Missing Out or ‘Living In’ Ministry?
Late last week, I was wrestling with content for a teaching time at our church when my phone pinged and vibrated with alerts from #SXSW (the darling arts/music/film/tech festival in Austin, TX). Each of these alerts communicated a sure and certain message: You could be here! Or at least watch this live stream now!
In itself, that message is not a problem. But it sent a shiver down a string of my heart that I know pretty well, a string that began a strong hum with a familiar vibe: you’re missing out.
I was bored on my couch, trying to write: and I wanted to be there, not here.
Whether it is the opening of that sweet new restaurant that I couldn’t attend, the album I haven’t heard yet, the book I still haven’t read, or the spectacular concert I missed, the shiny bits that lure me in always seem to have a similar face. In those moments, the world divides into two kinds of people – those who are in and those who are not. And I seem to consistently find myself on the outside looking in.
The thing is, I’m not alone in that: you know it, too. Whether as a parent (was their vacation better than ours? Am I doing enough so that my kids have what they should?), or a student (why didn’t I know about that party? Why do their friends seem to have more fun? I wish I’d traveled with the varsity team…), we feel it. Every one of our hearts knows something of the sudden terror that what is happening over there, among those people, is where the real action is. That life is happening somewhere else, and not here in the rush and press (or drag and drift) of the life you know.
The melody that begins to surge in the heart is not a pleasant or joyful one, for it swings between notes of resentment for what actually is and longing for what is not yet but could be. Those are flip sides of a coin: when I resent who and where I am, I cannot help but cast about looking for life elsewhere. And the more I rove to and fro on that quest, the less attentive I am to the people around me and less faithful with the work that God has given to me.
This morning, I read Psalm 62. A reoccurring pattern I see in the Psalms is the pouring out of one’s heart to God in that double blend of resentment (or hurt, or fear) and longing – but sandwiched between a refrain of confidence in God’s presence and provision.
Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from him.”
The soul is meant to find rest in God alone. We don’t find our rest in what we are missing out on, where we currently are not, or in our ability to get “in” on any one thing, relationship, or experience. As Augustine memorably said, “our hearts are restless till they rest in you.” The default state of our heart is questing for that rest, alert to any vibe and ping that promises life.
At bottom it’s a quest for salvation, but the promise of the gospel is that salvation comes from the Lord alone and is in him alone. He comes to us by grace and through faith, apart from anything we are capable of doing to gain him, and in spite of everything we do to forsake him. Christ really is with me, for me, and renewing me right now – all because he stood in my place. As Sinclair Ferguson notes in The Whole Christ, the gospel delivers me from the lie that God is not to be trusted, that God doesn’t really love me, that I had better take matters into my own hand and grab for myself what my heart so restlessly craves.
Augustine goes on to write: “Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, … tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation!” I need to hear that again and again, not for some psychological fix but for the sure and certain grounding that any song in my life is built on a bass line richer and deeper than the universe itself. As the psalmist writes, “this life is but a breath” and we are to “set not our hearts” on gains according to terms borrowed from the world, rather than found in the Word.
Instead of the lure of instant satisfaction somewhere in something or someone else, we have infinite joy and delight on offer right here in the fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit. Writing on Gregory of Nyssa, David Bently Hart compared the soul in Christ “to a vessel endlessly expanding as it receives what flows into it inexhaustible… ever more capacious and receptive of beauty, for it is a growth into the good of which God is the fount.”
My daily challenge is to grow into the good of God for me. It’s yours, too: it is simply to rest in Jesus and receive the transforming life that he offers in the midst of my ordinary life here and now. I am not missing out at all. I am free to serve – with gratitude, and without resentment or fear – in this this place, among these people, in this work, as the sphere of God’s action in and through me. In Jesus, we are beloved sons and daughters. In Jesus, we don’t have to achieve what he freely gives, nor acquire what is already ours. For in him is life.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (Psalm 62)