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Recognizing and Combatting Shallowness (Don’t Waste Your Life)

I’m spiritually shallow. It’s true.

The Lord has been revealing this to me in a variety of ways in recent days, including my own sermon preparation and devotional life, sermons I’ve heard (including an excellent treatment of the book of Jonah by missionary appointee Tim Bixby), and books I’ve been reading (particularly John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life). Here’s a quick summary of how the Lord is working to open my eyes to my shallowness:

I’m preaching on the book of Nehemiah, and I’ve been convicted by Nehemiah’s burden for the people and work of God in chapter 1. Despite his own affluence and influence as a sort of cabinet member/secret service agent in the palace of King Artaxerxes, the ruler of the world in 446 BC, Nehemiah’s attention was on the people and work of God in Jerusalem, some 800 miles away. He was concerned enough to ask for information. He was grieved enough by what he heard to weep as an immediate response. He was burdened enough to mourn, fast, and pray as an enduring response. Ultimately, he was devoted enough to risk his own life (both before the King and by leaving the comfort and security of Shushan for the devastation of Jerusalem) in order to help address the need and demonstrate God’s supremacy.

What particularly struck me is this: when is the last time I actually wept and grieved and fasted for the work and people of God? The answer: too long ago. It’s not that I don’t cry, mind you. I’m plenty emotional. But the causes of my tears are what show how very shallow I am. I waste my emotions on merely sentimental things—a stupid Hallmark commercial, a reality show about some guy losing weight or getting famous, a chick flick in which a heart-broken widow finds love and her down-and-outer husband-to-be finds hope (which, alas, is the storyline of most chick flicks), or a sports moment in which a nobody or a goat becomes a hero. Seriously, I get weepy for that tripe! I told you I’m shallow.

It gets worse. I waste what emotions are left after commercials and feel-good stories on merely selfish things. I’m bummed about my broken-down van; I’m excited about my tax return; I find either satisfaction or frustration (or guilt) in the condition of my house and yard; I find fulfillment in exercising. You get the idea. I invest a lot of emotion in me.

What really bothers me, though, is not just that I invest too much emotion in temporary things, but that I invest too little emotion in eternal things. I rejoice too little at the conversion of an unbeliever or the spiritual progress of a believer. I weep too little over the lostness of a neighbor or the hardships of a brother. I grieve too little over our ridiculously inefficient missions support system. I pray too little for the missionaries with whom TCBC has partnered. Frankly, I’m more like Jonah than Nehemiah—I rejoice over a “gourd” rather than what God is doing in the world, and I get burdened about a “worm” rather than the brokenness of God’s work and people and testimony.

So I’m shallow, and I’m beginning to see it. And I’m not alone. Most American Christians assume that our Lord is satisfied and our lives meaningful as long as we’re going to church, reading the Bible, avoiding dirty movies, and tithing. (And, indeed, doing those things might be significant progress for many of us!) What we fail to realize is that aside from the way we spend our Saturday nights, Sunday mornings, and the first 1/10 of our paychecks, we differ very little from our lost neighbors. We have no more sense of mission than they do. Our lives are spent pursuing the same disposable vanities as theirs—working on our “styrofoam cup” houses and yards, maintaining our “paper plate” cars, and saving or investing for our “spork” vacations and retirements. We’re wasting our lives.

That brings me to another source of conviction in the Lord’s conspiracy against my shallowness. I’ve profited much from Piper’s little book Don’t Waste Your Life. (Notice that I didn’t say I enjoyed it.) I’ve particularly been made to squirm by the second half of the book, including chapter 5’s discussion of risk vs. the facade of security and chapter 7’s discussion of materialism—our treasuring of things instead of Christ. I’ve urged the people of TCBC to read the book, and I commend it to you, as well. I don’t agree with everything that Piper says (even in this book), but it’s the sort of spiritual wake up call that this generation of believers desperately needs. It’s point is aptly made by an Ecclesiastes-like statement by J. Campbell White (writing on the Layman’s Missionary Movement of the early 1900’s):

“Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.”

I’m shallow. You probably are too. It’s downright embarrassing, if we’re honest about it. We need to repent. We need to reassess our passions and priorities. We need to invest our tears, dollars, hours, and years in things eternal. We need to think radically, shaking off our day’s definition of “normal” Christianity. We need to consider what it would really mean to live lives dedicated to enjoying, exalting, and spreading the glory of Christ—the very purposes for which we were born and born again!

May the Lord deepen us and thus be glorified in us.


14 Responses

  1. Darn,
    I wish I had not read this particular blog.
    I thought I had suppressed the nasty little secret of my shallowness. Now you drudge it up again.

  2. Because I haven’t read “Don’t Waste Your Life” so this is not a comment about John Piper’s book.

    Re: “Our lives are spent pursuing the same disposable vanities as theirs—working on our “styrofoam cup” houses and yards, maintaining our “paper plate” cars, and saving or investing for our “spork” vacations and retirements. We’re wasting our lives.”

    My comments: Home maintenance and upkeep, auto maintenance, saving for retirement are areas of prudence and stewardship for the believer. Obviously all these can be done with wrong motives and desires (like I want the nicest home, or the fanciest car). I won’t want to see Christians lapse into asceticism.

    * A poorly maintained home could be a bad testimony and actually ‘cost more’ in the long run.
    * A poorly maintained auto is dangerous.
    * Not preparing for one’s retirement is foolishness.

  3. If I may… (we’re not “in church”….so do I still have to keep silent? Or is that a topic for another blog?) =)…

    I think I understand what both of you are saying. Life requires time occupied by the mundane…ie car maintenance, home maintenance etc. ….but it does not require us to be consumed by these things. A godly missionary is no less godly because some of his/her time is taken by washing clothes, shopping at the market, or cutting the grass. Is our monthly support given in vain because they choose to spend hours each week in these endeavors? Every moment will not be occupied with preaching, witnessing and teaching; but a godly individual will strive to perform these things “to the glory of God”. I believe to “occupy” [“do business”] ’til He comes requires walking in the Spirit…something many believers don’t correctly understand.

    “The world is too much with us”–to be sure. From where I stand this seems to be largely about achieving balance. Humans are not good at it. Too much introspection (ie “leaning upon our own understanding”) may very well lead to asceticism as Bro. Jim suggests. I have to own things. I don’t have to idolize them. If I am out every afternoon polishing my “plastic plate”, something’s amiss.

    I get teary watching Hallmark commercials too. =) I don’t see that as a bad thing…it indicates there still remains a sensitivity in my spirit that God can use for His purposes.

    Don’t get me started on chick flicks… =)

  4. Two more things…okay, three (No, I don’t own one of those t-shirts that says, “Help! I’m talking, and I can’t shut up!”) =D

    First, the fact that you are sensible of this inner struggle shows there is hope for you yet. =) I would not use the word “shallow”.

    Second, I believe, for my part, perhaps a little time spent with Bro. Lawrence, “Practicing the Presence of God” might be good medicine for what ails me in regard to this discussion–learning to be WITH Him in my quiet time, sensing Him with me throughout the day…

    Third, I am impressed that a blog like this (one that is straightforward in its quest for edification and biblical correctness) has such a wide readership…or are you tweaking your “hits”? LOL No, really, I find it encouraging that so many are looking for this type of interaction and not feel-good “fluff”.

    Now I’m done.
    Blessings, Diane

  5. Jim, I think Diane has clarified things on my behalf. I’m not meaning to say that real life is somehow unnecessary or unspiritual. I think the key word in the sentence you quoted is “pursuing,” though I might have been clearer (…and run the risk of rendering the post annoying or unreadable—death by qualifications). :) There’s obviously nothing wrong with homes, yards, cars, vacations, or retirement funds. But to pursue these things with the same intensity and values as my lost neighbors is worldly.

    I’m thankful for the things with which the Lord has blessed me (which in the last few weeks has included a “gift” car!). Compared to most of the world, I own much. I just don’t want it to own me, and I fear that it often does.

    As for emotions, I’m more concerned with what I don’t shed tears about than what I do.

  6. So if I cried a little more and gave up food a little more than God would start answering all my prayers? What’s the point?

  7. Dave, not to perpetuate and betray my own shallowness, but you sound…well…

    So you’re not as emotional as Chris. Neither am I. But his point seems clear enough, akin to Col 3:1-2 (“set your mind”) 1 John 2:15-17 (“do not love”).

  8. There is a song that I have seen in secular as well as Christian venues that includes a portion:

    Take my heart,
    Take my heart,
    Kindle it with Your heart…

    Sounds like the message resonating with you Chris (Mt. 23:37). Ever looked at the lyrics to “May the Mind of Christ My Savior”? They may minister to you as well.

  9. David T,

    That is seriously the idea that you got from the article? You think the message was “to cry a little more” and “give up food a little more” so that “God would start answering all my prayers?”

    Um…. wow.

  10. Well tell me what I am supposed to do. I work 40hrs or more a week, attend church twice, spend time with the wife, sleep, eat, pay bills, buy groceries. On the face of it I am one of the people who is shallow because I am always busy with mundane things.
    What am I supposed to do? Go street preaching? Cry and fast? I just don’t get it. You say, invest in the eternal. What do mean? I go to church and take care of my family, just like the author of this article has (presumably) always done. And now I am told that is not enough.

  11. David T,

    I do not think it that is always a change of schedule that is needed. It may be the case. I know very little of your weekly schedule (other than what you have described.) But the issue is not so much what fills your schedule. I am a pastor and have my weeks filled with visiting and serving and studying and praying and preaching/teaching, etc. Yet, I am just as prone to the problems Chris described as a man who works 40+ hours per week at a secular job and has all of the other responsibilities that we share as husbands, fathers, and citizens. It has to do with our affections. Are we Christians who set our minds and hearts on things above. Are the things that are truly important to God really the things that are most important to us? Are the things that bring him joy the same things that bring us joy and the things that He hates really the things that we hate?

    When our affections are right, it completely transforms how and why we do the “mundane” things that all of us are called to in this life. That may lead to a change of our schedules and it may not.


  13. Chris,

    Thanks for posting this note. I freely admit to many of the same deficiencies you list. I heard John Piper’s message from T4G ’08 and Kevin Bauder recently did an excellent series at my church (one message involved radical Christian living). The themes of all the messages resonate with your post.

    In particular, I have listened to Tim Bixby’s series on Jonah more than once. I was very impressed with his thorough expositional coverage and excellent analysis. I presume the Jonah series you mention was from the Missions conference from the summer of ’07 at Morning Star Baptist (Bob Bixby–Pastor). I sent copies of the series to several friends and I received tremendous positive feedback. I recommend those messages to anyone who wants encouragement and challenge in the daily walk.

    I need to read Piper’s book too!

  14. Hi,
    I’m from New Zealand.

    The mundanes of life are the norm and part and parcel of being part of our world – a realistic part – Jesus’ life was mundane after all there are decades of non recorded events – Paul’s life was mundane too – all we have are a few details covering a few years and rember he died at 65+-.

    It is how we see the presence of God that is of importance…too often we desire the epic opportunities or experiences or to be ‘of influence’ thus tending to ‘measure’ our effectivess in these terms but reality is He, the Lord is wholly -or should that be holy – present in every aspect of our lives because we are, in Paul’s words, ‘in Christ’.

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