Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Avoiding a Diminished Life

To a certain extent, our lives are defined by size. Who of us want to live small lives?

Lots of things determine our dimensions, prayer being one of them. “The strength of Puritan character and life lay in the practice of prayer.” So wrote Arthur Bennett, as he collected prayers from the likes of Richard Baxter, Isaac Watts, and Charles Spurgeon and gathered them in his The Valley of Vision. They prayed great prayers that sought for God to enlarge their minds and expand their capacity for service. They asked God to give them a mountain top as high as the valley is low. Life is too short to settle for a life that is trivial.

This brings me to a verse that has haunted me since I read it earlier this week: “In those days the Lord began to reduce the size of Israel” (1 Kgs 10:32). After an endless cycle of rejecting God and going after other gods, God reversed their trajectory.  It has always been God’s desire to increase rather than decrease our lives. Jabez prayed that God would “enlarge my territory,” and God granted his request. But there are times when God shrinks and minimizes lives. Diminishes a nation. It happens when people reduce God, allowing him no significant role in their lives. No longer did Israel pray large prayers. No longer did God captivate their imaginations, So “slice by slice,” as Leithart puts it, God began to reduce Israel’s boundaries until none no longer existed.

Could it be something similar is taking place today in our own land? As our age continues to diminish the weight, the influence, and the space we give to God, our lives are correspondingly weakening. We have enlarged the attention we give to each day’s news cycle. We awake to read the latest pundits and their take on abortion, January 6 hearings, stagflation, etc. These things absorb our minds and dominate our discussions. We seem to be getting more and more sucked in, and more and more thinned out.

More than ever, we need an enlarged faith, one that retains the priority—the size—of God. Gaining his wisdom must be the first order of business—not the last. One of the more influential voices in my life, Donald Bloesch, a theologian from Dubuque, warned of a “conceptual letting go of God.” Emptied of God, our age is left without any indicators or criteria to gauge truth. A church that is likewise captivated by the politics and events of our age diminishes in the same way.

An enlarged faith rises above the divisions for it has goals that transcend the immediate. These include advancing the kingdom of God, measuring outcomes by the glory of God, and living according to a reality that exceeds the compass of human reason. The things of this world that so engross us come and go. Leaders may glory in their pompousness, but God reduces them to nothing. As soon as they take root, God blows, and they wither (Isa 40:23-24). Current events have a short shelf life. Christianity has a definitive, authoritative revelation that has been imparted to enlarge souls. It confounds rather than confirms human wisdom. It overturns rather than builds upon human experience.

This is not to suggest a kind of “triumphalism,” as Bloesch puts it, that dismisses the searching questions of those who do not align with Christian faith. Nor is what I am advocating the kind of withdrawal that assumes we are above the challenges and concerns of our day. It is simply to say that our faith must rise above and stand apart. The church and its leadership must avoid any alignment with the right or the left but must resolutely speak to all sides, pointing them to the One who alone can bring reconciliation. Only then can we regain the size for which we were designed.

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