How to Spend a Christian Life
By James Franke
[pullquote1 variation=”blue” ]”You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[/pullquote1]
Perhaps the most referenced Christian quote apart from Scripture, we have all heard this beautiful articulation by St. Augustine as to what it means to have our satisfaction in God, and in Him alone. However how many of us have heard and believed this beautiful notion, and then have gone out and radically changed our lives to reflect this truth to the world? I will admit that even as a Catholic Missionary, I find myself failing time and time again in this regard.
The reading for Morning Prayer, Tuesday Week IV, taken from the Liturgy of the Hours, is a passage from the beginning of Isaiah chapter 55. Many of us (including myself) would read the first line, “All you who are thirsty, come to the water…” and have roughly sixteen and a half dozen Christian songs composed with a variation of this verse begin to flood our thoughts, and we would be swept off to that ever expanding library of Praise and Worship music that exists in our minds. However, this Tuesday, reading this Scripture during our community morning prayer, my mind did not race off in that direction, it stayed drawn into the sacred text that was before me, into the very Word of God. If it hadn’t, I might have completely missed what God was about to speak and reveal to me. The next verse is as follows, “Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” I was glad I was sitting while reading this as I may have been knocked off my feet if I were standing! I have probably read that verse a hundred times and been blessed by it, but it wasn’t until this morning that God chose to reveal to me something new, something that would call me to change.
[pullquote1 variation=”blue”] “Why spend your money for what is not bread?” [/pullquote1] God wants me to be fed, to be nourished, to be strengthened. Does He mean by physical bread? Of course He does, He is a loving Father and does not desire for any of His children to suffer physical hunger. But might He mean something more? Without a doubt. God wants us not only to fill our bellies, but to fill our hearts and our souls. He wants our hearts to be full of His Love, a Love that will fill us up, rise up within us, and flow forth live a divine spring of life to others. He wants our souls to be filled with His grace, His completely free gift of self to us, His very life permeating everything we do! But God is a gentleman. He will not force His way into a heart that is not open and He will not send His life into a soul that will only turn around and kill it. He’s already done that for us. It is now up to us. It is our responsibility to spend ourselves on Him! Does God want our money to go towards Him, His Church, our brothers and sisters, and to the building of His Kingdom. Absolutely! But is that all He wants to be devoted to Him? set aside for Him? spent for Him? Absolutely not. Our ‘money’ can surely be our actual dollars and cents… but it is also our time, our thoughts, feelings, emotions, our energy, everything that we have and everything that we are. It must ALL be given to HIM!
[pullquote1 align=”right” variation=”blue”]”Why spend… your wages for what fails to satisfy?”[/pullquote1] Many good Christians, again including myself, have often walked the line of giving “a lot” to God, and then a little bit here, there, and in between. However God does not like lukewarmness (see Revelation if you don’t believe me). God wants His children to be on fire for Him, to be sold out for Him! Now I’ve always believed this and known it, however what I failed to realize was how I still was not doing it! I was of course giving a lot of time and energy to the Lord in ministry, prayer, Mass, and in service… but what God was revealing to me this week is how much of myself I was spending not so much on sinful and evil things, but on trivialities. Does every second of your day need to go to a ministry inside of a church, or have your nose stuck deep into the creases of your Bible? No, that would be silly. Does every part of your day need to be bringing you closer to Jesus and building His Kingdom. Absolutely! And this is where God’s challenge to me was made real. I began to notice the ways in my life that I was using time, energy, money, and myself for things that were not bringing me closer to Jesus. God was convicting my heart, calling me on to something more, something greater… not just for Him, but for me, for me to be satisfied in ways that only He could satisfy me!
I want to share two simple examples of things that God convicted me of that will hopefully resonate with others. These are ways that I saw myself spending myself for those things that “fail to satisfy”, because they were not bringing me closer to Jesus or building His Kingdom.
Problem: I am a self-proclaimed ‘news-junkie’. I honestly cannot remember the last day I did not check our foxnews or cnn to get my daily fix of politics, economics, sports, etc. I would say that I could easily spend an hour a day checking in on recent events, keeping myself up to date and in the know. I also thought that I was being very good in that although I was very involved, I would do my best to avoid trivial debates, pointless arguments on political ideology, and the like.
Question: Is this bringing me closer to Jesus or building His Kingdom?
Solution: God wants us to change. That is a fact. I can say this because we are called to be perfect and yet none of us are… and so a change is still desired. He wants us to make everything we do an act of love, of bringing ourselves to Him, of becoming more virtuous, etc. Is watching the news evil? No. Is it bad? No. I just want to make that clear. Something does not have to be evil or bad to still need to be changed. It simply needs to be not perfect. So how can I perfect my keeping up with news? How can I change it to make it what it should be? To make it an instrument to bring me to Jesus? First, realize that it is not satisfying. One hour, two hours, ten hours… I am still not satisfied. Second, become aware of what I could be doing with my time, energy, love, with myself if I were spending myself less on this. You will soon realize how much you are really wasting! From here, make an effort to cut back. You do not need to act like the news is a tool in the hand of Satan and avoid it like the plague, you simply need to engage it in a holier way.
Spend ten minutes catching yourself up on those things that are of importance. If you see an article that you feel impelled to read, ask yourself a few questions. “Will I be better off as a person reading this?” Many times the answer is “no”. At times, when it would inform you about faith and/or morals in the world that are being threatened, taken away, etc., the answer may be “yes”. “Will I be negatively influenced by reading this?” Those of you out there who see the daily front page story of actress so and so having a wardrobe malfunction… the answer is “yes”, there would be no moral benefit to you reading about it and there may actually be something explicit in that article that would harm you spiritually. There are a number of other questions that can be thought of and asked before clicking on any link or article, and I encourage you to do so. In the end, to make reading the news something that will build virtue and draw you to Christ, begin to pray the news. This is an amazing practice that will really help make what was once a energy-time-self draining waste of time, something that could radically change the world and bring it closer to Jesus. (Visit http://praythenews.com/ to know more about how to do this!). In the end, no one needs 2 hours of news everyday. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you do. This world is going to be changed not so much by a changing of laws, but by a changing of hearts, one at a time. Take your old “news browsing” time and put some extra relational ministry in your day!
Problem: I am also a self-proclaimed ‘sports-junkie’. I follow it all, soccer, football, basketball, hockey (yes, I’m from up north!), baseball, golf… you name it, I know at least a bit about it. I could easily sit down on Friday night, watch a late night football game, and not leave the couch until after Sunday night football brings the weekend to a close… Well, that’s a bit of a stretch, I do go to Mass, have Lord’s Day celebration, etc… but my point stands, I like sports, a lot. I also love to play sports. Give me a ball, a stick, a bucket, whatever may vaguely resemble a game or a sport, and I will keep myself occupied for hours!
Question: Is this bringing me closer to Jesus or building His Kingdom?
Answer: Yes and No.
Solution: First let’s look at the yes. How is this already bringing me closer to Christ? I would argue that sports are so popular not simply because man is competitive, but because man is communal. Sports are surely a way for men to exercise their skills and abilities, but they are an even better way to bring crowds together, to bring brother, sister, father, mother, neighbor, friend, and at times thousands and thousand of strangers together in a way that almost nothing else can. Is this really building God’s Kingdom though? Is it bringing anyone closer to Christ? If done right… I think it can. All of these things are teachable moments and moments in which we can teach (or witness). Why does a man love going to a NASCAR event? Because of cars? Yes, to a degree. But because of community. I do not know of many people who would pay however much a ticket to a race costs if they were literally the only person going to see it. They are willing, because others will be there, and that is important to them. They don’t need to know that they have a communal God, three-in-one, a holy family awaiting them (the Catholic Church) that extends beyond the bounds of life into death and reaching through to the communion of saints in heaven… they don’t need to know this to know that they love community. But we know it, and so these events, and these truths become springboards which we can use to jump off into eternal truths with those people we come in contact with in these places.
How else could the answer be yes? Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. They are the house of God. Would you invite anyone ever to your house if the roof was caving in, there was mold all over the kitchen, and absolutely everything were out of place? Of course not. What about if you had simply forgotten to wash the dishes in the sink and had not swept in a few days? The answer would depend on how important the person. My best friend? For sure. The Pope? I’d run home and clean that place better than it had ever been cleaned. What about is God Himself was coming over? Well our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, of God. We should upkeep them like our house if the pope were coming over. Exercise can be a holy activity. It becomes holy when it is seen and done with this goal in mind, to perfect the body that God will be living within. It becomes unholy when it is done with vanity in our heart and impure desires as our motivation.
What about for not bringing us to Christ? Well of course if I was not exaggerating and was literally sitting on the couch for three days, I would be missing Mass, an obligation of all Catholics. However even if it did not go that far, I would certainly be spending much of my time again on those things that simply do not satisfy. Now would I have my spirit of being a fan satisfied? Sure. Would I have my spirit as a Son of God satisfied? No. I do believe that watching sports with the outlook of appreciating God’s creation, the nature of man in being competitive, and the again the art of athletics are all ways that we could become closer to Christ. But would watching 13 football games in 2 days do anymore for that appreciation than one game would? I do not think so. Again we find the need to realize that in our obsession of sports and overindulging, we are throwing away hours and days that can never be regained, time to minister, to pray, to love, to serve, to build God’s Kingdom that is priceless and that will be gone forever. When we realize that, it becomes much easier to watch a game and walk away before the 4 pm kickoff of two teams you really don’t care about. Oh, and if that isn’t enough of a reason, try to sit down without any help and write out your favorite team of any sport and chronicle their schedule, wins, and losses during the last 3 seasons, for every game. If you can’t do it… maybe you will realize how little it really matters. If you can do it, then you are the person who most needs to be reading this part of the article.
Now of course there are many of you out there who struggle neither with an overindulgence of news or sports. What I would challenge you to do is find your ‘news’, find your ‘sports’, find the things that you are spending yourself on that are simply not satisfying, that are not bringing you closer to Jesus, that are not building His Kingdom, and having found those things, pray about them. Ask Jesus how He is calling you to change in those areas of your life. Men… maybe it’s video games. Ladies… maybe it’s Pinterest. Whatever it may be, bring it to Jesus and ask Him about it.
If you are able to change, to get back a part of you that has been wasted for so long, and given it back to Jesus… I promise that your heart will be more satisfied than it has ever been. We focus so much on sin and evil… and we should, it’s important for us to do so. However we cannot disregard the lack of importance that we are placing on trivialities that are spreading us too thin to be used in the ways God wants to use us. If Satan can’t break us, He will be more than happy to simply render us useless in the hands of God by dividing us and stretching us to the point of being incapable of serving, loving, and striving for holiness, for perfection. Let us stop spending ourselves on those things that fail to satisfy, and begin to purify those areas of our lives, bringing us, ALL of us, back to the hands of God, knowing that this is the only way that we will ever be truly satisfied.
By James Franke