- Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2008 12 Feb
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mark Sayers' new book, The Trouble with Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises, (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2008).
The couple you see on TV is so much sexier than you and your spouse. The car advertised in the magazine is so much slicker than the one you drive. The resort you find out about on the Internet looks like heaven on earth, and you can’t wait to escape your ordinary house to spend a week a there.
Every day, the media bombards you with the message that you can have something even better than the real thing. The hyper-real world portrayed in the media is so attractive and alluring that the everyday reality of your own life can seem bland and boring in comparison. Without even realizing it, you may be so influenced by the media that your lifestyle detaches from reality – moving you farther and farther away from God in the process.
Here’s how you can embrace reality to find real faith:
Recognize the agenda behind the media’s messages. Most of the content you see and hear in the media is produced with the goal of getting you to buy something (a product, experience, opinion, or service). The point is to make you feel as if you have to buy something in order to be happy – but when you do, happiness still eludes you. Over time, giving into the pressure simply makes you more and more dissatisfied with your life.
Understand how a hyper-real lifestyle affects your faith. If you’re not experiencing the peace and joy Jesus wants for you, your lifestyle may be to blame. Living according to the media’s messages will lead to constant dissatisfaction, and it will become a struggle for you to reconcile the life you expect to live with the life you’re actually living. You’ll base your daily decisions on what the media values instead of allowing your faith to guide your choices. As a result, your faith won’t seem relevant to your daily life.
Seek more than just a makeover. While the media tells you that the ultimate solution to every problem you face is seeking a way to feel good about yourself despite it, realize that you need to go much deeper than that to find real fulfillment. For example, if your heart is broken and your life’s a mess because you’ve just been divorced, you won’t become truly happy no matter how many makeovers you indulge in – losing weight, buying new clothes and getting a trendy haircut, taking an exotic cruise, etc. The only way you’ll find lasting satisfaction is to be spiritually reborn and invite Jesus to transform your soul.
Look where you’re placing your hope. Consider what you’re placing your hope in: Even if you claim to hope in Jesus, are you really trusting Him to give you a meaningful and fulfilling life, or are you looking to the world’s pleasures to give you the good life you hope to enjoy? The only source you can truly count on to deliver hope is Jesus.
Consider how you make your choices. Do you make decisions the way God guides you, or do you decide to do something because you hope doing so will make you feel just as good, or better, than others? Do you make each choice because it’s the right thing to do, or do you compare yourself with others and figure out how to keep up with them? Do you frequently feel pressure when you make decisions, and do you often regret the choices you make? Trying to maintain a certain lifestyle or a certain feeling won’t likely lead you to the best choices. Trusting God to guide you is the only way to consistently make wise decisions.
Realize that escaping is futile. No matter how hard you may try to escape life’s mundane duties for a glamorous lifestyle like those the media celebrates, it’s impossible to escape ordinary life. So stop wasting time and energy trying to escape, and accept that toil is a fact of life (you’ve got to work to support yourself, you must cook to eat, etc.) and consequences are unavoidable (if you charge an impulse purchase to your credit card, you have to pay it off when the bill comes, and if you drive too fast, you can get in an accident, etc.). Realize that true fulfillment isn’t found in escaping ordinary life, but by connecting to God’s presence in the middle of it.
Think about others. Even though the media urges you to indulge in a self-absorbed lifestyle, remember the many other people who share this planet with you. Many poor and disenfranchised people have less than you – and to them, your lifestyle is something about which they can only dream. Ask God to give you His perspective on your lifestyle, so instead of constantly feeling discontent and wanting to acquire more, you’re grateful for what you have already. Honestly consider the responsibility you have as a Christian to help those who have less than you do.
Embrace your true significance. Realize that, unlike what the media tells you, you don’t have to be famous, popular, rich, smart, accomplished, or good-looking in order to be significant. God values you tremendously – no matter what – and He has significant purposes for your life.
Get rid of the plastic Jesus on the shelf of your life. Don’t reduce Jesus to a figure you think is nice but don’t really rely on. Help your relationship with Him come alive by trading in a nice lifestyle for a way of life that follows His guidance daily. Don’t settle for just believing in Jesus but living however you’d like; trust Him with every part of your life and invite Him to truly transform you. Expect that, while living your life radically for Jesus will involve some tough times and sacrifices, it will also lead to much greater fulfillment than you could ever enjoy from the “good life” the media promotes.
Pursue God instead of happiness, and happiness will come to you. Understand that, if you pursue happiness as an end in itself as the media urges you to, actual happiness will constantly elude you. But if you make your relationship with God your top priority, you’ll discover happiness as a byproduct of that relationship.
Surrender control. Rather than following your own agenda like the hyper-real culture celebrates, recognize that only God is in control of your future. Surrender your attempts to control and trust Him to guide you to what’s best for you.
Look beyond materialism to what matters most. Chasing after material things won’t ultimately lead you to the fulfillment you seek. Despite the media’s emphasis on materialism, look beyond that to focus on what has eternal value: relationships with God and other people. Read, study, and meditate on the Bible regularly to soak in its wisdom and help you keep your focus in the right place.
Honestly examine your life. Take a hard look at every part of your life to determine how the hyper-real culture has influenced your attitudes and actions. Ask yourself: “In what ways has my hope been dictated by the hyper-real world?”, “How do I try and escape reality?”, “In what ways have I been shaped by the hyper-real world? How has this shaping affected my behavior?”, “How has the hyper-real culture affected my ability to commit?”, “How has the hyper-real culture affected the way I enter into relationships?”, “How has the hyper-real culture affected the way I engage with Christian community?”, “How has the hyper-real culture affected my sexuality?”, “How has the hyper-real culture affected my values?”, “How has hyper-consumerism shaped my behavior?”, “How has the hyper-real culture affected my discipleship?”, “How do I attempt to control my life?”, “How have I valued surface over depth?”, “How have I let hyper-reality shape my identity?”, “In what ways have I tried to pursue happiness through means that are outside of God’s reality?”, “What particular idols of the hyper-real culture do I worship in my life?”, and “What dysfunctions, disappointments, and hurts do I have in my life that allow the hyper-real culture to gain a foothold?”. Find someone you trust to hold you accountable and encourage you as you deal with these issues.
Enjoy covenantal relationships. Don’t settle for the contractual types of relationships the media promotes by telling you that you should always hold out for a better deal. Instead, invest in covenantal relationships based on unconditional love, submission, sacrifice, and fidelity. Remain committed to your spouse rather than giving up, stick with your friends even in the hard times, build rapport with your neighbors instead of competing with them, and pray for your enemies. Expect that, as you live out a covenant between you and another person, you’ll experience more fulfillment than you could get from even the best contractual relationship.
Enjoy a mission bigger than yourself. Realize that you’ll end up happier if you don’t limit yourself to pursuing just personal achievements and work toward the greater good instead. The Gospel isn’t just a self-improvement message; it’s about becoming part of God’s plan to renew the whole world. Ask God to give you fresh passion for joining Him in His mission work, and expect that when you do, fulfillment will flow into your life.
Rely on Jesus. Rather than just intellectually agreeing with the Christian faith, trust Jesus to guide you in all your decisions, and to empower you to live them out well. Instead of just believing in Him, rely on Him for everything you need.
Join countercultural Christian community. Establish and nurture close relationships with other believers rather than pursuing the individualistic lifestyle the media glamorizes. The experiences you share with other believers will prove more exciting than whatever you can experience on your own.
Worship in any situation. Forget about chasing after excitement by following the hyper-real culture. Realize that nothing is more exciting than becoming aware of God’s presence with you in any situation. Ask Him to help you notice Him more, and regularly praise and thank Him for His work in your life. View every moment you’re alive as an opportunity to worship God and experience joy as you do.
Adapted from The Trouble with Paris: Following Jesus in a World of Plastic Promises, copyright 2008 by Mark Sayers. Published by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Mark Sayers is the director of Über (www.uberlife.com.au), a ministry that specializes in issues of youth and young adult discipleship. He is also pastor of Red East Church in Melbourne, Australia, an emerging church specifically reaching the young adult demographic. He is a popular speaker and thinker in the areas of Generation Y, pop culture and mission.