“Now therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:14-15
If you’re anything like me, you have your five year plan all set.
Maybe you’re a little less crazy, and don’t have the specifics sorted (like, hypothetically, the Anthropologie dinnerware set you want in the kitchen of your loft, for which you’ve an intensive Pinterest board), but you know they type of person you’re going to be.
Where you’ll shop once your not-first-job budget allows it, what your CV reads like, who you’ll be meeting on the weekends and where you’ll be going. The sort of life you’d like to lead, once you’re through where you’re currently at.
A few months out of college, I found myself working 70 hours a week. And that’s not because my first job was horrible and demanding (they were a non-profit, and they were the kindest people, and I was out of there by 4:40 every day), but because I had student loans. So I took a parttime job, added another 28 hours to my week, and slept very very little. Not because I’m super driven, or committed, or any other glorifying attribute, but because it was what had to be done. I was building my career, and it was an in-between phase, so I did what was needed to make it work.
My spiritual life suffered a lot during that time.
When it’s hard to find time, let alone energy, to shower and eat and sleep, it’s hard to carve out an hour of quiet time. When you leave for work at 7:30, and get back at 10:30, it’s hard impossible to find a Bible study or prayer meeting that works with your schedule. And spiritual community is not easy to come by when you have limited availability. Honestly, if I didn’t have the Sabbath (i.e. a 24 hour period where I knew I had to set it all aside and focus on my faith walk)(plus being a part of the praise team, which meant some pretty amazing people kept my head above water) I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through those nine months. But without that…it’s scary to think about where my faith would be if I didn’t have that weekly reset.
At the time, I didn’t think twice about it though.
Some career paths are more prone to an endurance mentality– you don’t start as a partner, or a manager, or an (insert whatever gilded job title you want in ten years). You start running copies and refilling the Keurig, and you work your way up. You take meeting notes, you draft emails, you network. And it’ll pay off, in four or five years, when you update your LinkedIn profile. In some fields, you can hit the ground running: teachers get to teach, programmers get to code, graphic designers get going right away. But others, you have to earn it.
So we get good at endurance.
We’re good at digging in our heels, at cracking our knuckles over a keyboard and saying ‘get used to it; we’ll be here for a while’. We work really hard for our future life, and we give a lot of ourselves for it. Who needs sleep; I’ll rest then. Who needs a social life; I’ll have one eventually. We don’t have time for lots of things, we’ll have it in the future. But for now we’re building. We’re laying the foundation, gritting it out and riding it out. And trust me, I am captain of the #waitforit team (Hamilton reference for the win).
Okay, here it is: have you ever thought of the future as an idol?
I hate writing that, because I know it’s one of mine. It’s so easily disguised, behind good virtues of endurance, diligence, ambition. The Bible is full of parables and proverbs about the import of a work ethic. God is honored by faithful employees, and the Bible says that doing well in everything we do —that includes our careers, people —is a type of worship (Colossians 3:23, Proverbs 16:3, 1 Corinthians 10:31). Which is perhaps why it’s such a pervasive sort of idolatry, because it looks so much like a good thing.
Which is why I thought I was being dramatic at first, but then Romans 1:21-22 was a nice kick in the gut.
“Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.”” Romans 1:21-22
If you look at the context of Romans 1, the Romans haven’t made a physical altar. They’ve just ignored God. They suppress Truth and revel in the worldly. They reject the Eternal in place of the visceral. They turn from their knowledge of God, from gratitude and recognition, and in its place they put things they can touch.
My future might not be an idol like a golden calf or a statue of a merman (I used to love that story in 1 Samuel 5:1-5), but the future it’a an idol all the same. Am I glorifying God to the upmost? Am I acting on my knowledge of Him and His love? Do I call myself wise to the ways of God, then turn and run after my own desires?
I’ve heard it said that the enemy of true Christianity isn’t hating God, or fleeing from His Word. It’s complacency. It’s not that we’re opposing God’s cause, it’s that it’s not at the forefront of our lives.
If we look at the story of Jonah, God used when Jonah ran from Him. Where there was fire, God could work. And Jonah came back from it stronger, fiercer. But when pride swelled, when Jonah became obsessed with his perspective and missed the beauty of Grace, then God could no longer work in him.
We get so caught up in building, that we don’t let ourselves be built up by spiritual community. We get so focused on learning, that we brush past the knowledge to be gained from patience and contentment, and abiding in the present God gives us. We are so consumed with vision that we project our future over God’s.
Jonah wasn’t called to Ninevah in the distant future; he was sent asap. The twelve spies weren’t even supposed to be spying; they were supposed to step out in faith, as a nation — and the delay cost them 40 years. Ananias wasn’t supposed to meander his way to heal Paul — the man who hunted him and his friends and family — but to go and heal him, immediately. There’s a sense of urgency that runs with God’s plan, and yet I so easily think that skips over me.
I’ll lead a Bible study as soon as my loans are paid. I’ll have decent and steady quiet time as soon as I’m not a new-hire, and don’t have to be at work so early. I’ll tithe as soon as I’m no longer living paycheck-to-paycheck. I’ll start sharing my faith as soon as I know my coworkers like me.
It is so dangerously easy to work through the present. Yet, God’s kingdom is not built for ‘as soon as’, it is built for now.