As I prepare for Lent, I’m struck this morning by Jesus’ admonition in Luke 8:56. Having entered a house of mourners, and raised a little girl from the dead, he orders everyone not to tell anyone what happened. This is one of those little bits of the Bible that is either overlooked or explained away. When I read it though, I wonder if Jesus is trying to warn me, and others who do things in his name, of the dangers inherent when good things start happening in ministry. Rather than blow our horn, capitalize on our momentum, develop our brand, I wonder if we’re to be more covert.
The dangers of our age, and the dangers of marketing in general as it relates to faith, is that Jesus will become just another commodity, the best product every for your health, well being and happiness. And of course, an equally great danger is that we’ll substitute the centrality of our particular church, denomination, youth work, non-profit, or NGO, for the centrality of Christ. Do this and we run the risk of not making Christ followers at all, but instead making followers of Paul, Apollos, Cephas – following the leader rather than the one to whom the leader allegedly points. Such misguided loyalty is dangerous at best, idolatrous at worst, but so saturated (in Christian circles) with God language, as to be nearly unavoidable. If this kind of idolatry is the wood, I sometimes wonder if all our podcasts, apps, facebook pages (and likes), isn’t the gas we’re pouring on the fire.
Of course, there’s another side to this problem. We’re also called to spread the word, to go into all the world and make disciples. If Paul’s any indication, he utilized every means of communicating the gospel at his disposal during his ministry, including big ships, cultural literacy which helped him communicate more effectively, copious writing of letters that he asked be circulated among wide audiences, and more.
Utilizing these tools makes sense. After all, he was called, just like you and I, to go into all the world and make disciples. He chose to do this through whatever means available, I believe, because he understood that ultimately the issues wasn’t the tools used for communicating, but whether or not his work had its origin in God’s spirit. This, in the end, is what matters the most.
I can flee to the desert in the name of holiness, but in reality just be feeding the longings my flesh has to get out of all the complexities of community, a growing church, and the inevitably clashing demands of working with lots of people. The fleeing can be framed as spiritual, but it’s really disobedience.
I can run ads, create phone apps, write blogs like this one, books, do and a PR campaign, all in the name of “making disciples of every nation”. It can look like holy ambition to some, but in reality not be holy at all. To other outsiders it can look unholy, like selfish pride, and be exactly what God wants. In the end, it’s all about whether this stuff grows out from desire to follow God or from our desire for greatness. The one thing I do know is that no action stems from both desires at the same time.
I’m convinced that we’re called to do the same. Sometimes this will lead to withdrawal into the wilderness, and eschew all publicity like these guys. (though even they have a web site) Other times God will expand our ministry and affirm our use of tools to do so. The important thing, I think, is to acknowledge both withdrawal from publicity, and use of publicity as legitimate or dangerous, depending on whether it’s God’s plan for our particular situation.
The crux though, is to acknowledge how easily our own human ambitions, either for a wide influence, or more meaningful work, or just a cabin in woods, can muck up the clear waters of guidance. One of the values of Lent is our intentional withdrawal, with Jesus, into the wilderness, so that he can show us the way forward because I can promise you that there’ll be times when His way runs counter to mine, and if I’m not listening to Christ, I’ll miss the turnoff and end up “on my own”, either in the wilderness when I’m called to the big deal, or in the midst of a big deal which has more the marks of my own making, than of the simplicity, gentleness, and joyful life that is Christ.
O Lord Christ….
You are the light of the world truly, but also the light for each of us on our particular paths. Sometimes we long for more, whether it be money, fame, influence, or ‘meaning’ in our work. Sometimes we want to run away from it all. May this Lenten season enable us to hear your voice with greater clarity, so that our yes’s, or no’s, and our silent waiting are all bathed in the peace of knowing that we’re in your will. And we will thank you for the fruit of peace that comes only when our ambitions are aligned with yours.