by David Phelps
perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of;
our attention would have been on God.” – C. S. Lewis
August, 2004At one time or another, most of us have seen the three monkeys. I’ll describe them here in case you’re too young to remember: one has his hands over his eyes, another has his hands over his ears, and the third has his hands over his mouth. They represent “see no evil,” “hear no evil,” and “speak no evil.” Some folks have been tempted to add a fourth monkey: “Have no fun.”
Once, when our daughter, Monica, was younger, she wanted to do something or other, and she said to her mother and me, “But I just want to do it a little bit!” Sometimes, we just want to have a little fun, to see, hear, or speak a little evil. It’s no fun being good all the time. We wonder what we’re missing. Jesus recognized that the disciples were “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:11-16). We are in the world but the world has no place in us. John wrote, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world;” (1 John 2:15 NRSV).
Sometimes, it seems as if we’re trying to live in the world and in the kingdom of God at the same time. But Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62b NRSV). It’s impossible to go forward while we’re looking behind us. Cars have smaller rear view mirrors than windshields because you can only drive when you’re looking forward. If you try to drive while looking in the rear view mirror, pretty soon you’ll have an accident.
If we have one eye on the pulpit and the other on the clock, we miss the message. If our bodies are in the pew and our minds are at the ball game, we’re not really “there” for God. I enjoy the Internet but every minute I spend surfing the Web is a minute I don’t have for Bible study or prayer. Every minute I spend doing something else is a minute I can’t spend writing these columns. I enjoy playing my guitar, and I thank God for that talent and the ability to praise God through music and song. But guitar playing isn’t Bible reading. I try to strike a balance but I admit it can be difficult. Sometimes, it’s as if the Bible can wait, or prayer can wait. There’s so much “fun” stuff to do. “I just want to do it a little bit!” That’s all. Just a little bit. A little bit of sin: A little bit of greed. A little bit of selfishness. A little bit of pride. Surely “a little bit” can’t hurt. But “a little bit” of sin is like being “a little bit” pregnant or “a little bit” dead (Matt. 5:29-30). An alcoholic who drinks “a little bit” ends up drunk. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Matt. 6:24a NRSV.)
We don’t have to live in church or become monks. God wants us to have a “balanced diet,” spiritually as well as physically. We can eat candy, cookies, chips and other “junk food” occasionally but we need fruits, vegetables, and milk. I confess that this is difficult for me because I love junk food. I also love doing things that are “fun.” We can have our pastimes and pleasures but we need the word of God. We need to spend time in prayer. We can’t live on spiritual “junk food” any more than we can live on regular junk food (John 6:27; Heb. 5:14).
If we live consistently and put God and the things of God first, others will notice. If we don’t, they will notice that too. If they look at us and see consistency, if they look at us and see the values we “preach” in action, then they can see our witness. They can see God. I pray that they will see more than “a little bit.”
“As they were going along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ To another he said, ‘Follow me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 9:57-62 NRSV.)