A friend of mine has been doing inner-city ministry for over twenty-seven years. He and his family began their ministry by moving into a very tough neighborhood. A few years ago, I learned that my friend had a longtime relationship with the head football coach of the high school in our community. I was in the school gym one day, saw the coach, and told him about my relationship with our mutual friend. His reply? "He’s a good man. He’s got a street-level faith."
There is something about the phrase "street-level faith" that I like. (I have written about this before.) I suspect part of my appreciation for the phrase is rooted in its earthy feel. It is a reminder to me that faith is not just fodder for discussion or debate. Nor is faith just a topic for Sunday discussion. Rather, it speaks to the way I live and where I find my identity.
I am almost finished with Robert Mulholland’s book The Deeper Journey. (The subtitle is: "The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self.") Yesterday, I came across this paragraph:
Our false self, having removed the roots of our identity, meaning, value and purpose from loving union with God, sinks those roots into multiple alternative soils where we seek to find our identity, meaning, value, and purpose. Among such soils are our sexuality, our possessions, our status, our profession, our performances, our relationships, our woundedness, our resentments, our bitterness, our culture, our ethnicity, our place (geographical, emotional, psychological), our intellect, our education, ad infinitum. (p. 111)
When I think about these "alternative soils," I think about the critical need in my own life, and perhaps yours, for a faith that is rooted in God and consequently my daily life as well. It is possible to speak of God on Sunday (with all sincerity) but then root our lives elsewhere so that "our identity, meaning, value, and purpose" are actually coming from some other source.
So what difference does this make on a practical level? It means that while I speak of God and say that I follow him, I actually treasure my possessions, status, profession, etc. more. After all, this is where I am finding my identity and security. If I do treasure these areas of my life more than I treasure God, I will have a greater passion toward these areas than I have toward God.
(Memo to ministers/pastors/church leaders: This can be very deceptive for those of us who serve in these roles. It is possible to have a great passion for what we are doing every day and yet very little of that may actually be rooted in our passion for God. For instance, a person in one of these roles may have a great passion for some aspect of ministry. Yet, this passion may actually be rooted in the way we treasure our status, our sense of self-importance, or the attention that we are getting from others. I may need to examine my motives. I would like for my motives to be totally pure, but I know that my flesh, my pride, etc. can easily enter in to what are otherwise very good motives. I want to live close to God so that the impure motives in my heart become apparent to me and are replaced by the desire to display God. I want to get my life focused on God so that I begin to treasure him above all "alternative soils." I pray that I will treasure him more than these.)
You might give this one some thought. Think about where your life is rooted. Can you relate to the deceptive pull of these "alternative soils"?