I have itchy ears. Both literally and figuratively.
In both cases, itchy ears are annoying and distracting. They are annoying because you really can't talk about and it's not socially acceptable to scratch your ears in public. It's also distracting because there can be all sorts of good things going on and yet if your ears are itchy, that is all you are thinking about.
It is the figurative sort of itchy ear that is more challenging and that is what I have been really preoccupied with of late.
My ears are itching to hear a gospel that goes beyond a "get them through the door" evangelism, beyond "my relationship to God is the whole message of salvation," to a robust discipleship that recaptures a vision of the fullness of redemption. I long to hear that in messages and sermons when the church is gathered, and when I don't hear it, my ears begin to itch. It's annoying and it's distracting. It's annoying because it feels like I'm being critical of the church, and I don't want to be critical. It feels distracting because there still often is still a good message for me and for the church in the message being shared, but I'm distracted by my itchy ears.
Articulating the problem does help. I'm calling out and confessing that I have itchy ears.
When I scratch at the itch a bit, I realize that there are a few things Biblical irritants. In Genesis 3, we discover that three things were broken in the fall: our relationship with God, with others, and with work/creation. Yet the large majority of messages and sermons that I hear focus only on our relationship with God and largely ignore our need to be discipled and redeemed in these other key areas.
Gary Black, Jr, in a book called Whatever You Do for An Integrated Life writes this:
One key motivation for this lack of attention to discipleship is imbedded in a misapplication of a key biblical doctrine. When the theological tenets of justification by faith are thought to be the beginning and end of the gospel story, then sanctification becomes a non-essential add on to the Christian life. A biblically valid understanding and application of Christlike discipleship, and the habits of sin it seeks to address and transform, is becoming progressively lost to mainstream evangelical congregations, universities, and seminaries. Sin, it turns out, doesn't preach very well to a consumer driven society. In sum, Christian discipleship demands surrendering to the process of holistic transformation of character as an inescapable priority of the gospel Jesus preached. In this way the gospel is how Jesus provides for human beings to experience the unbridles wholeness god originally intended for us to experience and share.
We know how deeply embedded sin is in our lives and cultures. Our character can't help but be shaped by this, and when our brief times on Sundays focus on knowing better who God is, but not knowing better who we are in Christ, we come away having better head or heart knowledge of God but not transformed or sanctified further in vocations and callings.
That itch is further exacerbated when I spend time with believers who express their frustrating with work, who are unable to see God in their workplace and see their work as an occasion of serving Him. They desire meaning in their work and yet are often frustrated by it being a form of drudgery. This past week I had a chance to speak to some college students who asked how they can find fulfillment in their work and what path they should take to get there. It's not unusual at that age to be hungry to find a vocation with meaning, yet we rarely hear significant attention given to the meaning of our work lives given from the church, even though work involves the majority of our awake time every week.
There are long reaching impacts of our relationship to work and how it can become corrosive to human flourishing that must be addressed.
Spiritual formation is incomplete without this important emphasis. And the world cannot be reached when we only grow in our understanding of God as a personal Savior, but not in personal sanctification through discipleship that reaches into every corner of life, from the home, to the workplace, to the marketplace.
So my ears continue to itch. And while I feel bad about their itching, and while I sometimes feel like I'm a "noisy gong or clanging cymbal" (1 Cor 13:1), yet they are likely to continue to itch. I'm beginning to accept it and recognize that there is something from God in the itching. Some itches are meant to be scratched. Some itches are meant to be caught as the underlying reason for the itch remains and must still be addressed.
I'm now asking God to reveal what good can come from this.
Are your ears itching too?