The stage musical Le Miserables is back in town. And what a marvellous musical it is!
The pathos of the lyrics combined with the power of the music. The starkness of the barricade pitched against the stirring passions of the idealistic band of revolutionary students. The depths of friendship, compassion, grace, love, loyalty and heroism in sharp contrast to the treachery of both legalistic and the lawless anti-heroes.
On a recent visit to this magnificent spectacle I was sitting in one of those side balcony boxes directly above the orchestra pit. As I was looking down on the stage from this hang-glider vantage point, settling into the wonder that was unfolding before me once again, I saw something that shocked me.
The musicians were only half paying attention. The flautist, in every playing pause, was reading a gardening magazine. The bass guitarist, at every chance, would slide out a sports magazine from under his sheet music. The drummer had one eye on the score-sheet and the other on a crossword puzzle.
How could they be so indifferent in the midst of something so inspiring? How dare they be so off-hand about something so awesome? What would make them so switched-off to something so stunning?
Is not the complacency, the indifference and the distraction that is so often spawned by familiarity a wretched thing? I observe it in the overindulged. I see it in the spoilt. I fear it in myself.
I was asked recently to speak to a bunch of Baby Boomers at a weekend retreat. They belonged to a large Bible-belt middle class church. At first I wondered what on earth I would say to them, some whom I knew quite well and many others who were acquaintances. I often stood in awe of the perseverance ad passion many of them had for Jesus.
But I quickly realised that I was a baby boomer too! The dangers and temptations they face in general as Christians, and in particular as a bunch of believers who have been around the block a few times, were and are the dangers I face. I am an upper middle Bible-belt Baby Boomer. What are my struggles, my fears, my sins and my failures? If I addressed those I wouldn’t be far off the mark.
Like those tired, distracted and possibly bored orchestra members in a hot, cramped and claustrophobic orchestra pit was my passion on the cusp of palliative care? And was it the case for them?
One of the great dangers for Baby Boomers (people in their late fifties to late sixties, stretched out a little at both ends) is that we can go soft, on top as well as in the middle, on battlefields we have fought so valiantly on for decades.
And one of the great dangers for upper middle Boomers is that we can be tempted to settle back on our wealth for our security, and even our sense of self-important significance, rather than our humble dependance on our Heavenly Father for every breath, every blessing and in every burden of ministry we carry in Jesus’ name.
Our passion for God and the gospel can mellow out, moderate and even melt down. Lukewarm is another word for it. Neither hot nor cold. Spew temperature. Scary how straight to the point the Scriptures can be.
I can hear my mothers words echoing in my ears as I write. When I told Dad and her that I had given my life to Christ, as I was about to leave for school and they for work, I was met with the damp reply, “That’s fine dear, but don’t take it too seriously because as you grow older you’ll mellow.”
Five decades on I get frightened that she may have been right. Have I mellowed? Is my passion in danger of palliative care?
Firstly, I was asked at this BB weekend to speak about prayer. Fair call. I should be an expert on prayer. Fifty years in the school of prayer. Forty years schooled in the theology of prayer. But I feel like such a pup in prayer. I shared that I didn’t really understand prayer. I could preach about it, write essays on it, for sure, but I still struggled with it as I suspected many of them did too.
Some things I pray for don’t get answered. Other things I haven’t prayed for have the sort of outcome I would have prayed for if I had prayed! I offered to do something for a friend a couple of weeks back and he nearly jumped through the phone with delight. “You’re an answer to a pray that I haven’t even prayed yet,” he boomed. He could preach about prayer too!
But I pleaded with my fellow Boomers not to stop praying. I recalled Don Carson’s words, so many Summer Schools ago, “Pray until you pray.” Don’t let distraction, disappointment, doubt or despair keep you from praying. Pray until you pray.
Secondly, I was also asked to address the issue of the importance of keeping God’s Word front and centre in our Christian life.
Was their, is my, and is your passion for God’s word cooling? Is it on the cusp of palliative care? Have we gone soft on the edges, where political correctness and popular culture are beating a different drum? Is the contest for the centrality of Jesus’ death and resurrection and battle for biblical sexuality burdening our friendships? Are we being shouldered into silence?
We may not understand everything about the Bible. We may not understand why God says many of the things he says. But would we dare go up against he who holds the winds of the world in the palm of his hand? Should we claim superior knowledge over he who has wrapped up the oceans in his shirt-front? Could we trumpet our wisdom above he before whom the nations are like a drop in a bucket? (see Proverbs 30:4 and Isaiah 40:12-14)
Finally I was asked to speak about our focus beyond ourselves, from our next-door neighbour to the nations of the earth.
I have often urged people to adopt one of those nations, to love and serve it like our own, to be passionate, indeed be a patriot, for its spiritual and social welfare, like we are for our own. Pour your prayers into it. Plead for the salvation of its citizens. Find a ministry in that country that you can partner with. Having broadened your horizon, narrow your focus. From being a generalist, become a specialist.
Keep the fires of the proclaiming the gospel and protecting the vulnerable alive, blazing, consuming. Don’t let your passions weaken, your muscles weary, your vision blur. Rage against the darkness. Rebel against cooling affections. Rise up against evil.
Let’s keep our passion well clear of palliative care!
Feature photo: Chris Barker