John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
John 21:18,19 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
Luke 22: 31,32 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
I was tickled to read a feature article about the deputy assistant director of the water works. The article included a number of his humdrum quotes about some recent changes in the water system, his commitment to public service and his goal of improving water quality. What was so funny was the color box beside the article -- a small town imitation of a USA Today feature article -- showcasing tidbits from this man's private life. It treated this petit-bureaucrat as if he were a movie star, supplying fascinating facts about his "role model" (Ronald Reagan), his "drink of choice" (iced tea), his "leisure activity" (bowling), his "personal clothing store" (SteinMart), his "favorite music star" (Burl Ives) and his "current auto" (1987 Nissan Maxima). I don't know whether this man rejoiced in his sudden stardom or was embarrassed by his conventional existence. But the fact that the newspaper was interested in his personal life at all points to our fascination with "life styles."
A "life style" is a carefully assembled set of personal choices. It's the blend of our preferences in clothing, cars, books, recreation, music, food, and other aspects of the way we consume ideas and things. Our life styles also include our religious choices. Life style magazines and programs like Life Styles Of The Rich And Famous allow us to monitor our choices and compare them to those who are more tasteful, affluent and influential, helping us to determine whether we're in with the in crowd.
Life Style vs. Life
What this means is that a life style is different from a life. A life style can be adjusted with a twist of the television dial, a shift in reading patterns or buying a new car. A life tends to be messier than a life style, harder to change, and it often involves untidy facts, like addiction to nicotine or alcohol, a parent in a nursing home, a divorce, or a child with a physical or mental disorder. A life style is the card we lead off with face up on the table to show our strength (or our weakness). A life, on the other hand, is every aspect of who we are, every card we hold, weak and strong. Renting the video Down and Out in Beverly Hills is life style; being down and out and on the street is life.
Our life styles can lose their luster, but with sufficient cash flow and effort, they can be improved; our lives, on the other hand, are more desperate. Our lives are in need of being redeemed. It's noteworthy that as Jesus gathered with his disciples around the table for the last supper, he said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." He did not say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life style."
The difference is significant. Jesus came to redeem all aspects of our being, to lead every bit of our human selves down the road of redemption -- even those untidy, unraveled ends. Jesus offers us life "abundantly," not some pinch of religion tossed in as a "leisure activity," but a life where every facet is the arena for God's saving grace. Our faith is not just one tattoo among all the other tattoos, but an all-encompassing, all-demanding, indelible imprint on our very being.
The Tension Between Life and Life Style
A recent college graduate commented that, as he moved into the work world and began to earn some money, he was feeling the tension to live, on the one hand, "the good life, full of bay windows and summer vacations and dinner out whenever," or, on the other hand, to live "a good life, at peace with self and God." He was, of course, describing the friction between a "life style" and a "life," between fitting the pieces together to find in the whole that which makes for peace.
The young man considered his choices. He cited Tolstoy's reflection on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount: "The antagonism between life and conscience may be moved in two ways: by a change of life or a change of conscience." Tolstoy chose to preserve his life and conscience by changing his life style, giving up the trappings of the world and living poor like Jesus. But such a radical choice was out of this young graduate's reach: He, like most, was content to endure the stress rather than face making the choice.
In the play A Thousand Clowns, the character Arnold says that he is a realist. He has no desire to change the world, just to accommodate to it. Arnold says that he does not consider himself to be an exceptional man, for "business is business."
You cannot convince me I am one of the bad guys. I get up, I go, I lie a little, I peddle a little, I watch the rules, I talk the talk. We have those offices high up there so we catch the wind and go with it, however it blows. But I will not apologize for it. I take pride; I am the best possible Arnold Burns. (Herb Gardner, A Thousand Clowns, p. 86.)
That attitude tells us that Arnold Burns had settled for a "life style" but not for a life. Sadly, he had persuaded himself that his crazy quilt of shallow compromises made him "the best possible Arnold Burns." Jesus, however, calls us not to catch the drifting winds of culture but to set sail in the gale force hurricanes of the Spirit, to venture into the grasp of faith where, in the faith walk, one more step could mean the difference between life and death for somebody.
Another Difference Between Life and Life Style
Another difference between a life style and a life is that a life style is a matter of personal whim, but a life is a matter of calling. A life style is a composite of choices. We choose our own poisons: what brand of cigarette is most stylish or cheapest; whether to live in a house or in the street; whether to work for a living or not; whether to be healthy or godly or honest or not. We might say that these are not our choices, but they really are. We choose almost every aspect of our life styles.
Life, however, is not always about choice. Life takes us places and gives us experiences we would not choose. This is especially true of a life made rich in faith; such a life is not a vacation but a vocation that will inevitably take us down paths not of our choosing.
"When you were young," Jesus told Peter, "you used to put on your belt and go wherever you wanted. But now," Jesus continues, "someone else will put a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go" (John 21:18). Jesus was speaking of "the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God" (vs. 19). Being led captive to your own death is not much of a life style; offering one's all for the glory of God, though, is to have life, and to have it abundantly. To die redeemed is much more abundant by far than to live without following the call.
A good example is the life, life style and death of William Borden, heir to the Borden Dairy Estate, who graduated from a Chicago high school a millionaire. As a gift, his parents gave him a trip around the world. Traveling through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe gave Borden a burden for the world's hurting people. Writing home, he said, "I'm going to give my life to prepare for the mission field." When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: "No Reserves." Turning down a high-paying job after graduating from Yale University, he entered two more words in his Bible: "No Retreats." After finishing at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed for China to work with Muslims, stopping first in Egypt. There he developed cerebral meningitis and died within one month of his arrival. "What a waste," we might say. "See," his grieving parents might have said, "this wasn't God's plan." But in William Borden's Bible underneath the words "No Reserves" and "No Retreats," he had written the words "No Regrets."
Borden was a man who, although he had all the means to live the life style of the rich and famous, decided not on life style, but on life. And life based on the life of his Savior, Jesus Christ. And though he didn't live a life long in our measure of time, we don't know what abundance of life he had in God's measure of time. As another short-lived missionary has said, "He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose" (John 21:19). And what do we have to lose?
You see, life style originates from without; abundant life originates from within and from above. A person can never live a godly life of service under her own power. There must be a conversion from within to without. Chemical therapy, psychoanalysis or "tough love" will not work toward "the way of abundant life" that Jesus commended. Abundant life originates from above and begins inside; a spirit is born; a spiritual life blooms forth. Life style can never substitute for life, neither on the outside nor on the inside. It takes a conversion. When there is conversion, life begins, and life style is transformed as a result.
Some of our life styles hardly represent conversion. Some of our ungodly habits and attitudes and life styles are hardly fit for the worldly much less for a new creation. Have you traded your life style in for life, or are you just playing religion? Peter played at religion for all three years he walked with Jesus, just fooling himself. He'd never been converted from life style to life. But Jesus wasn't fooled. After those three years, Jesus said to him, "After you've been converted, strengthen my brethren."
Have you been converted? Has your life style taken on the abundance of your conversion? Or are you just trying to reach over the fence? If your biography had been sketched for a newspaper, would it be as humdrum as the deputy of the water works' was? Would you be able to look at yourself and say that your lifestyle reflected your redemption and calling? Would Jesus do what you do? If not, why don't you start living like the redeemed then?
Prayer: Now it is you alone that I love, you alone that I follow, you alone that I seek, you alone that I feel ready to serve, because you alone rule justly. It is to your authority alone that I want to submit. Command me, I pray, to do whatever you will, but heal and open my ears that I may hear your voice. Heal and open my eyes that I may see your will. Drive out from me all fickleness, that I may acknowledge you alone. Tell me where to look that I may see you, and I will place my hope in doing your will. Amen. (St. Augustine, 354-430)