As many of you know, Mike and I came to England for our youngest daughter’s wedding in the middle of March, and ended up getting locked down in Deb and Sam’s home for three and a half months – looks like the ferries are, at last, sailing again, so we return to Portugal tomorrow.
One thing I’ve been doing during this time is reading my way through the stack of books Deb has for her MA. All worth reading, all recommended. But the one that has spoken to me more than any other is John Mark Comer’s Garden City: Work, Rest, and the Art of Being Human. He is better known for his latest book, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry – which is a great read if you’re one of the ones that have been extra busy during lockdown, or if you generally live a stressed life.
But if you’re one of the ones like me, who has struggled more with “What’s the point of the seemingly insignificant stuff I do?”, then read Garden City. The book begins with Genesis 1-2 in big letters, and ends with Revelation 21-22 at the end – from the Garden to the Garden City, which is the story all of us are living.
In between those two Scriptures, Comer divides the book into three sections: Work, Rest and The Garden City, with a simple illustration for each. First, work. Our job is to cultivate the raw materials that God has given us on this earth into a place of delight; to actively partner with God in taking the world somewhere – to the Garden City described in those last two chapters of the Bible. We were created in the image of God with the purpose of reigning with Him. As Dallas Willard says, “this life is training for reigning”. One thing I like about this book is the practicality of it. How do we find out what our specific work calling is? He gives nine questions you can ask that will help you figure it out; my favourite was, does it make the world a more Garden-like place?
Then, rest. Here, he basically reworks a lot of longer books on keeping the Sabbath, into something easier to digest and apply for us, today. Mike and I have always more or less taken one day off a week. But what I’m learning now is that keeping the Sabbath is a lot more than that. It’s about menuha, a rich Hebrew word that means to cultivate an atmosphere to enjoy your life, your world and your God – a mode of being that spills over into all your days, where God has your rapt attention, and where you are fully available to the people around you (rather than to your phone!). Sabbath is a way to break the addictive pattern of accomplish more, accumulate more, repeat. It’s an act of defiance and rebellion against the endless, restless grind of workaholism and consumerism.
The Garden City
Work and rest – both are central to our humanness. Comer then goes on to look at what the Bible says about how the Story ends with heaven’s invasion of Earth and the Garden City, and how the way we view the end shapes how we live today. Heaven is not our home. Earth is. Not as it is now, but as it will be. Our hope is not for another place, but another time. Our ticket to heaven is a round-trip ticket!
Then there’s an epilogue on redefining greatness – we are all born with a desire to be great, to be a hero, to life a life that’s a story worth telling – to be human beings, with special powers, who serve the weak, and save the world. I only have to look at 6yr old Zion to see the truth of that. And that’s exactly what we were made to be – the pull to greatness is in our blood. The problem is that this desire gets bent out of shape, which is why we need to look at how Jesus defined greatness: become a servant – exist to make others’ lives better. There’s a reward with your name on it. God’s just waiting for us to do something reward-worthy. Like what? Like giving a glass of water – a small, insignificant, non-glamorous act of love and service.
A lad from Sutton Baptist came on a team to us in Brazil many years ago. He asked us, “Did Jesus die on the cross so we can sit in rows and sing?… Do we make disciples so they can sit in rows and sing?” We are kings, queens. We need to rule the world. We need dreams as large as Jesus’ vision of the kingdom. A kingdom where greatness has been radically redefined around a crucified Messiah. May we become great, in the full, deep, true, panoramic sense of the word.
One glass of water at a time.
This book is directed at trendy young adults. But it has inspired me to strengthen my painful 60+ yr old knees and to stand firm once again, to give myself fully to the work of the Kingdom in the time I have left – because I know my labour (even if it’s just hanging clothes on the line or reading stories to the future world-makers that my grandkids are) is not in vain. It’ll do the same for you – buy it, read it, or listen to the audio, and then pass it on!