I'm going to rent myself a house
In the shade of the freeway
I'm going to pack my lunch in the morning
And go to work each day
And when the evening rolls around
I'll go on home and lay my body down
And when the morning light comes streaming in
I'll get up and do it again
These lyrics from the legendary singer/songwriter Jackson Browne have haunted my soul lately, asking with every new apparition the same question: “What is it that makes me do what I do?” All of us, regardless of who we are and what we do live out our days in some kind of routine. We all have a schedule or method for going about our daily lives and, if all goes well, for bearing witness to the gospel of the one we claim to follow.
I want to know what became of the changes
We waited for love to bring
Were they only the fitful dreams
Of some greater awakening
I've been aware of the time going by
They say in the end it's the wink of an eye
And when the morning light comes streaming in
You'll get up and do it again
We all have our motives and the day-to-day of our lives is always driven by something great. Hopefully, our lives are driven by an undeniable sense of calling that resonates deep within our souls as the God-given passions that are, as the Apostle Paul has said, irrevocable (Romans 11:29). However, far too often our daily lives are caught between those truest callings and the false realities we have come to accept as the unavoidable status quo. Much too frequently we sell out and, exchanging the passions and dreams of our most authentic spiritual selves, become like Browne’s Pretender.
Caught between the longing for love
And the struggle for the legal tender
Where the sirens sing and the church bells ring
And the junk man pounds his fender
Where the veterans dream of the fight
Fast asleep at the traffic light
And the children solemnly wait
For the ice cream vendor
Out into the cool of the evening
Strolls the pretender
He knows that all his hopes and dreams
Begin and end there
The bright student sells the dream of a cure for the prestige of the medical journal. The artist sets out to define a generation but becomes defined by the prices brought at the last auction. Those who once dreamed of changing the world now work for those who insist on keeping it the same. All of us, at one point or another, have accepted what is good and forgotten what is best, thus limping through our days as defeated pretenders.
I'm going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there?
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender
And we Christians are the best pretenders of all, always surrendering our first and most basic callings. Obsessed with numbers and money, we claim to be the followers of the One anointed to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, and to set the oppressed free all while ignoring the least of these, demanding harsher prison sentences, profiting from injustice and walking as if we were blind. Even our leaders have missed the point. So many heartfelt pastors spend most of their time maintaining personalities while our prophetic preachers bury themselves in administration, neither wanting to rock the boat.
In short, most churches and Christians today have become like the ones condemned in Revelation, full of good deeds, hard work and perseverance, but who have forsaken their first love. (2:2-4).
As individuals, churches and Christians leaders, we need to wake up and take a long look at ourselves in the mirror, asking why we do what we do. How do we define success? Where is our worth? What keeps us going? Are we where we wanted to be when we began our journeys all those years ago? We need to get back to the basics of our calling, our mission and our identity. We need to remember the people we have been created to be. We need to rediscover those who started out so young and strong, long before they surrendered. We need to let go of all that may be good and cleanse our palates for what is truly great. We need to rediscover the true love of our lives, our first love, the One in those burning passions of our hearts.
“To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
True love can still be a contender! What is yours? Who is yours? No more pretending, it’s time we eat from the tree of life!
In memory of Stacey Fraizer, in whom there was no pretending.
Alex Gallimore ([email protected]) is pastor of Hester Baptist Church in Oxford, N.C.