This was first posted here:
The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. (Brennan Manning)
In a fit of nostalgia, I’ve recently been listening to some of the CDs I loved back in Junior High. One of them is Jesus Freak by dc Talk (the above quote appears as a voice-over on the fourth song), which I fondly remember belting out at the top of my lungs. Such reminiscences, however, have got me thinking about how my faith has changed since then. I’d like to think that I’m more mature now than I was, but I wonder what that means, and whether it’s really a good thing or not. I know a lot more now – about God, and life, and how the two interact – and in many ways my faith is stronger for having weathered a few storms, but it is also more cautious and understated. There was a time when I was proud to call myself a “Jesus freak,” when I dreamt of becoming a missionary to some remote and hostile locale, perhaps even giving my life in a grand selfless spectacle. But these days I’d rather fit in than stand out, and I’ve long since embraced the middle-class lifestyle. I may have been naïve before, but I was passionate, and it’s a shame to have lost that.
I often write about hope and sacrifice (e.g. here, here and here) because I think these are the two primary poles around which human nature turns: Hope is what gets us out of bed in the morning, what gives us direction and urges us forward. Sacrifice is necessary when the road inevitably grows rough. Perhaps that’s why new converts seem so alive, why my younger self could belt out Jesus Freak without embarrassment – they’re filled with indescribable hope, and they’re willing to make almost any sacrifice for its sake (the hysteria surrounding Obama is an ironic reflection of this principle, which isn’t restricted to Christianity). In time, the cares of life crowd that enthusiasm out; we’re less willing to sacrifice, and so we in turn grow a little less hopeful, which makes us still less willing to give up what good we currently have in hope of something better. If we are not careful, we can quickly become those “Christians” that make the unbelieving world wonder what good our faith is, anyway.
Perhaps that’s why my favorite books and movies are always those that celebrate hope in the midst of despair, stories of ultimate sacrifice and resurrection. I read about Jean Valjean in Les Misérables or watch William Wallace in Braveheart and they remind me what it means to hope; they make me more willing to sacrifice. But sometimes I think those stories are too big for me. I’ve never faced death or imprisonment; I’ve never had to choose between my integrity and my life. I enjoy those stories, but I don’t often live differently because of them. It’s easy to dream of a grand sacrifice that I’m unlikely to ever face, but it’s also easy to ignore the countless smaller sacrifices I face on a daily basis: Turn off the TV and do something nice for my wife, skip that new movie and send the money to those who really need it, give up a Friday evening to help at a soup kitchen. If I’m not even willing to make those sacrifices, what makes me think I’d truly give my life to save another, even if faced with the need?
I don’t know whether Brennan Manning is right, but I do know this: There’s little good in dreaming of a grand sacrifice, unless you’re actually living your life for others.