Do Hard Things: Radical Edition
One of the recent popular topics on the Evangelical blogs has been a discussion regarding the “Radical” Christian life as promoted by David Platt and other like-minded Christian leaders. Generally, the discussions revolve around whether it’s profitable to consider that the obedient Christian life consists of radical practices – like becoming missionaries, selling all you have and moving to the inner city, or adopting children from overseas. I have appreciated the many thoughts that have come from those – especially the mothers – who have pushed against this view and countered that the Christian life is much more “mundane” than this. I certainly agree with this, although – while not very familiar with much of Platt’s (and others) teaching in this regard – I tend to think that the extreme views come more from his fans than from his own teaching. Like many subjects, there is always a lot to learn from each perspective, and the correct answer is rarely ever set in stone, and depends more on the individual’s situation, rather than a simple proof text from the Bible.With this in mind, I would like to add another perspective into the discussion, tying this topic in with another popular subject: Doing hard things ( I wrote about his subject here).
One of the extremes those on my side of the discussion have to be careful to avoid is the error of “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” In other words, just because we believe that many Christians are not called to do “radical” things like move overseas to become missionaries doesn’t mean that there are not many who are truly called to do this. I know a number of missionaries who are called to do this and God has blessed their ministry. The world still needs the gospel, and the church still needs to send missionaries to accomplish this.
As I have followed our friends who are on the mission field, praying for them and staying abreast of their lives through e-mails, letters, and facebook, I have noticed that they struggle with many of the same issues that we struggle with here in the states. This is especially true of those who serve overseas along with their whole family. They still have to deal with potty-training, sibling fights, laziness, and whining. And even though they rarely write about this, I’m sure they also have to deal with their own selfishness, hard-headedness, hurts, and laziness when it comes to their marriages and parenting. Of course, we shouldn’t be surprised by this – this is what life is all about. When we choose to do hard things, these are the hard things that we’re choosing to do.
I might be wrong about this, as someone who has only been on a couple of short-term mission trips overseas, but I imagine that the transition from stateside servant of Christ to overseas servant of Christ is relatively simple compared to the daily grind of service. In other words, deciding to move overseas is not so much hard, as it is different. The problem is, we tend to think of the transition as the hard part. If I say, “Do hard things,” you might mistakenly think this means to become a missionary (or move to the inner city, or adopt an orphan, etc…). The decision to do these things, though, is not the hard part – it’s simply the different part. Deciding to move your family to Africa may seem like a really hard thing to many of us, but I suspect that for those who (really)feel a call to do this, it’s not that hard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are some aspects that are difficult and inconvenient – especially at the very beginning (the transition) – but there’s probably a lot of excitement and joy as well. In some respects it may even be easy, because you’re doing what you know God has called you to do… it just feels right. The hard part, though, comes when the transition is over and the daily grind of life begins again.
Recently I’ve encountered two stories that reflect different aspects (one positive, one negative) of what I’m talking about. First, I read an article about a family who is selling their successful medical practice to move to Haiti. Due to the financial blessings God has bestowed upon them, they have given quite a lot over the years to missionary work in the country. They’ve even taken a few trips there to serve. This year, though, their youngest son has graduated high school and he’s leaving for college. They’ve spent the middle part of their life doing hard things: sustaining a loving marriage, serving their community, earning money, serving their church, and raising chidren. In other words, growing the Kingdom. This is the hard stuff. Now they’ve entered a new stage of life. Adventure awaits. Sure, there will be some difficult aspects to leaving their home behind and beginning this new journey, but they’ll get through it. It may even be fun. This is not to say that young families are not called to missions, but hopefully you get my point. Sometimes patience pays off.
On the other hand, I recently encountered a man at a Bible study who is the brains behind an impressive ministry to the children of the war-torn areas in Africa. As we talked, though, he began sharing how his marriage was a wreck, his children were rebellious, and he felt like a failure… at least on the homefront. He was very proud of his ministry. He spent, on average, 3 weeks a month overseas – away from his family. He even admitted that he looked forward to these trips because home life was so hard (and we’re talking about a man who was regularly shot at!). This is a man who did not do hard things. He shunned his primary duty for “radical” pursuits. Were these pursuits noble and well-intentioned? Sure – but they should have been pursued by someone else.
Here’s the deal: Whether you are called to serve in the mission field, or called to serve in the local church here in America, the hard part is in the service of the Lord. If you choose the easy way to worship (as I discussed in my previous post) – in either case – then you will probably fail. And whether you are called to move into the inner city, or whether you decide to stay in suburbia, the hard part comes in building relationships with your neighbors: inviting them over for dinner, showing an interest in their interests, and otherwise, loving them as yourself. If you choose to take the easy route, then you will probably fail. And, finally, if you are called to adopt an orphan from Ethiopia, or whether you’re called to only have 2 biological children of your own, if you take the easy way out – shunning your responsibilities, refusing to discipline, letting others (the state, neighbors, family, siblings) raise your children – then you will fail. No matter where you are, the hard stuff never changes. It has to be done. Don’t confuse the hard things with the different things. If you want to be fulfilled in life, moving overseas will not be the answer. Do the hard stuff. Today. Then maybe tomorrow God will call you to something “radical.”