Survival can easily become the overriding value of a church. You won’t see it on a church website, but it is powerful. The desire to survive is natural. Every living thing wants to survive. Animals’ lives are consumed with the fight for survival. Humans strap themselves up to machines that extend life long past the time natural death would have occurred. Survival is not a bad thing—at least not inherently bad. But when it becomes the guiding value of a church it has devastating consequences.
Mabel is passionate about survival. She has never traveled outside the United States, actually, she’s never traveled more than ten minutes from her home. She goes just far enough to get food and other necessities. She considered food delivery, but you can’t trust those delivery drivers. She knows she should exercise to stay healthy, but going to the gym would require more driving. She considered a treadmill for her house, but that belt moves so fast it would probably throw her right off. Sometimes she walks up and down her stairs, but lately she’s been avoiding that because if she fell no one would be there to help her. She’s an expert at eliminating danger. She doesn’t use the stove, stays firmly on the no-slip mat in the shower, and washes her hands every five minutes.
In doing every thing she can to ensure survival Mabel lives an existence with no purpose, no friends, and no enjoyment. Mabel doesn’t make a difference in anyone’s life, not even her own. She is an increasingly lethargic, boring, ineffective person because of her passionate desire to survive.
I’m sure there are more, but here are three destructive outcomes of the need for survival.
Survival Makes Us Shallow
The more we let the need to survive take over, the shallower we become. Instead of listening to the Holy Spirit we preach what we think people want to hear. We give up the call to carry our crosses for the call to pick up a free latte. Survival lends itself to a shallow form of Christianity.
Survival Keeps Us from Sending
Our call as a Church is to go to all nations and make disciples of Jesus. If we send people to volunteer in other places they may give some of their money to those places instead of us. If we highlight going our best leaders might be called to go somewhere else.
Survival Sucks Our Faith
God has always called His people to move into the future in faith. He called Abram to leave his homeland without knowing where he was going. Jesus called the disciples to follow him without telling them what that involved. When we need to survive we can’t step out in faith because we might fail.
Last night my son wandered out of his room and down the hall at 9:15 pm. He’s been making a habit of going to bed a little later every night lately (his bed time is supposed to be 8:30) and I was a little frustrated. But when I saw the look of fear in his eyes I figured he’d had a bad dream.
“Daddy, Satan is making me think bad thoughts,” he said in a concerned voice.
“Okay, what kind of thoughts?” I asked him.
“About me and Alya’s deaths,” he whispered, holding back tears.
We talked for a couple minutes about the power of Jesus to calm our fears and even our hope of eternal life, and then we prayed together.
I hate to admit it, but when he headed back to his room I fully expected him to be back, once again terrified by thoughts of death. Instead, when I went to check on him ten minutes later, he was fast asleep.
In the morning I checked with him to see if he’d had any more disturbing thoughts or bad dreams and he simply responded, “no, we prayed about it, remember.”
We can chalk his response up to childlike faith that hasn’t gone through the fire of unanswered prayer, and I suppose there’s something to that, but he has prayed prayers that have not been answered. He and I have had conversations a couple times when he couldn’t quite understand why his prayers seemed to fall on deaf ears. Despite that, he walked away from our impromptu prayer meeting on the couch with full confidence that there would be no more problems and he’d fall asleep.
This episode slapped me in the face with the realization that I can easily begin believing prayer doesn’t make any difference. Too much evil in the world. But more than that, too many times where it seems God has his headphones in. Yet, when my eight-year-old’s faith forces me to reflect on the prayers we’ve prayed–that we’d find a house near work and school, that we’d connect quickly with neighbors, that my son would become friends with the kids who picked on him the first week of school, that we’d find a community of faith where we’d be able to be woven into the fabric of its life–I realize a supposed lack of answered prayer is really my failure to open my eyes.
This is important because a lack of faith severely limits my willingness to pray bold, risky, God-honoring prayers. If I stick to “help us to have a good day” or “bless so-and-so” I can find a way to say those prayers were answered (I mean, the day wasn’t great, but I didn’t get hit by a car…). Not to mention that I will forget that I even prayed them because they are so bland. And in the midst of that I will fail to experience what God has for me, my family, my neighbors, my church, my city, and our world.
Lord, give me the faith and courage to pray in line with the vision you have for the world.
So in this I’m trying to be more like my 8-year-old. I want to join him in having the same heart and desire as David when he wrote in Psalm 5,
In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.
Here’s a concept we don’t promote much in the Christian community. We say that God is love, but too often what we mean is, “God only wants your life to be nice and happy. He would never do anything to make it too difficult and he certainly wouldn’t intentionally bring hardship into your life.” I confess that too often when I talk about God being love this is what I mean too. It’s not what I believe deep down but it seems like the right thing to say too often–especially pastorally. It wouldn’t go over as well to say, “Well, because God loves you it would be good to pray about if this hardship is his discipline.”
Discipline comes across as hardship. When I have to send one of my kids to their room or worst of all, take away the one hour of Wii time my son gets each week, they don’t say, “Wow, thanks so much dad for expressing your love to me through this discipline which I need to shape my character and keep me moving in the right direction.” No, they get upset about it. They don’t have the option of saying, “this isn’t really discipline, it’s just bad luck or the consequences of a sinful world working against me,” they know it’s discipline.
Parents know that discipline can be given out of their depth of love. It can also be given out of anger. I am thankful that we serve a God who will never discipline us out of the latter. Yes, Scripture paints God as angry at the sins of his people, and his discipline is harsh at times, but it is always done with the deep desire to see their relationship restored and their destructive behavior rooted out. It is not a mushy love, but it is a redemptive love.
Aside from an overwhelming revelation from God I’m never going to tell someone that the things going on in their life are God’s discipline. But I think I need to start allowing myself to consider and pray about what things in my own life might be that. After all, I serve a God who loves me enough not to just let me go down the paths that will destroy me.