A Way of Life That Works
Daniel sits on the commuter train to London, he balances his laptop on his knees, scrolls through his schedule and the 50 emails that have come in since yesterday, and sighs. Life is busy and feels overwhelming. He feels caught in a swirl, a slave to circumstances and other people’s expectations. You ‘should’ do this. You ‘ought’ to do that. Locked into the rut of his daily routine, he is not sure that he is accomplishing anything or going anywhere that matters. And all the while feeling a vague discontentment and malaise. Is this all there is?
How many of us can relate to Daniel? How many of us long for more? What does it mean to live with purpose? Can we craft a way of life that is congruent with our deepest longings? Can we find a way of life that works?
I think our way forward can be signposted by two simple questions:
Where are you going?
What do you want?
Steven Covey, in his book First Things First, exhorts us to begin with the end in mind. What is our destination? What are we moving towards? Similarly, in the book You are What You Love, James K A Smith observes, ‘To be human is to be on a quest. To live is to be embarked on a kind of unconscious journey toward a destination of your dreams … You can’t not be headed somewhere. We live leaning forward, bent on arriving at the place we long for. The place we unconsciously strive toward is what ancient philosophers of habit called our telos – our goal, our end.’
What is our vision of the good life? The destination of our dreams? Our culture presents us with a narrative of the good life: good results in our A levels; getting into a good university; finding the right spouse; driving the right car; being a parent of well-behaved and successful children.
Sometimes our vision of the good life is a little more nuanced: I want to be appreciated by my employer; I want to be in a job where I realise my full potential; I want to have a good work/life balance.
How does God define the good life? What does it look like to be informed by the telos – our goal and our end – of Scripture? To find ourselves in the God story, the overarching drama of God’s redemptive plan for all of creation? In Matthew 16:25, Jesus confronts the culturally dominant narrative of the good life, and He says:
‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it’.
What might happen if we had the courage to hand Jesus our vision of the good life, and to receive from Him abundant life? What might be possible? Where might that road take us? Dare we explore it?
A way to help you tap into your vision of the good life, which is often subconscious, is to try this following exercise: Plan your funeral (sounds morbid, I know, but stick with me here). Who would you want to speak at it? What would you hope they would say? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind? What kind of impact would you like to have made?
What Do You Want?
Jesus was the master of penetrating, provocative questions, forcing His disciples to dig deep inside themselves and examine their inner world and their hidden motivations. He understood that lasting change happens from the inside out, and that the questions we ask ourselves can be a doorway to transformation.
In Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer says, ‘One can begin one’s quest (for God) by attending to the desires of the heart. The Spirit is revealed in our genuine hopes for ourselves and the world … Desire functions as the fuel that drives the whole journey … How brightly burns the flame of fire for a love affair with God, other persons and the cosmos? Do we know that to desire and seek God is a choice that is always available to us?’
‘What do you want?’ Jesus asks the disciples in John 1:38. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asks blind Bartimaeus in Luke 18:41. James Smith argues that this question ‘what do you want?’ is the fundamental question of discipleship. He says, ‘Our wants and longings and desires are at the core of our identity, the wellspring from which our actions and behaviour flow. Our wants reverberate from our heart, the epicentre of the human person. Thus Proverbs 4:23 counsels, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it”.’
He goes on to say that our deepest desires are the ones that are manifested in our daily habits. Do I know what I want? What do my present habits tell me about what is important to me?
Take a few minutes to inventory your daily habits. How do I spend my time? What has my attention, my affection? What do I spend money on? What does that tell me about my longings and desires?
Recently I put a photo of my newly released book on social media. I then found myself constantly checking the number of ‘likes’, looking at the comments and re-posts. What does that say about my desire to be heard, seen, appreciated and affirmed? What might happen if we were to notice and to name our desires – both good and maybe not so good – in God’s presence? What if I were to admit to myself and to God my need for my voice to be heard and then to meditate on the Scripture in Song of Songs 2:14 that says: ‘My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your face, let me hear your voice; your voice is sweet and your face is lovely.’
What if, with honesty and vulnerability, I name my need to be noticed and then claim Hagar’s declaration ‘You are the God who sees me’ (Genesis 16:13). How might that transform my inner world, and re-orient both my desires and my destination?
Where are you going?
What do you want?
Why don’t we press pause and create some space? Turn off the automatic pilot and take some time to ask these questions. Assess both our direction and what drives us and listen to our heart’s honest and vulnerable answers. And then listen to the invitation of the voice of the Spirit of God inviting us to live a life full of purpose and meaning, a life congruent with both our deepest longings and the deepest longings of God Himself. A way of life that really works, because it was the way of life we were designed for from the very beginning.
Slowly read the story Luke 18:35–42. Imagine yourself as Blind Bartimaeus. What limitations and frustrations are you experiencing right now? How do you feel when you hear that Jesus is nearby? What are you willing to discard in order to get near Him? As He asks you that penetrating question ‘What do you want me to do for you?’, what do you want to say to Him? How might He respond? What might happen next?
This article was originally published in the January to April 2020 issue of Rapport magazine from Lee Abbey Devon