It may not be humble, but let me quote myself: “our efforts at private growth are the bedrock of everything else”.*
Let me quote John Stott regarding this same matter: “The Christian life is not just a private affair of our own” [from Basic Christianity, 139].
Truly it is important to seriously consider what we are doing to further God’s Kingdom in this world. That takes thought, prayer, being alone with The Father, maybe meditation, listening for the guidance of the Holy Spirit [maybe all of these things and more], but “The Bible will not allow us to retreat from practical responsibilities either into mysticism, or into a monastery, or even into a Christian fellowship which is insulated from the world . “The Christian life is not just a private affair of our own.”
Anyone attempting to follow God and His Son Jesus Christ may feel alienated from the day-to-day happenings in the world. We watch what is on the news and we strongly suspect our true place is in heaven with The Father. We know we are only on this earth for a short while. We are told not to lay up treasures in this world, trying to fit into the “world’s” standards of success. Our treasure is in “another world”. With this as a backdrop however, we know we are called to active discipleship here on earth, discipleship for God. It is our Christian obligation.
What am I referring to?
We have a duty to the church. It is necessary to seek out our brothers and sisters in Christ. Membership in the church universal is not enough; we need to belong to a local branch of the church where we can worship, fellowship with other Christians and join with them in witnessing to those outside the church.
Stott gives guidance in this area: if you have been attending a church since your childhood and then you have made a commitment to Jesus Christ, it would not be advisable to move to another church. Just make a commitment to attend and support that church. If you have no church, he provides two key pieces of advice for choosing a place to worship: Is the pastor submissive to the Word of God, his or her sermons relating to God’s word and attempting to connect God’s ideas to contemporary life? Does the congregation seem to be a fellowship of believers, loving Christ and one another?
Another piece of advice is (after joining a church) get involved with the ministries of that church. Sing in the choir, join in and help with the work of a committee or join the church volleyball team. Participate and make friends with other Christians. Eventually your closest friends will be your Christian friends.
We also have a duty to work in this world to make it a better place. When I write that we should not lay up treasures in this world and comment that our true place is in heaven, it sounds like I am turning my back on earth.
That is not what our faith really calls us to do. We are to be concerned about our fellow men. Stott points to the “noble record” of caring for the hungry, the sick, the needy and neglected people of this world. We are supposed to uplift the victims of oppression, slaves, prisoners, orphans, refugees and dropouts.
Another responsibility we have in this world is evangelism. In short, that means that we are to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the millions of people who have no idea who He is. We are supposed to win the world for Christ.
Some worry about this responsibility because they do not see themselves as a pastor. They can’t make the commitment to become a missionary. This does not mean that we cannot witness for Christ in the various locations where we live. How are we responding to the problems of life in our families, in our classrooms, our places of business? Are we exhibiting loving behavior, humble behavior, honest, Christ-like behavior? There is an old expression that almost all Christians know: “The only Bible most people may ever see is you, how you handle yourself in life.” “Actions speak louder than words” is another trite expression but the Christian who lives a life of a dedicated follower is powerful testimony.
Are you concerned about what you will do to help “win the world”? Start with prayer that asks the Holy Spirit to use your gifts to win souls. We all have strengths and weaknesses and God will not put you in a position where you are not capable. Sometimes we try to take on work that we are not suited for, but that is not work based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That is our own selfishness, our own grab for power. Often that does not result in much success.
If you are good at listening, you will find yourself counseling people who have problems. If you are good at building things, you will head a team of workers who repair storm damage. If you can cook, you will find yourself in the church kitchen providing meals to the homeless. Again the focus is on actions: Stott writes “little is more influential for Christ than a life which He is obviously transforming” . Also little is more influential than meeting a need because you have decided to share your gifts with a needy person.
When I first encountered Basic Christianity it was 1976. I purchased my copy from a used book store close to my college campus. I had no idea that I would read it and it would help change my life. I was just curious and I have always been a book lover. I had no idea that I would one day blog on the book. Over the years John Stott kept coming in and out of my life. His name would show up in a devotion book or we would study some of his ideas in Sunday school. I referred to what I wrote in my copy of Basic in my October 25, 2020 post.** On this last post on the book I refer to my marginal comments again: “I bought this book in 1976—in 1999 I read it and found it a blessing—Stott answers so many questions.”
It is time to close my comments on the book. It is falling apart but I will keep it as it is (broken spine and all). The work on Basic has been worthwhile for me and maybe some reader out there may have received a blessing from some of my comments on his thoughts. Looking at his little book in depth has been a blessing for me. Let me close with Stott’s ideas from his final page: “This is the life of discipleship to which Jesus Christ calls us. He died and rose again that we might have newness of life. He has given us His spirit so that we can live out this life in the world. Now He calls us to follow Him, to give ourselves wholly and unreservedly to His service”
Thanks Professor Stott. You answer so many questions.
*from “Getting Out of the Nursery,” St. John Studies, September 29, 2022.
**from “Studying Stott Again.” St. John Studies, October 25, 2020.