How to Think on These Things
I just got back from spending a few days away with my beautiful wife of ten years. Our agenda for the four days was simple: do nothing. We slept in, went out for dinner, read, watched movies, and sat by the pool. In a very busy season of life, this was a welcome respite. For me, it was nice not have to be somewhere or do something, though it was hard to discipline myself away from email. I mostly did okay, but at times Angela had to tell me to put the blasted phone away. For Angela it was nice for her to simply relax, not having to cook, clean, do laundry, counsel women, separate kids from fighting, make sure the house is in order, shuttle little people to birthday parties, and/or do some kind of children's ministry at church. She could simply rest. And rest we both did.
One of the things that struck me, while I was away, was just how hard it is for Christians to enjoy the good things in life. Perhaps its an overactive conscience or the lies of the enemy. I'm not sure. But every time we do something we enjoy, like eating a great meal or enjoying a movie, we have that little twinge of guilt that says, "We shouldn't be having so much fun." Or we have to come up with a thousands justifications.
But if we believe Paul's words to Timothy: "God has given us all things freely for us to enjoy" (1 Timothy 6:17), then we should live like it. Sometimes God chooses to bless us with things we enjoy. Not because we are special or faithful or worthy, but because we are His children and He likes to give us good gifts. Prosperity theology is wrong, but so is a theology of poverty.
Perhaps some of our inability to enjoy the good things of life stems from guilt. We see with our eyes the human suffering in the world. It rightly disturbs us and we want to be part of God's plan to bring restoration and healing. This is good. We should be generous, live below our means, and give our lives away for the gospel. And yet, in doing this we don't have to be insufferable. We don't have to apologize when the Father rains down blessings. We can be both radical and appreciative. We can be pricked to action by human suffering AND enjoy the good things God allows us to have.
This was brought into stark relief one night on our vacation. Angela and I were looking for a good seafood place in Orlando. One of the staff at our hotel overheard our conversation and then offered to help us. He happened to be restaurant critic for Yelp and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the restaurants near us. He not only recommended a restaurant, he arranged for free transportation to the restaurant, courtesy of the hotel. We rode in a brand-new Cadillac Escalade like VIP's. For the rest of the night I kept asking Angela, "Why did this gentleman do this?" We didn't give anything in return. In this I was reminded that sometimes God simply allows or arranges things for us, not because we deserve them, but because He loves us. And our asking ourselves why and feeling badly about is almost an insult to God. We should just respond with simple gratitude and worship.
I think of Paul's words written to the church at Philippi. Paul was writing from house arrest, his freedom taken by the Roman government. Life in this season was not altogether very good. And yet he says, in parting, to "think on what is good and beautiful and orderly and of good report" (my paraphrase). We do well at finding and hilighting the bad things in our world, the corruption in high places, the evil around us, the problems in the Church, the suffering we can't escape.
And yet Paul says we must discipline ourselves to find the good amidst the bad. The glimpses of heaven on earth. This, it seems to me, is a discipline. We must fight for joy. Sometimes that means smiling when you are in prison.
Sometimes it simply means taking time to enjoy the pleasures of life as they come. This, too, is an act of worship.