One of the things that characterise young people is fervour. I remember chatting with a friend of mine a few years ago who told me his bold ambition to make a million dollars by the time he turned 30. By the looks of how he is progressing in his career right now, I’d say he is not far from the mark. I also remember speaking to another colleague I used to work with who told me that he wanted to become a partner at his law firm by the time he was 35 years old. He too, is not far from the mark. Another friend I’ve known for awhile told me that she wanted to finish her PhD in her 20s and find a cure for eczema (which she suffers from) during her lifetime. Obviously the cure hasn’t been found yet. But given her sharpness and intelligence, I think her desire is well within the realms of possibility. Although each of these three people have different goals, what unites all of them is their fervour; their passionate pursuit towards what they believe to be of greatest importance to them.
Now some of these examples I used above are Christian people, but not all. And this got me thinking: if non-Christian people can make such bold and daring goals accompanied with such fervour and passion in pursuits that are ultimately temporal and perishing, are Christians similarly making bold and daring goals with equal (if not more) fervour and passion in pursuit of eternal things? It is interesting, isn’t it, that we rarely think of eternal pursuits in equal terms. We often think of our own spiritual life as something we’ll just ‘struggle with’ along the side of what we ‘really’ do in life (such as career, relationships, and leisure). Yet, shouldn’t it be completely the opposite?
I was reading a portion of Augustine’s City of God today (because it is Tuesday Research Day, yay!) and he draws two lessons on what he describes as the tragedy of Rome. I’ll give you a summary of Augustine’s thought written by the theologian Matthew Levering:
‘The tragedy of Rome is that its understanding of history, and of the divine, was faulty and cut many Romans off from true happiness, which comes only from God. Augustine draws two lessons: God’s providence justly allowed the Roman Empire to increase, and God intended that those who seek a heavenly reward within the heavenly city should be inspired to an increase of fervour, humility, and endurance by seeing how devotedly these citizens of the earthly city pursued a merely earthly reward.’
What this means is that according to Augustine, God allowed Rome to thrive and increase in its power and dominance across the region. They exerted great political, military, and economic influence, and the empire spread across cultural and geographical boundaries. And Augustine says: God providentially allowed it. Now for you and I who subscribe to Reformed Theology, we agree! We do not believe in chance or luck, because everything is in the sovereign hand of God. But notice what Augustine says about why God allowed Rome to flourish. He says that the flourishing of Rome was divinely and providentially given so that ‘those who seek a heavenly reward within the heavenly city’ (and a heavenly reward includes the privilege of knowing God, enjoying his presence, eternal joy, and imperishable inheritance, unending hope, unexplainable pleasure, in addition to salvation that comes from Christ alone) would look at how earthly people (people of the earthly city are those who are non-believers who do not belong to the City of God) sought earthly reward and then pursue heavenly rewards with even more fervour, humility, and endurance. In other words, how non-believers pursue their earthly rewards should be an example for us to pursue heavenly rewards with even more fervour. Wow! Have you ever realised that? This means that we should be looking at non-Christians and how much they sacrifice and dedicate for their careers, families, and pleasures, and then allow that to fuel our devotion to God and heavenly rewards!
I think we should all be rebuked by this. Because if you’re like me, then our devotion to God and our pursuit of heavenly rewards come no where close to how much non-believers sacrifice for what they believe to be valuable. If you’re like me, you take your inheritance in Christ in a blasé manner, and you do not praise it, sing of it, trumpet it, and live for it like it is the greatest gift of all. Honestly, if non-believers looked at our lives and compared it to how much they sacrifice for their earthly goals, what would they say? Would they say ‘wow this really matters to you. Even though I do not believe what you believe, you obviously do and you’re giving your life to it. Good on you’ or would they say instead ‘this obviously doesn’t really matter to you’? I suspect that if all of us examined our lives closely, I think people may say the latter more than the former.
The Apostle Paul states it most sharply when he says:
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25
My brothers and sisters, tie up your shoes, run, and compete for the crown that will last forever. And do so with even more fervour than those around you because this is a crown that will never spoil or fade. Do it in such a way where people will look at you and say: Christ is certainly the greatest treasure of your life.