Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Keeping from Worthless Things

Psalm 101 is a powerful little chapter. It is David’s vow of integrity before God. The Psalm consists of a series of “I will” statements. It opens, for example, with “I will sing of steadfast love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will make music.” While  can’t recall the last time I saw a contemporary praise chorus singing about God’s justice (or his “judgments” it could be translated), still, I think we generally are pleasantly surprised to find a promise to worship God in song as part of David’s description of a life of integrity! We can easily give way to the image of a an upright life as being a cold, solemn life of pure, ridged discipline. It is delightful to see that a life of song and heart filled praise and rejoicing is a part of the integrity that God desires.

The list ends with a command that David, as king, could mean literally, but most of us have to adapt a bit in application to our own lives, as few of us are in any position to rightly promise, “Morning by morning I will destroy all the wicked in the land, cutting off all the evildoers from the city of the Lord.” Yet even here, there is certainly a principle which we can rightly apply.

Perhaps the most striking, the most truly daunting of the vows that David here makes (at least for our modern entertainment and media driven culture) is, “I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” We are a people who loves, perhaps more than anything else, to set things before our eyes. We love to parade in front of us a constant stream of images, and if we are being honest, the vast majority of them are worthless. Indeed, that is a great part of their appeal! They amuse and distract, they entertain and occupy us exactly because they are designed only for that purpose. I have seen Christians try their dead level best to defend the wonderful “gospel themes” in movies as morally dreadful as Deadpool and Wolf of Wallstreet. I have seen bible studies designed around watching weekly episodes of TV shows like “LOST,” we have become extremely artful and finding ways to “sanctify” our addiction to placing worthless things before our eyes. We scoff at any suggestion by those ignorant, fundamentalist radicals that just maybe, in the fleeting moments between our birth and our death, while the eternity of our neighbors is on the line, that just maybe 18 hours a week of Cat videos or a month without sleep to beat Skyrim might not be the best way to direct our eyes and devote our time and thoughts and energy. We think that guy without a TV is weird, the guy without a smart phone is a hipster, and the guy with no home internet is insane!

Now, if you’re reading this a year from when I wrote it and don’t remember any of the particular movies or TV shows or video games I just listed, ignore that and think about the point. And the point isn’t that owning any of these technologies is innately wrong. I’m posting this blog on the internet for you to look at with your home computer. These things can be used fruitfully, if used productively and for righteous purposes, and in careful moderation. And none of these technologies existed when David wrote his words. There are plenty of worthless things to set before one’s eyes without modern media, we’ve just created new and faster ways to do what was already in the human heart to do. Primitive cultures set worthless things before their eyes. The Amish set worthless things before their eyes. It may help us out a bit to unplug so as to get our devotion to looking at worthless things under control, but the technology is not ultimately the culprit. Our sinful hearts are the culprits. We just really like setting our eyes on worthless things, and if we are being honest, care little in our moment to moment life about the priorities of God.

Proverbs 12:11 says “He who tills his land will have plenty of bread. But he who pursues worthless things lacks sense.” Worthless things are not necessarily themselves “evil” things, but things that are a waste of time. Things that we may enjoy, but that serve no ultimate purpose. We may value them, but we shouldn’t. They simply lack worth. Our priorities are not what they should be. We go to the churches with the best music and the most amusing preachers and the coolest slides while he’s preaching for the same reason we rush out early to get home to the game and then spend Sunday evening watching all the shows we saved on the DVR or we binge the night away on Netflix. The problem is the same. It’s an eye problem. We yearn for amusement. We crave worthless sensation. We attach great significance to what is really little more than entertainment, so as to ease our conscience about how utter devoid of meaning so much of our day to day lives have become. This ought not be, my friend. We are made for more than this!

This doesn’t mean that everything in our life has to be deeply spiritual, at least not in the way we normally think of. The Proverb above shows us that working the field so that you can eat bread is not a worthless thing. Many mundane things in life are not worthless at all. Work is not worthless. Teaching our children is not worthless. Cleaning our home is not worthless. Cooking a meal is not worthless. But, ironically, these are the parts of daily life we try to minimize so that we can spend more time on the things that are worth so much less, or nothing at all. We have trained ourselves to despise the valuable things in life that most people in history spent the majority of every day devoted to! Are we really so much better off than they, in the grand scheme of things?

So fill your days with songs of praise, with words of life, with generosity and ministry and prayer, and also with work and children and cooking and love. Live a life! Don’t let the worthless things that tempt our eyes take your attention ever away from the only things that actually matter. 

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah, a professional writer and researcher for CARM, and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.

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