This is the most significant spiritual lesson I have learned in my entire life – perhaps. There is a world of difference (literally, a “narrative world” of difference) between (1) being a religious person who holds certain beliefs in their head, and (2) a person who has decided that the narrative world of the Bible is the real world, and is willing to live in light of that world’s definition of reality.
Many so-called Christians today see the world through modern, secular, post-Enlightenment lenses. This “narrative world” saturates the American Way, and was the reality from which our founding fathers started this nation. It’s not biblical. It’s a Deistic worldview where God is somewhere “up there”, quite removed and disinterested in our everyday affairs, who might once in a while intervene into our world but not often, and is mostly concerned with us living decent, moral lives. Oh, and he has a nice Heaven awaiting those who entertain the appropriate intellectual beliefs about Him, Jesus Christ, and salvation by faith in the Crucified Son. Most Christians today hold the “right beliefs” in their head about Jesus and salvation, but they still live their everyday lives in the “narrative world” of post-Enlightenment Deism. They hold some right beliefs, but are living in the wrong story.
I was 20 years old when I stumbled into a different Story. I was hit upside the head by the wild, Spirit-saturated, miraculous-laden “narrative world” of the New Testament. I had already seen how empty and unfulfilling the so-called American Dream was — another label for that popular “narrative world” most of my peers were preparing to live their lives within (and now are). I didn’t want to merely get a good job, build a nice house, buy some fun toys, raise a family with a picket fence, and give God a nice corner in my own self-constructed universe of security and self-interest.
At 20, I picked up my Bible and began reading the Book of Acts. I discovered a different world. I discovered a different God. I discovered a different purpose. I discovered a different church and form of Christianity. I tripped and fell into the story, and I decided from that day on I would let that story and “narrative world” define reality for me. What did this mean?
- My life isn’t about me – but God’s purposes of renewing the world and transforming lives through the advance of the Kingdom.
- God can’t be put in a box, or conveniently placed in a small corner in my life while I continue to call the shots. God is at the center, and his purposes were now my purposes. I surrendered my future to God — my career aspirations, family aspirations, financial aspirations, my freedom and self-will.
- Miracles aren’t rare exceptions where God momentarily “breaks into history”; rather, miracles are quite typical of this God and to be expected and prayed for in this new world, God is always on the move, the Spirit is constantly working on hearts, calling people to radical life-change and repentance, shoving ordinary people like me into a life of mission and service, building a world-wide movement of change, and calling for absolute allegiance.
- God speaks – e.g., through visions, dreams, Scripture, faith community, and in ways undescribable.
- The church isn’t a 1 hour service, a building you go sing songs at, a program or event, etc. The church is a revolutionary movement of Jesus followers sent-out to transform the world and advance God’s reign in the name of Jesus. It’s a house-to-house movement, a gathering of the faithful, a grassroots people with Kingdom-sized, Jesus-shaped dreams to renew lives, transform cities, impact nations and bless the world.
- In the narrative world of Acts and the NT, we don’t “come to church”, we “go out into the world” as disciples and apostles to be salt and light, the agents of both local and global transformation. This is a full time job, a life-long vocation, and not the job of a few local clergy people. God’s project needs everyone to discover their spiritual gifts and play their part. Now.
- Prayer makes it all happen and sacrifice is necessary.
I could go on and on forever. But just pick up your Bible tonight and do something truly DANGEROUS. I dare you to read the Book of Acts and imagine for a second that this crazy story of the early church, the Spirit, miracles, mission to the ends of the earth, persecution and triumphs, isn’t a long-ago story about ancient people. Imagine for a moment that is is our world, your world, and you are part of the ongoing mission, and you are the 13th disciple, Paul’s coworker, a hospitable person opening your home for a new church to meet, opening your wallets and giving generously toward the mission of Jesus, and get involved.
Warning: This strange but exciting “narrative world” is completely incompatible with the American Dream and the controlling story most of your family, friends, coworkers and neighbors are living in. It will cost you something; it may cost you everything. For this is a world where the following is said with joy and enthusiasm: “For me, to live is Christ; to die is gain.”
PS: It can also be lonely in this world. I’m looking for more people to join this story — it’s quite a ride living out the Book of Acts in the 21st century. Many will find themselves part of a church service; but few will find themselves living in this new reality of the Kingdom.
How about you? What “narrative world” or Story defines your reality?