“Most of us have experience with setting goals we never reach.” –Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
It’s no secret that many Christians today recognize God’s missional call in their lives. Yet something always seems to change in us when we leave our community gatherings and churches. It’s curiously routine how we can move from our Sunday readings of “Go and make disciples” into our Monday rhythms of “Get coffee, buckle down and survive.”
Why does this happen?
After I read this great post on goals, I started to think about what keeps me from living into what I desire. Almost automatically, I could name things that I desired to accomplish and yet often found difficult to achieve because of the psychological distance* that existed between goal and reality:
- Goal: Running 2-3 times/week; Psychological Distance: My bed, french fries and planning not to plan.
- Goal: Reading every night; Psychological Distance: My bed, Facebook and Fantasy Basketball
Take a moment and think about your goals. You’ll probably find some gaps that exist in your life, too. And it’s true – there is much that you and I can do to decrease the psychological distance that exists between our goals and reality, to create environments where we can better live into our goals (thankfully, I’m eating less french fries and getting out of bed now).
But psychological distance doesn’t just affect my personal goals; it affects my discipleship with Christ. In relation to mission, it is the gap between my perceived value for mission and my actualized value for mission.
Psychological distance (PD) is what exists between our Sundays and our Mondays. PD prays about God’s mission and then fails to recognize how God is pursuing a friend experiencing turmoil or need. PD agrees with the sermon yet remains significantly silent in the workplace and with our peers. PD agrees with the Spirit of God in us but then practically lives into the spirit of this age – comfort, success, wealth.
So what’s the remedy? Jesus. Jesus is who we need (the Sunday school answer lives to see another day). In Scripture, we see that Christ’s mission doesn’t begin and end on Sunday. Jesus brings about redemption everyday. He crosses gender and cultural lines to talk with the Samaritan woman; he enters into the world of a tax collector (someone who was despised among the Jews) and shares fellowship with him; he heals a crippled man and forgives him his sins; he works out our salvation on the cross and in the resurrection. Jesus ushers the kingdom of God into the lives of men and women everyday, and he invites you to participate, to join with his activity in you and around you.
As you sense Jesus moving his mission forward, what are some things you can do to: 1) decrease your psychological distance from mission and 2) increase your awareness of Christ? Here are a few thoughts to get you started!
Decreasing PD from mission:
- Pray for those who are in your life (family, friends, co-workers, peers).
- Discover proactive ways to love and serve another person in Christ. And then do it. Write it into your calendar, schedule it with your friend.
- Invite conversations about faith and God with others.
Increasing awareness of Christ:
- Create rhythms of prayer throughout your day to ask for God’s perspectives. A short prayer like this can help recenter your life to what Christ is doing in you and around you: “God, help me to know Christ. Help me to see what you are seeing, to go where you are going and when appropriate, to speak what you are saying.” As we look to Christ, the danger is that we can think that we are somehow supposed to emulate Jesus. We make Jesus into an exemplar after whom we model our lives, when the call to follow Jesus really begins with Christ in us, transforming us.
- Read Luke 10:1-10.
- Respond to God’s word by living it out in practical and contextualized ways.
Our life in Christ already resonates into Monday and the rest of the week because Christ himself has gone beyond Sunday. Let’s join him!
*Psychological distance is a phrase that comes from social psychology and the Construal Level Theory (CLT). I’ll leave it to my wife and other counselors/psychologists like her to provide a more robust definition than the one I’m providing, but roughly speaking, psychological distance describes the gaps that exist between our abstract thinking and our concrete realities.
Mission dies when entitlement lives. When Christians feel entitled to the best and the brightest, there is little room for God’s mission to grow and thrive in us.
How can we share the Gospel with more intentionality? How has the Spirit of God uniquely called you to embody a costly discipleship? When these questions are pursued wholeheartedly in Christ, they can turn your world upside-down. Over the recent years, there has been an upswing in the church’s focus on mission. Conferences have rallied around mission, books have been published on creating missional culture and small groups have re-imagined themselves as missional communities. It’s been encouraging to see a renewed focus on God’s call to our neighbors and the nations. But beneath the surface of all our missional talking points, I wonder – how many of us are actually living in life-on-life, real-time, Gospel-centered relationships? How many of us actually care?
One of the greatest dangers within the North American church is our sense of entitlement. Entitlement kills God’s mission from being fully embodied in your life. It robs you from faithful risk-taking. It renders you immobile. It staves off any real response to Jesus. Entitlement, or I-want-ism, shifts your focus from Jesus to self. And when that happens, the results – probably all too familiar to you and to me – are both devastating and sad. When Jesus ceases to be the Caller in our lives, we not only lose sight of mission but also worship, community and faith. Without Him, we begin to make futile attempts to reclaim calling and passion as we desperately cling on to our sense of entitlement to great messages, better worship sets and an ever-growing appetite for more knowledge, all of which can functionally leave us with little room for real discipleship. Instead of simply responding to Matthew 28:18-20, entitlement thrusts us into a cycle of consuming more “stuff” and makes us the center of the Gospel. Under the deceptive guise of preparation or growth, we’ll spend time on a missional study of the Great Commission, unpacking the nuances between sovereignty and free will. We’ll jump from church to church and ministry to ministry, taking in what we like but never really committing to the local body in worship, community and mission. We’ll go to this year’s mission conference and hear the same things we heard last year. We’ll look for the next great sermon or talk. We’ll even take the time to train others in what we’ve downloaded into the reservoirs of our minds yet have never actualized as tangible, experienced knowledge. All the while, Jesus’ call remains, beckoning us to abandon ourselves for the sake of joining-in with God’s kingdom coming. Will you GO?
The mission of God always goes forward because the mission belongs to the God of mission. But it will wither in our lives if we cater to entitlement and oversaturate ourselves with “Christianity’s best.” How many churches and ministries do you have to sift through for that perfect convergence of everything-you-wanted (but probably nothing-God-envisioned)? How many missional conferences do you need to attend until you’ll actually go? Missional gatherings are great; they’re meant to equip the saints. But equipping is always for the sake of something else.
What if we pursued something different? What would it look like for you to simply hear, know and respond to Jesus?
Know Christ, and surrender your sense of entitlement to live out His call.
Hebrews 13:12-13 (ESV)
12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
Photo Credit: Sharon Drummond