Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Compartmentalized Life?

[This entry follows a sermon called "A Sure Foundation".  Click on the title to listen to the audio.]

This last Sunday, we worked our way through Isaiah 28 and found several things that are uncertain foundations for life.  One of these was political stability, and the way the people of Judah were seeking to keep their stability was through a treaty with Egypt.  Assyria was breathing down their neck, and King Hezekiah set the nation’s hopes on Egyptian help for deliverance.

One of the odd things about this treaty was the fact that it was Hezekiah who was making it.  He was a king who led the nation through great religious reform.  In many modern translations, there aren’t just chapter and verse numbers…there are also little headlines to help one find his way.  Let me run through a few of the headlines regarding Hezekiah’s religious reform from 2 Chronicles 29-31:

1.      Hezekiah Reigns in Judah (29:1-2) – Hezekiah’s ascension to power came at the age of 25, and the Scripture, speaking generally about Hezekiah’s reign, said he “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 2).

2.      Hezekiah Cleanses the Temple (29:3-19) – The former king of Judah, Ahaz, had promoted idolatry in the nation and closed the doors of the temple (28:24).  Hezekiah restored what Ahaz had taken away, so that the priests “brought out all the uncleanness that they found in the temple of the Lord…And the Levites took it and carried it out to the brook at Kidron” (v. 16).

3.      Hezekiah Restores Temple Worship (29:20-36) – With the temple cleansed, proper worship was once again practiced.  “Thus the service of the house of the Lord was restored” (v. 35b).

4.      Passover Celebrated (30:1-27) – Passover was one of the most important times of the year, and it had not been celebrated recently “because the priests had not consecrated themselves in sufficient number, nor had the people assembled in Jerusalem” (v. 3).  So distinct and celebratory was this Passover that this was written about it: “So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem” (v. 26).  Not only was it unique; this pleased the Lord so that the prayers of the priests and Levites “came to his holy habitation in heaven” (v. 27).

5.      Hezekiah Organizes the Priests (31:1-21) – With the initial reform under way, it was time to delegate.  Hezekiah did just that and made sure that proper order was re-established in the service of the temple.  “And Hezekiah appointed the divisions of the priests and of the Levites, division by division, each according to his service…” (v. 2a).

These are great headlines.  If you were a faithful believer in God and these were the newspaper headlines of your day, you would rejoice in all of this.  In fact, the chronicler summarizes all this with the following words: “This Hezekiah did throughout all Judah, and he did what was good and right and faithful before the Lord his God.  And every work he undertook in the service of the house of God and in accordance with the law and the commandments, seeking his God, he did with all his heart, and prospered” (31:20-21).

It’s as if things couldn’t get any better.  Yet, Hezekiah didn’t just come to power in a nation of religious idolatry…he also came to power and had to deal with international instability.  As I said, Assyria was breathing down Judah’s neck.  How would Hezekiah respond?  Would he seek the Lord, as he did in the religious reform (30:21)?  Unfortunately, this would not be his first response.

When one of the Assyrian commanders, Rabshekah, shows up with a message, he points out where the king has looked for help.  In 2 Kings 18:21, he says this: “Behold, you are trusting now in Egypt, that broken reed of a staff, which will pierce the hand of any man who leans on it.  Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who trust in him.”  The king whose allegiance to God was clear in matters of religious reform is now turning to Egypt for military protection.  In other words, religion had its place, and leadership had another…he compartmentalized his life.

This is the temptation today, isn’t it?  It is easy to have a “Christianity” compartment, a “career” compartment, a “family” compartment, a “recreation/entertainment” compartment, etc.  It can show up in things as simple as a list of priorities…God is first, family is second, church activity/commitment is third, friends are fourth, work/school is fifth, and the list continues.  But what is implied in lists such as these?  Look back at the list, write out your own list of priorities, and then answer that question…what is implied in a list like this one?

Here’s the answer, as I understand it.  In making a list like this, we are implying that all of the items on the list are separate things that have different levels of importance in our lives.  Does that sound about right?  The next question is this…is this the way that God would have us live?  Would God have us separate everything on the hypothetical list I gave and then rank their importance in relation to one another?  Stop again, and think about it.

  It separates.  It separates work from family…ok.  It separated entertainment from work…still ok.  It separates God from…wait a second, it separates God?  That’s the implication.  There’s my life with God, which is most important…then my life with my family is second in importance.  And we talk in this way, as if the two should never intersect? 

The truth is…we may have priorities, but if we are Christians, God doesn’t belong as a single item on the list.  Rather, every item on our list of human priorities must be influenced by our relationship to God.  So, maybe we should have a list…maybe we shouldn’t.  But if we choose to make written priorities, it seems that every item ought to contain some kind of adjective (e.g.- “God-honoring,” “God-centered,” “God-glorifying,” etc.).

Hezekiah’s priority list may have started with (1) God and (2) career, but it seems that Isaiah’s prophecy would have been different if it had been (1) God-centered worship in the nation and (2) God-centered military leadership.  Even then, Rabshekah would have shown up to taunt the people, but their victory would have been sure…rather than a last-minute prayer from the king and deliverance from the Lord (2 Ki. 19:14-36).

The questions we must ask ourselves are obvious…am I seeking to honor God in every aspect of my life, or is my life divided into compartments?  Does God’s Word affect my attitude and behavior in my career, or do I see its place only in organized Bible studies and Sunday morning sermons?  Am I seeking to live a God-centered life apart from God-centered commitments to God’s people or corporate worship?  [These last two are incompatible, by the way…but that’s a subject for another blog.]

God’s people must never separate God’s influence from any part of life.  He is King, and there is no part of our lives exempt from His dominion…not our family, not our career, not our friendships, not our recreation, not our entertainment…nothing.  He rules it all, and we are to live in such a way that our lives reflect His rulership over it all.  May God help us not compartmentalize our lives.  Rather, let us commit, once again, to “make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor. 5:9) in every part of life.