t was a Saturday afternoon, and a group of neighborhood children had congregated in our kitchen. They talked excitedly of the adventures they were going to embark on that afternoon. The pirate ship they had created in our yard was about to come under attack after this short interval for juice and cookies. Their imaginations created a world of possibilities that made this ordinary Saturday afternoon an extraordinary day.
As they set out into the yard, the conversation rapidly changed to which role everyone was going to play. Some were deemed worthy of the role of pirate, while the girls became mermaids and princesses. When all the roles were filled, each character headed out to the “high seas.” After several hours of playing, tired from the sword fights and treasure hunts, the small group of friends went their separate ways, heading home for dinner and bed. Just like that, the game was over. There had been no fatalities, no permanent damage—just a lot of swashbuckling fun.
As I watched this scenario play out, the Spirit of God reminded me that the adventure we are called to as His children is not an imaginary one. It is not a call to pretend for a few hours each weekend at church or to pretend with each other in our relationships. Just because we are considering changing our towns, cities, and neighborhoods and have a desire to see people saved, transformed, and restored does not mean this will happen, though this is the start.
Unless we marry our desires with a partner called action, then we are only playing pretend when it comes to turning around our communities.
We are called to something that is much more serious. God has called us each to play our part in a real adventure. The fight we are called to engage in is very real—and our enemy is not playing games.
In 1 Peter 5:8, we are instructed to “be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (NIV). The Enemy is not messing around, nor is he merely threatening to bring harm. He is seeking people to devour and destroy. He is seeking those who are living unaware of his schemes, whose imaginary play has left them vulnerable in this very real battle.
God is not asking people to merely think about turning our world around; He is relying on us to do it. It’s not just a nice thought for us to talk about or a potential adventure for us to consider embarking upon. God has enrolled us all in His commission; therefore, we are to stop pre- tending and get serious about the responsibility God asks us to carry.
Our society today is in danger of having many dreamers who are not real doers. All you have to do is flick through your TV channels to see countless programs where people have been told: “You can be the next greatest star if you just believe.” You can watch thousands standing in line, waiting to be auditioned in the latest pop-music singing competition, hoping to find a shortcut to fame. While many in the line are hardworking musicians who deserve to be heard, they are always outnumbered by thousands of people with no musical background or practical experience in playing an instrument. These hopefuls are standing in line thinking they might stumble into an escape route to the celebrity life. They believe that just by showing up at the auditions, they will somehow end up a potential star.
These imaginary contenders, much like the children in my backyard, are looking to play a role in a world they have dreamed up. Big dreams come crashing down for these aspiring artists, when after standing for a few hours in the cold, waiting for their big moment, they are stunned when one of the judges faces them with the reality of their lack of talent. Deflated and often emotionally volatile, they are forced to face facts and leave the room in which their dreams collided with reality.
As believers, we need this experience where dreams face reality. As God’s children, we are not called to stand in line, hoping for our own moment of greatness, or wait to become some spiritual superstar. There is no shortcut to God’s turnaround. God does not give imaginary callings, nor does He play pretend. We need to enter God’s reality room, not to be judged but to allow His Spirit to nudge us from our dream-state into a realization of what serving the turnaround God requires from each of us. We are not called to pretend-play the change; we are commissioned to be the change. Our lives are not about the end performance but about the discipline of daily practice. God is looking for those who will faithfully commit to develop their spiritual gifts and grow in faith. He is looking for those who will not waste time standing in a line but instead will invest a lifetime into helping needy lives.
God is not looking for once-a-week performers but daily practitioners. He wants people who are taking what they have learned and passing on their wisdom, taking what they have grown and helping others to grow. We are not given gifts and talents so we can entertain or impress one another but so we can help the people whom others pass by. We need to position our lives and ministries so that real challenges of this world shape the priorities of God’s people. We must be ready to respond to the call of the broken, lost, and vulnerable. Our stage is our streets; our greatest gift is our acts of service.
Wherever God’s people gather, we need to commit not merely to enjoying one another’s company, but to allowing our commission to shape our conversations and making the needs of others affect our choices. We need to talk about real problems and determine to play a real part in being an answer. When we see the full scale of what we are called to do, when we see the real reason we are called to turn things around, then we will stop standing in line dreaming and instead start taking our turn and doing.
Let’s consider those who have biblical legendary status: Joseph the prime minister, David the giant killer, Daniel the lion tamer, Elijah the fire starter, Peter the rock, Solomon the wise, and many more. None of these men was a performer. They were never found wasting time in a line dreaming of being great. Instead, these men went to obscure places to be faithful, to serve diligently, and to commit to being a disciple of the difference they sought to see.
The apostle Paul said, “Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:15-16 NIV). Paul was asking Timothy to give himself wholeheartedly and regularly, not in a one-off grand statement of commitment, but with a consistent commitment to preserve his growth ethic.
Often the difference between those who make a difference and those who imagine they are called to make a difference is the word diligence. It’s the commitment to show up even when no one else will. It’s the study no one sees and the sacrifice no one applauds. It’s David’s diligence on a hillside to protect a few sheep when no one else is looking. It’s the diligence shown by Joseph in prison to be a faithful steward when no one expects it.
Our community does not need God’s people to charge in like knights in shining armor. They don’t need promises that are never going to be kept or commitments that are never seen through to completion. God’s turnarounds require those who understand what it is to persevere and to be diligent.
In our city, we have been involved helping the street girls for over ten years. The reason that their lives are being turned around is not because we impressed them with our gospel presentation or that we quoted our best messages to them. The reason they want God to turn their lives around is because we have diligently turned up.
Diligence is a language the Enemy hates. He can’t throw diligent people off their cause with a few problems because they have developed a perseverance that will keep them turning up. Paul knew Timothy had a call on his life to turn people to Christ, and he wanted Timothy’s commitment to reach maturity so his diligence would forge in him a deep determination to see the job for which he was sent completed.
God is looking to you and me to grow up and to progress from the flight simulator of Christianity into the real work that we are called to do. God’s turnarounds require His people not just to show up, but to grow up and to mature. There are many risks out there that we will need to embrace, but God is waiting for you and me to get to the height they require.