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The Christadelphian | March 2017

In the magazine this month:

A sample article from this edition:

“In returning and rest you shall be saved”

God promises rest and peace to those who will seek Him, desirable respite from today’s frenetic pace of life.

Sometimes scripture seems harsh. Think of the implications of this passage:

“The soul of a lazy man desires and has nothing.” (Proverbs 13:4) [1]

Perhaps this verse speaks of one who is content with pre-packaged food, a Facebook account and the next sound bite on the news. We all know people like this. Some want only to live through their phone, their gaming system and their next meal. These people stand out because they tend to be poor in every sense of the word; oblivious to their poverty, living hand to mouth. Pointedly, scripture reminds us:

“Fools fold their hands and ruin themselves.” (Ecclesiastes 4:5, NIV)

On the other hand, many families live in a blur of perpetual motion: work, commute, after school sports, before school music lessons, omnipresent screen time, drive-through meals and homes full of stuff (not to mention ecclesial commitments). In an attempt to have ‘meaningful’ lives we miss out on living. Sometimes my family’s life echoes this frenetic existence. Fittingly, we are told that they ‘that love abundance will not be satisfied’ (see Ecclesiastes 5:10).

Do you see the similarity? Without God we can live in poverty or can gorge ourselves with unsubstantial things: either way we have nothing. If we desire everything or nothing we end up equally unfulfilled.

Live a quiet life

For some of us in developed economies our problem is one of striving for too much. There is an incorrect perception that unless we are heading off somewhere to do, buy, experience, or participate, we are somehow missing out. We are missing out. There is a reason why scripture instructs us to “be still and know …”; and the apostle says to “make it your ambition to live a quiet life” (1 Thessalonians 4:11, NIV) – divine guidance for this manic age.

The frustration in all of this is that Bible students ought to know better. There are endless passages that remind us to do less, better: to fill our lives with peace, quiet and meditation. We all know the passage from Psalm 1, but do we manage our lives accordingly?

“His delight is in the law of the LORD, and in his law he meditates day and night.” (verse 2)

In returning and rest you shall be saved

It is a hard teaching. All this running to and fro, striving after the things of men, really is ungodly practice. But we should not be surprised that many of us are deceived by the enticements of this age. Israel suffered the same lassitude. Offered the peace of God, they chose the distraction of the flesh. Here is a prescient summary:

“For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’ But you were unwilling …” (Isaiah 30:15, ESV)

Think of how this passage pinpoints our existence. Offered peace from our faith and even from the benefits provided by prosperous economies, we are often unwilling to embrace the opportunity. Can you see the disconnect? Surrounded by prosperity and comfort we are unwilling to embrace this promise, not content and yearning for more. This is the wealth paradox: the more we have, the more we yearn and strive for. We should ask ourselves: “What do we really need?” And having realised we already have plenty, do we take the scriptural cue and embrace the peace that could be ours? There is a darkness at work here. The flesh will steal our joy and peace. Not surprisingly, our society excels at ridding us of contentment.

So how do we change? How do we shut off this plague of fruitless striving and covetousness? Here’s the first step: recognise that the flesh is the prevailing power in our lives. Scripture uses some poignant words to describe our baseline thinking: “desperately wicked” and “only evil continually”. This doesn’t mean we are brutal, maniacal evil-doers. It is far more subtle. It means we cannot sustain godly practice without relentless recalibration to God’s word.

For believers, the real issue in all this frenetic activity is this: how much time do we give to reading, discussing and meditating on scripture? As Christadelphians, we rightly assert that it is an individual’s understanding – being moved by and having a relationship with scripture – that defines our community. But how many times do we actually come to scripture if we spend most of our time exhausted due to life’s hectic pace? Every Bible student knows the imposing power of the flesh. It makes us comfortable and unwilling to embrace the peace that is offered.

What are we trying to prove?

It is a curious thing. We would all agree with this scriptural principle:

“Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:6, ESV)

And yet, if that is not borne out in our lives, what compels us to be so willingly frenetic? This quote sums up my experience:

“I believe that a lot of our striving after the symbols and levers of success is due to a basic insecurity, a need to prove ourselves.” (Charles Handy)

Knowing this, we have to ask, what is it exactly that we are trying to prove? And to whom are we proving it? And, can we undo this preposterous pattern of competition in our lives?

The lazy man desires and has nothing

Bafflingly, we all know there is no practical or spiritual value to a frenetic existence, yet we are all attracted to it. Let’s admit that: there is something about doing everything – competing, consuming and comparing – that attracts us. Who doesn’t want to ‘win’ at the game of life?

Here is the point. Paradoxically it is ‘lazy’ to try and do everything. It is harder to be different, deciding that what constitutes a peaceful existence aside is not how the world defines it. We can say no. We do not have to be going in every direction simultaneously – particularly as it is usually in a misguided attempt to ‘keep up with the Joneses’. Here is the freedom that scripture offers: we are not keeping up with the Joneses; we are keeping the Joneses completely out of our frame of reference.

So sometimes scripture seems harsh, but it is exactly what we need to hear. Anyone can manifest the ‘soul of the lazy man’. If we aren’t asking ourselves how we spend our energy and time, we easily devolve to poverty – either by an under-utilised life or an over-stretched existence: it is still poverty.

Here is the proverb in full:

“The soul of a lazy man desires, and has nothing; But the soul of the diligent shall be made rich.” (Proverbs 13:4)

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me. Riches and honour are with me, enduring wealth and prosperity.” (8:17,18, NIV)

Seekers only

Do you see the link between riches, diligence and seeking? Riches and prosperity are not about things as all disciples know. We are enriched by the scriptural choices we make. All who call upon the God of heaven and who live in accordance with His principles can assert that this is the case. Being made rich, obviously, is not an indication of cash flow, but of peace, clarity of mind and improved character. The key is poignant: true riches belong to seekers of God only.

Every student of scripture is aware of the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. But we often overlook this one: “those who search for me find me.” The promise to those who actively seek is that our God will be found. So, to what degree is the relentless frenzy of our life devoted to actively seeking, as opposed to satisfying futile, worldly yearnings?

What one earns, or drives, or lives in – your IQ, your next purchase, your status – these might sometimes be necessities, but when they are valued too highly become obscene. Our attachment to them, like the frenetic pace already discussed, limits our ability to live inside the delight of God’s word.

Consider this passage:

“Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them – this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart.” (Ecclesiastes 5:19,20, ESV)

Do you see the foresight of scripture? In this one passage we are given divine clarification, a ‘how-to’ for assessing our skills at balancing prosperity, time pressures and opportunities for indulgence. Scripture is reminding us that having possessions to be enjoyed is normal, but the test is do you feel harried or are you filled with gladness of heart? Is your labour a burden or do you rejoice in it?

Forfeiting the peace

Let’s be honest, if all this scurrying about prevents us getting down to the important things, we are doing life wrong. This is all the more reason believers should keep asking the question: Are we motivated by abundance, indulgence, security from material things and being perceived as wealthy by others? What is the idol to which we are drawn, for we are all drawn to idols.

So, are we seeking “food that endures” or “food that spoils”? This question is a most perplexing one. Believers know that the only food worth pursuing is the food that “endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). And yet, when all is said and done, do we have the capacity to accept less, to do less, and actually have the peace that comes from seeking and knowing God?

We are naturally ‘unwilling’ to be at peace, yet God calls us to be still. Remember Isaiah: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Amazing! Scripture defines strength and salvation in precisely the opposite way our society does. Should we be at all surprised?

There is harshness and a warning in “the soul of a lazy man desires and has nothing” – whether inert or frenzied; we can all be lazy. And yet there is profound opportunity in “the diligent will be made rich”. Our God will be found by those who seek. By not embracing the idea that we have enough, and by continually striving for more, we are forfeiting the peace that could be ours. Therefore we must recalibrate our thinking about the pace of our lives. Society will destroy any contentment, peace and simplicity that could otherwise be ours.

“Those who worship worthless idols forfeit the mercy that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8, NET)

Dana Kohlman

[1] All quotations are from the NKJV, unless otherwise noted.

 

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