"And I pray that you ... grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ." Ephesians 3:17b-18 (NIV)
When my middle son was 2 years old, he went through various stages that almost sent me to the mad house.
One of the most irritating stages was his habit of taking off his diaper after putting him to bed. Many late nights we would have to put on a fresh diaper, change his sheets and put him back to bed.
After awhile, we wised up. We started putting him into all-in-one pajamas that made it not so easy for him to accomplish his little feat.
That pretty much solved the problem.
Until one night, when my husband put the boys (ages 2 and 4) to bed. Unfortunately, he forgot about our precautionary measure of locking our toddler into his diaper.
Before long, our eldest son shouted at the top of his lungs, "Mommy! It stinks in here! Somebody needs his diaper changed!"
No worries. It happens, right?
Soon we heard urgency in our eldest son's voice as he called out again, "MOMMY! COME QUICK! THERE'S A STINKY MESS IN HERE!"
We entered their room. The smell that greeted me at the door was enough to make me want to run for my life.
Friends, we are talking yuck e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e ... on the sheets, blankets, feet and smudged into the carpet. So that night, while many other mothers slept peacefully in their beds, guess what I was doing?
Cleaning up a mess.
At almost midnight and for close to an hour, I was on my hands and knees cleaning and scrubbing. I'll spare you the gory details.
Believe it or not, the carpet today looks like nothing ever happened. Between my cleaning concoctions that fateful night and a borrowed steam cleaner the next day, I managed to handle the situation like a pro.
Of course I did. I'm a mom. That's what moms do. We clean up after our children when necessary, because that's what love does.
There is a lesson to be learned from the middle of this messy situation ...
My son didn't mean to make a mess. He didn't intentionally deprive me of sleep or aim to make me uncomfortable. He didn't mean to make me suffer for his transgression.
But I did.
And why? Because that's what love does.
Even when he wasn't showing me much love, I loved him anyway. And I showed my love by cleaning up a mess that I didn't make.
My dear sister... don't you know Jesus loves us this same way?
He saw us in our mess. He cleaned up after us. He was willing to suffer for our transgressions. And even when we aren't showing Him much love, He loved us first and continues to love us anyway.
Because that's what love does.
I believe with all my heart that as my son matures, he will be grateful and appreciate my sacrifices. I pray that eventually he will come to understand the width, length, height and depth of the love I have for him. Just like God's love for us, Paul prayed that the church at Ephesus "may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" (Ephesians 3:18).
In the same way, as we mature in our relationship with God and develop a greater understanding of why we needed His rescue, we can appreciate more and more His huge sacrifice.
Here's the kicker – our lives, actions and attitudes should show it.
Just like mothers find a way to do what seems
... or insurmountable ...
so, too, our precious Savior found a way to rescue us from our plight.
And I'm so thankful. Aren't you?
Dear Lord, thank You for being willing to clean up my mess. Sometimes I'm a little bit of a mess. Other times, I'm a big mess and the yuckiness in my attitude or actions greatly impacts others. Yet You still love me. You loved me enough not only to clean up after me, but also to suffer on my behalf. I want You to know I'm grateful. Help me to walk worthy of the love that You have so lavishly offered me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY: Ephesians 4:1b, "I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received." (NIV)
Ephesians 3:19, "I ask that you'll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God." (CEB)
REFLECT AND RESPOND: At some point and time we have all been a mess. If we're honest with ourselves, we still are! How does the fact that God loves you anyway make you feel?
In light of God's great sacrifice for you, what is one thing you can do today that would show your appreciation for His great gift?
© 2014 by Chrystal Evans Hurst. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org
Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. Matthew 26:49-50
Have you ever felt betrayed by a friend? A sense of being stabbed in the back by someone you thought was a loyal supporter? Maybe it happened at work and you found yourself falsely accused by a team member you thought was your ally. You experienced anger, vulnerability and aloneness. Or perhaps a close confidant shared your secrets with another who was wounded by your words. You extended total trust, only to be deeply disappointed by their indiscreet behavior.
Jesus faced betrayal from a disciple in His inner circle. Though the Lord knew Judas was up to no good, He still received his affection and called him friend. Jesus’ mercy begins with a man or woman’s unseemly motivations and moves on to cover their actions. Interestingly enough, Peter and Judas each betrayed Christ and both were remorseful, but only Peter received the mercy and forgiveness of God. Judas’ all consuming guilt kept Him from seeing and receiving God’s grace.
“But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” (Romans 5:20, NKJV).
Therefore, as we learn to receive and extend mercy, we experience emotional and spiritual health. As Jesus prays from the cross, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34), so we forgive. Mercy is not manic about proving itself right, rather it trusts in the Righteous One--Christ--to make things right in His time. We give mercy generously since our Savior has lavished His mercy upon us. Mercy looks beyond the crime to forgive the criminal.
Above all, do you enjoy the mercy of God? Is your sleep sweet because of the sweet forgiveness of your heavenly Father? Be like Peter--repent and rest in God’s mercy. Avoid being like Judas, who gave back the bribe, but would not receive God’s forgiveness. The Lord’s mercy is deep and wide enough to cover those who betray Him. Let go of guilt that steals your joy and replace it with the grace and peace of God. Your heavenly Father has not turned His back on you, His full mercy is available to hug and kiss you. Christ’s abundant mercy can heal your guilty heart.
“Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love” (2 John 1:3).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I receive Your abundant mercy, so I in turn can extend Your abundant mercy.
Related Readings: Hosea 6:6; Proverbs 11:13; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Hebrews 4:16
Post/Tweet today: Mercy looks beyond the crime to forgive the criminal. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Give Mom the Gift of Laughter and Love
with Moms' Night Out!
On Mother's Day weekend, MOMS' NIGHT OUT opens in more than 1,000 theaters across the U.S. This endearing true-to-life family comedy celebrates the beautiful mess called parenting. Give mom a gift she will love: her life on the big screen!
About Moms' Night Out
All Allyson and her friends want is a peaceful, grown-up evening of dinner and conversation . . . a long-needed moms' night out. But in order to enjoy high heels, adult conversation and food not served in a paper bag, they need their husbands to watch the kids for three hours—what could go wrong?
Old and New Friends
If you've seen Courageous, you'll be excited to know that Alex Kendrick, Kevin Downes, and Robert Amaya are together again in MOMS' NIGHT OUT. For October Baby fans, The Erwin Brothers direct the comedy and Jason Burkey has a fun role in it. Add in Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton, and Trace Adkins—along with a number of other great actors you will love—and you have all the ingredients for a great Mother's Day comedy feast!
Speaking of Gifts
In addition to taking your favorite mom to see MOMS' NIGHT OUT, stop by your local Family Christian Store to get mom a copy of the Moms' Night Out novelization and a devotional based on the movie called Moms' Night Out And Other Things I Miss ...
"But while Joseph was there in prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden." Genesis 39: 20b-21 (NIV)
Do you ever feel like your days are filled with one messy relationship and situation after another? During those times, it's easy to label my circumstances and myself as "a mess," then wonder how God could ever use me, or my experiences, for good.
To protect my heart from discouragement, I often ask God to remind me of times when He has worked in ways I couldn't have imagined, in my life and the lives of others. Recently He reminded me of Joseph's story (Genesis 37-50). It reads like a series of very unfortunate events!
Imagine being beaten and thrown into a pit, sold as a slave and then relocated to a foreign country where you are falsely accused of a crime you didn't commit and banished to die in prison. And to make matters worse, what if your siblings had initiated this evil against you?
That's only the beginning of what happened to Joseph.
Looking behind the scenes of stories like his helps me see how God specializes in using messes to transform people into masterpieces of His grace. That's exactly what He did here:
"[Joseph's brothers] saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him ... they stripped him of his robe ... and they threw him into a pit" (Genesis 37:18, 23b–24, ESV).
Joseph was then taken to Egypt where he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh. Could things get worse? They did when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him, and despite Joseph resisting her advances, she accused him of attempting to rape her:
" ... she called to the men of her household and said to them, 'See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.'"
"As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him ... his anger was kindled. And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison ..." (Genesis 39:14-15, 19-20a).
In Potiphar's house, Joseph learned servant leadership and integrity; in prison, Joseph learned forgiveness, wisdom and patience. He had been wronged multiple times, yet he experienced God's guidance through the darkness that helped Joseph get out of prison:
"And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. ... And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed" (Genesis 39:22-23, ESV).
In a messy pit, the house of Potiphar and a cold dark prison, God prepared Joseph for the amazing future and role he would play in rescuing God's people and eventually bringing his family back together.
Through it all, Joseph stayed close to God and allowed his difficult circumstances to make him more dependent on the Lord. And in turn, God molded Joseph's character into a great and godly leader — who was humble, loving, forgiving, patient and wise.
Friend, you might feel like you're in a pit right now just like Joseph was, but don't despise the mess you're in — God is doing some behind-the-scenes work. He is preparing to unleash His limitless power in and through you!
Dear Lord, thank You for reminding me that You are always with me, just like You were with Joseph. When I face hard circumstances, I want to lean in and depend on You for wisdom, patience and grace. In all these things, I will remember that I am more than a conqueror through Him who loves me. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
TRUTH FOR TODAY: Romans 8:37, "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." (NIV)
REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Do you ever look at the messiness of your circumstances and feel discouragement or even despair? Although Joseph had every reason to be depressed, he chose not to be by looking beyond where he was, to what God was doing.
Read Joseph's story in Genesis 37-50 and make a list of ways God used messes and difficulties to transform Joseph's life for His glory.
© 2014 by Renee Swope. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries 630 Team Rd., Suite 100 Matthews, NC 28105 www.Proverbs31.org
But the LORD said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” Judges 7:4
Less of some things can mean opportunity to trust in God with more things. This is why the sifting by your Savior need not be discouraging. His goal is not to harm you, but to strip from you any dependence on yourself or others and to rely solely on Him. Your financial limitations are an opportunity to watch Him provide in ways that give Him the glory in your life. Less money means you have the occasion to trust Him with His creative provision. When some of your friends fall away, itstings; but your best friend, Jesus, still remains. You can become involved in numerous relationships and miss engaging in intimacy with your heavenly Father. Fewer true friends will lead to richer relationships and more time with God. If your life is driven by one new relationship after another, you will drown in shallow living. Having fewer earthly relationships means you have more time for your Heavenly One. Less is more.
Take the time to shed the weight of worry and watch God work. A surrendered life can be efficiently leveraged. However, a life independent of God is severely limited in its influence. He is positioning you for unprecedented leadership and influence. Now is the time to quit mourning your losses and move on. You have a new lease on life with the Lord, so follow His lead. Watch Him take your “five loaves of bread and two fish” (Matthew 14:17-19) and multiply them far beyond your efforts and enthusiasm. What God breaks, He rebuilds to be dependent on Him and more influential. This rebuilding process has simplified your life; so don’t revert to complicated living. Less is truly more.
If “more is more” is your motto, you can easily become mean-spirited and hard to live with. A “more is more” mantra eventually becomes meaningless. You achieve and receive more, but to what end? There is no fulfillment outside of Kingdom-minded motives. If it is all about you, you will become miserable. If, on the other hand, it is less of you and more of Him, everyone is happy. This is how God works. “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:52).
Therefore, lower the volume of activity and wait in quietness. It may be time to talk less and listen more. The calming presence of Christ is priceless, so tap into His reservoir of renewal. Less worldly thinking and more heavenly thinking leads to discerning the will of God. Don’t just stand in awe of His robust accomplishments through your meager efforts. Now is the time to use this momentum generated by your Master. God is on a roll, and you have the privilege of joining Him. By faith, stop doing two things before you add one. Slow down so God can speed up. Focus on quality, and watch Him multiply the quantity. God wants to do more with less, so He gets the glory. Decrease, so He can increase (John 3:30, KJV). Less is more—less of you and more of Him.
Post/Tweet today: Focus on quality and God can multiply the quantity. God can do more with less, so He gets the glory. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you?’” (Exodus 4:1).
Moses experienced the “what if” trap. “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” Several thousand years later we struggle with the same doubts. What if they reject me? What if they say no? What if they say yes? What if I fail? What if I am hurt? What if they do not understand? If God has led us thus far and if His track record is one of faithfulness, are we not really saying, “What if God does not do what He said He will do?” Doubt detaches us from trust in the character of Christ.
If we are not careful, our beliefs and behavior can reflect this kind of irrational thinking about God. We really struggle at times (right before we take that step of faith) and wonder if God is really true to His Word and if He will come through for us. Yet we know that God has never failed us. His timing may have been different than we expected, but He has not failed us, and He will not fail us. Knowing this, we still struggle with doubt. Why is this?
“Then he [Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe’” (John 20:27).
Doubt is a normal part of the trust process. We go through doubt on the way to trust in the Lord. Even the most faithful followers of Jesus deal with doubt (see Matthew 11:2). However, the danger of doubt is to remain in doubt. Extended striving over doubt can paralyze you. It can paralyze your relationships, your finances, your career advancement, and, worst of all, your obedience to God. He is either trustworthy or He is not.
Lastly, the greatest difficulty is when we are in the middle of tremendous adversity or uncertainty. God’s posture is one of continual compassion and sincere love. He is there to walk with you. He is leading you, and He will provide the needed skills, finances, health, and relationships for you to accomplish His will. Let Him use this time of trial to once again, show that He is God.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory”(Ephesians 3:20–21).
Prayer: Lord, how do You want to empower me to face my doubts and fears by faith in You?
Related Readings: Jeremiah 1:6; Mark 11:23; James 1:6; Jude 1:22
Post/Tweet today: Doubt is a normal part of the trust process. We go through doubt on the way to trust in the Lord. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.” John 7:33-34
Enemies of Jesus are ever looking for ways to dismiss, discredit, and destroy Jesus. Like the lost religious leaders of His day, they want to drive Christ out of their presence. The agnostic intellectuals of today dismiss Christ as a crutch for their cultured conscience. Contemporary theologically liberal leaders try to discredit Jesus’ miracles as mere myth. Proud atheists seek to justify their godless behavior by destroying the absolutes that accompany God’s existence.
The sad news is those who seek to drive out God from the culture are unable to simultaneously seek the good news of Jesus Christ. Enemies of the Lord do not know and understand the Lord. Ironically, the more the faithless attempt to flush faith from society the more faith is fueled. Like migratory birds move together toward a warmer climate as harsh weather arrives, so the faithful move closer to the warm heart of Christ when religious intolerance is tolerated. Enemies of Jesus may seem to be winning, but they’ll soon be surprised they have lost their chance to seek Christ.
“You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10)
Furthermore, a persecuted people of God is an opportunity to display the power of God. History proves that a church under fire is positioned to receive the Holy Spirit’s fire. It’s when the church blends in with the culture that it becomes irrelevant and impotent. So, praise God for the enemies of God. Their fight against faith must mean that faith means something. It does. It means freedom. Authentic freedom is inward before it’s outward and where freedom is, the Spirit takes up residence.
Thus, we who know Jesus must pray for the enemies of Jesus. We pray for them to seek to know Him, not ignore Him. We pray for them to seek to worship Him, not dismiss Him. We pray for them to seek to glorify Him, not discredit Him. We pray for them to seek to be saved by Him, not destroy Him. Lastly, fight the faithless with grace, love, and acceptance. It’s the irresistible life of Christ that draws others to Christ. Let’s use surrender as our strategy to engage the enemies of God. Our surrendered life to Jesus disarms His antagonists and challenges them to seek Christ!
“Once you were alienated from God and were enemiesin your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciledyou by Christ’s physical bodythrough death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (Colossians 1:21-22).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach me how to pray for Your enemies and model for them the life of Christ. #wisdomhunters
Related Readings: Psalm 74:10; Nahum 1:2; Matthew 5:44; Romans 5:10; James 4:4
Post/Tweet today: Its the irresistible life of Christ in us that draws others to faith in the gospel of Christ. #wisdomhunters
© 2014 by Boyd Bailey. All rights reserved.
Chapter 1Two Thousand Stairs The farther backward you look, the further forward you are likely to see. —WINSTON CHURCHILL
We hopped on a double-decker bus and headed toward the heart of Rome. Lora and I had spent a year planning the trip, but nothing prepares you to stand in the very place where Caesars ruled an empire or gladiators battled to the death. As we walked the Via Sacra, we were stepping on the same two-thousand-year-old stones that conquering armies marched on. Of course, I’m guessing they weren’t licking gelatos. Our three days in the Eternal City went by far too fast. And I wish we hadn’t waited until our fifteenth anniversary to take the trip.
Few places on earth are as historic or romantic as Rome. We thoroughly enjoyed strolling the ancient streets, people-watching in the piazzas, and eating leisurely meals at sidewalk cafés. And like good tourists, we also hit all the must-see travel-book destinations. We threw pennies over our shoulders into the Trevi Fountain, enjoyed an unplugged concert by an electric guitarist outside the Colosseum one moonlit evening, and took a three-hour tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. And all the sites lived up to their travel-book billing. But one of the unexpected highlights of our trip was an unplanned visit to a rather nondescript church off the beaten path. It wasn’t referenced in our travel guides. And if it hadn’t been right around the corner from our hotel, we would never have discovered it. The Church of San Clemente was named after the fourth pope, who was martyred for his faith. According to legend, anchors were tied around his ankles and he was thrown into the Black Sea.
From the outside, the church appeared weather-beaten and timeworn. But the frescoes, statues, and altars on the inside were remarkably well preserved. We quietly explored every nook and cranny of that twelfth-century church. Then we discovered that for five extra euros we could take an underground tour. As was the case with many of the ruins we visited in Rome, there were several layers of history in the same place. The Romans had a habit of building things on top of things. Some emperors, for example, would tear down their predecessor’s palace and build their own palace right on top of it. Such was the case with the Church of San Clemente. The twelfth-century church was built over a fourth-century church. And beneath the fourth-century church were catacombs where second-century Christians secretly worshiped God before the legalization of Christianity by Constantine in 313.
I’ll never forget my descent down that flight of stairs. The air became damp, and we could hear underground springs. We carefully navigated each step as we lost some of our light. And our voices echoed off the low ceiling and narrow walkway. Almost like the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia, that flight of stairs was like a portal to a different time, a different place. It was as if those stairs took us back two thousand years in time. With each step, a layer of history was stripped away until all that was left was Christianity in all its primal glory.
As we navigated those claustrophobic catacombs, I was overcome by the fact that I was standing in a place where my spiritual ancestors risked everything, even their lives, to worship God. And I felt a profound mixture of gratitude and conviction. I live in a first-world country in the twenty-first century. And I’m grateful for the freedoms and blessings I enjoy because of where and when I live. But when you’re standing in an ancient catacomb, the comforts you enjoy make you uncomfortable. The things you complain about are convicting. And some of the sacrifices you’ve made for the cause of Christ might not even qualify under a second century definition.
As I tried to absorb the significance of where I was, I couldn’t help but wonder if our generation has conveniently forgotten how inconvenient it can be to follow in the footsteps of Christ. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have diluted the truths of Christianity and settled for superficialities. I couldn’t help but wonder if we have accepted a form of Christianity that is more educated but less powerful, more civilized but less compassionate, more acceptable but less authentic than that which our spiritual ancestors practiced.
Over the last two thousand years, Christianity has evolved in lots of ways. We’ve come out of the catacombs and built majestic cathedrals with all the bells and steeples. Theologians have given us creeds and canons. Churches have added pews and pulpits, hymnals and organs, committees and liturgies. And the IRS has given us 501(c)(3) status. And there is nothing inherently wrong with any of those things. But none of those things is primal. And I wonder, almost like the Roman effect of building things on top of things, if the accumulated layers of Christian traditions and institutions have unintentionally obscured what lies beneath.
I’m not suggesting that we categorically dismiss all those evolutions as unbiblical. Most of them are simply abiblical. There aren’t precedents for them in Scripture, but they don’t contradict biblical principles either. I’m certainly not demonizing postmodern forms of worship. After all, the truth must be reincarnated in every culture in every generation. And I am personally driven by the conviction that there are ways of doing church that no one has thought of yet. But two thousand years of history raises this question: when all of the superficialities are stripped away, what is the primal essence of Christianity?
In the pages that follow, I want you to descend that flight of stairs with me. I want us to go underground. I want us to go back in time. Think of it as a quest for the lost soul of Christianity. And by the time you reach the last page, I hope you will have done more than rediscover Christianity in its most primal form. I hope you will have gone back to the primal faith you once had. Or more accurately, the primal faith that once had you.
THE FAR SIDE OF COMPLEXITY My kids are at that stage in their mathematical journey where they are learning about prime numbers. That means that, as a parent, I am relearning about prime numbers (along with every other math concept I have long since forgotten). A prime number is a number that is divisible only by itself and the number 1. And while an infinitude of prime numbers exists, the only even prime is the number 2.
Certain truths qualify as prime truths. Bible-believing, God-fearing, Christ-loving Christians will disagree about a variety of doctrinal issues until Jesus returns, whether that be pre-, mid-, or post-Tribulation. That is why we have hundreds of different denominations. But prime truths have an indivisible quality to them. And chief among them—the even prime, if you will—is what Jesus called the most important commandment. We call it the Great Commandment. It could also be called the Primal Commandment because it is of first importance. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.1
Jesus was a genius. He had the ability to simplify complex spiritual truths in unforgettable and irrefutable ways. I’m afraid we tend to do the opposite. We complicate Christianity. That religious tendency to overcomplicate simple spiritual truths traces all the way back to a sect of Judaism known as the Pharisees. Over the span of hundreds of years, the Pharisees compiled a comprehensive list of religious dos and don’ts. Six hundred and thirteen, to be exact.2 Jesus peeled them back with one primal statement. When all of the rules and regulations, all of the traditions and institutions, all of the liturgies and methodologies are peeled back, what’s left is the Great Commandment. It is Christianity in its most primal form.
Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If only it were as simple as it sounds.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, former chief justice of the Supreme Court, once made a perceptive distinction between two kinds of simplicity: simplicity on the near side of complexity and simplicity on the far side of complexity. He said, “I would not give a fig for simplicity on the near side of complexity.”
Many Christians settle for simplicity on the near side of complexity. Their faith is only mind deep. They know what they believe, but they don’t know why they believe what they believe. Their faith is fragile because it has never been tested intellectually or experientially. Near-side Christians have never been in the catacombs of doubt or suffering, so when they encounter questions they cannot answer or experiences they cannot explain, it causes a crisis of faith. For far-side Christians, those who have done their time in the catacombs of doubt or suffering, unanswerable questions and unexplainable experiences actually result in a heightened appreciation for the mystery and majesty of a God who does not fit within the logical constraints of the left brain. Near-side Christians, on the other hand, lose their faith before they’ve really found it.
Simplicity on the near side of complexity goes by another name: spiritual immaturity. And that’s not the kind of simplicity I’m advocating. God calls us to simplicity on the far side of complexity. For that matter, He calls us to faith on the far side of doubt, joy on the far side of sorrow, and love on the far side of anger. So how do we get there? Well, there are no easy answers or quick fixes. It involves unlearning and relearning everything we know. It involves deconstructing and reconstructing everything we do. It involves the painstaking process of rediscovering and reimagining the primal essence of Christianity. But the result is simplicity on the far side of complexity. And that is where this flight of stairs will take us if we have the courage to go underground.
THE PRIMAL PROBLEM It goes without saying that Christianity has a perception problem. At the heart of the problem is the simple fact that Christians are more known for what we’re against than what we’re for. But the real problem isn’t perception. We as Christians are often quick to point out what’s wrong with our culture. And we certainly need the moral courage to stand up for what’s right in the face of what’s wrong. I live in the bastion of political correctness, where it is wrong to say that something is wrong. And that’s wrong. If we have to choose between political correctness and biblical correctness, we must choose biblical correctness every time. But before confronting what’s wrong with our culture, we need to be humble enough, honest enough, and courageous enough to repent of what’s wrong with us.
I pastor a church in Washington DC that is nearly 70 percent single twenty-somethings. Unfortunately, our demographics are an anomaly. By and large, twenty-somethings are leaving the church at an alarming rate. According to some statistics, 61 percent of twenty-somethings who grew up going to church will quit going to church in their twenties.3 And the temptation is to ask this question: what’s wrong with this generation? But that is the wrong question. The right question is this: what’s wrong with the church?
My answer is simply this: we’re not great at the Great Commandment. In too many instances, we’re not even good at it.
That, I believe, is our primal problem. That is the lost soul of Christianity. If Jesus said that loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the most important commandment, then doesn’t it logically follow that we ought to spend an inordinate amount of our time and energy trying to understand it and obey it? We can’t afford to be merely good at the Great Commandment. We’ve got to be great at the Great Commandment.
The quest for the lost soul of Christianity begins with rediscovering what it means to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus used those four kaleidoscopic words to describe four dimensions of love. And there is certainly overlap among them. It’s hard to know where loving God with your heart ends and loving God with your soul begins. But one thing is sure: loving God in one way isn’t enough. It’s not enough to love God with just your heart or soul or mind or strength. We are called, even commanded, to love Him in all four ways. Think of it as love to the fourth power.
So the quest begins with rediscovery. But it ends with reimagination. Some truths can be deduced via left-brain logic. Others are better induced via right-brain imagination. Love falls into the latter category. So what follows is not a strict exposition of the Great Commandment. It’s a reimagination of the four primal elements detailed by Jesus in the Great Commandment:
The heart of Christianity is primal compassion. The soul of Christianity is primal wonder. The mind of Christianity is primal curiosity. And the strength of Christianity is primal energy. The descent down this flight of stairs into primal Christianity will be convicting at points, but the end result will be a renewed love for God that is full of genuine compassion, infinite wonder, insatiable curiosity, and boundless energy. Anything less is not enough. It’s not just unfulfilling, it’s also unfaithful. The quest is not complete until it results in catacomb-like convictions that go beyond conventional logic. The goal is a love that, as our spiritual ancestors understood, is worth living for and dying for.
THE WAY FORWARD My aim in this book is to take you to new places intellectually and spiritually so that you discover new ways of loving God. But I also hope this book takes you back to a primal place where God loved you and you loved God. And that’s all that mattered.
I’ve discovered that when I’ve lost my way spiritually, the way forward is often backward. That is what we experience when we celebrate Communion, isn’t it? Communion is a pilgrimage back to the foot of the cross. And going back to that most primal place helps us find our way forward. So before going forward, let me encourage you to go backward. Go back to that place where God opened your eyes and broke your heart with compassion for others. Go back to that place where the glory of God flooded your soul and left you speechless with wonder. Go back to that place where thoughts about God filled your mind with holy curiosity. Go back to that place where a God-given dream caused a rush of adrenaline that filled you with supernatural energy.
Every year our entire church staff goes on a pilgrimage to the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. During one of the sessions this past year, our team was sitting in the balcony of the Gwinnett Center listening to my friend and the pastor of LifeChurch.tv, Craig Groeschel. And he asked this question: “Does your heart break for the things that break the heart of God?”
I felt a tremendous sense of conviction when Craig asked that question. As I sat in that balcony, surrounded by twelve thousand other leaders, I heard the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit said to my spirit in His kind yet convicting voice, Mark, what happened to the college kid who used to pace the chapel balcony seeking My face?
There are few things I hate more or appreciate more than the conviction of the Holy Spirit. It is so painful. But it is so necessary. And I’m so grateful that God loves me enough to break me where I need to be broken. Can I make an observation? You cannot listen to just half of what the Holy Spirit has to say. It’s a package deal. If you aren’t willing to listen to everything He has to say, you won’t hear anything He has to say. If you tune out His convicting voice, you won’t hear His comforting voice or guiding voice either. As I was seated in that balcony, the Holy Spirit reminded me of the raw spiritual intensity I once had. He revealed how calloused my heart had become. And I realized that I had somehow lost my soul while serving God. And it wrecked me.
Does your heart break for the things that break the heart of God?
If it doesn’t, you need to repent. And that’s what I did that day. Our team is typically the first to hit the exit after the last session at conferences because, quite frankly, the first one to the restaurant wins. And we had reservations at one of my favorite restaurants, P.F. Chang’s. Love their lettuce wraps and spare ribs. I could almost taste them. But we couldn’t leave until we brought closure to what God was doing in the depths of our souls. So we delayed our reservation, found a conference room, and spent some time crying, confessing, and praying as a team. I think we were the last ones to leave the auditorium.
In the providence of God, I happened to be scheduled to speak at my alma mater in Springfield, Missouri, the next week. So a few days later I found myself in the chapel balcony where I had logged hundreds of hours pacing back and forth seeking God. It was during prayer times in that balcony when my heart began to break for the things that break the heart of God. It was there that God began to shape my soul to seek Him. It was there that God began to fill my mind with God ideas. It was in that balcony that God energized me by giving me a God-sized vision for my life.
Returning to that chapel balcony fifteen years later, I realized that in many ways I had become a paid professional Christian. My heart didn’t beat as strongly as it once did. My pulse didn’t quicken in the presence of God like it once had. So God took me back to a very primal place. And the Holy Spirit lovingly reminded me that the college kid with a huge heart for God was still somewhere inside me. I knew that getting back what I once had meant getting back to basics. It meant doing what I had once done. It meant rediscovering and reimagining what it means to love God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. And somewhere along the way, in my personal quest for my lost soul, I found it. Climbing those stairs into that chapel balcony was like descending those stairs into that ancient catacomb. God gave me back the compassion, wonder, curiosity, and energy I once had, along with an even greater appreciation for what I had lost and found.
Is there a personal catacomb somewhere in your past? A place where you met God and God met you? A place where your heart broke with compassion? A place where your soul was filled with wonder? A place where your mind was filled with holy curiosity? A place where you were energized by a God-ordained dream? Maybe it was a sermon that became more than a sermon. God birthed something supernatural in your spirit. Maybe it was a mission trip or retreat. And you swore you’d never be the same again. Or maybe it was a dream or a vow or a decision you made at an altar. My prayer is that this book will take you down two thousand stairs back to that primal place—the place where loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength is all that matters.
The quest for the lost soul of Christianity begins there.
Excerpted from Primal by Mark Batterson Copyright © 2009 by Mark Batterson. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.