For Christians, our lifestyles and decisions can be quite black and white. Because we have the Bible, God’s manual for life, we know we’re not supposed to lie, steal or murder and that we’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Yet for every simple-to-follow command in Scripture, there are ones that aren’t so black and white, where a lack of proper interpretation and careful balance can lead to some pretty devastating consequences. (Think snakes handlers and the prosperity gospel.)
One of these confusing issues Scripture addresses is grace. Grace is the centerpiece of our faith, and too much emphasis on “doing the right thing” is an act of self-righteous religion. Yet Scripture says that faith without works is dead and that a Christian who doesn’t act according to what they believe, perhaps isn’t a Christian at all.
Grace and works is just one example, so I thought I’d start a new series called “Finding the Balance” to talk about some of these issues and perhaps do it in a discussion-based format. I’ll share some of my thoughts on two particular opposites, and you can share yours in the comments below. Also feel free to suggest some topics where Christians must find a balance that you’d like to discuss. I’d love to hear from you!
One of my least favorite “Christian” songs is called “Jesus Take the Wheel,” popularized by Carrie Underwood. No, it’s not because it played nonstop on the radio while I was growing up, and it’s not because I have issues with the singer.
It’s because I think Christians should keep their hands on their steering wheels.
I use this analogy to illustrate a duality I have the hardest time understanding: At what point does trusting in God become laziness, and at one point does putting in effort become doing something in your own strength?
Going between different churches and denominations around the world, perhaps I see the contrasts more clearly. Some churches have cultures that lean one way, and some the opposite. Many of the more Charismatic or Pentecostal churches will often emphasize “waiting on God.” They trust in God for faith healings, career moves and their future spouse. They might wait six months praying, seeking a sign from the Lord before asking a girl on a date, or they might not get treatment for an illness because God is our healer. Some people look at that and think they’re crazy, and some would applaud such behavior as being led by faith.
Wait on God
For me, when I first became a youth pastor in Hong Kong (the city with the third-highest rent prices in the world) I was very stressed about finding a place to stay. I don’t make much, and rent here can easily pass $1,500 a month for a single bedroom apartment (400 square feet). Yet every time I started looking, I felt a strong impression from God to wait — so I did.
One day during a small group meeting, I had a vision of an apartment, and I shared it with some of my friends. One week later, my new agent called me up to show me two flats, and that apartment I had envisioned was the first place she showed me. I asked for a discount of $300 off per month and got it. My rent has gone up only once in seven years — a miracle.
Yet the flip side is that we Christians are called to take action. We can’t just sit by idly if injustice is happening before us or there are good opportunities to be taken for God’s glory and our good.
Many Christians work hard in their careers, often with the goal of making more money to provide for their families and purchase a few luxuries along the way. They buy insurance, save for their nest eggs, and generally let good business practice drive their financial decisions. This all sounds wise, yet at what point does that become a form of functional atheism, a lifestyle where God’s presence, power and purposes are merely acknowledged, but never sought or expected?
Just Do Something
In my life, I’ve seen the fruit that comes from being wise, organized and pursing excellence. My youth ministry has seen lots of fruit in the past couple of years, both in the depth of our youth’s spiritual walks and also in our growth in numbers. To do this, we actively seek out gifted leaders, conduct regular training sessions, structure our yearly schedules, and follow set principles to guide our ministry. We don’t need to pray for a couple hours before we decide to do these things, just as we don’t need to wait on God to decide whether we should teach our kids to chew with their mouths closed.
For me, finding the balance in this area is an ongoing challenge. At various stages in my life, I’ve faced the temptation to move too far in one direction. Perhaps there is a “right” amount of each, perhaps not. I’m not sure.
Anyway, now I want to hear from you. What do you think is the right balance in these situations, and what are some of your stories? Try to keep your replies short, if possible.
Lastly, let me know what you’d like to discuss next.