1.17.2010

The Life Cycle of a Christian


One of the fun aspects of the Christian faith is how diverse are its expressions. We are a people of the same Book, and yet different things mean different things to different people in different places. Of course, there is some danger in this: if we are not careful, we can co-opt the parts of following Jesus that we like instead of more humbly submitting ourselves to whatever directions and transformations we actually need to undertake.

But I am speaking here of diversity of expression in a good way, in terms of faithfully responding to the diverse situations, challenges, and giftedness we face in different parts of the world. And so we find a richness in the manifold ways that we can live out the Christian life whether we live in a rich country or a poor country, in a big city or a small town, on a mountain or in a desert.

And I believe this can be true within one's own life, that as we go through the seasons of our lives, we hold fast to one God and one Savior and one Bible, and yet our marching orders vary subtly over time. What it means to radically follow Jesus may look different when we are teenagers than when we have teenagers; when we are in the prime of our life versus when we are in its twilight.

If I may offer a sports analogy that isn't quite right but gets at some of what I'm trying to say. If the goal of competitive team sports is to win, how an individual athlete maximizes his or her contribution to that end may vary over the course of a long career. As the body ages, the athlete compensates by playing smarter; physical skills may deteriorate, but if mental skills properly translate past experiences, peak performance can still be sustained.

I cut my teeth as a Christian in high school and college. Circa today, I can't do a lot of what I thought back then that it meant to be a Christian. As I contemplate my own aging process, I need to distill out what were the values, and not necessarily the actions, that represented the living out of my faith; looking ahead, being faithful may not mean repeating past actions as much as it means determining how to uphold timeless values in new ways that compensate for my new limitations and play to my new strengths.

It is easy to want to throw in the towel. The athlete on the decline of his or her career feels the aches and pains and sees a new generation of younger, more agile competitors, and wonders how elite performance can be sustained. And yet, for the love of the game, and with the reliance on the greater knowledge bank of experience, he or she can soldier on. Similarly, one can say that radical Christianity is for those who have the time and energy for it; but with a marriage and kids and a job and a house, who has such time and energy?

It is easy also to delude yourself about who you have become. The athlete on the decline may deny his or her physical gifts have slipped. He or she still tries to jump over or run past or throw through the competition, even though he or she has lost a step in vertical, breakaway speed, or velocity. Similarly, one can equate following Jesus with the kinds of things that high school and college kids can do, and try to keep up with that, either succeeding but at great price, or failing spectacularly.

To follow Jesus is the primary objective of every Christian. Every action, every dream, every dollar, every minute should be subsumed under that agenda. Its articulation may be different as we go through the seasons of life, and that is what I find fascinating about the Christian journey.

And, with the help of a little soul-searching, that is what we all should aim to figure out as we get older, is to answer the question: what does following Jesus look like now? For while it may look different on the outside than when we were doing it five, ten, twenty years ago, there are recurring themes to uphold, a growing bank of experiences and lessons that can be called upon that we didn't have back then. With God's help, let us evolve, learning along the way, ever seeking to know how to apply past experiences into our present circumstances.

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