Have you noticed the pervasive trend, in our day, to bail on all kinds of obligations and events with little to no legitimate reasons? In fact, one sociologist suggests that we now get more pleasure out of a cancelled event than one added, no matter how promising, to our schedule. In fact, many are known to subconsciously schedule or agree to events only so they can experience the dysfunctional rush of cancelling them/creating a free night where there wasn’t one! “Outs,” if you will, is an idiom referencing “to provide someone with an excuse or escape from something.” What’s the deal? Is this a big deal? First, I concede that a simplified life in an arbitrarily complex world is nothing for which to criticize or apologize. But…our pursuit, if we are completely honest, is often not for God-led simplicity/minimalism but accommodating convenience of self. May I submit to you the following premise that has been slowly forming in my mind of what I believe is an alarming, damaging tendency in how we manage our time and energy nowadays: We are giving ourselves unnecessary off-ramps because we have become consumed with “outside” or exterior/surface priorities at the expense of interior/sacred ones.
Proverbs 18:1 puts it this way, “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” Put another way this verse reads, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he BREAKS OUT against all sound judgment.” We just don’t like having any part of our lives hampered by other people or standing obligations to them-including the God who has made His expectations on us crystal clear! May I share a few arenas in which we suffer from a severe case of the “outs” that is harming us and everyone/everything we touch:
We are allowing legitimate but externally-oriented, ever-changing circumstances to shape our decisions more than abiding, Christ-assigned mandates and missions.
We are living in reactionary mode to everything and everyone except the Spirit of the living, eternal God. One of the worst and lingering aftereffects of COVID-19 is allowing the more important intangibles to get perpetually lost in the midst of trying to primarily promote only biological safety and wellness. While we are facing legitimate challenges right now such as inflation, energy/food shortages, and world-wide tensions, they are in no way unique to only our era of human history. Nor do they negate the irreversible commands given to every believer in every ebb and flow in finite time. May I remind us all that the first century church in Acts 2 thrived and persisted in one of the most impoverished and persecuted periods in all of church history. Most impoverished. Most persecuted. How did they stay in when everything around had to have made them feel like bailing? They had seen or at least knew someone else who has seen the risen Christ and were acutely aware of the assignment He gave them WITH NO OUTS! Leonard Ravenhill bluntly interjects, “One of these days some simple soul will pick up the book of God, read it, and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed.” When will we finally be that person, that family, that church?
We have grown accustomed to validating excuses extracted from “busy schedules” and “heavy burdens” for the lack of private, personal walk before the Lord in deep study/reflection in His Word and a substantial prayer life.
Bluntly put, we make time for whatever is a personal priority for us. Can we agree to take the “I didn’t have time” excuse off the table where we should, instead, own our apathy and lethargy about the high privilege of personally meeting with the God of gods every day?! Our biggest deficiency as disciples of Jesus is simply being overtaken by “the cares of this life” and “minding earthly things.” “I don’t have time for…whatever spiritual discipline” TRULY LACKS INTEGRITY. (What are we doing during that time?) Spurgeon confronted this tendency in his day without letting anyone off the hook, “There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.” We can do and be so much more in our walk with the Lord. According to neurologists, our brains have a storage capacity of approximately 2.5 petabytes. That’s the equivalent of recording three hundred million hours of high-definition television! Simply put, we have the capacity to learn something new every second of every minute of every hour of every day for thousands of lifetimes! We will not run out of hard drive.” Assume you can and get on your knees in prayer and in your love letter from God…daily. (For more on how to proactively address this ares of weakness, here is another post on the subject of “God time.”)
We have lost the ability and/or willingness to deferentially interact with those with whom we disagree, not just in the world over big issues but in Christendom over the petty ones.
We have lost much of our ability to be around anyone besides ourselves or in a context in which we can fully control all the variables. That is a huge loss because it displaces everyone who is different than us…which is everyone if given enough time! We are meant to do life together. Spiritual growth is truly a community project. To take every exit ramp at our disposal is to stunt not only our personal growth but the expansion of the body of Christ and the glorification of its Head! As Dan Dickerson wisely projects, “The major divide we will face as churches, in the years to come, will not be over worship styles, preferences, or…non-essentials. The major divide is whether we will be governed by fleshly emotions and sub-biblical doctrines or biblical truth and the fruit of the Spirit.” Wow. Now is the time to draw together…no matter how much it inconveniences or challenges us. (Here is a link to a miniseries preached at North Life on this very subject.)
We have gotten used to the “any down town/off time from vocational responsibilities is me time” mindset instead of considering how God wants us to steward that margin for the benefit of others.
There is more more consider than “what do I want to do with my evenings and weekends.” There is a spouse, kids, grandkids, extended family, neighbors, and random strangers that we are called to invest our affection, time, and vision into serving and encouraging. For far too many of us, the “I don’t have time for you” vibe we give to others is the result of wanting to isolate into the schedule and setting that we want, no matter how it impacts others. It would do us well to think about if Jesus had shared that self-oriented mindset. He would have never left heaven’s ivory palaces and we would be dead in our sin with no hope. Are you thankful He didn’t take the out? If we were truly grateful, we would imitate Him more and “the average Christian” less. Robby Gallaty surmises, “Why did Jesus walk with twelve men more closely than the masses? Why did He choose to walk even closer with three? It is clear that Jesus wanted to have a long-lasting impact on a few men who would go on to replicate the process. Every Christ follower since is a result of what Jesus began with His disciples.” That’s how Jesus views your “free time.” Would you let Him guide it more intentionally and sacrificially for the benefit others?
We have settled into an autonomous-at-best relationship with God that is far too privatized and divorced from the corporate, collaborative commands that can only be fully obeyed in the context of the local church gatherings.
I concede that there are some valid reasons to not gather with God’s people, but far too many of ours are not on that list. When you say, “I didn’t feel up to” or “I didn’t have time” for the corporate gatherings for worship and smaller settings for fellowship and study, what do you still feel like and have time to do? It’s amazing what we can get up for physically/emotionally and squeeze into our schedule, when we want to. As one pastor puts it, “There is a great gulf between the Christianity that wrestles whether to worship at the cost of imprisonment and death and the Christianity that wrestles with whether the kids should play soccer on Sunday morning.” Far too often the excuses we use for “being too busy” lack accountability under anyone’s full, unbiased scrutiny. (What if we could truly see what you are so occupied with while God is meeting with His people? Sleeping in? Vegging out in front of technology? Sneaking an extra excursion in the boat, camper, golf cart?) That is anyone’s scrutiny except the Lord Jesus who loved the church, gave Himself for it, and has gifted us with complimentary and regular responsibilities in it. As one writer put it, “He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a mentor.” Don’t be a fool. The only way that is possible is to go all in on the local church. (Here’s another post on this subject.)
Lastly and probably most importantly, we have traded in our God given ability to see clearly and be compelled fully by the future for a short-sighted pragmatism and survival-only mindset.
This growingly “acceptable” reduces us from walking by internally-driven faith like our forefathers to walking by externally-bound sight like many of our contemporaries. A big no no according to 2 Corinthians 5:7. Carl F. H. Henry recalibrates our focus with these jarring word, “The early church didn’t say, ‘Look what the world is coming to!’ They said, ‘Look what has come into the world!’” What intentional, focused vision! Not only does this easy “outism” affect our own faith but the faith of subsequent generations who are watching our every move-especially the moves out of God’s clearly revealed will. The author of Resilient: Child Discipleship and the Fearless Future of the Church writes, “These children we love will be the church in 2050. They will need to be disciples as few modern generations before them have had to be. They will need to have spine and heart—spine to stand strong for Christians beliefs in an increasingly hostile secular world and heart to embrace the same intolerant-of-faith world with a love that cannot be ignored.” How can we expect the next generation to possess the spine and heart needed to stay in the faith and fight if all they see in us, during their formative years, is looking for and taking the easy outs? Listen, there is more than meets the eye. Don’t miss it or them out of what easier in the here and now.
Directly said, I believe that this condition described above is the blight of the post-Covid church. One that allows the world, the flesh, and the devil to neutralize us not through direct attack but getting us to simply say “I’m out” in a way that indulges and serves ourselves. Our chronic case of the outs will only be cured when we return to prioritizing deeply internal, abiding values in our very bones and souls. I recently saw this summary statement: “The ‘do what makes you happy’ culture is so toxic for Christians. We are not called to do what makes us happy. We’re called to do what glorifies God. Christianity isn’t always sunshine and happiness. It’s hard work and dedication to Him, not us. Do. What. Glorifies. God.” Well said. Far too many of are wondering why God doesn’t show up more frequently and unmistakably in our lives when the answer is obvious-we think we can opt out on the very things that God Himself is not “too good” or “too busy” to be in with all of His glorious presence and power! Jesus Himself reminds us of His special presence that is available in the small conceivable congregation, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I IN the midst of them” (Mt. 18:20). There a moments and experiences that our Leader, Jesus, wants to share with us, but is hindered not by “this really wicked world” but the persistent reluctance of His followers to get together long enough, deep enough to give Him ample room to show up! Will you stop taking the predictably pathetic “outs” and go all in, no matter the costs, with Jesus?