Thursday, February 20, 2020

Fullness, emptiness and witness

What does a life that bears witness to the gospel look like?

How would we have to live before people would ask us the reason for our hope?

These seem like crucial questions to me.  I've heard so many sermon applications - and I dare say preached a few - which just don't appreciate the enormous difficulty here.  Be honest and don't fiddle your expenses at work.  Who do you think I'm working with, that this would set me apart in any way?  Care for your family, love your spouse, be selfless, treat your kids well.  Sounds good, but will just make me like 90% of the people I know.  Folks are good, moral, decent - on the whole.  They have their struggles and their moral failings, but I'm going to find it hard to outperform them morally - and if I do, how will that point to Jesus?

Should there perhaps be a fullness to the Christian life?  That must be part of it.  It must look different to do all the normal things of life but filled with the Holy Spirit.  That's why I have taken to praying, every morning, that the Spirit might fill me, my family, the members of my church.  The presence of God will inevitably make a difference, right?  Of course, the Spirit is the Spirit of Christ; he will make our lives cruciform, self-sacrificial, in ways that are distinctly uncomfortable.  But also, fullness.  A life that doesn't wear out or get thin.  There's something here about being able to see the beauty in everyday things.  Might people not notice that?

But then I wonder whether we might not need a degree of emptiness as well?

Imagine you're walking through empty countryside.  Coming over the brow of a hill, you see a tower - but a tower that is unlike anything you've ever seen before.  At the ground floor, the walls seem barely to touch the earth.  The first and second floors have only one wall each.  At the third storey, a turret juts out improbably; is it even attached?  And up and up it goes.  Walking around the base of the tower looking up, it's hard to see how this works.  How is this tower standing?  And then more careful observation reveals that the tower is... twisted, somehow.  As if it were built around something, something you can't see.  Intrigued you investigate further, trying to trace out the shape of this apparently absent something.  It seems to have a regularity to it; there is a curious solidity to the absence.  And so the question changes, from 'how is this tower standing?' to 'what is holding this tower up?'

I wonder whether people ought not to be looking at us and wondering what is holding this life up?  I wonder if our lives should be so built around the reality of the gospel that it is just impossible for anyone who doesn't take the active presence of Christ into account to see how or why we keep going.

That might mean deliberate emptiness.  If we structure our lives as everyone else does - around family, career, home - how will they tell that we are sustained by Christ?  If we just assume that we'll get married and have kids like everyone else; if we assume that it will be right to follow career wherever it leads; if we plan to keep on upgrading our homes much as everyone else does - why would anyone ask questions about a life like that?  Where are we deliberately - and visibly - leaning into the reality of the Lord?

Was this perhaps why all those hermits fled into the desert?  When it became easy to be a Christian, when the persecution stopped, when the simple act of believing stopped not making sense to unbelievers - then they started to deny themselves things which they themselves confessed to be entirely legitimate, in order to demonstrate that it was the Lord who upheld them.  Where are the examples of that today?

I feel deeply privileged to have a number of friends who are seeking to live faithfully to Christ whilst wrestling with same-sex attraction.  I think I see in them an example to us of what this life would look like.  A life which foregoes some of the things which those around us imagine to be the very heart and meaning of life - to show that in fact the heart and meaning of life is Jesus.  I feel rebuked by their example, to be honest.  What have I given up for the Lord?  Where are my dreams different from those who don't know him?

Where is my life so shaped around the gospel that it looks impossible from the outside?

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