to win the Father’s approval (Jesus was given that before he even started his ministry; Jesus was his son, after all, not his employee). Jesus wasn’t oriented towards impressing people, either (he made lots of enemies and continued walking towards the cross even when his closest disciples had abandoned him). Jesus lived with his eyes on his Father – the only one whose approval mattered – so that we can now say, “Our Father.”
When you follow Jesus (even to the cross) it may be hard and lonely at times but God’s way is the truth and life: God’s way is Jesus.
Here’s a prayer you can pray. It’s my prayer, too.
We adore you because you sent your son. We see perfect love in Jesus Christ.
We confess that the hopes and yearning of our hearts often point in the wrong direction, away from you. We vie for position over and above others. We compare ourselves to others, and compete in an imaginary race, when you have already made us children of God.
We thank you, Lord, that you offer us acceptance and a love that satisfies our deepest need because of what Christ has done. We thank you for the scriptures and ask that you would help us have eyes to see the truth: to see your son, Jesus Christ.
Please help us be aware of where in our lives we’ve oriented our heart towards people’s approval before yours. Give us your courage and strength to follow you even when it is unpopular. Please be our source of security, our peace, our hope. Orient our hearts towards you.
This I declare about the LORD: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. – Psalm 91:2 (NLT)
Salvation is and has always been BOTH a spiritual and physical deliverance. In Judges 6:9, God identifies himself through a prophet as rescuer and deliverer – in a physical sense – for his people.
I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.
– Judges 6:9, referring to the enslavement of the nation of Israel in Egypt and the Exodus
While ancient Egypt is a valuable metaphor when taken as a symbol of slavery to sin, the Israelites suffered from real, literal slavery. And God really, literally delivered them from it.
As Christians we have duties that – while not less than spiritual – are more than “just” spiritual. Jesus spoke often about “the Kingdom;” it was something “of Heaven” and yet also somehow “at hand.” It was (and continues to be) a future and present reality, something that we will only see fully consummated in the new creation, but something that we can nevertheless participate in whenever and wherever we make Jesus Christ our King.
Which is a complicated way of saying: believing in Jesus without it changing your behaviours or habits proves you don’t really believe in Jesus (faith without works is dead).
Justice, in fact, is kind of a theme in God’s word.
For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; Isaiah 61:8
Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. Isaiah 1:17
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3
So let’s look a bit closer at Fair Trade.
When it comes to helping others, being unreflective often means being ineffective.
– MacAskill, a Scottish Cambridge-and Oxford-trained philosopher, who likes “effective altruism,” a movement that has been called “generosity for nerds.”
MacAskill makes a good point.
His views on Fair Trade, however, are fairly utilitarian:
…when you buy fair-trade, you usually aren’t giving money to the poorest people in the world. Fairtrade standards are difficult to meet, which means that those in the poorest countries typically can’t afford to get Fairtrade certification. For example, the majority of fair-trade coffee production comes from comparatively rich countries like Mexico and Costa Rica, which are ten times richer than the very poorest countries like Ethiopia.
For MacAskill, he would rather buy the cheapest products possible in order to be able to give more to worthy charities. And Fair Trade products are often more expensive.
Aiming to purchase the cheapest product possible (a virtue I grew up with) because you want to be able to “give more to people who deserve it” has serious flaws.
First: Our unending quest for the “cheapest” products drives up the demand for what is essentially slave labour (see: Joe Fresh, iPads).
It’s true that, for many workers, getting a job at a garment or sportswear factory is better than some of the alternatives – that is why so many depend on them. The fact that people are desperate isn’t an excuse to exploit them. […] millions of people are earning a wage. However, this alone is not enough to lift them from poverty if employers can hire and fire at will, deny union rights, pay low wages that drive people to work inhumane hours just to survive, avoid paying sick leave and avoid observing maternity rights. For many workers, these jobs carry devastating hidden costs, such as poor health, exhaustion and broken families, all of which are unacceptable and avoidable. Everyone wants and is entitled to a quality job that pays “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his [or her] family an existence worthy of human dignity.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23(3)).
The problem with deciding who really deserves help: MacAskill suggests that ultimately he can decide who most deserves charity, a word which, in Christian terms, is synonymous with love. Christ, thank God, does not give to only those who deserve it, but “gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” God so loved the world … that he sent Jesus. It is in the pattern of Christ, in his footsteps that we give up our incredible privileges for the sake of others.
You will have to go with less, be that time or money, in order for others to have more.
Everything has a cost. Either the consumer pays it, or the worker. (- I have no idea who said this, but it’s amazing.)
And you can do it because Christ did it first:
Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
Fair Trade is not the be-all and end-all solution. But consider it one way you can make a difference. Alleviating poverty, increasing demand for sustainable farming practices and promoting fair wages and safe working conditions is important and makes a huge difference in the lives of those working there.
For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – James 5:4
Do for one what you wish you could do for all. – Andy Stanley
Give your money a job to do.
While it feels nice to have a “Savings” account if you’re anything like me you may have had one without much thought put into it; “Saving” is the goal, but there isn’t really a purpose beyond that. Perhaps you have some vague ideas like having an “emergency fund” or just know generally it is good to have a bigger number in there.
Did you know there isn’t any Biblical imperative to save for saving’s sake? In fact, in the parable of the talents one guy refuses to use the money his master gives him and instead puts it in a hole in the ground and buries it until the master comes back, and the master is furious he wasted the opportunity because of fear. In fact, he’s called “wicked and lazy.” It’s an incredible parable.
What are your goals? Mine are fairly self-interested. I want to buy fair trade clothes, which means I need to spend more money less often. A long-term goal (like maybe in five years) is to have “my” car one day – a second car – so I’m saving a little money towards that each month. One of the things I place a really high priority on is education (whether it’s taking a sewing class or doing my M.Div) so I’m saving enough each month to cover the costs of at least one course+books per semester.
What are the goals God might have for your money?
Having a purpose – and a Godly one – for your savings makes it more likely that you’ll actually save, and it also makes it less likely that you’ll dip into your savings if your money has a specific goal.
Here’s a prayer you can pray right now to invite God into this process. Feel free to read my words or make it your own prayer:
You said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. You have created light where there is darkness. You created order where there was chaos. You have created all of time, you know everything that is and was and is to come. You are eternal and we are in your hands.
We confess, Lord Jesus, that sometimes we rely on our money for our security, and depend on a number in our bank accounts for our sense of peace. We confess, Lord Jesus, that often what you have given us we mismanage and we fail to act where we should.
Thank you, Lord, for your forgiveness. Thank you, Lord, for how to teach us. Thank you, Lord, for being patient with us and giving us your Holy Spirit to help us do hard – but good – things
Please give us your wisdom to manage the money your have given us. Show us, Lord, how to value what you value, to love who you love, and how we can make our goals align with yours.
We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Whatever job you want to do with your money, assign that money the job. This is taken straight from a YNAB training webinar, but it’s a helpful way to think about saving however you budget.
These are some of the categories I have in my YNAB budget.
Some possible jobs God may be asking you to invest in:
- To financially support missionaries.
- To give 10% of your income to your church every month.
- To sponsor a child through something like WorldVision or Compassion.
- To pay off a debt.
I’m not going to share all the things I do with my money that aren’t self-interested, because that’s boasting, but I will recommend the following amazing organizations that I care about that maybe you might care about, too.
Pre-emptive Love Coalition – Empowering women, children and families that are refugees and fighting ISIS. They are essentially “unmaking violence.”
Food for the Hungry – I love food, so supporting this organization aligns with my goals. Plus, they just have a really great structure of helping communities become sustainable.
CAMH – The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is in Toronto and helps a lot of people in some incredible ways. Definitely a very good cause.
My church – Whether I understand what my money does here or not (I actually happen to trust the people in charge, so I’m not worried), I give in obedience to the command from God to tithe.
These are goals that may take a while to work up to, or maybe by sacrificing in one area (clothes, lattes, eating out) you might be able to make these goals a reality right away. Either way, consider how God may be calling you to be more faithful in your savings account, by giving your money a job to do.
“It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” – Jesus (Matthew 4:4)