“Of course, spiritual things are important—but there are other things a lot more important at the moment.” “I’ll find time for God later. Right now, there are too many things pressuring me.” “My children will make their own faith decisions when they are adults. I don’t want to influence them one way or another.” “God can wait until I’ve had all the fun I want to have.”
As a pastor, I find these words both troubling—and common. I also know on a personal level how easy it is to put my own spiritual health on the back burner and deal with things that I know and that seem much more urgent and important now.
In the midst of pondering these things, a troubling biblical story is beginning to make sense to me. At one point, someone comes up to Jesus and says that he wants to follow him, but has to go and bury his father first. Jesus’ reply grates on modern ears, “Let the dead bury the dead,” he states. Or in a more modern version of the Bible, the words are translated, “First things first. Your business is life, not death. And life is urgent: Announce God’s kingdom!”
These words seem unfeeling—how could Jesus even suggest that one should not deal with the death of a parent? Is that not important? But I’ve realized that when the man says, “First I have to bury my father,” what Jesus heard and understood is this, “I’ll follow you some day, after I’ve done all the usual things I want to do, including living at home until my father dies and I inherit my portion of the estate and am nice and comfortable. Then I’ll come.” In the first century world, a person “buried his father” by staying with the family until his father died a natural death—which could have been many, many years off. In other words, these are just first century words for “Of course, spiritual things are important—but there are other things a lot more important at the moment.”
Jesus’ reply really doesn’t give any wiggle room. The time is now, according to Jesus. The time is now to leave behind the old way of living—which is really death—and discover real life. Will you accept the invitation now into life—or just keep putting it off?
As a confirmed procrastinator in certain areas of my life, I know what an interesting habit that can be. Once I’ve decided that I will not deal with a particular issue when it first presents itself, I’ve discovered that the act of putting it off takes on a life of its own. I sit here looking at my desk—for two weeks, there was a piece of mail I needed badly to deal with. And after the first time I said, “I’ll get to it another time,” it seems like that was all I could do with it. I did finally open it, took care of it, and in the process, cleared a bit of a backload all around. But it fascinated me how easy it was just to keep saying, “There’s always tomorrow.”
I do believe God is infinitely patient with us, but I also believe we can get in such a habit of saying “no” to God that after a while we are unable to say “yes.” I also think much of this comes from a deep-seated fear in most of us that God is going to ask us to do something we really don’t want to do. Yet, Jesus’ words are intriguing—they are a call to move from death to life. But we often find that call so disturbing. I believe that many of us would rather stay in the death we know (“let me bury my father and live the life I’ve always known and then I’ll consider coming”) than move to a life that might be challenging and mysterious and different.
Among the things that had been sitting on my desk this week was a need to arrange for a post-Easter flight to Paris, France. My oldest son, his wife and their two small sons live there now and they’ve been giving multiple invitations for me to come for a visit. As much as I want to see them, I found myself reluctant to actually commit to a ticket. It would be easier to stay here (i.e., let me bury my father) and just continue to communicate with them by email, photos and video conversations. I’m not the world’s best traveler, and there is a big part of me that would rather just stay in what I know rather than explore the unknown.
But I heard the invitation, and finally booked the ticket. And then I thought, “ARRGGHH, I don’t speak French and can barely read it! I’ve never been to that airport in Paris! How will I find them when I get there? How will I know what to do in that different place?”
And then I received a sweet email from my son giving a careful description of what I’d see when I land in Paris and how to find him and the family in the airport. And, should I miss him, he gave further instruction as to how to reach his cell phone from a French phone. How like him to know that I should have such questions—and to quickly offer all guidance as well as great expression of pleasure that I should be coming soon.
And what a picture this became of God who continually invites us by saying, “The time is NOW. Come, respond to My invitation to life, even if you don’t know what it looks like. I’ll lovingly guide you—but you have to agree to come first. You’ll never regret accepting this invitation—and your life will never be the same again.”
The time is NOW. Hear the invitation from death to life. Don’t put this one off.