If you are a cable TV or Dish Network subscriber, have you noticed that at any given time of day, or throughout the week, you’re likely to see the same movies being repeatedly shown?
I recently learned that there’s a “scientific” reason for this.
Network execs have figured out that people with a remote control in their hand don’t always want to watch an entire movie, but really enjoy “dropping-in” as they call it, on a movie just to catch a few scenes. After watching for a few minutes, they’ll surf on to another movie to drop-in on.
For example, some will drop-in on “A Few Good Men” just to see the scene where Tom Cruise’s lawyer character is thundering away with the question “I want the truth!” which is then followed with even more thunder from Jack Nicholson who says, “You can’t handle the truth!”
Nearly any hour of the day, one can find movies rolling across the screen, and millions “drop-in” to watch no more than 15 minutes— just to catch a glimpse or two of something they really like.
It’s a harmless habit when we don’t have anything else to do like, say— interact with our family, have a real conversation, or even read a book.
But truthfully, all habits, even the most “harmless” ones, have a way of shaping our lives—including our imagination and our capacity for faithful living.
The danger is that if our attention span is shaped to only be present in 15-minute gulps it’s less likely that we will be able to give our full attention to anyone or anything for more than that time frame.
That is the subtle way that habits work in our lives— we don’t notice the effect until much later, and even then we may miss the reason for our actions.
This is how we often approach discipleship—as something we can “drop-in” on whenever we feel like it.
Drop-in movie habits mirror a spiritual crossover trend that most of us would rather not admit; a style of “drop-in spirituality” or “drop-in discipleship” where we nod to God for a few quick devotional minutes and then we’re on our way, business as usual.
It’s a momentary feeling of satisfaction, just like a little movie viewing of our favorite scenes, but if that’s all we ever have time for in our lives with God, then it’s a false comfort; because it’s a habit that will keep us from going deeper with God.
Growing in our relationship with God is not going to happen if we are only dropping-in now and again when we have a few moments to spare before moving on.
God has something much different in mind, a different vision for our lives—a vision that is far deeper, richer and more fulfilling than a “drop-in” quick fix.
The prophet Isaiah presents this different vision for growing our relationship with God, a vision where we are invited to embrace the abundant life in the presence of God.
He writes, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! … Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
What this suggests is not “drop-in” and “drop-out” discipleship, but a “come and see” and “stay-awhile” discipleship.
Notice the imperatives Isaiah uses for such discipleship:
“Come”. God sets the table, but we have to pull up the chair. The disciple has to respond to God’s faithfulness by taking action of her own.
“Buy”. Or buy into. Commit. Take the step, the leap, the plunge into deep waters of divine possibilities.
“Eat”. Partake. Experience. Taste. Savor the goodness of God.
“Listen”. Pay attention. Be attuned to the voice of God, and tune out competing voices—whether cultural, secular or the voice of entertainment and peers.
“Hear me”. Change the spiritual characteristics so that the voice of God can be heard. Get rid of the noise and interference that can drown out the voice of God. Dig out the spiritual earwax that reduces the voice of God to a muffle.
“Seek the LORD while he may be found”. Pursue single-mindedly, search diligently for. Make the presence of God a priority. Take advantage of the opportunities to walk with God while you still have them.
“Forsake”. Abandon whatever doesn’t work for your relationship with God. Decide what is holding you back, and let these things go.
“Return to”. After letting go of the bad, grab the good. Turn to what is right, good and positive. Turn to God for forgiveness and mercy.
Isaiah acknowledges that most of this is counter-cultural. That’s why we are reminded in verses 8-9 that the way we live life is based on a different paradigm.
The heart of what Isaiah is getting at is: If we order our lives according to conventional wisdom, then we never fully arrive at the place God would have us get to.
But if we “come” and “buy” into a higher reasoning, a different way of doing business, one that is of a divine wisdom, we will align our lives with God’s divine purpose and we will get to that place God created us for—A place where the things of this world are enjoyed, but where lasting joy is found in God and God alone.
Isaiah is inviting his listeners to consider the choices they have before them.
How will we come to God’s presence? Will we come as those channel surfing—looking for something to catch our attention for a few minutes?
Or will we come as those ready and able to perceive God in all things?
Next Sunday is Thanksgiving Sunday. The Sunday after that is the beginning of Advent.
The holidays are upon us—and we will talk about waiting and preparing for the birth of our Savior.
Every year we say that the holidays start earlier and earlier, complaining that they do.
But I say GOOD! Let our preparations for the coming of the Lord begin early so that we can be ready to rejoice, give thanks, and fully embrace the miracle of our Savior’s birth.
Making the choice to prepare early and fully to come before Christ is not a bad thing! It is faithful for sure.
But is that what we are doing when we start the holidays earlier and earlier?
It’s not those preparations that I want us to focus on and make.
Staring in the next week or so—starting with our Thanksgiving preparations, and then all through the New Year, we will engage in everything Isaiah is calling for.
We will “come” to all kinds of places.
We will certainly “buy” and most certainly we will “eat”—far more than we should.
We will “listen” and “hear.”
We will “seek” out and “find.”
We will “forsake” and we will “return”—(especially whatever it is our mother-in-law gives us for Christmas.)
But how will we do all that we are about to do?
Will we do it as those who are preparing to align our lives with divine purposes?
Or will we do it as those who complain that the holidays start too early, that Thanksgiving gets overlooked, as those who end up missing Christmas because we are so stressed out, frantic, and worried about how we will pay for all that we feel we have to buy.
Will we, over the next month and a half, simply “drop-in” to see how preparations for Jesus are coming along, and then rush in toward the end for the climatic ending?
Or will we come to the table God is setting, where we will buy into and commit to being fully present so that we can eat what is good, while listening and hearing again the Good News?
Will we over the next month and a half seek the Lord so that we can say thank you and then walk more closely with God.
The life that God invites us into is not a “drop-in” relationship or one that involves a few minutes here and there whenever it happens to be convenient.
Rather, the mature life of faith with God is one that feasts on the riches of a deep and abiding relationship with God.
This kind of deep maturity with God means spending the necessary time pursuing this relationship; the kind of time that one would give to any pursuit that is worthy of our full attention.
Now, this way of life is not impossible, as it might seem.
This way of life is not so counter-cultural that we have to give up everything we know and love.
This way of life is easier to achieve than we might think because it comes down to the answering the question: How will I come?
How will I come before God?
Do you want to come before God, half interested, for fifteen or fewer minutes?
Or do you want to come before God fully invested and fully present?
That’s the question we must ask, and answer, throughout the upcoming holiday season, and really throughout all seasons of life.
It’s a choice that we make every day.
How will we come…before God, every day?
How will I come…before God, every day?
I hope and pray that we will come in the manner that Isaiah invites us. Amen.