By Matt Reffie
Say this with me: “Hello, God. How are you today?” Now stop. Listen… Take a moment, what is God saying back to you? Is this a silly exercise? Is it difficult to discern any kind of response from God? Either way, thanks for indulging me for just a moment. I hope to help shift our daily thinking to a humbler kind of posture in our faith, one that begins each day, each conversation, each project, and each moment in the reality that God is an active agent in our presence. Too often, I think we let our worldly measures of what it means to be a Christian get in the way of a posture of daily reliance in God.
For many of us it is far too easy to fall into a pattern of what I call “collecting Christian trophies” rather than staying focused on daily participation with God. A “Christian trophy” is anything we point to in our walk to indicate a completed accomplishment even though it pertains to something that is intended to be ongoing in the Christian life. One of mine is “I’ve read through the Bible cover to cover three times.” It’s a little trophy I bring out to show I’ve engaged the Scriptures seriously and might know what I’m talking about in Bible discussions. The trouble is, my last full read-through was some ten years ago. Someone who read a particular passage yesterday is perhaps more qualified than me to teach on it. Yet, as long as I hold onto my trophy, I feel like I’ve got that box checked in some sense. Trophies tend to celebrate completed accomplishments, and in that way they shouldn’t really be a significant part of the Christian life. What “Christian trophies” can you identify in your life? Do they deter you from engaging God more readily or in certain areas of your life?
I think we tend to like clean and clear definitions, certainties, and benchmarks to measure and characterize our Christian walk. For example, we prefer the phrase “I’m Saved” (which is true!) to describe our spiritual life, even though it can minimize the fact that we are also constantly “being saved” every day as we enjoy and abide in Christ. Can “I’m Saved” really be a Christian trophy, though? In its best use, it signifies the reality that God’s work on our behalf is complete. The danger, though, is oddly similar to that of the medieval indulgence, where believers were guaranteed entrance into God’s heavenly kingdom by securing this form of Christian trophy. Having the indulgence meant you were “saved” and maybe didn’t need to worry so much about the other forms of Christian participation. Whatever your particular Christian trophies are, they are not necessarily bad (and likely not as bad as indulgences!), but hiding behind them or letting them stand in the place of present participation can be. Our faith must be living, active, and interactive with God to be enjoyed at its full potential.
In predominantly Western circles, faith seems to be commonly understood as our ascent to a certain set of beliefs. For Christians this includes things like “God is three, yet one” and “Jesus died for our sins.” On a more practical level, it might mean you believe God is good and will always work toward your best interest. These are all good and important things to believe, but I don’t think they really capture the full essence of what “faith” is. Faith is a never-ceasing series of interactions with God and the world around us. Having “faith” means having a vibrant daily relationship with the living God. It does us a great disservice if we think our faith is merely a collection of convictions, beliefs, or theological statements. I think our Christian educational programs and materials are partially to blame for this. We know how to teach theological memorization and recitation, and even how to engage in apologetics to defend those theological statements, but we have not consistently included teaching elements of how to practice the Christian faith. For me personally, I didn’t meet the living God in my catechism materials or church membership class nearly as much as I got to see and meet him in action through the lives of my mother and my childhood pastor. I actually got to watch my pastor stop mid-sentence or mid-youth program and have an internal conversation with God about where and what we were to do next. Programs and planning in church are good, but being present in the Lord is better.
As good and helpful as all of our theological statements are at times, they can just as often become barriers that keep us from a posture of daily reliance on God. Our Christian life needs to be grounded in participation, not mere trophies that signify some sense of spiritual arrival or accomplishment. In truth, we probably hide behind far more trophies than we realize. Take some time today to reflect with God to identify and discard some of yours.