I have a friend who formerly held a job with a large company that required her to carry a company phone and be on call virtually at all times. She technically had some days that she was “off duty,” but due to her position as head over safety for the whole factory, “off duty” time meant nothing in the case of an accident that slowed down production. I remember meeting her for a quick lunch one day, only to have it disturbed by an emergency at work. This friend of mine, a powerful woman, hung up her phone, eyes threatening to spill over with tears, and said, “I just want to eat lunch with my friend in peace. Can’t I just have an hour without being on duty?”
I feel for my friend. Her life was dictated by that little annoying gadget on her hip that could reach her anywhere (which meant everywhere). I remember thinking about how glad I was that I didn’t have a job where I had to be on call all the time. I think I was sympathetic toward her and told her that she certainly deserved some time off every now and then, just as everyone deserves time off every now and then. And yet, I’m not so sure if I agree with myself anymore.
First…a qualification: everyone needs to take time to rest. In scripture we hear of that time as observing the Sabbath. I won’t take the time right now to talk about why I think Sabbath is so important (and I do! I really, really do!), but what I do want to talk about is about the importance of living out our faith 24.7.
I’m currently teaching a Sunday School class at my church on the book of Philippians. I really don’t know why I chose Philippians, except that several of my favorite verses are in it. I’m using a commentary by Tom Wright for some background info, but we’re moving through pretty slowly and asking lots of questions of the text, and of ourselves. We’ve only made it through chapter 1, but one of the things that I’ve been struck by so far has to do with our citizenship as a Christian. Newsflash: as a Christian, I must relinquish any of my own rights and privileges, and take on the perspective of being a Kingdom citizen. This shouldn’t be revolutionary, should it? And yet, far too often, I want to be a good Christian when the setting is convenient, but not if it requires something of me.
In various ways throughout chapter 1 of Philippians, Paul mentions that the Christians to whom he is writing will suffer. In fact, in verse 29 of chapter 1, he actually says that it is a privilege that they can suffer for Christ. What kind of masochistic man is that Paul? It sounds like the beginnings of the Opus Dei a la Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. And yet, I become ever convinced that the suffering that Paul is talking about is not just something that the select few in the time of the earliest persecution of the church will experience. Rather, if we are reading the gospel correctly, we must acknowledge that obedience to it requires an element of suffering, no matter who you are. The gospel of Jesus Christ tells me that as a Christian, I’m required to take up my cross daily and follow Christ. That same passage goes on to say that if I want to gain my life, I must lose it. What a crazy gospel this is, is it not? To paraphrase C.S. Lewis’ famous quote,
this gospel must either be crazy or be true. Why would people follow a God that required so much? The only plausible explaination that I can come up with is that people follow it because the God that authors that salvation story has transformed their lives and requires nothing less than offering our lives back to him.
And now…I return to my initial thoughts about being “on call 24.7.” While my friend ended up quitting her job that sucked the life out of her because she was always on duty, in God’s economy, we have the opportunity to live “on call 24.7” and actually find true life in Christ. And all that God expects in exchange is that we willingly lay down our lives for him. All the time. At work and at play. In our relationships. In our amusements. In our wallets, purses and bank accounts. In our despair. In our joy. It sounds like God is asking too much, and yet what a great God we serve! I give him my rags, and he gives me his righteousness. But why, oh why are those rags so difficult to give up?