Settling for Peanuts
As a high school freshman, I had delusions of grandeur when it came to playing baseball. At the risk of sounding boastful, I had been a dominant pitcher in Little League, going undefeated during my 11-12-year-old seasons. I had been pretty good in my Babe Ruth League as well during my 13-14-year-old seasons, though a few boys had taken me yard. When I say they took me yard, I mean they were the “no doubt” type of home runs, the type that went through the top of the pine trees out beyond the outfield wall. These were no fence scrapers.
Despite having a few of my pitches absolutely crushed, on the whole I was pretty good. So when I arrived at Columbus High School I signed up for the freshman team. There were 60 or so of us who signed up, just for the freshman team. If you wanted to make the team, you had to commit to showing up to practice. The school day began at 7:45 every morning, but if you were in the baseball program, your day often began at 6:00 a.m. in the weight room.
There were precious few things that got teenage Justin out of bed at 5:30 a.m., but baseball was one of them. Because I loved baseball, my entire schedule changed. When we are committed to something, when we love something, it changes our life.
I am sure you have experienced the same thing. You’ve grown tired of seeing more of you in the mirror than you want to see, so you commit yourself to losing weight. You change the foods you eat. You start exercising. You give up some things you like, because more than the taste of that delicious food, you want to feel healthier and look better.
Or maybe it’s work. You really want that promotion or that transfer into a different department. So you work hard to get those extra certifications, or maybe you even go back to school and earn another degree. It requires extra hours of work in the evenings, maybe even on the weekend, but you really want to move up that ladder.
Maybe it’s your home. My mom has told me stories of the first house she and my dad bought. It’s a beautiful brick home built in the 1920s, a block away from a nice, big park. It sits in a quiet neighborhood with tree-lined streets. They got it for a bargain though, because the guy who owned it had allowed it to fall into disrepair. The wooden floors were ruined, there was a hole in one of the bedroom ceilings. So even after getting the most critical rooms livable, they continued working on that house as time allowed. They would paint for a few hours each evening after work and tackle bigger projects on the weekend. Most of their free time, and a lot of their budget, went to slowly fixing up this house until it was completely remodeled.
When we are young, we orient our lives around chasing dreams of stardom. As we get older, our dreams become a little more realistic. Rather than chasing stardom, we become content with just a little bigger salary and a little bit nicer office. When we start families we long for that extra bedroom, maybe a bigger yard, or some extra closet space. These become our goals, and we work hard to obtain them. Should we expect anything less of ourselves when it comes to our walk with God?
Paul tells the Colossians,
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:1-4 ESV)
Work is such a loaded term when talking about spiritual matters. Some people insist the word should be kept 1,000 miles away from any discussion of salvation or sanctification—unless, of course, we’re referring to the work of God. Others believe that the absence of human work is tantamount to the absence of faith. Both sides have their arguments, and some of them are good. I wonder, however, if we have been thinking of work in the wrong way. What if work is the result of our salvation, not the cause of it?
Paul is making a very important point as he writes to the Christians at Colossae. If they have been raised with Christ, the result of that resurrection should be an intense focus on the things that are above, where Christ is. The result of our salvation, which Jesus Christ has accomplished for us, is a lifetime spent seeking the things that are above while living in a world that is constantly trying to draw our gaze downward. If this isn’t work, I don’t know what is.
I recently spent a week at the beach with my family. The drive down from my mom’s house in Columbus takes about four hours. We stop along the way. Once for lunch. Again for some boiled peanuts and fresh fruit and vegetables at a roadside market. It’s not a bad drive, but the final stretch seems to last forever. For dozens of miles all you see are the trees of the Apalachicola National Forest, over 600,000 acres of pines. Cell service is spotty at best. Toward the end of the trek through the woods, everyone in the car begins to focus on what’s up ahead. Every one of us knows that at a certain point, after that one final curve in the road, we’ll see the water of the Gulf of Mexico.
Lunch is nice. Boiled peanuts are good. But the entire point of the trip is to feel the sand between our toes, hear the lapping of the waves on the shore, and see that point on the horizon where the water and the sky become indistinguishable. I arrive at the beach every year by plugging the address into the map on my phone, cranking my car, and driving there. The house has been paid for. All I have to do is show up. I have to make the house my destination.
Christ is going to appear, and when he does we will appear with him in glory. Does that prospect excite us? Is the presence of Christ set as the destination of our spiritual GPS? Or are we stuck on the side of the road, settling for peanuts, having forgotten where we are going?