On Sunday I made reference to an excellent blog by Scott Linscott who argues that the lack of a deep spiritual life in our children has a lot to do with the choices that we made (and are making) as we raised them. (see the original blog here http://scottlinscott.wordpress.com/2010/03/10/your-kids-an-all-star-wow-someday-hell-be-average-like-the-rest-of-us/ and my sermon here http://www.scribd.com/doc/38170459/Love-Misplaced-2010-09-26) I left a comment on Linscott’s blog and let him know that I had borrowed from him (and yes, I gave him credit). Since then I have been following the conversation that he is having with other readers who are leaving their comments. One focus has been the way in which busy professionals find balance between a demanding and time-consuming career and time spent in their church and with their families. I completely understand. I faced that same challenge both in a secular career and now in ministry. What intrigues me is how often, as human beings, we are able to rationalize the difference between “Cannot” and “Will Not.” “Cannot” means we have no choice, “Will not” implies that we have chosen.
Several busy people argued that their jobs demand 60 hour work weeks and since God has given them these careers then their dedication was a measure of their devotion. An example given was the medical resident who is working 100 hours a week. In order to pursue a career as a doctor they have given up time for a social life, dating, family, church and nearly everything else. Others pointed out friends and church members that were medical professionals. They noted how these folk made time to spend in church, to volunteer and to go on mission trips. What I see is a difference between “Cannot” and “Will not.” Residents and Interns don’t really get a choice. Their schools, hospitals and others decide what is required in order to, eventually, gain the title of Doctor. If they don’t do what is required they will not ever attain the goal that they are pursuing but the sacrifice is intended to be temporary. Regardless of how much a career paid, I doubt that many would choose it if celibacy and 100 hour work weeks were expected for life.
At some point, how we spend our time becomes a choice. It is at that point that we all must choose whether we want to choose long hours at work or to use those hours for recreation or family or church. This is point at which everyone will eventually arrive. When we arrive at this moment, whether we are aware of it or not, we must make a choice. Some choose to spend more time at work and others choose to spend it elsewhere. For each choice there is a cost. If we work more, we may advance more quickly, get more raises, perks and bonuses. Working less may mean that we sacrifice these things. Working less may also mean that we are able to spend more time with friends and family and have more time to volunteer, attend church and other spiritual activities. Each choice comes at a price.
As I have watched friends, colleagues and church members make these choices I have often seen the line between “Cannot” and “Will not” get pretty blurry. I have had farmers tell me that they had to be in the fields on Sunday because of a recent stretch of bad weather. I have heard other farmers, in the same community, insist that it wasn’t necessary. There are two differences: priorities and trust. While some saw a break in the weather as a gift from God, others saw it as a test of faith. One group went into the fields to work and the others trusted that God was in control and would balance the scales at harvest time if they made God a priority.
However we want to rationalize it, for each of us there is a gap between “Cannot” and “Will not” but, however we choose, God wants us to make him our first priority. In Matthew 22:37 Jesus teaches that the greatest commandment of the law is to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ We find a very similar verse in Proverbs 3:5 with a very important twist.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart…
…and lean not on your own understanding.”
I know that doctors and funeral home directors (and many others) need to work when they are called. My point is that each of us needs to be aware of when our priorities are shifting. We need to be aware of when we begin to trust money, power or our own ability more than we trust God. God asks that we put him first and not to ‘lean on our own understanding.’
Putting God first can be expensive and it can be painful but God asks that we trust him to span the distance between “Cannot” and “Will not.”