My older son, Timmy, dropped by my home office one night and asked if I had a minute. He’s on the indoor track team at school and had a decision to make. Their competitions take place early on Saturday mornings and we drop him off at school just before 6:00 am so he can get on the bus with his team. That’s not normally a problem, but the coming weekend was different because it was the youth all-nighter at church. That meant his team would have left school before he got back and he’d have been too exhausted to go anyway.
So he asked his coach if he could be excused that week and his coach said that was okay, but it would jeopardize his chances of going to a special meet at the end of the season.
Now Tim has a dilemma—should he go to the all-nighter, which he really wanted to do because it was going to be fun or should he go to the track meet, which he felt like he should do to be responsible. As he went back and forth in his mind, he told me, “I’m afraid that whichever one I pick, I’m really going to regret missing out on the other one.”
And I listened for a long while because I realized I didn’t have any good input. My default setting is, “You do what you signed up for”—in other words, you go to the meet because you signed up for the team. Plus, I don’t want him to miss a pretty cool opportunity down the road.
But … he also signed up to be part of the Youth Group. He’d been involved there a lot longer and as one of our pastors, I support the Youth Group and the things they’re doing.
That’s when the Spirit nudged me through a passage I’d been studying in Colossians 1:4 that talks about being known for your faith in Christ and love for others. And I realized neither of those were driving Tim. Instead he was motivated by trying to get as much out of life for himself as he could. But since there was no Jesus in either decision, neither choice had any real life in it.
So I said to him, “It kind of sounds like you’ve trying to choose between two idolatrous options: which do I want more: fun (at the all-nighter) or glory (at a future track meet)?”
And he smiles and says, “Yeah, I was starting to see that.”
He’s doing what every single Christian does on a regular basis. He’s trying to live his life as though Jesus wasn’t at the heart of each and every part of it.
So I said, “I could see you doing either one, but your reason for either would have to change. I could see you saying, ‘I want to go to the all-nighter because I haven’t spent a lot of time with God’s family lately and I want to encourage them as we have fun together’ or ‘I want to go to the track meet so that I can reflect Christ to guys who usually won’t darken a church door.’”
He thought about that for a few moments, smiled, then said, “Thanks. That helps. I think I know what I’m going to do and I feel better.”
And that moment is the most dangerous one of the whole night. We’ve talked, we’ve analyzed, and assessed his issue, we see Jesus much more clearly, he feels better and I feel helpful—here’s the danger: he’ll walk away believing that he’s now fully living the Christian life.
But if he walks away believing that, then he’s simply found a different idolatrous substitute to wrap his life around. Instead of believing that fun or glory will fill him spiritually, he’ll believe spiritual conversations can. He’ll learn, “You don’t really need Jesus; you just need somebody else to talk about him. That will be enough for you to live on.”
Paul didn’t believe that when he wrote to the Colossians and I can’t afford to either. He urged the Colossians to continue experiencing the gospel in Christ (examples: 1:9-12, 2:6-7, 3:1-4, 4:2). So I said to Tim, “I am glad you feel better, but you didn’t connect yet with Jesus and you need to. I can’t talk you out of idolatry. If I could, Jesus didn’t need to come to earth and die. What you need is a real relationship with him by really interacting with him.”
And the glory of that night was when Tim stopped talking with me and began talking with Jesus; not about which bad option he should pick, but about where he could invest his life in the things that Jesus was doing.
Note: My thanks to Tim for giving me permission to share this story in multiple venues.