Now you will need to brace yourself. Because I am going to begin this short article with an illustration so graphic, so soul-shaking, and so frankly horrifying that, unless you are mentally prepared for the shock, you may not recover for several days.
Are you braced? Here we go.
I want you to imagine that your life is a committee meeting—one long meeting in a slightly stuffy room with fluorescent lighting and uncomfortable chairs. The shuffling into the room is your birth, the interminable proceedings in the middle are what pass for your daily life, and the blank-eyed, desultory dispersal at the end is the whimper with which your life ends.
I apologize for lodging that image in your mind, but I do it for good reason. I want you to ponder a very important question. If your life were a committee meeting (perish the thought), what would the agenda of the meeting be?
All good meetings have agendas. And if it is a well-constructed agenda, the important items and topics that really require our attention are at the top, so that there can be plenty of time to discuss them and (if necessary) make a decision. We’ve all been in meetings where this doesn’t happen—where the first two-thirds is spent haggling over the details of some minor piece of ‘business arising’ from the previous meeting, leaving you a quick ten minutes at the end to discuss the most important strategic decision you’ve faced all year.
But let us assume that the committee meeting which is your life is one of the better sort of meetings. It has an agenda, although you probably don’t ever write it down, or even consciously think about it. But it is there. You have a mental list of the important things to be done in your life, in order of priority.
What, then, is the agenda of your life? If you were to spend some time in the room of mirrors, and honestly write down the half-dozen or so things that are the most important to you, and which dictate your daily and weekly routine, what would they be?
If you’re a middle-aged man living in a western country, perhaps your unspoken life agenda is something like this:
- Keep wife happy. (Happy wife, happy life.)
- Find and keep decent job that doesn’t frustrate me to death.
- Get the kids into good schools.
- Buy good house in best suburb I can afford.
- Earn enough money to do items 1-4.
- Have some fun, although items 1-5 will probably stop me doing that. (Consider raising this up the agenda.)
Or if you are the 16-year-old daughter of this middle-aged man, it might be more like this:
- Get a new hair-straightener (good quality GHD ceramic one).
- Deal with the pimple issue once and for all.
- Keep next boyfriend for more than three weeks.
- Get driver’s license.
- Avoid eye contact and conversation with parentals wherever possible, while extracting money from them for above items.
Whatever our age and stage, and whether we have thought about it or not, we all have an agenda, even if it is as simple as “have as much fun as possible”.
Thus we come to the important question (and the reason for this article): how does being Christian affect the agenda of your life?
There are two common answers to this question.
1. God as co-worker
Some people assume that Christianity is actually an enormous boost to achieving their personal agenda. They have dreams of a happy, healthy, family-filled prosperous life… and now God is on their side! Hasn’t God promised somewhere in the Bible that he will surely bless the righteous? And as the TV pastor with the nice tan says very early on Sunday mornings: God is the fulfiller of dreams and the maximizer of personal potential, who longs to liberate us from negativity and give us our Best Life Now.
Now I hope and assume, Dear Reader, that you are not taken in by this. You are probably saying to yourself at this very moment: “This view of God is a crass distortion of the biblical gospel, that at best falls prey to an over-realized eschatology and at worst exhibits all the grossest features of man-centred natural religion”. Or you might just have a gut feeling that it stinks to high heaven.
But can I suggest that even if we are not sucked in by the hokum of the prosperity gospel, we still feel the powerful but subtle pull of this view—the view that sees God as being like a very big, powerful, smart co-worker in the business meeting of our lives, who wants our agenda to succeed, and who gives us a helping hand from time to time so that at least things don’t turn out too disastrously.
This softer form of the prosperity gospel is evident in the lives of many Christians. It emerges in the agenda that they pursue in life, which is indistinguishable from their pagan neighbours, and the thousand little decisions that flow from it. For example, because financial security and career success is high on their agenda, they keep making work decisions that consume their energy and their time. Or because private schooling and a nice house is high on the agenda, both partners work long hours to make ends meet, leading to a break-down in relationships, to neglected children, and to perfunctory Christianity.
And you see it most clearly when things don’t work out: when their kids go off the rails, when they lose their job, or when sickness or tragedy renders the agenda unachievable. At this point their faith is rocked. “I thought God was on my side? Why is he doing this to me?”
What they are really saying is: “I had an agenda, so why isn’t God helping me achieve it?!”
2. God as agenda item
The second common way to integrate Christianity into the agenda of life is to try to find a reasonably prominent place on the agenda for church/God/Bible stuff. This is sometimes seen as a useful balancing item—because a life agenda without a spiritual component of some kind might be seen as tawdry, base, or crudely materialistic. Having God on the agenda recognizes that life is bigger than my ‘to-do list’, and that someday we will all die.
And so if the middle-aged man above was a Christian man, he might try to adjust his agenda to find time for reading his Bible, for attending church, for going to a Bible study, or even for serving in some way at church. Realistically this wouldn’t be at the absolute top of the list time-wise, but at least it would be there. And when he hears certain sermons at church, he would sometimes feel that he should push the ‘God’ item further up his agenda and get more involved. He feels guilty about this, at least for a while, but finds it hard to imagine what to do about it. Life is so busy. He is juggling so many balls, and church/ God/Bible is one of the balls.
There is only one problem with this second approach, which it shares with the first approach, and that is that it is fundamentally non-Christian.
If God is God, and if we are his humble, obedient servants, then he is not a ball to be juggled. He is not an agenda item that we try to push a bit further up the list, hoping that it will keep him happy.
He is the owner of the company, and the chairman and CEO of the meeting. He is the boss, not us. He sets the agenda, not us. Our role is not to type and distribute the agenda, but to have it handed to us when we file into the room.
This is the essence of becoming a Christian: repenting of the foolish, sinful fantasy world we’ve been living in, where we think we run the company and that life revolves around us.
Becoming a Christian means dying to this fantasy, and rising to a new life in which we treat God as God.
So what is the agenda that God hands to us when we submit to his rule over our lives? What is written on the sheet of paper he hands to us?
We might expect a long list of things to do, but in fact there is only one item on God’s agenda, and everything in our lives falls under it, and is driven by it—whether our home life, our work life, our church life, or our interactions with neighbours. Everything.
Paul summarizes it like this:
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:17)
Living for the Lord Jesus Christ, and serving him, is not an item that we try to fit into our priorities. It is the one supremely important agenda item of our lives, and should shape and mould and drive and influence and determine what we do in every other sphere of our lives.
Interestingly, this is exactly what Paul himself goes on to say in Colossians 3 and 4. He gives examples of what it means to “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” by talking about marriage (3:18-19), children (3:20-21), work/business (3:22-4:1), and relating to outsiders (4:2-6).
Christ is the one agenda item that determines our goals, priorities and actions in every facet of our lives.
Or as a friend of mine named Saul once said, “There are lots of balls I’m juggling. But now I’ve realized the truth: God is not a ball.”