PASTOR’S PERSPECTIVE: “The Christian’s Splendid Torch” By: Ron Woodrum
One of my favorite authors is Eugene Peterson. Most know him for his Magnus Opus, (his greatest achievement), which is in my estimate his authorship of his Bible paraphrase-The Message. But he has authored many books that are very insightful and relevant to the needs of our generation. One such book is his book on discipleship-A Long Obedience In the Same Direction. In that book he touches a nerve when he diagnoses the genuine problem with our world, including the Christian world. He writes, “Our attention spans have been conditioned by thirty-second commercials. Our sense of reality has been flattened by the thirty-page abridgement. It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest. Millions of people in our culture make decisions for Christ, but there is a dreadful attrition rate…in our kind of culture anything, even news about God, can be sold, if it is packaged freshly; but when it loses its novelty, it goes on the garbage heap. There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness.” In his book Peterson relates to his readers that the answer is found in a Long Obedience. That phrase came from a very unusual source. It came from a quote from Friederick Nietzche, a German Philosopher, who was responsible for the “Death of God Philosophy”. Someone has written that-“in 1833 Nietzche said God is Dead-and in 1900, (the year Nietzche died), – God said-Nietzche is dead!” How true! Nietzche was dead…God only appeared to be in demise to a world who thought themselves too smart to acknowledge Him. But Nietzche later stated a fact that is true for all who would find meaning and fulfillment in life. He wrote, “The essential thing in heaven and earth is that there should be long obedience in the same direction; thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living!” Peterson, feeling that if God can speak through a donkey, he can use the words of His enemies and even atheistic philosophers to share His truth! Christians who find that “long obedience in the same direction…will find the kind of discipleship that makes life worth living!”
Another great Christian thinker of yesteryear diagnosed another problem that still describes the need of our world today, both Christian and non-Christian. Blaise Paschal wrote, in his book Pensées wrote, “I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay alone quietly in his room…what people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of life, but the agitation that takes our minds off it and diverts our attention. That is why we prefer the hunt to the capture. That is why men are so fond of the hustle and bustle…that is why pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible”. We have never lived in a generation that prefers to have our attention diverted from our spiritual condition as our present generation does; to be diverted from any thoughts of what eternity holds. We keep our minds diverted from our unhappiness, and with our smart phones we never allow ourselves to ever be alone…in our room. We have e-mails; Facebook; twitter; and social media. Alone but never alone! Paschal’s comments are ever more relevant to our world and our generation. What’s the answer? How about another answer from another Philosopher, also known for being an atheist? His name is George Bernard Shaw. He was wise in some of his observances. He wrote, “There are two sources of unhappiness in life; One is not getting what you want; the other is getting it!” Very perceptive. We can all testify to that truth! George Bernard Shaw also said, “This is the true joy in life- being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one, being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. IT IS SORT OF A SPLENDID TORCH WHICH I HAVE GOT HOLD OF FOR THE MOMENT, AND I WANT TO MAKE IT BURN AS BRIGHTLY AS POSSIBLE BEFORE HANDING IT ON TO FUTURE GENERATIONS!” We Christians could learn a lot about such choices. There is no doubt that we have been invited to “use our lives for a mighty purpose!” We too could have the attitude that we do not want to be a “brief candle”. We too should lay hold of our “Splendid Torch and make it burn as brightly as possible”.
Henry David Thoreau said, “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal…laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings!” If taken in a Christian perspective, Thoreau was right. If we advance in the direction of our Christian dreams and visions, we too can pass an invisible boundary…and live according to our Lord’s higher order of beings… (those Amy Carmichael called “burning out for God!”). Vaclav Havel said, “The real test of a man is not when he plays the role that he wants for himself, but when he plays the role destiny has for him!” Replace “destiny” in that quote, with “God”, and he was right on point! As we continue this series of messages on the questions of Jesus, we find the key to living in victory over the anxiety that robs us of a vital faith.