This morning I had an encouraging conversation with Joe. During the course of our discussion Joe made the comment that the encouragement he receives from a particular ministry is too idealistic. I heard what he was saying. I’ve felt the same thing before.

Lately however, the shoe seems to be on the other foot for me. Often it appears people are so worldly-focused as to be disinterested in growing in godliness. I have been churning (and churning) over the question of how on earth you encourage anyone at all. If the idealism of living the Christian life seems too far above our human pursuits is there any point? How do the two relate? How can I encourage another to “live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age”(Titus 2: 12) without sounding idealistic? What about the injunction, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God”? (1 Cor 10:31)

Many bible verses talk about human pursuits; God designated times for feasts, it is clear that people drank wine and shared jokes, Paul was involved in commerce as a tentmaker. The fact that we have been created human (and yet in God’s image) should indicate the significance of our humanity. But why?

Surely those bible verses are talking about more than just moralism? Could it be a matter of perspective? Is there something important we may have forgotten?

Let me share an analogy from John Piper* which perhaps illustrates the two different perspectives we can take:

“The[re is] a fight to grasp and marvel at what happened in the death of Christ – and what it reveals about our suffering Saviour. If it were not for the death of Jesus in our place, the only possible joy [in life] would be the joy of delusion – like the joy on the Titanic just before it hit the iceberg. Without the cross, joy could be sustained only by denying (consciously or subconsciously) the inevitability of divine judgment. In fact, that’s the kind of joy that drives most of the world – a joy that preserves the power of its pleasures by being oblivious to the peril just ahead. If the passengers were suddenly made aware that in a matter of hours most of them would drown in the icy ocean, all their merrymaking would cease. Their joy depends on their ignorance.

However, if the passengers knew that the ocean liner would sink, but that a great armada of utterly dependable ships and sailors was already on the way and would arrive and save everyone who followed their instructions, something very different would happen. To be sure, the lighthearted merrymaking would cease, and a great seriousness would spread over the Titanic; but there would be a different kind of joy – a deep sense of gratitude for the rescuers, and a deep sense of hope that, though much would be lost, life would be saved. Some may panic in unbelief, doubting the promise of rescue. But others would rise to the strength of hope and do great acts of love in preparation for the coming destruction…

We are on a doomed Titanic because of our sin – all of us without exception…The sinful ship of our lives is headed for everlasting ruin because of God’s righteousness and wrath. Without a Saviour, that’s the reality we must keep out of our minds in order to be happy on the Titanic of this world.” (italics mine)

Surely keeping God’s righteousness and wrath, and our rescue in our minds causes us to have that different kind of joy. And doesn’t this make our human pursuits much, much, more meaningful? And mightn’t this make us seem (when our focus is so different) idealistic?

Thank you Joe. (for getting me to at least think about how to attack this question)

*from When I Don’t Desire God; How to Fight for Joy

Phil 3: 8, 9 What is more, I consider everything, [every interest, every human pursuit] a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…