Balance, and it’s more hip progeny “self-care” is a popular topic today. The idea started out innocently enough, and was peddled in the 90’s as work/life balance.
|Looks like that Hindu goddess, eh?|
The work part is obviously what pays your bills. The other part of the equation is supposed to include sleep, eating, hobbies, laundry, home and car maintenance, raising children, doctor’s appointments, and grocery shopping. We may have time for some fun, and some of us include an hour or two per week for church.
Actually, it sounds a little unfair when I put it in those terms.
One the one hand, we have work. It can be enjoyable, but being compulsory kind of sucks any joy out of our daily grind. And frankly, after our work is done, we have to do everything else, which also feels like work. If we’re fortunate, and don’t happen to live in a pressure-cooker environment of outrageous real-estate markets and intensely competitive job markets, there’s a little time left in our schedule for fun and relaxation.
No wonder we don’t want to give up a precious Saturday or Sunday to study scripture or spread the gospel to others. No wonder we immerse ourselves into food, entertainment, alcohol, sex, social media, or drugs – desperately trying to maximize at least physical gratification in a minimal amount of time.
Is there an alternative? Are work and life what we really need to balance? I don’t think so, and here’s why: Both work and life are really all about us satisfying ourselves. Sure, we may tell ourselves that our job is about providing for others, but that isn’t 100% truth, is it? If it were, there would be no such thing as a workaholic, or career climber.
Maybe the balance we really need to consider is God/Me.
I heard a sermon many years ago, as a new believer, about the line between God’s decisions for our lives, and the decisions we make for ourselves. I wanted a really clear list of things I should ask God to decide in my life, versus questions I should answer for myself. For example: DO ask God about a new job opportunity, but DON’T ask him if I should buy a pair of new shoes. The demarcation never really came, which frustrated me tremendously. It’s been nearly 20 years since that message, and I have wrestled with understanding the limit of my autonomy daily. DAILY.
Should I just sit around waiting for God to provide everything? How much of this life is up to me, and how much of it do I turn over to God? Am I a bad person for buying cute shoes, or choosing the names I wanted for my children? Should I be sitting on a mountain, singing to God all day long, and just trust that He’ll send angels with food and water, while keeping me safe from wild animals and inclement weather?
Where does my will end and God’s will begin in this life I’ve been given? Please don’t hit me with a sanctimonious admonition like ‘everything in your life should be about God.’ I doubt you consult Him regarding the flavor of coffee creamer you should purchase.
Further, if God intended for us to just sit still and worship Him every moment of every day, we wouldn’t need bodies or physical sustenance, right? We’re supposed to be doing something with our lives; the time given here should be wasted neither by frivolous pursuits, nor idleness. I looked to the Bible for an answer.
In trying to figure out the scriptural way to find balance between God and me, if that’s even the right way to express the tension, I pondered some of the Bible “greats” like David, Moses, Abraham, and Jacob. When in doubt, check out how those guys did things. After a stinging slap of humility across the face, I realized that If I was going to find someone to pattern my life after, I should choose a lesser-known Bible figure. Anna the Prophetess “came” to mind. You and I both know who put that notion in my head, don't we? Anna was the older woman who was in the temple when Joseph and Mary brought in baby Jesus.
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very moment she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Three verses sum up all we know about her; there isn’t much detail about her life. Was she diligent about sweeping temple floors? Did she have a particular talent for baking bread? Did she always make a little extra soup to give to the neighborhood beggar? Scripture is silent about the mundane details of her life.
But, Oh! The substance in those few verses!
Anna was a young widow starting in her seventh year of marriage. Instead of finding a new hubby in the prime of her youth, she remained in the temple worshiping God, and faithfully anticipated the coming of the Messiah with prayer and fasting. She spoke of redemption through Jesus, recognizing him as the promised Messiah instantly and after she saw him, she continued to proclaim him as the Messiah to anyone who would listen. Anna was all-in.
Verse Luke 2:37 says Anna was a widow until she was 84. Until? Did she experience a change in marital status immediately after meeting the Messiah? Initially the wording seemed strange, but then I realized that she had met the Messiah, who is also called the Bridegroom. Perhaps that’s why scripture called her a widow until the age of 84, and not “until her dying day.” Come to think of it, there’s no mention of her death at all in scripture.
The last couple of years of study has taught me that there’s always a perfect connection among books, chapters, and verses in God’s word. So, I thought it might be interesting to look at Psalm 84 to see if God’s word showed a connection to the years of Anna’s widowhood. Look at verse four, in bold type below.
1 To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. How lovely is thy dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!
2 My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at thy altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.
4 Blessed are those who dwell in thy house, ever singing thy praise! Selah
5 Blessed are the men whose strength is in thee, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
6 As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.
7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.
8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah
9 Behold our shield, O God; look upon the face of thine anointed!
10 For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.
12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in thee!
That’s an apropos Old Testament addition to the New Testament example of Anna the Prophetess!
How do we apply the elegant simplicity of Anna's life to our own lives, finding the balance between God and us in life? Do we hang out in a church or synagogue all day? Of course not. I mean, if you’re a person who happens to work in a temple day and night, fine. But not all of us have that kind of job. Let’s look at the original Greek for further clues.
The phrase “did not depart from the temple” is aphistemi hieron. Aphistemi means to actively remove, withdraw from, fall away from, or lose faith in. Hieron is a general word to describe a sacred place, and doesn’t specifically refer to a building or sanctuary. The phrase clearly doesn’t refer to physically sitting in the temple. I think it’s a spiritual example.
- Anna devoted time to a relationship with God through prayer and fasting.
- Anna shared the Gospel with others.
- Anna remained in a sacred place, focused on salvation through the Messiah.
Anna was doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives. And there’s another example in the book of Luke where people remain in the temple. Again, Jesus had just been definitely revealed as the promised Messiah, but this time it was to the Apostles after his resurrection.
48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high." 50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 51 While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. 52 And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
Again, the passage doesn’t mean they were physically sitting in the temple day and night. Hieros (similar to hieron) is the Greek word used in this passage, and it refers to being sacred, or consecrated to God. The apostles traveled, had jobs, and went about their business, but they remained consecrated and focused on God, and on telling others about redemption through Jesus Christ. That’s the balance of God/Us in our lives, as it should be taught. They lived lives that were sacred, even while performing more mundane tasks in life like making tents, or catching fish.
The material details of our lives are not nearly as significant as our commitment to remaining in the temple (metaphorically). And while we’re there, we should be faithfully watching for, and having faith in, our Redemption, while sharing the Gospel with others. The rest is noise.
We should repeat that to ourselves as often as possible, lest we get so caught-up in the things of this world, that we are pulled out of the temple without even realizing it’s happened.