Christians: What Matters Now

An illness seems to magnify your priorities at the edges while collapsing the day-to-day center of life. Instead of being able to function in the groove of a daily routine, you find all the little things harder and more time-consuming. Physical problems take over your thoughts like an occupying army. Much of the former routine has to be given up. Less can be done. Instead of the body being useful, the mind is indentured to it, forced to give it and its uninteresting problems far too much time and attention.

Yet on the other side of that collapsed center of life, there is a new leisure to think about big things—things beyond the body, beyond your physical circumstances, and even beyond temporal drudgery like politics and money-making. How America and the world must look to God's eyes, for example. How much longer the center of a prideful and overextended secular society can hold. What the love of God will mean to His people in the coming days. What needs to be said now to people's minds and spirits, and what can wait—or perhaps doesn't need saying at all.

There can be much value, for instance, in discussing things like styles of Christianity, denominational lexicons, and cultural preconceptions that lead Christians from different cultures to see the scripture through different eyes. But there is something about focusing on these things today that comes off—in my spirit, at least—as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

If only because of the colossal government debt swamping the entire world, our lives cannot remain the same, uninterrupted, in the future. There are other issues for humanity, like the Western world's attempt to remake morality in man's image using law and government. But the debt issue is enough to virtually guarantee significant problems. Let one big nation break faith with the rest on this matter, and a great deal that we take for granted in our civic and economic lives will be imperiled or lost.

I have been struck in the last week with a certainty that we may not be focused on what's most important in our discussions of spiritual matters. There is, after all, no cultural mindset in any Christian that God doesn't know about. We, in our limited capacity, may hear a few people talk about God, or pray to Him, or recite creeds. We may read what others write. God hears everyone. He hears everything every one of us thinks, even when we don't know we're thinking it. He knows far better than we do what's going on in the minds of other Christians.

If a Christian's heart is right, no ignorance on his part, no inculcated narratives in his brain, no "cultural lens" perched on his nose is going to block God, or hinder His impartation of wisdom. God is like the most experienced of defensive linemen, never deceived by the quarterback, and always reading the play immediately and accurately. It doesn't matter what our baggage is. We may think someone else—someone we love, someone we're judging—has the baddest offensive line on the planet, with ignorance at left guard and cultural prejudice on the right. (Fear and self-involvement usually flank the guards in the tackle positions, and pride is always at center, enthusiastically hiking us the ball on every play.) We may even think the offensive line guarding our own mindsets and prejudices is pretty tough. But there's no offensive line God can't get through, and no quarterback or play He can't read, if we turn to Him with contrite hearts.

I have an urgent sense that it is time for Christians to stop nagging each other over the kinds of differences among us that require academic studies to define and unearth. The situation of our world is not so stable that we can behave as if the Body of Christ is a sort of current-affairs debating society, in which people form interest groups and the point is to criticize the others' perspectives and priorities.

One thing God has taught me is that love starts, on principle, by being the one in the room that does not do that. Criticism has its place in human relations. But love's track record is a lot better than criticism's when it comes to winning souls, building others up, getting everyone through hard times, and—for that matter—keeping our own minds at peace. It is not possible to be happy while focusing on where we think other people are going wrong. This is a principle of absolute simplicity, yet we can spend entire lives circling around it and refusing to let it speak to us or govern our motives.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't offer suggestions to others, or engage them on questions of style or syntax. But there are very few things in this realm that have to be approached as problems or failures that need to be corrected. Heaven is going to be full of people who didn't see very many things through others' eyes while they were on earth, and who had little idea that their way of talking about God seemed peculiar to others.