Many of us speak of the “difficulties of our time,” and as the conversation goes, we talk about how hard it is to be a Christian in the school system, at work, in our neighborhood. We find ourselves enumerating situations and certain government polices that are taking our “rights” away. The discussion inevitably leads to comments about the loss of freedom and the hampered religious discourse of our modern times. You might think that we are living in desperate times.
It’s easy to overlook and even forget that the early church grew up against a background of paganism. There were no churches, no Sundays, no Christian books, no Christian radio, no Christian TV…oh wait, actually no Christians! Slavery, sexual immorality, cruelty, callousness, torture, and a hostile government system were universal. Most people were illiterate; there were no rights for the individual, and days were spent forging out a subsistence living. The infant church was a small handful of poor desperate followers of a crucified criminal, banding together for mutual help and support. J.B. Phillips in his preface to Letters to Young Churches, writes,
Remember that this faith took root and flourished
amazingly in conditions that would have killed
anything less vital in a matter of weeks. These
early Christians were on fire with the conviction
that they had become, through Christ, literally
sons of God; they were pioneers of a new humanity,
founders of a new kingdom. They still speak to us
across the centuries.
The great difference between our present-day Churchianity and the faith of these first disciples is that our religion is primarily a performance, to them it was a vital dynamic experience. We tend to make our Christianity into a moral code or rule of thought and action. For the early church, there was a desperation to worship Jesus because their hearts had literally been invaded by the kingdom of God. For these farmers, merchants, and slaves, it was life, altogether life, a new vibrant life poured into their souls. They could not survive without the life of Christ flowing through their spiritual veins.
Outer circumstances may make us uncomfortable, but rarely does it make us desperate. Desperation, the kind of desperation that built a world changing movement, was the result of vital life being poured into the hearts of these few Jesus disciples. The first century church had come to experience the love and power of the Holy Spirit invading and transforming their lives. The result was an almost violent uncontained upheaval of proclamation and demonstration of the kingdom of God. The government, the schools, and the populace could not snuff it out.
J.B. Phillips concludes, “Perhaps if we believed what they believed, we might achieve what they achieved.” I think that we need a new kind of desperation. Rather than decrying our circumstances, what if we turned our discomfort into prayers for personal desperation. I want to be desperate for more of Jesus, more of His love, more of His power! It may sound sadistic, but rather than decrying it, I want desperate times.
On the Road,