What am I doing with my life? What should I do with my life? I had recently moved to Cambridge after accepting a job offer at a consulting firm, and two months in I was questioning the purpose of it all. It was frustrating. Neither the miraculous circumstances that had brought me here nor what was supposed to be the ‘honeymoon’ phase of starting an exciting position could push these thoughts away. In the midst of this mental interrogation, I saw an announcement at CTK promoting the Boston Fellows program. Maybe this is what I need, I thought to myself, and signed up for an interview, which I thankfully passed. The program was to be divided into several components – personal devotional time, reading assignments, retreats, and monthly lectures titled “Teaching Saturdays.” It did not take long for God to begin addressing my angst – within the first several weeks, the Spirit tapped on my heart with a lesson that was at first comforting, and then terrifying.
At our first teaching Saturday, one presenter concluded his talk quoting Augustine: “Love God, and do as you please.” Over the course of our discussions I learned that Augustine’s primary concern with human behavior was on where individuals’ loves were placed. The reason for this was because if a person loved God, his or her behavior would follow suit. This wasn’t entirely a novel concept – I had heard people teach this lesson before using verses like “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4), which essentially seem to express the same thing. But in the midst of all the questions poking at my mind, the simple concept was like balm – all that mattered was loving God. We live in a time, a different presenter noted, when we have more career choices and than most throughout history – and yet people still lived as faithful Christians without those options. This further solidified the conviction that what mattered was not what I did per se, but the affections of my heart. Soon, though, I became scared, because I realized my problem was not “What should I be doing?” but “I do not love God.” At least not as I should. I am still working through this reality, but as I think about it I see there are at least three reasons for my weak love, and three ways to position myself so that by God’s grace it may grow.
The first reason I think my love is not as it should be is the strong tendency of my nature to want to be God. The serpent’s original temptation is still as powerful today as it was in the Garden – “You will be like God,” the creature promised, and “the woman took of [the tree’s] fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Genesis 3:5-6). I want to be able to decide what I do, when I do it, who I do it with, and when to stop. The lure of thinking I can do so continues to be whispered: maybe, just maybe, if I have a good career, a good physique, a brilliant mind, a plethora of relationships, then I can claim power that will back my desire to rule myself. Alas (or thankfully?), God is gracious and does not hesitate to remind me that I don’t have any ultimate power or ability. “For by [Christ] all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-16). Not only that, but, Paul quotes, “ ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). He is the one with the power. Faced with the reality of my own weakness, bitterness tries to snuff out the love.
My love for God is also threatened by my love for the things of this world. “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). I am naturally hedonistic, wanting to feel good all the time and draw towards the entertainment, activities, and lifestyles that will drown out any reminder of how broken I am. Though they never satisfy or provide meaning, they give a temporary high while also encouraging my desire for self-rule and sufficiency, telling me “see, you don’t need God to be happy. You’re fine on your own; we have everything you need right here.” As Tim Keller puts it in his sermon on Romans 6 titled “Perfect Freedom,” “We live in our kind of illusion of independence; we’re actually [enslaved to idols] instead of going into what looks to us like slavery [but is really] the freedom of service to God.” Having two weaknesses attacked at once, I am susceptible to the lies of miserable substitutes for the peace I truly desire.
Finally, my love for God is weak because I do not trust him. In the same sermon, Keller makes the following statement:
Years ago, in the beginning of time, the serpent said to Adam and Eve – “If you utterly offer yourself to God, if you do whatever He says unconditionally, if you obey him completely, He will abuse you.” And all of us sons of Adam and daughters of Eve have had that lie come down into our hearts. It’s still there...there’s a part of our heart that says [God] will abuse us like all the other masters.
In other words, God will disappoint or harm us. I’ve found Keller’s observation to be true in my own life – why would I trust a God who I can’t control? Who acts mysteriously, whose ways and thoughts are above mine? Why should I trust a God concerned with His own glory, a God who chose to allow the story of the human race to play out the way it did, full of pain? At the end of the day, is He not like I would be and use His power for his own betterment?
At this point, the Gospel needs to come in, for only through it can love begin to grow. “How do we break [the mistrust]?” Keller asks. “The answer is the Gospel. What Jesus did has to to inflame the heart...He laid aside the infinities and the immensities of His being and he purchased...at the cost of His life, a room in the only place our hearts can rest – His Father’s house.” Keller references Philippines 2:6-8 to support this statement:
[Christ], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name...
I may not understand God, I may not understand the world, but if Christ is who he says he is and did what the Bible teaches, then truly “[He] is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Truly He is love (1 John 4:8). And the more I think about this, as Keller says, the more the suspicion and anger will, by His spirit, be replaced with trust and love.
Speaking and meditating on the Gospel is not an isolated event, however – it requires community. Bonheoffer writes in Life Together that Christian community exists so that we may preach the Word of God to one another – “...[we] meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation” (23). How can I grow in love for God? By joining in the life of the Church, spending time and fellowship with other Christians so that through them Christ might strengthen me, and in turn I strengthen others. Upon first hearing this, I asked myself why Bonheoffer thinks we need to preach to one another. We know all those theological truths already. But it is necessary because, as many have pointed out, we are quick to forget. The temptations above try to direct our hearts to spurn the Gospel, and we need to fight to remind each other of its truth. I may not have the ability to love God, I may doubt him, but a brother or sister can be Christ to another.
Two other Gospel-reminding and love-building practices I should not ignore and will group together are, spoiler alert, prayer and Bible reading. It is beautiful that we worship a God who encourages us to be real, to be honest. The prophets, the psalmists, and the Gospel-writers show we do not need to put on a holy pretense in order to avoid offending God with our true emotions, intentions, and insecurities. I agree with those who say the concept of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” is not useful in the private conversations with our Heavenly Father. If it comes down to not being able to speak with honor towards God, better to tell Him than ignore Him. Not to repeat what we’ve all already heard so many times, but how can we love someone without speaking to him or her and listening in return?
In The Cost of Discipleship, Bonheoffer comments on Mark 2:14, the story of Jesus calling Levi:
What does [Mark 2:14] inform us about the content of discipleship? Follow me, run along behind me! That is all. To follow in [Christ’s] steps is something which is void of all content. It gives us no intelligible programme for away of life, no good or ideal to strive after. It is not a cause which human calculation might deem worthy of our devotion, even the devotion of ourselves. (58)
At the end of the day, does what I do matter? Absolutely – because what I do will reflect who or what I love. How can I know I’m doing the right thing? I can ask myself – how is my love for Christ? Do I trust Him? Am I fixated on my desire to rule myself and willing to indulge in distractions that tell me I can? Am I preaching the Gospel to myself, hearing it from others, involved in the life of the Church? Do I make prayer and Scripture reading a priority? My love will always be weak, but by God’s grace if I continue to grow in it, the rest is frosting. What I do my not be fun, but I can trust that God will lead me and use me. Not that what I actually do is unimportant, or that I cannot think about what career I want or what goals I would like to accomplish. Not that, as we’ve talked about in the Fellows program, we need to stick to a job we dislike (although wisdom may at time require us to do so). No, all these are valid and need exploration, but they should be explored on the proper orientation of our love, because only then can they hope to be meaningful.
Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. Life Together. New York: HarperOne, 1954. Print.
--. The Cost of Discipleship. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Print.
Keller, Timothy J. "Perfect Freedom."
Richie just celebrated his first year in Cambridge. He is thankful for the opportunity to live in a great community near a fun city like Boston and still has a lot to explore!
The Boston Fellows is a nine-month fellowship for young professionals at CTK to cultivate the worldview, in prayer and in the community of the local church, necessary for meaningful vocation, in a cohort of peers, spiritual leaders, and professional mentors. Applications are being accepted now through June 1 for the 2017-18 cohort, which will begin in September. Although the meetings are at CTK Cambridge on Sunday afternoons, young professionals from all of the CTK congregations are welcome. To apply or for more information, visit www.BostonFellows.com or contact Rev. Nathan Barczi by email or phone 617-320-1346.