Joy, Prayer, & Gratitude: An unsatisfying response to the cultural divide

There is a story in the first chapter of the Gospel of John about a man known as John the Baptizer.

John the Baptizer was confronted one day by the religious authorities of the time who were trying to figure out who he was. They wanted to understand this guy that was gaining such a significant following of people. They asked John the Baptizer, “Who are you?” Specifically, they wanted to know if he was the Messiah, the One prophesied about who would bring God’s Kingdom. John said he was not the Messiah.

The religious authorities then asked him if he was Elijah, the expected precursor to the Messiah. John said he was not Elijah.

They then asked if he was the prophet, yet another expected pre-condition of God’s coming Kingdom. Again, John said he was not the prophet.

At this point, the religious authorities were at a loss. This guy denied belonging to any title or category they could come up with. Eventually, they just asked him outright, “Who are you?”

I’ve recently been feeling a lot like John the Baptizer in this encounter with the religious folks of his day. It seems that to claim to be a faithful follower of Jesus is no longer adequate. The people of today’s culture feel compelled to ask follow-up questions.

“Are you an Evangelical Christian?”
“Are you a Progressive Christian?”
“Do you support this candidate, or that cause?”
“Where do you stand on this issue, or that controversy?”

It feels like the real question being asked is not “Who are you?” but “What are you going to do?”

There seems to be a never-ending debate of who is right and who is wrong. There are constantly outsiders and insiders. There are those who are being oppressed and those who oppress. There are those who follow the will of the god of the moment, and those who are heretics. And the definitions of each side are constantly shifting and changing.

What our culture, the church culture included, wants to know is whether or not I will play the game the way they want me to play. Will I assimilate to the way things have always functioned? Will I keep the ebb-and-flow of conflict and resolve going?

But what if my answer is no?
What if I’m not interested in going back and forth between the brokenness and the band-aid? What happens when my answer to “What are you going to do?” is unsatisfying to those asking?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 reads, “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Who would God have me be? What would God have me do?

Rejoice always.
Pray continually.
Give thanks in every situation.

What should I do in the midst of the Right vs. Left debate; in the face-off between Evangelical and Progressive Christians?

Rejoice always.
Pray continually.
Give thanks in every situation.

What should I do when it seems like my neighbors on one side of the city are being mistreated by my neighbors on the other side?

Rejoice always.
Pray continually.
Give thanks in every situation.

What should I do when evil and violence appear to be taking center stage in world events?

Rejoice always.
Pray continually.
Give thanks in every situation.

What should I do when the ideologies and systems of this culture are threatening to destroy me?

Rejoice always.
Pray continually.
Give thanks in every situation.

Righteous anger and divine justice can be good things, but I’m simply not qualified to be able to handle them. My calling is much simpler.

Rejoice always.
Pray continually.
Give thanks in every situation.

And if you think for a second that this is naivety, that this is being disengaged from the world, then I simply would ask you to consider praying for new eyes to see. There can be no way of life more engaging and transformative than one prayerfully rooted in joy and gratitude.

The Goodness of Jesus’s message is that I’m not in control, God is.
I can’t fix the problem, because I am the problem.

This is precisely what John the Baptizer understood so well. He invited everyone who would listen to confess the myriad of ways that they were the problem, not the solution. He pointed only to Jesus as the Divine Image of the One who could make all things right, rejoicing and giving thanks for the fulfillment of prayers that had finally come.

 

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