Wednesday, 18 January 2017

A warning to the half-hearted

“Consider carefully what you hear,” Jesus continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you - and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Mark 4:24-25

Since I retired four years ago I have tried to develop one or two new skills, or to brush up one or two old ones.

I have joined a poetry-reading group where each member brings a poem to share on a chosen topic. And a French conversation group (which, I don’t mind telling you, is a bit of a stretch for someone who last studied French over fifty years ago). And my wife even bought me a ukulele (I kid you not) for Christmas (perhaps I’ll be able to make a start on that when I have succeeded in tuning the thing...).

My progress in these areas, as you may have gathered, is limited. But never mind! I’m just enjoying myself, keeping my tinsy little brain at least slightly active, meeting some interesting new people, and having a bit of fun.

Of course, if I wanted to make proper progress I would need to enrol in a proper French class or get a proper music teacher or whatever. But steady on! - I’m not that serious about it.

The point is simple: in any area of life you only get out what you put in - if your investment is meagre, don’t expect much by way of a return. 

And that is pretty much what Jesus seems to be saying in these verses. 

True, the same saying about “the measure you use” appears in different settings in various parts of the Gospels. It also serves, for example, as an encouragement to be generous: the more you give, ultimately the more you will get. Or as
a warning about being judgmental: be harsh about others and God will be harsh with you. 

But here, what comes across is a warning to the half-hearted.

How do I make that out? Well, Jesus isn’t of course talking about some sort of casual hobby or skill like discovering new poetry, but to the vital business of hearing God’s word: he is challenging his disciples to take very seriously the importance of listening to, and responding to, God: “Consider carefully what you hear...”

There are Christian people (and, please believe me, I am talking to myself here as much as to anybody else) who are little more than dabblers, triflers, when it comes to the things of God.

Oh yes, they will turn up to church, from time to time at least - but start talking about commitment and they disappear in a cloud of dust. Oh yes, they have their favourite Bible passages - perhaps Psalm 23, The Prodigal Son, and 1 Corinthians 13 - but suggest that they get their teeth into Numbers, say, or the Letter to the Hebrews and, er, no thanks.

And the result? They never grow or make progress. And, of course, if you don’t go forwards the fact is that you don’t simply stand still, you go backwards. Isn’t that what Jesus means when he says that “even what they have will be taken from them”? The spiritual dabbler ends up losing whatever little enthusiasm he or she originally had. It just fizzles out. (I’m reminded of the man who, looking back over his life, lamented the time when “I had just enough Christianity to make me miserable, but not enough to make me happy.”)

But the good news is that Jesus also says: “Whoever has will be given more”. Does that sound unfair? No, he’s just stating another fact of life - the person who puts heart and soul into something ultimately harvests satisfaction and fulfilment.

So... do you (like me) see in yourself any of the marks of the spiritual dabbler? If so, here’s the stark truth: we will end up (a) disappointing to God, (b) dissatisfied with ourselves, and (c) not much use to the unbelieving world. Putting it another way: if we’re going to be Christians, well, let’s be Christians; if we’re going to follow Jesus, well, let’s really follow him.

I’ve no idea what thoughts will pass through my mind as I lie on my death-bed. But one thing I’m entirely sure of: it won’t be, “Oh dear, I do wish I had given more time and effort to learning to play that ukulele”. But I fear it could just be: “Oh dear, I do wish I had loved, trusted and served Jesus with all my heart and soul and mind and strength.” 

How about you?

Lord Jesus, you gave your everything for me when you suffered and died on the cross. Help me, by your Spirit, to give my everything for you. Amen.

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