“Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” Matthew 24:12-13
I travel. Like, a lot. As in nearly 200,000 miles on planes and 129 nights in hotels this year alone. A good 1/3 of my life is spent on the road either going to, participating in, or returning from business meetings. It’s a grueling pace.
One inevitable topic of conversation with new acquaintances is “how do you do that?” A more pointed version is “why do you still do it?” Ignoring the implied age reference, the second question is easy: I love what I do, and I’m fairly good at it. The answer to the first question? Technology. I confess: I embrace technology in every facet of my life where it can help me be more productive.
I’m old enough to remember not having a device in every hand. No texting, no smartphone with GPS and Google Maps, no social media, no Uber at my beck and call. I chuckled several years ago when my youngest daughter innocently asked “Dad, what grade where you in when you got your first cell phone?” I jokingly replied “Um, 20th grade?” I was 26 before I ever saw my first cell phone, one of those Dick Tracy in-the-car monstrosities used by the CEO of the company I worked for and charging $12 per minute.
What does technology have to do with Advent?
Convenience. Pure and simple.
We live in the Convenience Revolution. Digital assistants organize our lives. Amazon delivers our most immediate “gotta have it right now” same-day urges. Skype or Google Hangouts allow us to reach out and “touch” someone face-to-face from our kitchen tables. We pay our bills from our cell phones. Selecting that “special” gift for a friend or loved one now is as easy as 15 minutes on Etsy.
For the truly connected, we’ve eliminated any need to deal with stress, boredom, discomfort, or pain. We can talk with distant friends and family on a whim – or just as easily avoid them. We can secretly laugh at those old classmates who haven’t “aged” all that well. Or (perhaps even more secretly) covet the “great family lives” they share on social media.
There’s another side to this coin, of course.
Technology and convenience have created an entire generation of human beings with virtually no basic human socialization skills. Uncomfortable with real interaction, many of us spend hours every day “interacting” online. We choose Netflix over the messiness of Cinemark. We live in gated communities with wifi-powered camera systems ensuring we never actually have to see our neighbors. Homework and research? Just download it.
Sadly, this also seems to have found its way into our churches and our relationship with God. We crave convenient sermons about topics that won’t make us too uncomfortable. We prefer tech-savvy “worship experiences” with pyrotechnics and high entertainment value over intense, prayer-infused scriptural examination that might ask us to look just a bit deeper into our own lives. We pass the peace of Christ to our neighbors, never even knowing their names.
We’ve become culturally addicted to stimulation and easy rewards without the need for relationship investment. Worse, in the words of Facebook’s former vice president for user growth Chamath Palihapitiya, we’ve substituted “short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops (including the hearts, likes, and thumbs up of various social media channels)” for real life, destroying how society works.
We’ve Become Numb
In short, we’ve become numb. Numb to struggle, numb to pain, numb to God’s voice, numb to the Holy Spirit’s longing for our hearts. Numb to anything except convenience, stimulation, and endless commentary on everyone else’s shortcomings.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Immediate gratification inevitably leads to longing for greater levels of stimulation. Where a Toyota once met our desires, now a Lamborghini satisfies our need for speed. Yesterday’s Coach Messenger Crossbody In Signature Jacquard Bag is replaced with today’s Christian Louboutin Cabata East-West Tote. (Ok, I’m a little scared I even know what those are.)
The funny thing about numbness is that the more we have of something, the more numb we become to it. We forget the yearning hearts of our youth, when simple things satisfied us. Sadly, for many of us this same thing happens to our relationships with God.
Remember when we started, when the feeling was new and we were ALIVE with passion for God? Stories in the Bible leapt off the page at us, speaking truth into our lives with every read. Sermons had us talking for days and our pastors were AMAZING.
Then, something happened. We allowed our relationship with God to become, well, casual. We got numb. What once held us in awe now barely amuses us. We lost the wonder, the reverence. We forgot David’s words from Psalm 147: “The Lord favors those who fear Him, those who wait for His lovingkindness.” (emphasis mine)
The same God we once revered became a God we now critique. The same God who saved mankind through the sacrifice of His only son is no longer big enough to save us from the world of man without a serious makeover. We redefine His words. We water down (or, in modern language, “edify”) His commandments. We demand the God we selectively deign to worship change to see us through our eyes, agreeing with who we believe ourselves to be.
Veneer, not Faith
Soon enough, our faith becomes little more than veneer, a love grown cold. We transform into the very people Jesus describes in Matthew 23:27, appearing whitewashed and beautiful on the outside, but on the inside full of “dead bones and uncleanness.” This type of faith, while not deeply fulfilling in our souls, works in the 21st Century because it doesn’t require much commitment.
Funny thing – we don’t see the irony. Yes, something has changed. But that something isn’t God, it’s us. We have changed, wanting immediate satisfaction. God is the same as He told us in Malachi 3:6 and Hebrews 13:8 and Revelation 1:8.
What has changed is that we’ve become numb to God’s voice. We don’t want to wait and anticipate, we want to receive and appreciate.
God’s promise is for all of us. He never asked us to live passionless (or painless) lives – just the opposite! His love for us surpasses our understanding. He provides an endless supply of all we need to walk in the fullness of His life.
During this Advent season, push beyond the numbness. Wait with the same fresh anticipation you felt when you first discovered His love. Renew the expectation of His promise for peace and salvation in your heart. And let go of the idea that convenience is in any way a synonym for God.