I’ve had a few days this past year that could be labeled “blah”.
Not necessarily bad. Just … blah.
Actually, in reviewing my journals, I can see that I have had many, many, many blah days over the years.
And I tend to think that I deserve better than blah.
My excuse these days could easily be that I am looking for work and my days are not quite full enough.
But to be honest, I used to have blah days when my life was full, and I was doing a lot of Very Important Things.
Pastor Chuck Swindoll once said that we need to keep Psalm 90:12 in mind when we encounter these types of days :
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (ESV)
We need to keep in mind that this is a prayer that God would cause us to view each day as He himself does. That we would see each day’s significance in light of God’s larger plan, his larger story. It is a call for us to live and use each day … however it unfolds … whatever it includes … as being of significance and having value. All the days. The exciting ones. And the “blah” ones. Realizing that they are numbered; that this physical life is not infinite, and that that in itself adds value to all days. And all days lived in light of this knowledge will lead to wisdom.
Often what makes a day “flat” is that we sense no significance in our routine, that what we do doesn’t seem to matter – often even when we are overwhelmingly busy.
Yet sometimes it is in the sustained following of the Christ that we will make the most significant impact on others,
- in all types of terrain: valleys, mountains, or, more likely flat places;
- in all spiritual climates: pleasant, unpleasant, or, more likely, “blah”.
So I will seek to embrace even the blah days as they are designed by God.
Howard Hendricks shared this list of “obvious” mistakes we make in ministry (as part of a presentation about Peter in Mark 14) with a group of pastors (circa 1987):
- Boasting too much; the danger of misplaced confidence. It is quite easy to tend to trust in wrong things, like our education, giftedness or experience; we must trust only in God.
- Praying too little; often the result of #1.
- Acting too soon. Probably because of too little prayer, and without God’s presence. And in the flesh.
- Thinking too late. Be ready to make so mid-course corrections.
They are still mistakes, and still to be avoided, even today.
Hendricks also said, “we are never so old that we can’t commit heinous sin! ‘I never thought it would happen to me’, will. So gentlemen, take care.”
I once read a book about need becoming a “new religion”; appropriately title Need: The New Religion by Tony Walter. The essence of the book as I remember was that our culture has decided that if we have a need it must be met, because needs are really “inalienable” rights of sorts. From there it becomes just a few short steps to redefining most of the things we desire as needs; and to consider that failure to meet those needs is considered immoral – thus leading to all kinds of misguided demands.
Walter points out that the Christian church has picked up this same concept from the culture. We feel that needs must be met by God; He even said “he would supply all our needs.” And we are not above defining all sorts of things as needs and demanding of God (and his people) that they be met. Yet we miss that often God will not meet our needs, however we define them; and often we must learn to live with unmet needs. That promise about God’s supply is in the context of learning to be content with what we have whether a little or much, and the promise was given to a group of people who had given away almost more than they had to the service of God (Philippians 4:10-19). The book is now out of print, but worth looking for on the used market. Very challenging even today.
I’m reminded that the only way to keep from falling into the pit of self-centeredness over needs is to focus on God and persistently ask his strength to live a great life even if my needs go unmet. I think the key to contentment is not to pray for my needs (however I define them) to be met, but rather to have the strength to live well if those needs remain unmet. In the deepest sense we have only one real need – to be rightly related to God.
I had the privilege of listening to Rebecca Manley Pippert at a May 1987 conference in Portland, OR. She made some great points that provoked my thinking then, and that mix of thoughts made their way into my journal. (Apologies to Ms. Pippert for any injustice I did to her words).
- As we hit middle age the way we die for Christ may be different. The temptations may be different; spiritual testing is different; we are different; life lessons to be learned are different. Yet even as things change we need to get back to the basics, to the first things, especially the Cross and the Resurrection.
- We must not forget that Jesus came and nothing was ever the same again. We could be new from the center, not merely renovated. Nor can we forget our dual involvement in the Cross. We crucified him and we were crucified with him.
- Christians try to control too much, including God – that is sin. We must learn to relinquish control, or trying to control. We can’t control anything that matters anyway. God is more than pleased to accept our resignation of lives to him.
- We have a Cross that tells us we are all crucifiers, yet we are afraid to admit we are sinners. We tend to resist repentance in two ways. We will deny that there is any problem, and we are excellent at rationalization.
- The greatest problem we have as growing Christians is “unbelief” – we often deny the problem of our evil, of our sin. We would be wise to note that temptation is not sin. In fact, it might be a sign of godliness that we have something to be tempted over.
Philippians 2:1-4 (ESV)
1 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,
2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
I would like to suggest that the greatest verses on marriage/sex/friendships/church life/relationships/and more are right here! Unfortunately we can be so self-absorbed that we so often miss practicing Paul’s point.
For example, Mrs. Random once locked herself out of her car on a Saturday afternoon and called me for help. She was at the local grocery parking lot and I had settled in at a local casual eatery to enjoy some reading, journaling, and reflection on a sermon I was to preach the next day. Leaving my books, I angrily jogged across the street (no more than half a block) with an belligerent indignation in my heart – justified in my mind because my day, my preparation for God’s work, my time with God, was interrupted! After making sure Mrs. Random was aware how much she should be thankful for my sacrifice, I returned to my books, and opened my journal to where I had been so rudely interrupted. Scanning to recover where I had been, I found these words at the end of the last sentence I wrote… “Lord, apply Philippians 2:1-4, to our fellowship and to me–let me truly understand its meaning . . .” I was overwhelmed with how incredibly selfish my attitude was. How wrapped up I was with my plans being interrupted! How self-absorbed I can be!
Imagine how different marriages and families would be if we would just be intentional in considering others as if they were more important than us; or if we could all defer our “rights” for the good of the rest? In fact, it would seem that families may be the best place to learn this. As Chuck Swindoll once said,
“What does the Lord do to help broaden my horizons and assist me in seeing how selfish I am? Very simple: He gives me four busy kids who step on shoes, wrinkle clothes, spill milk, lick car windows, and drop sticky candy on the carpet. … Being unselfish in attitude strikes at the very core of our being. It means we are willing to forgo our own comfort, our own preferences, our own schedule, our own desires for another’s benefit. And that brings us back to Christ.”
I’ve been working on a sermon on Philippians 2:1-4 for this Sunday at a friend’s church (United Evangelical Free Church for the record). I’m not sure that I’ll will, but I’d like close with a passage from Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together where he supplies seven principles for eradicating selfish ambition from Christian communities. Note that each individual of the community (church) must put them into practice. Christians should:
- hold their tongues, refusing to speak uncharitably about a Christian brother;
- cultivate the humility that comes from understanding that they, like Paul, are the greatest of sinners and can only live in Gods sight by his grace;
- listen "long and patiently" so that they will understand their fellow Christian’s need;
- refuse to consider their time and calling so valuable that they cannot be interrupted to help with unexpected needs, no matter how small or menial;
- bear the burden of their brothers and sisters in the Lord, both by preserving their freedom and by forgiving their sinful abuse of that freedom;
- declare Gods word to their fellow believers when they need to hear it;
- understand that Christian authority is characterized by service and does not call attention to the person who performs the service.
Pretty simple stuff. Powerful if we would but practice with one another.