Tending the Garden Without Worshiping It

by Ron Sider

I’m afraid that one reason Christians fail to live more simply for the sake of the poor and the environment- one reason we persist in our practical materialistic worship of things- is that we don’t really love Jesus very much. We substitute lukewarm faith and mere tradition for a passionate love for the Lord and a radical commitment to worship and to obey him at any cost. Colossians 1:18 says Jesus is to “have the supremacy.” Is that true for you and me? Is that true for our people?

This Jesus who calls us to save his creation, empower the poor, and work for peace is the Maker of galaxies, the one in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. This awesome sovereign will not settle for one-fourth or one-half of our lives. He wants to have first place in everything we think and do.

I don’t see much hope for renewing our concern for peace, justice, and the integrity of creation until the Holy Spirit sweeps across our churches, renewing our love for Christ. Person by person, we must turn away from our secret sins, surrender unconditionally to the loving Lord, and invite the Holy Spirit to blow through our lives, empowering us for holiness and self-sacrifice.

In recent weeks, the song “Jesus, You’re the Center of My Joy” has frequently been on my mind. It has always moved me deeply, sometimes to tears.

Jesus, you’re the center of my joy.

All that’s good and perfect comes from you.

You’re the heart of my contentment,

Hope for all I do.

Jesus, you’re the center of my joy.

And I often think of the song along with 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory.” The veil has been torn away, and we look directly into the awesome face of Christ the Lord, who transforms us.

The church of Jesus Christ will do what God wants it to do for the environment and the poor if member by member, congregation by congregation, we look up into the face of the risen Lord and submit ourselves totally and unconditionally in worship and obedience. Let’s look into his face in surrender as we face very decision- about money, sex, business, marriage, politics, divorce, peacemaking. Can we keep doing some of the things we are now doing if we look constantly and intently into his face and ask him, “My Lord, are you pleased with how I am living, or does it make you weep?” Let’s dare daily to look into his face and invite him to make us more and more like himself, transforming us from one degree of glory to another.

I think the church stands at a crossroads. We are educated, sophisticated, socially successful, polished. And some of our churches are dangerously close to being little more than comfortable social clubs, where the successful assemble to renew friendships, traditions, and family connections. The only thing that will save  us is a renewal of our love, worship, and obedience to the risen Lord.

I know we face complex decisions and a tumultuous, confusing world. A deeper commitment to Christ will not provide instant, simple solutions. But the central question is as simple as ever. Do I believe that the carpenter of Nazareth, the prophet of peace, the champion of women, the liberator of the poor, is the Creator of the galaxies, the only Savior, the risen Lord, and the returning redeemer? Will I surrender every nook and cranny of my being to this gentle, loving, awesomely holy Sovereign? Will I worship and obey him with all my heart, soul, and mind?

If he is not the center, the power, and the norm for all we do, then our environmental activity and social concern will be a hollow echo of a well-meaning but often confused world searching desperately, often in the wrong places, for joy, hope, and peace.

Ron Sider is the President of Evangelicals for Social Action. This excerpt appeared in The Best Preaching on Earth edited by Stan L. LeQuire and published by Judson Press in collaboration with the Evangelical Environmental Network in 1996. 


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