When my family was living in northeastern Ohio, I received a letter inviting pastors to a meet-and-greet with a candidate for Chief Justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. Wanting to be a responsible and informed voter, I replied that I would attend.
There were hundreds of pastors in the area who probably received the same letter; I think I was the only one who attended. There were business people there, and lawyers, and newspaper reporters, but only one pastor.
I went, expecting to learn the candidate’s views on the law and the function of the court, but the candidate wasn’t there to share his views. When his campaign staff learned that a pastor — the one and only pastor — had arrived, they introduced me to him. As I shook his hand, someone said: “Look over here!”, a bulb flashed, and the next day the newspaper had a picture of Pastor Shayne Looper shaking hands with the candidate for chief justice.
I thought I was at that meeting for one reason, it turned out I was there for another. I thought the plot of the story was: “Interested voters gather to hear candidate’s views,” but I wasn’t on the same page with everyone else. I wasn’t even in the same book. I didn’t really know why I was there. I thought I did, but I was mistaken.
I’ve noticed that many worshipers are more interested in the “how” of the Christian life than they are the “why,” but “why” takes precedence. It is not possible to establish the “how” before knowing the “why.” Worshipers want something practical, which is to say something that will make their lives easier and more secure. But what if the story they’re in isn’t about ease and security? What if that’s not why they are here?
We think we want practical help to live the Christian life fruitfully when what we usually want is divine help to live our own life successfully. That is a problem because God is not interested in helping us live a successful life by society’s standards. We want a life rich enough in material goods that we don’t need to depend on anyone. God wants us to have a life rich enough in faith that we can depend on him for everything.
People frequently don’t know what kind of life God is willing to help them live, and some would lose interest if they did. It is hard for people to accept the idea that success, as defined by culture, is not success as defined by God. Until we face that, we will think that God’s way is impractical and otherworldly and we will not follow it. If we insist on the storyline our culture loves, we will fail in the Christian life and we won’t even know why.
Christians, according to the Bible and the Church, are not here to be like everyone else. They are not here to desire what everyone else desires or have what everyone else has. They are a little like National Guard troops ordered to the scene of a riot, where everyone is breaking windows and looting stores and preying on the helpless. They weren’t sent to do what everyone else is doing.
God did not place Christians here in this cosmic riot — where people prey on each other, amass possessions, and (to misquote the Lord’s Prayer) “have their will done on earth as it is in their own minds” — to do what everyone else is doing. Christians are here to serve God’s purpose.
The answer to “why,” stated negatively, is: Christians are not here to be like everyone else, to look like everyone else, or to have what everyone else has. Stated positively, a Christian is here to stand out, to be different, not for the sake of being different, but for the sake of loving God and neighbor. The Christian is here, as Jesus summarized, to let his or her “light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Until Christians understand why they’re here, they will not understand what they should be doing. They will waste time, energy, and emotion on issues that are not mission-critical, and the church, with its enormous power for good, will be sluggish and ineffective.
— Shayne Looper is the pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Michigan. Read more at shaynelooper.com.