Recently I was listening to an audiobook during my daily drives on the back roads of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. It was one of those books that Christians often read and discuss in small group settings. One of those books where the author is trying to make particular points on a theological topic or Christian worldview, and usually tends to point out how far away we are from actually living those ideas.
If you’re hearing a slight patronizing tone in what I’m saying it’s because it’s there. But the reason for it is because the hypocrisy that tends to bother you the most is usually the things inside of you. I’m fairly critical of teachers, preachers, and book writers because I enjoy doing all the above. Words, understanding, and profound revelation are like doorways into my inner woman. And without even knowing it the fingers of criticism I tend to point at others are really fingers pointing back at my own insecurities.
I crave understanding. I am forever wanting to understand what is happening in this story of humanity, and most especially in my own little life. But then I begin reading the Bible (my supposed source for this understanding), and Paul hits me with things like, “For since in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25). And in the same letter Paul states the gospel isn’t a matter of eloquent words of wisdom, it’s the power of the cross of Jesus. For a woman who loves words, especially eloquent words, this wakes me up. I would love to dive deeper into the verses above, but that’s not exactly the direction I want to head today.
I actually really respect the author of the book I was listening to, Francis Chan is his name. I respect him because he strives to live his words. But while listening to his book I noticed something, my favorite parts of the book were the endings of each chapter when Chan would describe a person or couple he knew, that lived lives surrendered to the Holy Spirit. It’s only been a few weeks since I listened to the book, and I can’t think of a single theological statement he made in the book (not that they didn’t impact me at the time). But the stories of current day people loving their God and loving people still come alive in my memory.
The part of humans where we compare and contrast ourselves with other individuals is often painted in a negative light. But I think this same part of humans is what allows us to be inspired by other people, which I see as a really beautiful thing. It’s beautiful because it’s a life inspiring another life, not through words but through the actual living out of their lives.
I believe God made us this way on purpose, and it’s why so much of the Bible is stories of the lives of real people. Their actual lives put substance into the truths about God that their stories show. And the life of Jesus proves to me that this is how God designed us. God could have written a book, describing the attributes of himself, his kingdom and his expectations for us. But Jesus is God’s word that put on human flesh and lived a life that fully embodied the truths of God, because He is God. He is the highest level of human aspiration.
This understanding began to really stir in me about two weeks ago while I was sitting outside on the back porch of my grandparents house and I began thinking about my grandma (seen below). I don’t remember how I stumbled on it, but suddenly I realized she embodies selflessness. I began going through a bunch of scenarios in my head and couldn’t think of one where I thought my grandma wouldn’t give of whatever she had for the sake of another person, especially her family. I compared those scenarios with how I might act in the given situation and knew I didn’t come anywhere close. This realization not only humbled me, but gave me new eyes to see my grandma and the life she lived. By most standards she’s lived a normal middle class American life. But considering her life made me realize that selflessness doesn’t always look like giving away all your possessions and moving to a developing nation, selflessness is a lifestyle. It’s a life lived with open hands to freely give what you’ve freely received. My grandma’s life inspires me. She’s not someone that I usually tend to have deep theological discussions with, but her life highlights to me a virtue I want to see more in my own life.
I don’t think I’m ever going to not love words and metaphors and deep understanding, and I think that’s ok. But I don’t want to hide behind them either. Jesus wrote to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3, “You have a reputation for being alive, but you’re dead. Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain.” Those words penetrate my heart, as a constant reminder to wake up and actually live my life. Because faith without action is dead. And words, without a person who is actually living them, mean nothing.