It’s weird, that moment when you suddenly realize how others perceive you. It’s as if a window opens and you no longer see yourself subjectively – you can now see yourself through the eyes of others.
When spiritual issues come up in conversation, I can tell how alien I seem. It’s like I’m talking about an experience that’s completely foreign to them.
They bring up death, and I talk of heaven instead of sadness and oblivion. They talk of future plans, and prayers for guidance are on my mind. From their curious stares, you’d think I’d just said I believed in Middle Earth and would be visiting the Shire soon.
People outside the church usually only bring up God with me in times of crisis. Their words do betray a hidden hope for a heaven and a loving Father, yet they can’t seem to move past their fear of Him. Maybe they know instinctively He’ll require something of them, to give up some treasured vice they don’t believe they could live without.
So as soon as they begin to reach for Him, they pull back into the reality they’ve accepted…and constructed.
Last night, a friend veered into “God territory” with me for a few minutes. That’s rare for me as a pastor, because lots of folks I know socially treat that area as “fly over territory” to be avoided.
He mentioned he’d thought of me last Sunday when he attended a friend’s funeral. She’d been in continual pain and finally committed suicide. He was devastated, but also introspective. It caused him to ponder faith, and God, and life, and how short it all is.
I guess I’m happy he’d think of me in the midst of all those weighty topics.
As he talked, I could tell he was searching for words. Possibly, he was worried about bringing up these things with a pastor. Could have been afraid I’d try to shove my own beliefs down his throat, as some pastors might. Perhaps he was half-wishing I could speak some simple sentiment into his experience that would help it all make sense.
His coworker was gone, and soon he will be too – it would make anyone think.
I felt just a little frustrated at that moment. I knew it was an open door for me, yet I knew my answer might be much more than he wanted to hear. I didn’t want to force my beliefs on him, but at the same time I wanted to help.
But the answers to God and life and death aren’t always simple answers – they don’t usually fit nicely on a Facebook meme or on your refrigerator.
As he talked, the weight of those questions seemed to overtake him. He kept repeating “Carpe Diem” – “seize the day” – as if living for today was the only sense he could make of it all.
So what did I say? I stood there with my mouth hanging open, trying to figure out what to say. But I know what I have to offer him is something demanding much more time and sacrifice than most people are willing to commit. Because to find true meaning, eternal meaning, you must lose yourself in the process. And few, very few, are willing to do that…
“…narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” – Matthew 7:14
I’m not sure that my friend doesn’t believe in God, but these days I just take that for granted. My non-believing friends see the things that bring me joy – prayer, the Bible, worship – as such oddities, the relics of an era before iPhones and Netflix. From my love affair with a 2000 year-old book and its author, I must look like a freak to them.
“Look at all the fun he’s missing out on,” they think. Funny, that’s exactly what I think about them.
You see, my joy and hope is found in a dusty old book, and in its Author. But understanding the book and knowing its Author takes a lifetime of searching and painful sacrifice. Knowing Him often doesn’t make life any easier, but it does make it more meaningful, passionate and hopeful in the long term.
But most folks are only looking for the short term, a quick fix, an easy answer. I’ve got none of those.
The best byproducts of my faith – joy, peace, meaning – are found through a regular regimen of spiritual disciplines (prayer, study of Scripture, worship, etc) that take my focus OFF me and onto God. To find true happiness, I focus on things others easily ignore. I pay attention to a world outside of the one everyone else sees so clearly, looking to far-away King for my daily marching orders.
At His direction, I look clear-eyed at the ugliness inside me, while others believe themselves only filled with sweetness and light.
I listen as He roots out each wrong motivation in my heart. I avoid explaining away and rationalizing my sin, but agree with each rebellion His finger points out.
I accept trials and hardships, trusting in their hidden purpose. I look on as each crucible melts away the imperfections His finger pointed to earlier. I am reborn, remade into the image of the One I love.
While the world continually exalts self and desire, I hope to become smaller in my own eyes. The less of me I see, the more His image comes into focus.
In the end, some become desperate as they watch this world slip away. But at the very same moment, I celebrate this world slipping away as it dissolves into a new and glorious one.
This is why the great fear – death – is my greatest victory. My mind and spirit are already focused on “the other side”. This present world is mostly a pesky distraction from the One I love and wish to see.
For them, heaven’s just a word – a hoped-for myth. For me, it’s more real than this world with each passing day.
Most people try and convince themselves there’s meaning in this life outside of God. But I know what seems like the easy way out will never satisfy them…
For in finding, we must lose.
In losing, we find everything.
To find life, we must die to self.
In dying, we find life and joy eternal.
There is no other way, though men continue to search out an easier one. Even so, life and truth are still found in a dusty old book that asks you to give up everything to follow its Author…
This is the one path to life everlasting. And it is the one few will ever find though it sits right in front of their eyes. It’s a road map to heaven and happiness, bound in leather and dust.