How do we follow Jesus for life? It’s a real challenge for many of us.
Personally, I have been told I am a lifer; like a loyalist. I have a lot of brand loyalty. I’m loyal to my sports teams, I’m loyal to my TV shows, I’m loyal to novelists, I’m loyal to the Legend of Zelda, I’m loyal to even certain brands of cooking appliances (not to mention where I get my recipes.). I like doing it for the long haul. I can be kind of belligerent with that expectation though.
If one is loyal to everything, how can he or she be truly loyal? Eventually loyalties collide—like my loyalty to Jesus—with the others. We can’t have two gods. Consider what Jesus says about the love of money and God; or when he says his Kingdom is not of this world (e.g. U.S. citizenship and Kingdom citizenship).
But it seems to me like it is easy to have our preferences and proclivities dominate our lives and forget our loyalty to Jesus; as writer of Revelation put it, “our first love.” It’s hard to be a Christ-follower for more than a season these days. I use that term “Christ-follower” for a reason because it involves action. You might very well call yourself a Christian for the rest of your life.
In fact, it is only recently that people who are not actively practicing their faith are finally saying that they aren’t Christians. People are realizing they actually have a choice about being a believer or not and that it’s not just a matter of our culture or our upbringing. Muslims are realizing that in places like Turkey too (and really all over the Middle East).
So in an environment where it is becoming customary to forgo faith, it is hard to keep following Jesus. I mean, we can barely hold on to the cultural construct. In Circle of Hope, we’re serious Christians—it’s about more than just what you believe or what you feel. It’s a question of what you do and who you are. And it can be hard to keep it going, or at least to keep it going at the intensity you once did. This isn’t really a question of losing faith, it’s more about losing interest, desire, capacity, energy.
Jesus addresses the same life-long faith struggle in his end times discourse in Matthew. We were in Matthew 25 last week and now we’re looking just a parable earlier. Matthew is a Gospel written to lifelong Jews who are undergoing a huge change in philosophy with Jesus’ death and resurrection decontextualizing their faith. If you struggle to keep your faith, you might have a friend in these Jewish people whose whole world flips upside-down.
Jesus addresses this subject what’s known as the Parable of the Talents.
The basic story is simply. A wealthy man, who owns slaves, entrusts them to a share of his corporation. He issues the shares to the servants based on their own ability. Their ability to handle the gift. “Talent” here symbolizes responsibility based on ability.
They return on the investment. The first slave returns five talents plus five more, the second one does the same with his two.
The master tells them well done and he puts them in charge of more. Maybe you feel like they should be freed from slavery. But in this analogy, the work they are doing is work for the Kingdom. And one doesn’t really ever “retire” from the work of the Kingdom—I just want to note that the two first slaves are rewarded with the opportunity for more service and more capacity.
In Circle of Hope, we often reward people who are diligent with more responsibility. If you are start showing up and doing the work, someone’s going to ask you to lead! God might be leading you to do more and it takes some real confidence in Him and how he’s gifted you to receive that responsibility.
When the slaves engage in this work, they share the joy of their master. Maybe when we are freed in heaven, we’ll continue to be God’s co-workers, not just recipients of “indolent pleasure.”
But the one to whom the least is entrusted, buries it into the ground and simply returns to the master what he was originally given, he doesn’t have anything to show for it.
The man is ruled by his fear. He’s afraid of disappointing his shrewd manager, his leader. He was entrusted with the resources and rather than trying and failing, he simply buries it. He’s afraid of his master and the master doesn’t offer sympathy. The man takes no responsibility for his action and the threat of his master should have caused him to work even harder for him. Subsequently the man is damned.
This parable uses economic language to describe service to God. But it is not heralding economic investment in the same way. It’s not a capitalist fable, and it really can’t be. Matthew’s use of this parable is in a triplet about judgment at the end of the age. In the parable that follows the service is more explicitly compared: he speaks about service to the least of these brothers and sisters.
The master rebukes the slave whom he gave a gift to, while the slave simply sat on it. Consider the gift God gave you, the investment he’s put into you, the price he paid for you even and wonder about whether or not you are burying it or not. Are you mailing it in? Are you anxious about not producing? Are you tired of working? A few suggestions:
- Like the master suggested, just do the basics. Invest your money in the bank if that’s all you can do. For us, that might just mean: keep showing up. Keep holding to your agreements. I don’t know if you have to do it enthusiastically like you love it all the time, but just do the basics. Keep being present. You might turn over a new leaf. Your faithfulness may be rewarded with sharing in the master’s happiness.
- As you grow and develop, allow your faith to grow. If you think the Christian you were ten years ago is the one you need to be now, even though everything else has changed in your life, well it might feel a little stale. You can grow and you can get better! Let’s encourage each other. Move with Jesus, move with the Spirit, move with the work. How do you keep your faith alive? Stay in prayer.Continue to read and study, the Bible and other good books. Stay in community, talk to your cell. And just see what happens when you try to multiply the investments that God has given you. Try something new. If what you’ve been doing seems stale and boring, try to do something special. Join a new team, or form one. Do something that you’d never normally do.
- Finally, give credit to yourself! You’ve made it this far and there’s no reason to criticize yourself for now making more of the investment. Keep in mind the master gets frustrated with the servant because he doesn’t try. I think you’re trying and I think your working it out. Thanks for being faithful, it really doesn’t go unnoticed. Maybe you need to give yourself a break. And for the rest of us, let’s be grateful and affirm one another for the work we are doing.
I think you have something special. And I think, in Circle of Hope, we’ve been invested in. So hold that, let it be known. There’s a cost to burying your treasure. Not letting out. And don’t just randomly declare that you’re a Christian, try to make a disciple, try to reproduce yourself. You are the investment that God has made. You are show him to the world. So don’t hide. You’re worth sharing.