There are two ways I have to approach a book like this. 1) As a reader and 2) as a Christian.
In the first instance, I didn’t love this book. I really wanted to. I’ve heard great things about Chan as a speaker but it unfortunately seems to be the case that, though he may be a great preacher, he is not a great writer. The book is short and certainly not complex but it took me a long time to get through. It wasn’t until the last couple of chapters that I really felt engaged.
That said, this is a book for Christians and I have to look at it as such. It’s a book for church-going, middle class, happy with their lives Christians. It was a timely read for me. After some big struggles in the past year and a half, life has gotten so good for me. I think every day how fortunate I am, how much I have. It’s really easy for me to live in this bubble of suburban motherhood where my biggest concerns are Pearl’s nap schedule and what am I making for dinner and how often do I really need to dust my house. And while I believe that my job as Pearl’s mom and my role as Peter’s partner in life are truly valuable and important, it’s so easy to be complacent. To throw out a “Thanks for everything, God!” and not give much further thought to the creator of the universe.
This is what Chan is speaking against. This book is a warning cry against lukewarm Christianity. Chan, the pastor of a church in southern California, explicitly details what a lukewarm Christian might look like and reminds us that, as stated in Revelation, God will spit the lukewarm Christians out of His mouth. Chan is calling Christians to question whether or not they are really living as if they believe in and love God. One of the most compelling points in the book for me was when Chan, speaking of Jesus’ parable of the sower, says,
My caution to you is this: Do not assume you are good soil.
While his intent isn’t to simply strike fear in his reader’s hearts or to make you question your salvation, Chan is challenging the church to do more than the bare minimum. Don’t look for how little you can get by with or how much you can get away with and still get into Heaven. Instead, Chan reminds us that the Bible compares Christ and the Church to a bride and groom and that when you are in love with someone – head-over-heels obsessed – you want to do everything for that person. You want to spend time together. You find the flimsiest ways to bring them up in conversation with other people. You will travel or work or sacrifice to make their lives better. And you don’t do so resentfully or reluctantly but with joy. This is how God feels about us and it’s how we as Christians should feel about God.
And when we do these things, that love should flow extravagantly into the rest of our lives. It should dictate and influence every interaction we have, every choice we make, every word we speak. This is where the real challenge comes in, at least for me. Do my actions demonstrate my love for Christ? Is my faith real and strong enough to take risks? To take risks with my finances, my home, my career, even with my family? Do I trust God enough to ask Him to truly work in my heart and in my life? To me, that can be such a terrifying thought. Because God might ask me to do something I don’t want to do. He might ask something of me that I don’t understand. He might ask me to let go of something that I’ve been gripping to tightly.
The fact is, I need God to help me love God. And if I need His help to love Him, a perfect being, I definitely need His help to love other, fault-filled humans. Something mysterious, even supernatural must happen in order for genuine love for God to grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit has to move in our lives.
This is the paradox of faith. (Or one of the paradoxes at least!) That we are called to take big, terrifying steps. We are called to do things that we cannot possibly do. But we are called to these things by an infinitely loving God who has promised to never forsake us, to walk the dark paths with us. And yet, I am not even capable of reaching out to take His hand without His help. Instead, I can barely manage to pray, “God, help me not to clench my fist when You reach out to hold my hand.”
I have experienced that hand-holding, deeply passionate love of God for me. My whole life, really, but especially in the past two years. There have been things I’ve had to let go that I thought were truly what was right for my life. There are other things that I am still learning to release. Now, with a little bit of distance, I am overwhelmed by how much I’ve been given. How much I have. The question is – and this is the question that Chan is calling believers to ask – what am I going to do with what I have received?
I loved this prayer that Chan shares from A.W. Tozer and it is a prayer that I will be praying:
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire.
O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, “Rise up my love, my fair one, and come away.”
Then give me grace to rise and follow Thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.