“Next…”

Mike stayed with us this week.  He is a percussionist, a relative through David’s wife, and a brother in Christ.  This was his second stay with us and his second audition with the San Diego Symphony.  After two months and $1000 invested in preparation and travel , he showed up along with 80 others to audition for  the position of tympani player (tympanist?).  Less then five minutes after walking on stage, after about 3 minutes of playing, they said, “Next…”  He was not called back.

I asked him the next morning how he felt.  “In the past,” he mused, “I have put God on hold to prepare for an audition.  ‘See you in a few months, I’m going to be kinda busy.’  But this time my wife and I determined that nothing would change–our devotions, our commitments at church, our giving–and that the preparation would just have to fit in around our life as followers of Jesus.”  “And?”  “Normally I would be in reaction mode right now…angry, then reliving it, then arguing in my head or out loud, and then wanting to quit this business.  But this time…I was disappointed, but peaceful.  I slept well.  And now I’m ready to press on.”

He couldn’t have said it better.  For to me to live is Christ…

That phrase is the fact behind Paul’s compelling example of faith in Philippians 1:12-26.  It doesn’t make sense otherwise.  Imprisonment.  That one word alone means loss of freedom, deterioration of health, the end of effective ministry, being cut off from friends, and loss of privacy.  Paul was chained to a Roman guard around the clock.  Rivals.  That adds insult to injury.  Some had taken up his message in order to steal his thunder and make him envious. They wanted him to suffer even more.   In the face of these awful circumstances we read some of the most joyful, expectant, courageous, confident, glorious sentences in all his letters.  Why?  Because of the simple fact that Christ is his life.  Not achievement or comfort or approval or fame.

It is beautiful.  And I want to be like this.  But how?  My first thought is this is outside of my league.  Paul is a super apostle, an advanced Christian.  He’s not like me. While I won’t deny that his faith was mature when he wrote this, I also realize that he was made of flesh and blood, just like me.  I mustn’t excuse myself.  So my second thought is I must try very hard to be just like this.  I must renounce everything except Jesus…only read the Bible…listen to Christian radio constantly…and be at church every time the doors open. But these external efforts, or others that aren’t quite so silly, wouldn’t have the power to change me without inner transformation.

“For me to live is Christ…”  Where did Paul get that kind of radical commitment? How did he learn such utter abandonment? He learned it from the One who was born so that he could die…for Paul.  When Jesus was lifted up on the cross, beginning to pour out his life for our sins, he in effect said, “for to me to live is you, and to die is gain.”  He lived his perfect life, not for himself, but for us.  He offered himself as a sacrifice, not for himself, but for us.  Since he held nothing back from me, I want to hold nothing back from him.

That doesn’t mean just read my Bible and go to church. No, I will still practice for my audition and hope that I make the symphony.  But it is not my life. He is.

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