Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Doing It My Way

“For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way.”
— Paul Anka

Individualism is the spirit of this present age. And actually, that is not an unmitigated evil.

I used to think it was. When I was young Christian and more inclined to overreact, I found Anka’s lyrics, popularized by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, more than a little cringe-worthy. I can’t take credit for the impulse since it almost surely came by osmosis from a church environment that tended to read the worst possible motives into every pronouncement of popular culture. Looking back on it, it seems to me the reaction of older Christians to the observations of the pop philosophers of my teen years was generally spot-on, if ever-so-slightly paranoid at times.

But not always.

Jonathan and the Philistines

The writer of Samuel records that none of the Israelites in the early part of Saul’s reign as king of Israel had swords or spears except Saul and his son Jonathan. The people had nothing more effective to fight with than axes and sickles. Being better equipped than his entire army didn’t prompt Saul to step out in faith, but Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the Lord will work for us, for nothing can hinder the Lord from saving by many or by few”.

So he took the sword that was a sign of his privilege as son and heir of the king and he and his armor bearer killed about twenty men between them, causing a panic in the Philistine camp and leading Israel to a rout of their enemies.

He did it his way.

David and Goliath

Jonathan had a sword. David only had a sling and a handful of stones. But he had an anointing from a prophet of God and the same driving sense of responsibility that made him step up when everyone around him was standing down. He wasn’t looking to make a name for himself but he was conscious that the challenge of Goliath was a reproach to the people of God. So he asked, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

And then put his money where his mouth was.

He didn’t dress like all the other warriors. He looked like a joke to Goliath. But he delivered Israel, became their greatest king, and speaks eloquently through his example of the ongoing need for individuals with a sense of personal obligation to God to do the things nobody else is doing, even at risk of being horribly misunderstood by people who should know better.

He did it his way.

Ruth and the Genealogy of Jesus Christ

David’s great grandmother was a Moabite woman named Ruth. She had been married to the son of a godly Israelite woman called Naomi, but he died in Moab along with the rest of his family, all except for Ruth’s mother-in-law. Israel was just recovering from a famine and Moab was Ruth’s home, but when Naomi set out for Israel, Ruth refused to be parted from her even when the other daughter-in-law returned to Moab. She said:
“Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
There is a sense of obligation that transcends common sense.

She did it her way, and became one of only five women named in Matthew’s genealogy of the Saviour. If Ruth had returned to Moab, there would be no coming millennial ruler from the house of David. There would have been no David, period.

Whose Way Is It Really?

Now it may well be argued that all these and others did not so much do it their way as they did it God’s way. And that is certainly true. But humanly speaking, they did it on their own, and very much against the grain. Public opinion was not with them at the time they took their stands.

Jonathan’s freelancing that day at the Philistine garrison led to unexpected trouble and nearly got him killed by his father. David was accused by his own brother of being a presumptuous, evil-hearted rubbernecking spectator at the Valley of Elah. Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi led her to a country where she was a second-class citizen reduced to scrounging for leftovers to eat, all the time at risk of abuse from the young men out in the fields.

The point is that they did what nobody else was doing at a time when nobody thought to do it. They all stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb, and they all took major risks to do what they believed was right.

Context is Everything

Where doing it my way is concerned, context is everything. Individualism that originates in a will unmodified by an objective standard of right and wrong, by empathy, by love or by a consciousness of God is a truly dreadful thing that can do untold damage.

When my true, undisguised motive for doing it my way begins with the assumption “I have a right”, individualism is a terror.

When it starts from “I have an obligation”, it is the driving force behind most of the great acts of faith in scripture.

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