Divided Interests, Dilution and Pollution

I, like a lot of people, feel pulled in many directions. I have work, friends, church, plus family, houses/properties I work on, renters to take care of, community activities, plus all the daily things that take time and energy– bills, working out, personal spiritual life, keeping up on current events and culture, etc. And most all of these are good. But there si sometimes a sense that each of these distracts from the others– choices are made for one which inevitably is a choice against the others… In reality, the economy of time in our lives is limited. In other words, we only have so many hours to spend, and we are constantly faced with decisions as to how we will spend them.

It is into that situation that Paul speaks in I Corinthians 7 when he says;

“29What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.”

Time is short– this world is passing away– so don’t get too focused on the short term temporal things and get distracted from what really matters.

Just after this, Paul writes, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34and his interests are divided.” There is some sense, of course, in which our interests will always be divided– among the many things that take up our hours, our days, our years. The constant flow of concerns and interests competing for our attention and life– that is what life is. And in this limited economy we don’t want to waste what we’ve been given.

I think this is why Scripture also gives us some directives about where to focus our attention, and where to spend our time.   For example, Jesus said that the most important thing is to a. Love God with all our heart mind and soul and b. love our neighbor as ourselves.   Loving God is not so much a solitary act as a way of being in the world– a way of doing what you do.  Paul says “whatever you do, do it with all your strength as unto the Lord”.  That is a good thing to remember when I am doing those things I sometimes do not enjoy very much– like grading quizzes or cleaning the kitchen or fixing a toilet.  So for me, loving God is not about just sitting and somehow loving God through thought, but loving God as I do whatever I do.  Of course prayer and meditation on things of God help me to do this– so that God is up front in my mind.  In a way this way of being might be partially summed up by the verse from I Thessalonians, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Its similar when it comes to loving people.  I find that if I pray intentionally and consciously for people, that then thoughts of them and for them come up more frequently throughout the day.  I also find that when I encounter people, I am more conscientious towards them, more thoughtful towards them, if I have been praying, meditating on God’s goodness, grace, and faithfulness to me– when I am in a state of realizing what God has done for me, it makes me more gracious towards others.  Its hard to be hard hearted or callous towards others when you have a strong sense of being loved. 

I think an important part of loving others and being for others is being encouraging to others.  In Hebrews 3 it says, “encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”  I can easily spend days even weeks being primarily focused on myself.  But it is so simple to encourage others.  It is uncommon for someone to call me just to see how I am doing.  We don’t do this for each other very often.  Yet it is a simple way to show concern and care.  There are simple ways to put others before yourself, and to love them.  I know from the receiving end that those kind acts are very encouraging, and yet I don’t do them nearly enough for others who really do mean a lot to me– people for whom I am very thankful.  So I am lately thinking of ways to try to be more encouraging.

Again in the book of Hebrews in the New Testament in chapter 10 it is written, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”  Getting together is encouraging as well.  Its easy to let our day to day lives and the busy-ness we fill them with simply keep us from getting together with others.  To intentionally seek out others and have our lives oriented around others instead of ourselves takes commitment and thoughtfulness.  It will not just happen accidentally.  I know this because it is easier for me to not make the effort to get together with other people, although almost always I am happy it happened.  Most people are up for getting together– but not so many of us are initiators.  Its good to be an initiator of togetherness.  I think of growing up as a kid, how that almost every Sunday after church we were invited somewhere, or we had people over.  The same went for Sunday night.  That togetherness is so fantastic.  That does happen now– at Chipoltle or Mother India and sometimes at each others houses– for a porch grillout etc.   

Paul was always talking about living our lives “worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory”.  I can spend my days (and so my life doing a lot of fairly frivolous silly things, but James is always a good wakeup call when he says things like, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”   Of course pollution from the world could be getting involved in activities which may be wrong or harmful to me or others– and those are the kinds of things which probably come to mind first.  But I also think of pollution here in terms of stuff which causes dillution.  I find that I dilute my life with a lot of fairly needless concerns, and I can spend my time in fairly frivolous ways which draw my energy and attentionaway from important things.  Examples for me are TV shows (futurama, arrested development, etc), movies, sports, incessant websurfing or facebooking, and even getting involved in school or rehab projects which are really not very useful or important.  Of course there is a time for relaxing and watching a movie, or doing something without a purpose just to relax, and facebook is a useful social tool for staying connected and it can be fun.  I’m not against taking naps either.  But we can let these things waste a lot of our time if we indulge in them too much, and while these things in themselves are not evil, they dilute, and this kind of pollution from the world is something I also need to be thoughtfully concerned about. 

May God have mercy on us all.

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