Trained to Consume? Or learning to give?

From Nick:   Since starting my internship with the church, one thing I continue to observe and learn: the needs are great, but the servants are few.  Most people show up to an event, participate, and leave when its over.  But what about the preparation and clean up?  I shouldn’t be surprised, I mean what do you expect from people who have been trained to consume?  We are a nation of consumers. TV, politics, technology, fashion, food, and even Jesus.  “Teach me, and then let me just be” “Feed me, and then let me chill” is our cry every Sunday, whether we know it or not…

In fact even Paul says, “In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘Its more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35).  If you want to learn how to give, give your time.

It’s always good for young adults to consider the words of the wise.  Proverbs 20:29 says “the glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair”.  If you are a single twenty something’s, the best way to fight our drive to consume is to serve.  You might not have loads of money to give, nor awe inspiring gifts to teach or pray, but I guarantee you have time and ample amounts of it.  You have energy.  You have strength.  Each of these things diminish as we get older, so there is no better place to start serving than in your twenty something’s.  It might not be the most exciting.  It may very well be humbling.  Yet, it will also be the most enriching part of following Jesus.

 

4 thoughts on “Trained to Consume? Or learning to give?

  1. Matti: My mom is one of the most servant-oriented Christians I know, and I think she takes to heart your belief that converting one neighbor is a big thing. It is a big thing. If we all did that just once in our lives, we’d convert the whole world (in a few generations, at least). Her vision is modest, but that modest vision is enough to get her to ask herself repeatedly (as she reports it) “What more can I do for God?” Maybe she gives herself to other humans too much, or at least unwisely? But she’s not a slacker.

    Maybe some people ought to be modest-vision servants, and for a congregation to be the horizon of their Christian service is fine. Just by doing all the activities and hanging out with the church people, they’ll get inspired to invite unbelievers to the activities and to hang out with the church people, and that’s how those unbelievers will find God. But some people ought to be sort of immodest in their vision — and these people are some of those who are currently slackers. If modest vision could motivate them, they wouldn’t be slackers. This probably doesn’t apply to everyone, though, there may be people who are just lazy — but then, Christianity is about taking people from where they are, in sin, to where they’re not, holy, so we could easily ask, “Then how do we make it easier, at the relevantly deep level, for them to not sin?” And laziness is a lack of being able to get over barriers/excuses not to act. So maybe we could figure out how to make people volitionally strong enough to get over excuses, or maybe we could remove barriers. Is lack of motivation an excuse problem or a weakness of the will? It could be either, but it’s important either way.

    What I don’t like about church, a lot, is that it’s mostly built around making people feel good. The activities are feel-good activities, the hanging out is feel-good. If you’re lucky, someone will love you enough to rebuke you. This feel-goodism reinforces the addiction to consolation that the book of James preaches so vehemently against (“fattening your hearts on the day of slaughter”). The world is addicted to consolation too, and some people in the world realize this at some level. What if we could preach a freedom from the addiction to self-satisfaction and comfort? But that’s the last thing most of us could preach and be taken seriously for saying, given our lives.

    Of course, feeling bad is inherently bad. God gives us consolation sometimes, and every good thing is a gift from God. It’s just, there’s a deep level of our being that is consoled by desolation at the shallower levels. It’s like it can’t get its nourishment if the shallower levels are full, because they fullness of the shallowness blocks the nourishment from going deep. I think this is what James talks about in 1:2 — consider desolation to be consolation, only because desolation makes you holy. The feeling of fakeness we get about church or ourselves may just be the awareness that we are empty at the deepest level, and disgustingly full at the shallow ones.

    Active obedience is essential, but what do we mean by “essential”? Are we saying (the “traditional beliefs”) “Ah, don’t worry about works. They won’t save you. Worry about confessing Jesus’ name to yourself and other people. But then you should do works because it’s a nice thing to do.” So is obedience essential? Well, it’s essential to loving God. (But obviously we don’t love God, because we aren’t obeying. So how can we love God?) Alternatively (the “proposed beliefs”), you could say “Yeah, in a sense we’re justified by faith, but in a sense we’re justified by works! We’ll lose our salvation if we don’t come to be holy (without holiness you don’t see God).” So then “essential” is different. We would say “God is patient, but you need to give your whole being to him, (that is, become righteous, full of wisdom from God) and for that you have to hunger and thirst for righteousness, and for that you need to know that you aren’t righteous, and for that you need to be guilty (see also Mark 9:42-50) and so while you have always been forgiven, solely based on Christ’s death, having nothing to do with your works or even your faith, it’s your choice whether you keep that forgiveness, so work to become hungry for God, to receive from him your salvation. You’ve always been saved (forgiven), you are being saved (sanctified), you will be saved (further sanctification up to the point of perfection, and glorification).”

    This may sound heretical, but it’s a position that gives the believer a more powerful basic final image to seek, a less modest — or less mediocre — moral vision. The usual basic final image (the one the slacker in us aspires to) is “A decent person who has been moderated and made skillful by years of age and church,” but under my proposed beliefs, it is “An excellent person who has been purified by years of struggle, temptation, work, longing (and part of that is church).” My beliefs, I think, explain the really admirable Christians more than the traditional beliefs do, because they support a more powerful, admirable and deep final image of what a Christian will be than the traditional beliefs do. Some people naturally love God enough that they seek excellence in him, but what if everyone else could? They need to see excellence as basic — and thus as essential. And of course, this excellence comes, in large part, through active obedience.

    Again, this may sound heretical, but consider this: In order to begin to change, you have to say things are wrong. And our fruit, as Western Christians, is horribly lacking. We don’t just have “broken” people. We have “broken” church organizations and cultures, “broken” religion, “broken” spirituality leading to individual “broken” relationships with God (although they feel pretty good to us or at least basically okay) — and so, probably, “broken” doctrine.

    Probably the best thing for a person to do who is aspiring to love God enough to begin obeying him is to say “My spiritual life is messed up. My religion is messed up. I don’t understand God enough, or properly.” That is, “grieve, mourn, and wail” about your callous heart and your impure religion/spirituality. Then God can fill you with spiritual riches (whether through consolation or desolation), and you’ll have the basic serious, hungry, mournful spirit to carry with you the long road between where you start as servant and where you need to end up.

  2. So really, it comes down to obedience… “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15

    And what are some of his commandments?
    “Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22:37-39
    “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Matthew 28:19

    I agree with both Nick and James that we are a generation comprised of slackers, consumers, idealists… My main point with the above verses is that we don’t have to have a “big thing” in order to be obedient to God. If he calls me to simply minister to one individual in my life (my neighbor?), to see them come to know him, that is a HUGE calling, and it is my job to obey.

    I think Nick’s point (correct me if I’m wrong) is to encourage us to serve. And in order to get to your point James, I think that obedience is the beginning of bridging that gap between the “little” and “big” things.

    “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” James 4:17
    “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” James 2:17

    So START doing the good we “ought to do”, and START serving (i.e., obeying) the Lord.

  3. Well said Nick. However, you SHOULD be surprised at those who are nothing but ‘takers’ within the church. The Word is packed with calls to serve and being aware of your contributions. If someone is an unashamed ‘taker,’ and doesn’t care to make attempts, they see church as nothing but a social club.

  4. This may not have been your intention, that is, you may want more for/from the people you see not contributing/being consumers, and this is just one post and perhaps not at all representative of you (Nick, right?), but from the way this is written (which I think mirrors the effective communication people get in church) I would hear “To a large extent, your world is this church. When you slack, it’s by not participating, pitching in for our activities. Ya gotta do these things that seem insignificant. It’s good for you, builds character. Serve our little world.” I think as idealists (most Christians are at least a little idealistic, and young Christians a lot so) we all could (but probably won’t) remember those times where we were just so consumed in our heads and hearts for some righteous cause, but the thought/feeling sufficed, rather than acting. What fires our imagination is big things, and what we actually can do is small things, but big things really do need to get done. So how can we bridge the gap, get people to get realistic and dedicated about becoming the kind of people who can begin to be able to do big things? (That question is my attempt to not “curse the darkness” but “light a candle”.)

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