Duty: To and From the Well
I love capitalism, but I'm afraid it's perverted Christianity. The problem isn't that capitalism and Christianity cannot harmoniously coexist - they can (I touched on this in Walking Through Walls). In fact, I believe capitalism can be a wonderful and God-glorifying structure if approached properly.
But Christianity isn't capitalism.
In our American marketplace, we strive to create value and then be paid for said value. I make a widget and you deem said widget to be worth your money, so you buy it from me. There is value exchanged there - the value of the widget for the value of the money.
Spiritual exchanges of any kind are not like this, however. Take prayer. We may pray a small prayer (perhaps a quick prayer said as we're going through our day) and receive a shockingly profound answer from God and likewise, we may water the ground with our tears and receive no response from our prayer. Spiritual exchanges are not always like capitalist exchanges, and there is a great deal of mystery involved. When we confuse the two, we get a cultural Christianity that may look vibrant but is built upon secular principles.
In his book, Dining With the Devil, Os Guinness recalls a Japanese businessman saying this: "Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager."
That hurts, doesn't it? It hurts because it is too often true. When we treat our faith like a business, we fall into snares. We grow churches numerically, but ignore the depth. We do the right things, but only so we can add them to our resume.
We need a different approach.
An Upside Down Kingdom
Loving other people is easy when they love back, but that whole business about loving enemies is pretty rough. Try loving someone who hates you. Try loving someone who has said bad things about you. Try loving someone who has said bad things about your children (I knew that one would work for us parents).
The kingdom of God is an upside down place. It's where sinners get saved. It's a place where the innocent Jesus takes the punishment for the guilty (us). It's a place where you lose your life to find it.
We cannot overlay our worldview on our relationship with God and others. Rather, we must overlay God's worldview on top of ours.
Serving Yet Unserved
There was a time when we talked about duty. In World War II, young men lied about their age to go fight because they felt it was their duty. Not that everyone had heroic motives, but many young men understood that as an individual blessed to live in a free country, we must stand up and fight tyranny. Many of these young men drenched the ground with their blood, and thereby invested their life for duty.
We must use our blessing for the benefit of others.
This is a very Christ-like idea. Jesus used his deity to serve as a sacrifice for us. He did so without any apparent reciprocation. He was willingly murdered, yet prayed for his murderers. Jesus did not go to the cross based upon his expectation of reward. He went to the cross willingly and - here's that word again - dutifully. He knew it was part of his Father's plan to reconcile the world and to save the lost, so he pressed on.
The love of Christ is a one-way love. Jesus gave everything, and we are called to do the same. But won't that empty us?
Duty Drawn From a Forever Well
What if we've got serving all wrong? What if instead of seeing our sacrifice of time, energy, and money as a net spend we instead considered it an addition to the kingdom of God - which just so happens to be our home?
Call it eternal home improvement.
Here is what I mean. There is this friend of mine, and I don't think he is a child of God. I have spent many hours with this guy. I have prayed for him in tears. I have talked with him and thought about him and on and on. I have, to the best of my ability, shared the gospel of Christ with him over and over - but nothing is happening. So you could say I've invested a lot into him, while getting nothing in return.
But I don't think so.
First, when we love from the love which God has first given to us, we are simply sharing our abundance. It's like having way too much food and sharing the excess with someone else. You don't mind at all. In fact, it's a joy. So it goes with loving other people if we've experienced the crazy love of Christ. There's just so much of Jesus' love that when we give it away, we have no less afterward. Again, upside down kingdom.
Second, this eternal home improvement thing. Just the thought of one day seeing my buddy repent and turn to Christ excites me. The thought of bumping into him one day in heaven or on earth and noticing he is a new creation brings me great joy.
Trust and Obey
God's promises are perfect. When we read his commands, if we would simply trust and obey we would find that everything works better. I try to tell my kids this, and I pray that some day they'll see it for themselves. When I teach my kids to trust and obey, I'm also trying to teach myself.
Of course, no one trusts and obeys perfectly. They say the only sure things are death and taxes. Well I beg to differ. Jesus conquered death, so it's not sure anymore. Taxes, yeah, we've gotta pay them. But the other sure thing is our moral failure. We will not trust and obey perfectly.
So in the course of trying to do what is right - to do our duty - we will fail. We will serve people because we want something in return. We will walk by the starving and ignore the brokenhearted. We will fail to do our duty.
And when - not if, but when - we fail to obey and do our duty, we have the opportunity to return to the well of grace. It is a well without end. We draw from the grace of Christ for the strength to live a faithful life and we draw from the grace of Christ when we need forgiveness. You could say our lives are spent walking to and from the well.
That's a walk worth taking.