Here’s a snippet from Francis Schaeffer’s He Is There and He Is Not Silent, written in 1972:
“Consider Marshall McLuhan’s concept that democracy is finished. What will we have in the place of democracy or morals? He says there is coming a time in the global village (not far ahead, in the area of electronics) when we will be able to wire everybody up to a giant computer, and what the computer strikes as the average at a given moment will be what is right and wrong. You may say that this is far-fetched and there may never be such a worldwide computer system. But the concept of morals only being the average of what people are thinking and doing at a given time is a present reality.”
There you have it – a prediction in 1972 that morality would come to be determined by the majority via the medium of a world wide web. The man was clearly a prophet! Amazing, no!
I recently read Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. The essential thesis of the book, as the title suggests, is doing less, better. The main body of the book is devoted to the ideas of explore (what is it that really needs doing that only you can do), eliminate (all the stuff you shouldn’t be doing), and execute (do it!). I have a few reservations, but here’s some snippets:
- “If you don’t prioritise your life someone else will”
- The non-essentialist says ‘I have to; It’s all important; I can do both.’ The essentialist says ‘I choose to; only a few things really matter; I can do anything but not everything.’
- In order to have focus we need to escape to focus
- Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise (in other words we have to look after ourselves physically, socially, and emotionally if we’re going to function well)
- If it isn’t a clear yes, then it’s a clear no
- The Latin root of the word decision – cis or cid – literally means ‘to cut’ or ‘to kill’
There’s lots of very practical advice in the book and I think, in general, there’s a useful principle in here. First, however, a couple of question marks.
Take the first bullet point. Is it always wrong for someone else to prioritise my life? As a Christian I want to say that someone else (God) does in fact prioritise my life (or at least I want, aspire, aim, desire, try for that to be the case). So the question isn’t so much whether someone else should prioritise my life; it’s more a case of who gets to prioritise my life. Do I live to please myself, others, or God. For a Christian (and Christian leader) the answer if obvious. Which brings me to a second reservation. If God is going to prioritise my life then I’m not sure the ruthless, black and white, yes/no game works any more. There surely are situations where things aren’t so neat and tidy. I might decide it’s not my job to take a meal round to someone in our small group, or to visit that old person, or to fill in at crèche – ‘if its not a clear yes, its a clear no’ – but that surely isn’t the mindset of someone who has decided to let God prioritise their life. I will do things that fall outside of my main focus out of love for God and love for neighbour.
Now, all of that said, I do still think there’s some helpful material in the book. I do think we often get distracted, and don’t think carefully enough about where to invest our time and energies. This book will help you at least to ask those questions, even if it doesn’t necessarily give you all the right answers.
We’re doing a little series at church at the moment on the ‘one-anothers’ of the New Testament. On Sunday evening I spoke on ‘bear with one another.’ You can listen to the whole talk here. In conclusion I gave five practical tips on how we can live this stuff out. They are as follows:
- Be real. Paul’s instruction presupposes that we will be wronged, and we will wrong each other. No, it’s not OK, but since we’re not in heaven yet, it will happen and we shouldn’t be surprised when it does.
- Be suspicious . . . of ourselves. Often our own reaction toward others says more about us than someone else. Steve Midgley uses a really helpful illustration of a cup that gets knocked and as a consequence spills water on the floor. Steve asks, ‘why is there water on the floor?’ Answer: because it got knocked. True. But also: because there’s water in the cup. If stuff keeps spilling out of us every time we get knocked we might need to deal with what’s inside us, rather than keep blaming external circumstances.
- Be vulnerable. Perhaps one key to ‘bearing with one another’ is ‘baring with one another.’ Sometimes our facade of competent self-sufficiency combined with an unwillingness to be open about our weaknesses means we make it difficult for others to cut us some slack.
- Be charitable . . . toward others. There’s a great J. C. Ryle quote which goes as follows: “A growing soul will try to put the best construction on other people’s conduct, and to believe all things, and hope all things even to the end. There is no surer mark of falling off in grace than an increasing disposition to find fault and pick holes, and see weak points in others.”
- Be quick to sort things out. C. S. Lewis speaks of the pleasure of a grudge – how it draws us back to nurse and fondle it, yet in the end it eats us up and does great harm. Matt 18 encourages us to be quick to sort things out with others.
It strikes me that all of this is undeniably hard work, and requires much practise and intentional effort. Yet, as is clear in the context of the command (Eph 4-6 and Col 3-4) unity, maturity, and mission is at stake. We simply cannot afford not to learn to bear with one another.