Spiritual Sledge Hammers
Sometimes we need to get hit between the eyes with a really big sledge hammer, spiritually speaking of course. It happened to me this morning (Saturday, April 2). I turned on my computer and began reading the headlines on Fox News. Two items stood out, aside from the report that as of 9:15 a.m. the Pope was still alive.
The first thing I saw was the headline reminding me that at around 5:00 this afternoon the first semifinal game of the NCAA basketball tournament will start. Yes, I’m a basketball fan and I’ll be watching. But then my eyes glanced at another headline: “American Missionaries Killed.” The report was from Georgetown, Guyana, dated April 1, 2005. The bodies of Richard Hicks and his wife, Charlene, were found Thursday at a farm they rented in southwestern Guyana near the border with Brazil. Police speculate that robbery may have been the motive. The Hicks, associated with Wycliffe Bible Translators, had labored faithfully in Guyana for ten years. A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said that the Hicks were translating the Bible into the Wapishana language which is spoken by thousands of Indians in the border region about 230 miles southwest of Georgetown.
That’s all I know about the Hicks. I’m not writing this because they were personal friends of mine. I had never heard of them before reading this article. But that spiritual sledge hammer hit home really hard. The contrast was striking. As I and millions of other Americans prepare to enjoy two semi-final games of basketball, no doubt from a comfortable chair in a safe home with air conditioning and plenty of snacks, two more of God’s children gather around the throne in heaven to celebrate and rejoice in the beauty and glory of Christ.
This doesn’t mean I shouldn’t watch the games. There’s nothing sinful in watching basketball “from a comfortable chair in a safe home with air conditioning and plenty of snacks.” But it does challenge me to evaluate my priorities in life. It forces me to ask the question, “What am I doing with the resources and opportunities and talents and gifts God has given me? What, in the final analysis, really matters in life, anyway?” You can rest assured of one thing. As I sit later today in my comfortable chair in my safe home with my air conditioning and plenty of snacks, I’ll be thinking about the Hicks. I’ll be thinking about their tiny house in a dangerous land with no air conditioning or paved roads where they faithfully labored for a decade to bring God’s Word to a tribe of Indians whose only hope was the Jesus whom that Word proclaims. And yes, I’ll be evaluating my own soul and wondering if watching two basketball games is really the best use of my time and energy.
Some of you may be tempted to react to the news of the Hicks by saying, “Oh my, what a tragedy! What a waste!” That was my initial response, and then that sledge hammer hit again with the reminder of something John Piper wrote in his book, “Don’t Waste Your Life”:
“I will tell you what a tragedy is. I will show you how to waste your life. Consider a story from the February 1998 edition of Reader’s Digest, which tells about a couple who ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30 foot trawler, play softball and collect shells.’ At first, when I read it I thought it might be a joke. A spoof on the American Dream. But it wasn’t. Tragically, this was the dream: Come to the end of your life – your one and only precious, God-given life – and let the last great work of your life, before you give an account to your creator, be this: playing softball and collecting shells. Picture them before Christ at the great day of judgment: ‘Look. Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. Over against that, I put my protest: Don’t buy it. Don’t waste your life” (45-46).
Don’t mourn for the Hicks. Weep for their family and friends, but not for them. They wasted nothing. Their deaths were not a tragedy but a triumph of eternal proportions. And then do what I’m going to do as, later today, I sit in “my comfortable chair in my safe home with my air conditioning and plenty of snacks” watching the basketball games: ask yourself the question, “Am I wasting my life?” And watch out for that spiritual sledge hammer.