Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

Dying in Obscurity: In Praise of the Ordinary Life

After Steve Jobs’ death, and not to trivialise the death of anyone, I was left wondering about our success obsessed culture. Or, more aptly, it augmented things that I felt I had to be dealing with and indeed am still dealing with: the fear of dying in obscurity, not having been seen as someone who really did anything for this world.

Our culture and our time seems to view obscurity as the most saddest thing ever. In fact, obscurity is so shunned upon in this celebrity, success obsessed culture that you could swear it’s a moral sin. But who is defining success anyway? And for Christians, why should we be so worried about whether or not we will be a success?

For Christians we often like to talk about how “it’s all about Jesus” and that’s great and completely right, in my opinion, but if that’s the case why is it that so many of us – and I include myself here – are so afraid of obscurity? Why is it that we are driven to doing something big, something so all-important with our lives?

The good news of Jesus Christ is that, well, Jesus gets all the glory. He is the only one glorified. Neither you nor I are the true heroes of the story – it’s Jesus who gets the attention. The good news, and our life’s goal, is to be known by God (which we are in Christ) not to be known by men. I realise for non-Christians that doesn’t sound very appealing, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less true. It may be that everything we’ve been taught in this world, everything about happiness, is actually just not true.

Our culture would view the ordinary person who lives and dies an ordinary life as so sad, such a waste of life. Well, is it a waste? Or is it because our culture hasn’t a clue what real life is supposed to look like, anyway? I suppose if you view your 60 to 90 years as all you have, the goal of life will be to try and squeeze in as much as possible. But the problem with this driven-ness and idealism is that it results in less contentment, frustration, disappointment and ultimately no happiness at all.

The drive for happiness becomes a slog and a mission, missing the very point. What if our culture actually has it wrong? It’s not an impossibility.

Having high ambitions, lofty goals and reaching them is the pinnacle of success in this world. Yet 1 Thessalonians 4 tells us to make it our ambition to “live a quiet life.” That hardly sounds like the adventure we’re all looking for. While many of us will say we’re not so keen on world-wide fame ala Tom Cruise style, we are so often looking for fame within our own circles – praise from our work colleagues, our friends, our family, and even in church circles for those of us that are involved in that kind of community.

Of course it’s good that our friends and family build us up, but when we are seeking our own glory we are missing our own freedom. After all, he who tries to save his life will lose it. The last shall be first and the first shall be last. These are hard-hitting realities about our Kingdom. (Luke 17:33, Matt 20:16)

If anyone would go after Jesus they are to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Jesus is the greatest treasure, ever. If you don’t agree that’s OK, but I haven’t found anything else to be true, to be honest, and I have tried numerous alternatives.

But to have Him we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross. Hardly an easy thing. Yet there it is. Life is not about us. When we finally give it up that’s when we find the contentment and joy we’re looking for. We may die in obscurity, nobody will ever know who we were, yet we will die far happier than many of this world’s greatest heroes who go down in the history books as men and women to be praised. When we finally give up the drive to be known by everyone we can actually focus on those people who count in our lives and finally, at last, joy can be found in the ordinariness and humdrum of our lives. Because I believe that true and eternal joy is actually only found in the person of Jesus Christ, and that’s why I call myself a Christian.

Blogs (Faith), Life-Ecstatic (Faith)

Work (Pt 2): Don’t Stop; Don’t Fret; Don’t Seek a Better Life

bread working prosperity

In Part One of this series we covered that God is the one who created WORK, and he called it good. One of the principle points around this I mentioned was:

If we were created to work, we must work, and in doing so we do one of the things we were made to do – regardless of what we are doing. So menial jobs carry a greater meaning. Also, the point of life is not to try and do whatever we can to stop working. We must work, despite our bank balance.

We tend to either be workaholics or idle busybodies. And both of them lead to anxiety while at the same time tend to become our habit because of anxiety.

We’re anxious about what people will think of our work, whether we’ll be a success or not, if people will call us a failure, whether our family will be proud, whether we are working hard enough to receive a good reward – and that reward is usually financial and often in an effort to stop working. If we could just crack this next big deal we may have enough money to quit this job, maybe retire, or maybe start our ‘dream job’, only to find years down the line that our dream job has also become a bit of a pain.

Psalm 127: 1 – 2

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain. It is vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for he gives to his beloved in his sleep.”

The point of work is not to stop working. We must work regardless of our bank account. Sure, it’s nice to do something you really love, but if idleness is our goal then even what we love will become a pain to us. We must see work from God’s perspective – he created it, it’s a good thing and it can be a joy in our lives, regardless of what we’re doing. In this every kind of job carries a greater and more glorious meaning. We’re doing exactly what we were created to do – we’re working.

At the same time, we’re not called or created to fret and be anxious about our work. God is the one who prospers it, who makes something out of it. Unless He does, all of our labour – our rising up early, our staying up late – is in absolute vain. He needs to prosper it and there is no way we can make him prosper it. Hard work often pays off, but not always, and God doesn’t guarantee that He’ll reward hard work or even honest living. He guarantees that He’ll take care of you and I, and He guarantees that we’ll have joy in the hard times, but He does not guarantee financial prosperity – honest work is more likely to lead to prosperity in the long run than dishonest work, but even God does not guarantee that honest work will always lead to prosperity.

This may be hard to swallow, especially in our culture and even in Christian circles. We don’t want a poverty mindset, we say, and I’m not advocating one. But I’m simply saying that God has bigger things in mind.

The difference is in what it is we want. We either want the better life or we want the better hope. We’re either chasing after the riches of this world or we’re chasing after the Treasure of All – one who is worth more than all the riches of this world can offer – Jesus Christ. This God wants to give us, and if a tight pocket leads us to this Greater Treasure, well God is as good as He says He is then.

God sent manna from heaven to the Israelites. He took care of their needs. Manna day in and day out. Manna, manna, manna, and they got bored of it. So would you and I. See, we link the abundance of life God promises us to a life where there is always choice, always diversity, to keep us entertained and feeling happy. Lord, not manna today, but steak; Lord, not manna today, but apples. None of these are bad in themselves, but we want God to keep us entertained and keep the better life coming or we say He isn’t good. Meanwhile, he wants to lead us to a Better Treasure – the Greatest Treasure. We’ll expound on this in the next post.