‘Together, this ensemble of electronic techniques called into being a new world - a peek-a-boo world, where now this event, now that, pops into view for a moment, then vanishes again. It is a world without much coherence or sense; a world that does not ask us, indeed, does not permit us to do anything; a world that is, like the child’s game of peek-a-boo, entirely self-contained. But like peek-a-boo, it is also endlessly entertaining’ (Neil Postman).
The busyness of modern life needs no description. Society, culture, class, parents, employers, government, marriage, children, church, and self all have a different set of expectations that add weight to the burden of life. Men feel immense pressure to attempt to mimic the Greek titan Atlas whose job it was to shoulder the weight of the sky. Of course, men cannot do it. They are mortals, not gods, and the result of their pride is a range of painful injuries including addiction, burnout, anxiety, depression, anger, shame, and angst.
Recently, I was asked what verse Christian men need to hear more than any other. My answer was Luke 10:42, ‘One thing is needed.’ Repeatedly, Jesus’ perspective on life is scandalously simple. There is no bucket-list. There is not call for rabid multitasking. There is one thing. In fact, Jesus promises that if our chief objective is earnestly pursued then God will supply our other needs. In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, ‘Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’…But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you’ (Matt. 6:31, 33). Christian discipleship might be challenging, but it is not complicated. The objectives of life are reduced to a bare minimum, one. Our calling is to follow Christ.
The same simplicity evident in the life and teaching of Jesus is evident in the life and teaching of Paul. Paul may have had a difficult life, an adventurous life, and an energetic life, but he did not have a complicated life. For this reason he was able to write to the Philippians, ‘One thing I do’ (3:13). Paul’s tasks were wide, but his focus was narrow. He did not attempt to do everything. He did not attempt to experience everything. His agenda was to finish the race God had given him to run.
Spiritual growth will forever suffer among men until they are convinced of their need to simplify. To attempt everything is to accomplish nothing. In fact, even Jesus did not attempt to do more than the Father had asked of him. In his high priestly prayer, he confessed that there were limitations on his calling. ‘I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do’ (17:4). Jesus did not do everything. He limited himself to the work God had given him to accomplish. Men today are dangerously naïve if they believe that they can do more than Jesus, the Son of God, did. In fact, they are worse than naïve. They are proud, and pride only ever leads to one thing, a fall (Prov. 16:18).
Questions for Small Groups/Self-Reflection
What is the ‘one thing needed’ (Luke 10:42)?
Are you doing the one thing needed?
What changes do you need to make in your daily routine in order to prioritize the one thing needed?
Self-Control Is a Complicated Motion
Most people have a simplistic understanding of self-control. They reduce it to two basic motions. There is the brake pedal and the accelerator. To exercise self-control a person either presses down on the brakes to resist temptation (e.g. eating a second cookie) or steps on the accelerator to overcome fatigue (e.g. finish the last mile).
The truth is that self-control does indeed bear a resemblance to driving a car, but not in the way just mentioned. Regardless of what teenagers might think, driving is a complicated action. To drive well a person must use his imagination in order to think about different possibilities such as switching lanes, passing cars, and making turns. He must have clear and accurate vision in order to see what is happening around him. He must maintain concentration so as to avoid accidents and other unexpected perils. He must be decisive in critical moments, not allowing uncertainty or hesitancy to delay action. The simple motions of turning a wheel, flipping switches, and pressing pedals are, in truth, only a small part of what it takes to drive safely.
Self-control is similar. On the surface, self-control might look like two or three simple actions. However, a more careful look reveals that all of the faculties of the mind are at work enabling self-control to happen. Imagination, intellect, attention, memory, and the will all play a part. Understanding something about the role of each is important so that men can understand the task in front of them. The goal of self-control is far greater than resisting momentary temptations. The goal of self-control is to stay the course of holiness through a long and tumultuous life.
Men Need Imagination
If a man wants to control himself, he must be able to imagine the space of possibility before him. A high schooler will not consider enrolling in college unless he can first see himself as a college student. The potential of countless youth is restricted due to the shortsightedness of their imagination. They fail to aspire because they cannot see. If none of my parents, aunts or uncles, or grandparents received a college degree, I might assume that pennies on the hour is the best I will ever do. I will fail to attempt because I cannot imagine.
The spiritual application of this is important. Self-control requires a sufficient degree of detachment, reflection, and dreaming. Human beings are always limited by the horizon of their vision. If I can only see five hundred feet in front of me, then I will only operate based on that information. If I can only recognize the obvious options on the table, I will not factor further alternatives into my decision. This is why reading Christian biography is such a powerful activity. To read the life of Hudson Taylor is to reconsider what it might mean for me to depend on God. To pick up the story of William Carey is to re-imagine what it means to live with a calling. The same is true for more commonplace decisions like how to disciple children, show hospitality, or manage finances. Most men follow the ruts of the people around them because they never pause to consider an alternative. They are not able to steer a different course into the future because their vision is limited to the lane right in front of them.
Questions for Small Groups and Self-Reflection
All of us are bound by the limits of our imaginations. If we cannot imagine, for example, what a loving husband looks like, we will not be able to make choices to love our wives. This raises a hard question: how do we improve our imaginations? To answer this question, consider the following:
How can finding good roles models help us re-imagine what it means to be a godly man?
How can reading biographies help us re-imagine what it means to be a godly man?
How can drafting a Christian life plan help us re-imagine what it means to be a godly man?
 Of course, there are dangers regarding dreaming. Paul Tripp says, ‘But dreaming is never morally neutral because the dreamer is never neutral. Herein lies the danger of this intensely human gift. Our ability to dream is easily kidnapped by our sin. While our dreams can reveal our faith, they can also expose the lust, greed, selfishness, fear, anger, doubt, hopelessness, and materialism of our hearts.’ Thus the challenge is dreaming according to what is true and holy, not what is false and sinful. Paul Tripp, How People Change (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2008).
 Along with books, life-on-life discipleship is another powerful way to adjust one’s perspective on life. To observe how a mature Christian lives will generate new ideas regarding how to use time, raise children, manage finances, spend time with God, etc.
Men, if you haven’t already, listen to this podcast by Rod Olps, ‘To Whom Much Is Given: Recognizing Your Talents and Setting Your Pace’. Rod will help you think about discerning God’s call on your life. Download it to your phone and listen in the car, in the gym, or when you have dead time between tasks.
The application for men is this: to be good stewards of our lives we need to set wise limits on our use of time, money, amusement, exercise, and so on. What should a man do if his income continues to increase through the duration of his career? Should he correspondingly raise his lifestyle unceasingly to match his salary? No, to do so would be to allow circumstances to dictate lifestyle rather than the call to follow Jesus. A better approach is for a man to sit down in prayer before God and to determine a threshold of how much he personally feels he can spend on his lifestyle as a good steward of the gifts of God. Any excess above this threshold should be used to invest in the kingdom of God. After all, the goal of life is not self-improvement, or to have a good time, but the glory of Christ.
God has called you to do something, to be something. This thought ought to quake the very foundation of your soul. Geologist warn us that one day San Francisco will lie in rubble due to straddling the San Andreas Fault. Christians should fare no better when they are told that God has purposefully created them. We are not accidents like a puddle of milk spilt from the cup of a careless child. We are instruments crafted in the forge of heaven for specific and non-negotiable tasks.
A man who ignores the future is like a person who walks around staring at his feet. He will miss a lot of useful paths in life because he never looked up to survey the landscape. The undeniable benefit of life planning is that the activity protects a person from ‘drift’, the mindless persistence along an unspecified course. Of course, for Christians, a deep attitude of humility must correspond to any attempt at life planning, since our lives are ultimately in God’s hands and because the future belongs to Him, not us. Nonetheless, most men will find spiritual relevance in Eisenhower’s quip, ‘Plans are worthless, but planning is everything’.
Men like to pretend that they are warhorses. We tell ourselves that self-control is a natural muscle that can be flexed at will and that develops coordination and stamina over time. Our problem with self-control, so we think, is not that we don’t have it, but that we choose not to use it. Like a warhorse, we are capable of showing self-restraint in difficult circumstances. We are men, not boys. We are soldiers, not recruits. So we think…
One of the greatest risks a man can take is to attempt the Christian life on his own. The deceitfulness of the heart by itself is a sufficient reason to walk close to others who are wise and faithful. Long ago Solomon recorded the proverb, ‘Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment’ (Proverbs 18:1). This wisdom is much needed today. A man who isolates himself is a man in danger…
By the time David was contemplating a night with Bathsheba his blood was already boiling. Lust had already mounted a siege against the conscience and was catapulting missiles against the will. What would have been the very best safety valve for David while he was pacing the decking of his palace? He should have had Abiathar the priest, or Nathan the prophet, or some other man of God walking with him. A good friend would have smacked him across the face and told him to recollect the life of Saul before dabbling in sin.
There is no guardrail more useful that a circle of spiritual friends. Hearing such words as ‘Don’t give up!’, ‘Where were you?’, ‘You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you,’ or ‘Fear not! God is with you,’ can be a cup of Gatorade on a hot day, refreshing the heart and supplying strength for yet another leg of the race.
Many a Christian man will step each day into a workplace in which he is the only person around him whose life goal is to know, serve, and delight in the lord Jesus Christ. He will feel like an exile in a foreign land, trying to maintain an identity that is threatened by the culture around him. In such arid conditions, the vitality of faith begins to evaporate, drop by drop, day by day. Zeal will cool; focus will relax; resolve will weaken.
Spiritual friendship requires shared consent regarding the desired temperature of discipleship. Different Christians have different interpretations of what it means to be a devout follower of Jesus. Some are happy to exist in a tepid, lukewarm state. Others feel the need to kick-start the burner whenever the boil drops to a simmer. Spiritual friendship is distinct from other Christian relationships because spiritual appetites must be in sync. Such friends not only share a sense of where they are going, but there is a pace, an earnestness, that all hope to maintain.
Yet, intentionality, by itself, is insufficient to produce spiritual friendship. The intent must be right. Spiritual friends are comrades who join together in pursuit of Christ. The following words of Paul are an apt description of the basic intent that drives one Christian to partner with another: ‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Phil. 3:11). Knowing Christ, obeying Christ, being conformed to Christ – these are the objectives pursued in spiritual friendship.
This naivety is why a lot of men do not invest in spiritual friendship. During comfortable phases of life, friendship feels like a luxury. ‘I can manage on my own’ is the unspoken conviction of men when skies are fair. But like the North Sea the conditions of life can change rapidly. A crisis strikes and suddenly men discover that no one knows them well enough to be of help.
Yet, more than resources, a man who can handle the Word has a simple method of study, a regular routine that he utilizes to ease the process of investigation. Having a method is useful for two reasons : (1) ensuring that adequate care is taken to discern the meaning of a text and (2) disciple-making. The end goal of every spiritual discipline is always something more than individual growth. The Great Commission is at stake. For Bible study, this means that we ought to develop a method not ony for our own benefit, but also for the benefit of others. =
We need to be compelled forward in Bible study by a gripping vision the man we might become. What will motivate us to consistently skip a show on Netflix or to set the alarm 30 minutes earlier on a Tuesday morning? The answer is a sense of mission, the belief that now is an irreplacable moment that will either advance me toward the horizon of glory or pull me back to the brim of mediocrity.