Last week, I was reading a book and came across an appendix written by someone I know personally, a man named Jack Frederick. Jack served as an elder in my church in Boston and now lives in Atlanta, but he grew up in rural Alabama, and he carries with him everywhere the gentle, carefree grace of a true country man.
In the appendix, Jack describes his “Bible talk” – his small group that would meet weekly to study the Bible. The members of the Bible talk – who come from all sorts of backgrounds – encourage each other, pray together, help the poor together, and invite friends and strangers to the Bible talk. Jack’s Bible talk, a group not more than twenty, has baptized three or four people into Christ every year.
This post, however, is not about Jack’s Bible talk, but about something Jack said after explaining how his Bible talk accomplishes what it does: “It’s not easy, but it is simple.”“It’s not easy, but it is simple.” It struck me as an observation that was both obvious and eye-opening.
What is Christianity about? Simple! Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Simple – just not easy.
How do I love God and other people? Simple! Praise God and give thanks to God in prayer. Meet weekly with other Christians for prayer and true fellowship. (That’s what Jack does.) Invite friends and strangers to your church or to your Bible study group – and, if you don’t have one, start one! Stop spending your money on yourself and start spending it on others. It is all very simple (really) – just not easy.
Too often, I can feel impotent to change myself or the world around me – and I am hardly alone in this matter. Christians around the world, and especially in the United States, are wondering how to recapture the heart of a society that is increasingly post-Christian. We are wondering how to read the Bible (it seems so stale) or how to pray sincerely (it seems so forced), how to bring people to Christ (they seem so hard-hearted) or how to serve the needy (they seem so beyond reach). We realize that our faith is not where it should be and that our lives are not Christ-like. And so, naturally, we ask ourselves, “What is the problem?”
At various times in my life, I have more or less believed that the problem was my parents, my sister, my youth ministry, my campus ministry, my church’s theology, my church’s preaching, my church’s music, postmodernism, fundamentalism, socialism, evolution, hip-hop…. And perhaps those are all problems.
The real problem, however, is generally my unwillingness to do the good and simple things that are staring me right in the face: being friendly to strangers (let alone sharing my faith with them), spending time with fellow Christians whom I do not know well, asking people for advice and correction, praying and reading daily (and, if that becomes too difficult, enlisting the support of friends to ensure that I do read and pray daily)…. These are not complicated things; they are merely uncomfortable. They are simple, but they are not easy.
G.K. Chesterton famously wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” There is no mystery about any of the things I have mentioned. Not one of them requires a degree in theology or even a high school diploma. We know how to be kinder people; we know how to love genuinely; and not much more is required of us if we wish to seek first the Kingdom of God. (Christianity may not be so easy a caveman can do it, but it is so simple a caveman can do it.) The only thing really stopping us is us.
Christianity is about Love – and Love, though it is not always easy, is fundamentally simple. My prayer is that all of our philosophy, theology, and praxis – all of our fancy words – can be rooted in a simple, active, and overflowing love. Jesus demands nothing more and nothing less.