Cynical Christianity

If I had to choose one word to describe my default way of thinking, I would choose “cynical.”

Yikes.

I hate cynicism. I really do. I hate the way it feels, you know? It’s that slimy, gross feeling. If you’ve taken your dog for a walk and you forgot to bring a doggie bag, but your dog needed to go and you didn’t want to be that neighbor, then you know exactly what cynicism feels like.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the pastor being interviewed said he was confronted by a mentor of his about this very thing. His mentor asked, “Why do you keep smearing crap on your blessings?”

My point is cynicism is disgusting.

But I also love it.

And I hate that.

I love being cynical. And I disguise my cynicism all the time. “Oh, I’m just pointing out what could be better.” “Man, I loved that movie…except the editing was weird sometimes.” “Well, that’s just how life is.” “You can’t be disappointed if you don’t have expectations.”

It’s just so easy to be a critic. We breathe cynicism. We carry around unlimited cynicism in our pockets. We pay $40 a month to have constant access to it. We drink it up. We share it. We pass it around. Cynicism is more common than the common cold.

But, as a follower of Jesus, I’ve never encountered a command from Jesus to be cynical.

Maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe I’m obeying someone besides Jesus. Maybe I’m believing some lies about deserving a perfect, comfortable, happy life. Maybe I need to repent.

I most certainly need to repent.

Sometimes, though, we don’t know what to turn to when we turn away from sin. I know I need to turn away from the sin of cynicism, of tearing down, of being selfishly critical. But what do I turn to instead? I think one of many answers can be found in Colossians 3.

And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. – Colossians 3:15-17

This passage is so rich. And I think there’s a significant emphasis of which I want to take note.

It’s the trifecta of commands to be thankful.

Instead of being cynical, I believe we’re commanded to be thankful.

Paul starts with the peace of Christ ruling your heart, bringing you into communion with fellow believers. And then, “Be thankful.” Be thankful for Christ ruling your heart! You don’t deserve that. But Christ rules your heart because he wants to, because he deserves to. Because that’s better for you. So you have peace with others because Jesus rules your heart. That’s amazing. That’s something to be thankful for. If you don’t know what to give thanks for, give thanks for Jesus ruling your heart. Give thanks for peace. Give thanks for friendships.

Paul moves on with a command to let the word of Christ live in you, and let the word and wisdom of Christ move you to encourage others and, get this, give thanks to God. If you know the words of Jesus, you will be able to share those with others. To know the words of Jesus is a gift. To be able to hear them and understand them is another. To be able to know, hear, understand, and share them is a third. To be able to do all those things and sing praises to God is a fourth gift–and a most remarkable one at that. We don’t deserve any of those gifts. Yet we have been given them and more. Thanks be to God!

Finally, Paul lands the plane. He says whatever you do, whenever, wherever, with whoever, do it for Jesus; and while you’re doing whatever you’re doing and doing that thing for Jesus, give thanks! Thank God for the morning coffee. Give thanks for that song on the radio. Give thanks for your boss. Give thanks for that paper that’s due. Give thanks for any ability you have, any skill you possess, any holy thought you have, any desire to do good, and any joy you might feel. Yes, this will take you all day.

I had another friend tell me he recently that he was looking at a list of people he was praying for, and while praying and thinking through that list, he thought, There are so many needs. So many people need prayer. And these are just the people on my list! There are so many more people and needs and prayers to pray. This will take me all day!

Then it hit him. When Paul says pray all day, it’s not a suggestion. When you realize how much you have to pray, you end up praying all day. The same thing goes for gratitude. When you realize how much you have for which to give thanks, you end up giving thanks all day.

Now, this isn’t something I’m a pro at by any means. In fact, you might be way ahead of me in this spiritual practice of thanking God throughout the day. I hope if you are, then you start to teach others; and if you’re a day behind, that’s OK. Read Colossians 3 and focus on verses 15-17. Memorize them if that helps. Pray for the Spirit of God to give you a spirit of obedience. Then practice. Practice right now, practice tomorrow, practice the next day after. And when you succeed, thank God. And when you fail, thank God. His mercies are new every morning.

– Matt Welborn

 

I Am Naomi

I have a heart that is fickle and discontent. I cry out against the Lord when I feel slighted but then ‘joyfully’ thank God for His kindness and provision as soon as things are going my way. I am Naomi.

The story of Ruth is one that I’ve been drawn to many times recently. It’s been particularly fascinating as I’ve realized that it is a story of God’s provision in a time of need as well as a story of simple faith. The book of Ruth is not like Exodus. It is not full of eventful miracles like the parting of a sea or various plagues that lead to redemption. No, the book of Ruth is about two women who were empty but found fullness in God. The book of Ruth is about God’s wonderful and ever-present care in one what would appear random family’s journey. As I’ve been walking through the book with a devotional by Mike McKinley, I found myself realizing that I was in fact Naomi.

Naomi was a widow, finding herself with a dead husband and two dead sons. She was broken and confused and in a foreign land. Orpah and Ruth were her daughters-in-law, yet only Ruth chose to return to Bethlehem with her. When they arrived, the whole town was excited and cried out to Naomi. This was Naomi’s response:

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” – Ruth 1:20-21

On one hand, Naomi had a correct understanding of God’s sovereignty and control over all things. She on the other hand however forgot that not only is God great, He is also good and orchestrates all things to best glorify Him which in turn brings us the most good. She asked the town to call her “Mara” which means “bitter”. She was so distraught she proclaimed that they should refer to her as essentially the bitter one.

Fast-forward one chapter. In chapter two, God provides for Ruth and Naomi through Boaz. Boaz was their relative and allowed the widowed Ruth the opportunity to safely gather grain in his fields with the protection of his workers. It is a moment of great joy as Naomi acknowledges God’s care all along.

“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative, he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” – Ruth 2:20

The Lord is no longer referred to as the one who brought down misfortune on her. Rather, Naomi refers to the Lord as He who has not stopped showing kindness to the living and the dead.

I wonder if Naomi would want to take back what she had said a chapter earlier. I wonder how often I am just like Naomi. One minute I’ll be crying out in anger at the Lord about all He has taken away from me, and then the next I’ll be praising Him for all that He’s doing in my life at the time. I would encourage you to read the Psalms and be encouraged that there will be times of heartache and doubt and times of joy and gratitude. However I would also caution you against criticizing God’s plan for your life (as I often do to be completely honest). Let us all push back against the Naomi in each of us. Let us be men and women of God who praise God in the storm and praise Him in the clear blue skies. Let us praise Him in the grief and praise Him in the celebration.

Crying and feeling heartache are not what I’m speaking against. I’ve had bouts of tears regularly in this most recent season of my life. When it becomes dangerous is when I begin to call out against God’s plan in my life due to my discontent and due to things not being perfect. Contentment is what I’m desperately fighting to secure in my heart and in my life. Hopefully this following passage will help.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8

Do you ever find that your heart is fickle, complaining about God’s provision for you one moment and then joyful when you later get what you want? What would be a godlier attitude in these times? – Mike McKinley 

We take nothing out of this world. Nothing. If we have food and clothing, we should be content with that. I know that’s hard to actually live in but I’m striving to. I don’t want to be Naomi, I don’t want to have a fickle heart.

Let’s strive together for contentment.

– Nate Roach