There is superficiality in Christian circles that dismays me. I doubt it’s deliberate, just a time squeeze for many, and more subtly, a surreptitious accommodation to secular values that seem to be more reasonable, kinder and even more logical, than the old values espoused by Christianity.
A plethora of books and articles reveal a rising self interest in what I term “Christian self-help” writing. Not that this is wrong in itself, but at some point it develops the image of a Christianity that is primarily there to provide a life free of adversity.
A cursory overview of the past shows that this is not so in practice; persecution and martyrdom of Christians is a major feature of Christian history. On the other hand, cultures that have embraced Christianity have frequently prospered. Western civilization is an obvious example.
So here is the dilemma. Where do we draw the line between the biblical demand for self-denial and the healing of personal human difficulties that the Bible also offers? Perhaps better: what is the starting point of serious Christian commitment that can resolve it?
I like to adapt a popular call of President Kennedy to the American nation. “Ask not what God can do for you, but what you can do for God.” If there is one thing that characterises the Christian call, it is Christ’s empowering so “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
The prayer Jesus taught us reflects what should be our first desire: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10). If we sincerely pray this, it becomes our first mandate—whatever the cost.
Christianity is a paradox, well illustrated by Christ: “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). If there is comfort from Christ, it is an outcome of commitment to Him. We may not avoid the dark valleys but we pass though them with Him.
Thus, my writing must follow that claim. It’s too easy to bring comfort from Christ and avoid the commitment to Him that is the precursor. I desire to invite my readers into a life that has direction and purpose in Christ, and there are no short cuts.