Ay, it's terrible how I wasted a whole Saturday doing nothing at all -- I didn't even leave the house! Time is so precious, I'm well aware of it, but still I squander so much of it on things of no consequence. Frustrated at my own sloth, I kicked myself out of the house -- maybe a walk and some fresh air will do me good.
Langley is a booming suburb, and my townhome is in a strategic location to witness its transformation. I'm right on the border between the semi-urban commercial core of Langley City and the quiet, suburban Langley Township. Today, I opted to walk up the hill behind my house, Jericho Ridge, deeper into the suburbs. The further up I walk, the nicer the houses get, segueing from attached multi-dwelling units to single-family homes -- still quite tightly packed, though, with postage-stamp backyards and a "spacious eight feet between each home".
On this cool, bright summer evening, the lanes are quiet, adorned with the occasional peals of children's laughter and the spray of young men washing sports cars. I pass by an elementary school yard, with kids playing on the swings, and teens tossing frisbees. Row after row of identical homes, high wooden fences neatly dividing the backyards. Where one home has added a hardwood deck, the others follow suit. This one has a large beige patio umbrella; the next-door neighbour topped them with an even larger green one. As the evening sky deepens I can see into some of the kitchens, gleaming with stainless steel and artistic halogen accent lights. Young couples putting on elegant dinner parties, sipping glasses of wine and watching enormous flat-screen TVs. In one house, the 18-foot living room walls are neatly decorated with contemporary styling, large custom-shaped mirrors with sharp angles. The couch and coffee table are impeccable, as is the backyard. I mutter under my breath, "no kids". :) Another single family home, roughly in the $400-450k range, advertises with lawn signs, "Happy 30th birthday!" -- the owner is my age.
I'm thinking to myself, what is the cost of suburbia? The great North American dream? Would I live that? At what cost? I pass two private schools, one a daycare, one an elementary school, in addition to the public elementary school. Both were recently constructed in the last two years, modern buildings with the latest in facilities and amenities. Could I afford to send my kids there? If I do end up in full-time ministry, or indeed even if I continue on at my current position, I'm not so sure I'd ever be able to afford the Great Suburban Dream, especially here in the Lower Mainland.
Sure, it's easy to preach against materialism, to scoff against the rat-race and the trap of "bigger boys getting bigger toys". But is it wrong for a father to want to give the very best to his kids? A good education, a safe neighbourhood, a backyard for them to run and play in?
I remember a year ago when our church gave a farewell party for our children's pastor of eighteen years, a faithful and under-appreciated servant to a whole generation of church kids. As a going-away gift, the church gave his family a brand new oven/stovetop -- a nice gesture, to be sure. But what sticks in my memory most was the look on the faces of the pastor and his wife, how deeply they were moved, because of how much they had needed a new stove. Yes, it was a nice gift, but really, it cost only, what, six or seven hundred dollars? Rather than giving it to them as a one-time gift, we as a church really should have made sure his salary was enough so that they could afford to buy it when they needed it. Near as I can tell, our church is flush with cash; do we still have the preconception that the servant of the Lord must be poor in the eyes of the world? That being wealthy is unholy?
Do I belong here in the suburbs? Could I afford to raise a family here? Could I afford it if I go into full-time ministry? Now, I'm fairly certain that God does have in store for me the wonderful gift and responsibility of raising a family, someday, but this moment does challenge me with the question: Am I willing to sacrifice even my dream of raising a family, to put it on the altar, for the work of Christ and the kingdom of God?
Not long ago, in prayer meeting, an auntie comforted me with the story of a missionary who spent fifty years of her life unmarried, fully dedicated to God's work. That was her calling, and that was where God placed her. But in her fifties, she met a wonderful Christian man, hit it off right away, and they got married. The auntie was telling me this story to reassure me: "see, even she got married, all in God's time!". Yeah, thanks -- but I sure hope I don't have to wait until my fifties! :) Still, if God were to call me to that kind of life, would I be willing to give up having a family? Ach.
Walking through these upper-middle-class neighbourhoods, I'm surrounded and tantalized by the sight of what I could have, what is quite within my grasp -- I have more than enough credentials, more than enough education, talent, and capability to earn houses and backyards and schools and idyllic suburban life. Can't I do both? Can't I live the suburban dream without selling out? "You cannot serve God and Mammon."
I lift up my head and suddenly I notice, nestled on the hillside amongst the $400,000 houses, this building pictured here. It's the local Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses. They are quite active, going door-to-door with strategic maps of the neighbourhood, always in twos. They are in a prime location amidst all these suburban residences.
And now I'm reminded: there's a war on. It's an unseen, spiritual war over the hearts and minds of all these people, over the guys washing their cars and the couples giving dinner parties, over the kids playing in their backyards and every single soul who passes me on the street. Oh, forgive me, Lord, for I have been asleep in the Light, laying back on my couch instead of launching forward into the fight! I pause and kneel on the corner of their property, to pray in the Spirit against the forces of darkness and the powers of Satan that would deceive so many. But I feel so behind in the fight, so disabled and ineffectual; I have squandered so much time.
We often use the term "weekend warriors" to describe avid amateurs: although they don't do it professionally, they invest many hours and much energy in their hobby, recreation, or charity during their spare time. There are weekend warriors in photography, dance, badminton, soccer, politics. Many of us, myself included, are weekend warriors at church. I'd never thought of being a "weekend warrior" as a bad thing. After all, we all have to work through the week to pay the bills, so the weekends are "me time" -- we're all volunteers, we don't have to be here. The church -- the pastor -- should be grateful that we're even at church, right?
But if I realize that the spiritual war continues with or without me, I recognize being a spiritual weekend warrior is not a good thing! Satan doesn't take Mondays to Fridays off; he's working 24/7 to destroy the work of God. In the spiritual battle, I can't just ask the opposing side for a cease-fire because I need to pick up the dry-cleaning or shuttle the kids to soccer practise or finish a big project at work. I need to be ready, girded for battle, praying in the Spirit at all times and on all occasions. A soldier who is a warrior only on the weekends will be attacked and injured on the weekdays -- and that's exactly what happens to my spiritual life.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.