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The Balanced Christian

Dear Friends,

          It is time for me to write you concerning balance in all of our lives.  I believe this is one of the major issues that we face as we try to live healthy lives in this New York Metro area.  I also am ever more convinced that balance is not only a hallmark of health in general, but most importantly a pillar of spiritual maturity.  What strikes me as odd is that in 40 years of being a Christ follower I have never heard a sermon or teaching instructing me to become balanced.  In reality, the opposite is quite true: I have been encouraged and preached to, and at, to go all out for God, Jesus, and with regard to my ministry to a lost world.  I have heard countless sermons on how “the harvest is plentiful, but that the workers are few,” and on how “the need is so great and that the time is short,” and about the fact that “today we live in perilous times with the world getting worse and worse,” and how “if we don’t do something now, our country is only going to continue to decline and eventually be written off by God.”  While these thoughts are Biblical, they do not represent all that God has had to say in His word and, therefore, they do not represent the whole truth.

          These kinds of sermons and teachings have produced in me a compulsive approach to living out my Christian life.  These discipleship techniques have realized their intentional outcome: my life has been characterized by a lack of balance. 

          I once heard a sermon by my pastor, with whom I had immense respect for and with whom I considered a mentor, tell me and the audience that we were to live our lives as balanced in every way except for the way that we lived out our faith.  He was a great speaker and was convincing in his argument.  What he said made sense and he had plenty of scripture to back up what he was saying.  He was also an impressive man who had, with his brother, run across the United States twice, sometimes running 50 miles in a day, in order to collect signatures on a petition urging the President of the U.S. to lead us back to our religious roots.  He hand delivered these signed petitions to the President in the White House.  Because I was convinced, I set out to live my life for Jesus by giving it all I got, to give him everything, to leave nothing on the field of play as they say, and to give him my 110%.  If this meant sleeping less for Christ, I should count that joy even if this was unhealthy for me.  After all, the thinking goes, “this little act of sacrifice is nothing compared to the enormity of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.”

          When we take to the extreme the message that we are to give it all to Jesus, and live this message in an unhealthy way, we may look good on the outside, but in reality we are not accomplishing God’s will and probably not very happy on the inside, whether we know this about ourselves or not.  In the end, our compulsive Christianity proves to be more about us than about what God’s will is for us.  In addition, our Compulsive Christianity by definition is not healthy.  Which begs the question, “How can a holy God want us to do something which is unhealthy??!?”  It just makes no sense that an infinite, and perfectly healthy, all-supreme being would want us to live out our devotion to Him by unhealthy means.  “Taking up our cross daily and following after Jesus” cannot mean that we are meant to burn out for Him.  Running around like a chicken with its head cut off cannot be a positive witness for Christ, as well as just an overall poor advertisement if one were interested in becoming a Christ follower. 

          In addition, this is not what His Word says anyway.  In Ecclesiastes 7: 15-18 Solomon (the wisest man who ever lived) puts it this way,

“In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: a righteous man perishing in his righteousness, and a wicked man living long in his wickedness.  Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise---why destroy yourself?  Do no be overwicked, and do not be a fool---why die before your time?  It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other.  The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.” 

Now, that’s the message I wish I was taught at a young age, not the one of never being good enough, of never being finished with my work, that there was always more to do, with too little time and people to do it.  This is a lot of guilt and condemnation that drives unhealthy and compulsive Christianity.  And we get this message in spite of the fact that Paul writes in Romans 8:1&2 that

 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

          Also, health by definition requires balance.  This is true of all of the systems in the universe God has made.  God made us so that we get thirsty in order that we will drink water to return our bodies to a state of balance.  Ecosystems require the right number of animals in order to keep it in balance.  Our circulatory systems need free flowing veins and arteries so that our blood pressure stays in balance.  Healthy marriages in family systems recognize the need for balance in such things as the sharing of labor in order to thrive.  Our solar system is in perfect balance in order to provide for life here on earth.  In fact, ill-health or unhealthiness can be defined as the degree to which any system is out of balance.

          One client of mine objected to this idea of balance meaning health by stating that one wouldn’t want to be on a see-saw or teeter-totter if it stayed in perfect balance, that that would be boring.  My reaction to this is that it takes a perfectly balanced teeter-totter to be any fun.  An unbalanced one would be wildly out of control and no fun.  The reason we have fun on a teeter-totter is because it is in perfect balance. 

          The main point I am trying to make is that there is a tendency in us who call ourselves believers, especially if we are inclined to take God’s word literally, to live lives that are out of balance.  We may spend too much time at church, too much time praying, too much time serving others, too much time evangelizing, too much time studying God’s word, while the converse may be true: we may spend too little time with our spouse, our children, with our friends, time doing nothing of value in order that our personal batteries may be recharged, too little time laughing at silly things just for the sake of it, or pursuing hobbies that make us happy.  We usually falsely reason that doing such things has no “eternal” value and, therefore, should be avoided and behaviors such as these have little place in the person’s life called Christian.  And this is the message that is reinforced over and over again in our churches and Christian circles, in sermons, in Bible studies, and in our casual conversation.

          I would like to be part of a conversation that brings (of all things) “balance” to these messages.  Hear from me that it is more than o.k. to have fun for fun sake.  It is o.k. (in my opinion) with God for you to waste some of your time.  You may have become so brainwashed and socialized by the conservative, fundamental, and/or evangelical church that you go to that you need to relearn what came naturally for you when you were a kid or before you became a believer.  You have my permission to go out and play at something just because it makes you happy to do it.  Play golf, play music, play with your friends, play with your spouse and your children, play in the grass, play with your dog.  Play, play, play.  Learn to be fun to be around again.  And remember those great words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30 that are part of the reason we came to Him in the first place,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”     

                                                                     Laughing while writing this,

 

                      Paul