I have a recurring dream. Maybe you’ve had it, too. I’m back in school; it’s finals week. According to my schedule, I have a math final. That’s bad enough on its own, but in my dream, I’d always forgotten that I ever even signed up for a math course. What I’m left with is a looming final and a semester’s worth of equations left unsolved. In a panic, I’m left to try and put the pieces together in the hopes of not failing out of the forgotten course.
I don’t know much about dream analysis, but in this case it’s usually safe to assume that such dreams stem from fears of inadequacy or unpreparedness. And, in turn, those fears reveal a solemn fact: that there can be no quick-fix to cover for the absence of commitment.
Regarding life in the future, Jesus teaches:
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7 Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. 8 And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ 10 And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. 11 Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’12 But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ 13 Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matthew 25:1-13)
Now, there are a number of ways to interpret the parable. First, Jesus could be suggesting that the foolish virgins represent those who reject God’s grace and lose their salvation. But nothing in the parable indicates that the flame has to mean salvation. So—secondly—Jesus could be saying that the foolish virgins represent those who started out with enthusiasm toward God’s kingdom, but their emotion could not sustain them throughout their life. Or, finally, the “then” of verse one could refer to the period known as the tribulation: the Church is “raptured” into heaven, and during the seven years that follow ethnic Jews would be given the chance to turn to Christ, and through them redeem a great multitude. The foolish virgins, therefore, could refer to those who—during this seven-year period—refuse to turn.
Regardless of the exact nuance, Jesus’ message is clear: preparedness begets joy, a preparedness for which there can be no substitute. In his book God in the Wasteland, David Wells highlights a disturbing fact about contemporary Christians. Many of us might assume that Christianity’s problems stem-at least partially—from an overabundance of religious “fundamentalists.” But no, says Wells; the problem isn’t that we have too many fundamentalists, but too few. In the last several decades, American churches have become preoccupied with personal satisfaction and self-improvement. Christian books on dieting (yes, dieting) became bestsellers in local Christian bookstores.
The tragic result of this culture of “therapy” is that Christianity becomes indistinguishable from any of the other voices out there in culture today. If my goal is happiness, then why choose Christianity over any of the simpler options at my disposal? But now that Christianity has chosen to market itself based on felt needs and personal satisfaction, the light of the gospel has been extinguished, and our hopes dashed.
This, friends is a tragedy. But while we may analyze and pick apart the trends of our broader culture, we must also turn our gaze in on ourselves—or, better—to allow God’s Spirt to expose our backward motives. If I look to Jesus to satisfy my immediate needs, then I have treated him as a means to an end. And when his blessings dry up, or they no longer satisfy, the fire of my faith flickers dim and expires. But if I look to Jesus as my ultimate source of my satisfaction and joy, then the fire of my faith burns brighter still.