The General Populace and I

6:05 AM

I was certain I'd be the first American to write a classic on par with Dickens, Austen and Shakespeare. In my teens, too. I read like no other, scribbled nonstop and dreamed almost bigger than dreams ought to go. Some people thought that Christian "ministry" (as if it could be separated from Christian life) deserved more attention than writing, running, teaching and politicking for the glory of God. I disagreed. Why not leave a book in the library, a stamp on history, a foundation or an organization or two? What we needed, I thought, were fewer people in the missionary/ministry realm and more every day warriors on Main St. and in Washington.

Then I grew older and fiction became harder to write and more pressing needs grabbed my attention -- the local kindergarteners, the abandoned single mothers in Kenya, the little children around the world, the so-many-people hurting and struggling on my very block.

I questioned my previous zeal for non-ministry ministry. The world could live without another play, novel or poem -- for the glory of God or not -- but could a child live without food and love? Could a soul live without a shoulder to lean on?

Yes, we are to glorify God primarily but Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me" and James defined true religion as helping the orphans and widows. If we gain the whole world of literature and science and government but ignore true need due to our "glorifying God" zeal, what have we truly done for God?

This frustrated me. On the one hand, I adored writing -- not necessarily fiction, but writing, any writing, the whole process of thought and letters. I had been blessed and challenged by books, which must have taken huge chunks of time on the authors' part. It wasn't a "waste." Yet I could not justify to myself the importance of changing culture and transforming literature when there were those who needed the basics of the Gospel, a hug and a piece of bread. The more I examined the issue, the less and less I wanted to be a champion of great grammar and stellar writing and more and more I wanted to share this Gospel openly and explicitly, through my life and my words.

A few years ago, I had Christians and the general populace figured out. I knew all Christians' place in culture and the world (impacting society) and thus knew my own place (impacting society). This new desire of mine threw me for a loop. I knew I had been growing steadily in faith, that God had been working day and night on my behalf, that my whole life was opening up to me. Could it be that, when I was more spiritually immature, evangelizing and "ministry" looked cliche, but now, when I was seeking God, I discovered His heart wasn't with literature and politics but people, compassion and the Gospel?

Christianity didn't make sense anymore. I didn't know whether it was more spiritually mature to be a strong advocate for God in Washington or a strong advocate for God in Uganda. I didn't know whether Christians should be so concerned about "impacting culture." I knew I wasn't, not really.

And that's when it hit me. I had been tackling what everyone else ought to do and what was God's will for a multi-faceted group. I was ultimately wrestling not with the church's place in culture and society but my place. And if I went into "ministry-ministry" instead of headed up the next generation of truly Christian writers, I would be doing no more "better work" and being no more "spiritually mature" than any other Christian in his place.

I do this too much -- taking a personal question on what I ought to do and then turning it into a general rule for the general populace. If I shouldn't go to college, nobody should go to college. If I shouldn't work outside the home, nobody should work outside the home. If I shouldn't focus on culture and society, nobody should focus on culture and society. If I determined ministry was too much idealism, then, by golly, it was.

That's not how God works, I've found. The goal of a life is to glorify Him. The goal of His church is to proclaim His Gospel. Within that lies so much diversity and specialization -- and no one ought to criticize another master's servant.

Wives and mothers shouldn't parade their ministry as greater than a single girl's. A single girl shouldn't snub the wives and mothers' work. The minister shouldn't trumpet his "singlemindedness" to the Lord and the businessman shouldn't roll eyes at the impractical idealist. The foreign missionary shouldn't shun the one who preaches Christ crucified at work.

Why is this so hard for us to grasp? Why do we think that one person or one faction of Christianity has the right lifestyle for everyone else? Why do some Christians puff up with pride that they're the ones actually changing lives and glorifying God while others crawl into a hole, confused that their calling is as dung to the Christians who are doing things differently? Why do total strangers feel capable of advising other unique believers on how they should conduct their lives to God's glory?

If all of us were missionaries, who would support them in prayer and finances? If all of us were businessmen, who would share the Gospel to all nations? If all of us were married, who would have time for the important things outside the home? If all of us were single, who would bring up families and picture the relationship of Christ and His church? If all of us focused on "ministry," who would do the dishes, stock the grocery stores and teach the next generation? If all of us stayed home, who would bring Christ to the oppressed and the shattered?

Because we are on earth and because the earth is passing away, along with culture and society and bodily needs, we're in a tricky transition. We can't totally abandon everything and head out to the mission field. We need doctors to heal us, teachers to teach us, lawmakers to govern us, farmers to provide for us. But we need, need, need people to preach the Gospel, care for the sick, reach out to the lost and counsel the lonely. We need men and women to raise families, yes, but we need men and women who can do more than live family life.

No one person can do it all. So we are a body -- a body comprised of many different parts that all work together. A mother cannot do all the things that women can do, so God ordained some to be single for a time. A preacher cannot do all the things a Christian can do, so God called some to build houses, farm and run the school board. The eye is not greater than the foot, though in some ways it might appear so. Neither is a missionary greater than the kid who works diligently at McDonald's or vice versa. It's not a matter of greatness but of service; not a matter of what everyone else is doing but what I'm doing.

That, in a nutshell, is the Christian life.

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11 impressions

  1. Really true, Bailey. You made everything clear and easy to understand. Thanks.

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  2. Bailey, you seem to have the unique ability to listen to the thoughts inside my head and then answer them. Knowing what I should do with my life is something that I'm really wondering about right now. My talent seems to be writing and literature and organizing and curriculum planning are definitely what I love. However, I can't ignore all the other things in the world that need to be done.

    This weekend, I learned about little Down syndrome orphans in Bulgaria who are being basically left to die. They are fed with bottles that have the nipple cut off so that they have to swallow the whole bottle in less than a minute or choke to death. Girls that are fifteen years old look smaller than a two year old and their legs are stick thin. When I hear about this and see the pictures, I wonder how I can spend my life organizing when little children are suffering so.

    So, I don't know what I'm going to do, but it is an encouragement that I'm not failing if I don't do what someone else thinks I should, that I don't have to follow someone else's idea of the perfect Christian life. Thank you for your words. They are full of grace, as always.

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  3. Truth. After coming back from Ghana I've been battling with the question of where exactly do * I * fit in.

    But I've come to the same conclusion as well; we are ALL called but called to do various jobs. And comparing will not bring solutions or healing.

    Blessings!

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  4. Wow, that was cool. And true. God didn't design His church for each person to work alone, or for everyone to do the same thing. He made us a team.
    After all, the eye looks very different from the foot, yet both need the other and both are important. In the same way, two Christians can be living very different lives, yet both for the glory of God.
    <><

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  5. That Body of Christ passage always makes me think of Mr. Potato Head. I know. I'm weird. But stick with me.

    Just as Mr. Potato Head needs all of those different pieces (in the right places, mind you), so the Body of Christ needs different ministries in the right people in order for it to function properly.

    And *that* makes me think of Toy Story (can't remember which one) when Mr. Potato Head has his pieces in the wrong places and shouts, "Look! Picasso!"

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  6. Great post!! Love the nutshell. :) You expressed this really well. Thank you!

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  7. Amen. I think this sounded like our midnight conversation (which I regret, but I don't regret - if you know what I mean).

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  8. I love this conversation! It is one I have with myself frequently, and one that I have with friends and family often. I think it is a constant balance: asking myself am i glorifying my own present callings or exulting the present life paths of others above my own. (Basically, I can swing in a matter of hours from heightening my current place in life above all other Christian callings to exulting someone else's place in life to infinitely more fitting and better than my own.) In the long run, I think we need to keep the internal-dialogue, blog chatter, and living room discussions not on a level of raising our personal callings above others or providing biblical justification for why we are making better life choices than other Christians; rather we should be encouraging a dialogue of how our passions, gifts and callings work together to accomplish Kingdom work. And that is exactly what this post does- it encourages us to think not about who has the superior calling from heaven, but how all of our callings work in synergy for His good.

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  9. Beautifully written, Bailey. It's wonderful that you came to this wise conclusion at such young age. I was one that wrestled for a long time with my place in life, and what was I to do. I am glad I kept seeking and finally found it. But this is what I found: that our calling may change according to the season in our life. I was single, I was a missionary, I was in the work force evangelizing my co-workers and today I am a SAHM homeschooling my 4 beautiful children. so yes, your calling may change and so good to know that it is YOUR calling, not the WHOLE world.

    Your calling is a beautiful one! The Lord is using you and the talents He has given you for His glory!!

    Blessings,
    tereza

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  10. I agree with you that everybody isn't called to what "I" am. There's more than one "right way" sometimes.

    *hug*

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  11. Wow, so good. Thank you for writing this. You really hit the nail on the head. The goal of each Christian's life should be to glorify Him and spread the Gospel in the sphere and calling GOD has called him to. You really wrote this well and summed up some of the same things I have thought through during the years as well. Thanks Bailey.

    Keep writing; I have really enjoyed your blog.

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