Married to the Empire

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Christianity: Are we dropping the ball?

This morning I attended my last women's bible study for the spring semester. We started Beth Moore's study of the book of Daniel back in the fall, and this semester we completed the second half. It has been an unbelievably challenging study because eschatology is never an easy subject. Scholars disagree on so much, so it can be very difficult for the new student of eschatology to grasp prophetic understanding. All of us in my group felt frustrated at times because there was just so much to learn, and much of it was difficult and even occasionally unclear.

Taking eschatology out of this discussion and just bringing it back to Daniel himself, this is a fascinating book. Daniel was carried off to captivity in Babylon when he was just a teen, and he never made it back to Israel. He was pressured, even threatened with a horrific death, if he did not worship idols. When presented with choice meats, he abstained. He was unwilling to give up his own faith to appease his captors. He maintained his commitment to the One True God.

What made the difference for him? Daniel 1:8 says, "But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way." Later, in Daniel 10:12, an angel is speaking to Daniel and says, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them."

The two parts that stand out to me are, "Daniel resolved," and "set your mind." Daniel did not happen to just stumble into resistance to temptation. He resolved to do so. He made a plan, and he followed it. He did not live out his faith by his feelings each day. He lived it by his disciplined actions.

Things happened for Daniel because he prayed. He didn't simply pray whenever he needed something. He prayed constantly. It was a discipline that deepened his faith greatly. He also read scripture. He quoted other prophets in his book. He knew the word of God intimately. He couldn't know the Word if he didn't study it regularly. Again, it was discipline.

This brings me to something that has been bothering me about today's Christianity in general. It seems to me that in recent years, our faith has become more about feelings. We want to feel, not necessarily be closer to God. We focus so much on the idea of having a relationship with God, that I think we sometimes fail to move beyond the emotional. We need to cultivate the disciplines of scholarship and prayer.

It troubles me that other religions place great importance in memorization of their scriptures, yet we often whine about memorizing a simple verse. While other faiths have their children diligently studying and memorizing, we feel good that we simply got up and made it to church on Sunday. I think we often try to brush off the importance of truly studying and knowing the Word of God because we're so focused on the forgiveness and relationship aspect of our faith. Don't misunderstand; both are quite important, but there needs to be more. We can't truly know God or recognize his voice if we never implement the disciplines of scholarship and prayer.

Too many churches are falling into the "church lite" trap. We try to convince ourselves that we don't need to go deeply into the Word because we're trying to be sensitive to those who are seeking. It might scare off non-Christian visitors if the pastor actually challenges us in his sermons. Church is supposed to make people feel good, so no controversial passages are to be taught from the pulpit. No one wants to be convicted of sin because it makes us feel bad when that happens. And we often fail to crack open our bibles outside of our weekly trek to church. We feel good that we went to church, and that's enough.

Obviously, it's not this way for all of Christianity, but it is becoming more and more common. We just want to feel good, and since the God of the bible is a loving God who is willing to forgive, what more do we need? I think it boils down to a faith based on what we can get, rather than what we can give. We are to live out our faith, not simply use it as a means to feel better about ourselves. I think too often we fail to be disciplined about spending time with God through prayer and the Word because we rationalize that we already have salvation, so the rest is unnecessary. But without that discipline, we won't easily recognize God's leading in our lives. I fear we are not only failing to reach a lost world because we're too busy focusing on how our faith makes us feel, but we are also failing to receive some of God's blessings because we don't listen to him or intimately know his Word. We are often even unable to defend our faith against those who would seek to tear it down. We have not set our minds to action. It's dangerous to be complacent.

I want to be like Daniel.

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