This past week our senior pastor of less than a year stepped down from his position of leadership in the church. I have been friends with Pastor David for going on eight years now and I was both proud and happy for him when he told me of his decision. David has been in ministry for as long as I have known him—he was the associate pastor for years before accepting the senior position last March—but before that he was a business owner. I never knew this until a few weeks ago, but secretly he has wanted to continue his business for all these years but felt as though he “had” to be in vocational ministry if he was really going to be fully committed to following Jesus Christ despite the fact he was not enjoying it.
That’s a common problem amongst some Christians, the misconception that following Jesus Christ means denying yourself of joy in order to prove your commitment. Another pastor friend of mine referred to this as being a “Navy Seal” Christian, the idea being that if you weren’t miserable and muddy you were doing it wrong. I have to confess, I’ve felt this way myself before. It’s the main reason I have hid my gaming life from so many of my Christian friends. See, David’s response was to give up the thing he loved thinking it made him a better Christian. My response was to hide it under the assumption it was wrong to enjoy MMOs but lacking the will to give them up completely.
There is nothing inherently wrong about owning a business or enjoying video games. Both can be abused and lead to greed, selfish ambition, and destructive addictions or they can be pursued for the glory of God and to the benefit of others and his kingdom. They are of themselves neutral human practices that are either good or evil depending on the intentions of the man or woman engaged in them. I hid my gaming because part of me knew I was overly obsessed and spending too much time playing MMOs so I kept it to myself so that no one could hold me accountable. My fear was that God would ask me to give up playing and since I didn’t want to, I didn’t ask.
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected by love” 1 John 4:18.
I was afraid of God, afraid that he might take away something that was important to me because I did not really understand how much he loved me. That isn’t to say that God’s love would allow me to continue with a behavior that was destructive to me or my family, but that I can trust him with every detail of my life. I’ve learned to be honest in prayer, to say “Lord, I really enjoy this hobby. I want to continue with it, so please either make it a holy endeavor or take away my desire. Whatever the case, not my will but yours be done.”
That’s been a liberating prayer. Sure, it means that eventually I may walk away from gaming, but not because I’m trying to discipline myself into being a Navy Seal Christian, but rather because I am trusting God with something that I hold dear. If I’m treating it as precious to the point of idolatry I know that he can address it in a way that leads to even greater joy. That’s the security I have in the love of God, the kind of love that casts out fear. It’s why my friend David was finally liberated from the belief that he had to be a pastor to be acceptable to God and is now able to pursue his business which will no doubt lead to even more fruitful ministry as it did before he started working for the church.
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” Psalm 37:4.
Following Christ does not require that you give up the possibility of experiencing joy in this life. Rather it frees us to enjoy God more fully by allowing him to lead us into those relationships, hobbies, and vocations that will both glorify him and make our joy full. I will miss hearing my friend preach every Sunday but I am thankful that he is finally free to enjoy the life God has prepared specifically for him. I want to experience that same freedom in Christ myself.