The Unified Life

By on January 1, 2013
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by GARY MAZE

THE SHEMA

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

As each year passes, it seems that life speeds up with an exponential increase in the number of opportunities, demands, and distractions. Like most of the people I know, I often find myself evaluating and assigning priority levels to most aspects of my daily life. Each task can be given a ranking based on time, urgency, and my ability to address its needs with efficiency. While each season has specific challenges, some logically demand greater increments of time and energy than others. Some stages of life— becoming a newlywed, living the joys and stresses of parenthood, realizing an empty nest, and dealing with the shifting responsibilities of caring for aging parents—stick out in my mind. In light of our busy world, it has been my observation that nearly everyone has a tendency to compartmentalize competing demands for attention. As I’ve strived to consider my life in the context of a Biblical worldview, I’ve gained perspective with age and I’ve come to see compartmentalization as a plan for life management that left unchecked can have a dark side.

The first step toward avoiding a problem is often to define and analyze it in order to avoid its pitfalls. A simple definition of compartmentalization is to place two or more values, demands, beliefs, or responsibilities in separate mental compartments for the sake of control or management. Psychological compartmentalization has been defined as a defense mechanism to avoid cognitive dissonance—the discomfort caused by conflicting ideas, beliefs, values, or demands.

Clearly, disciplined focus to meet important or urgent needs can be accomplished by compartmentalizing. For instance, dropping less urgent tasks to care for a medical emergency, or mentally deciding to think about some troublesome issue at a later time can be helpful. However, separating our life into isolated compartments without the benefit of an applied Christian worldview can be disastrous.

Unhealthy compartmentalization is easy to spot in high profile cases of “hypocritical” behavior. For instance, when a Christian leader is caught in adultery, or when a secret sin is made known to others, many of us say to ourselves, “What were they thinking?” However, there is a more subtle, spiritually debilitating compartmentalization that is less obvious. This might be evidenced by the business person who sees a clear demarcation between their “religious” or “church” life and their “business” life. Maybe it’s the sports fan separating “church” language from “game day” language, or the parent who says, “Do as I say, and not as I do.” Why are we so misaligned in our beliefs and behaviors? How do we align our lifestyles Biblically? What does the Bible say?

The starting point for living a life from a Biblical worldview is to examine the scripture with the intent of not only understanding God’s character, but with a yielded heart committed to applying the truth to our lives. It is a process not suddenly realized, but rather one that we, as Christians, constantly seek to gain through prayer, the study of scripture, and fellowship in Christian community. Threaded throughout scripture are countless passages both describing God’s character and mandating our behavior.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9, known as the Shema, is one of the most quoted passages in the Old Testament. For three millennia, Jews have quoted this passage, or portions of it, in daily prayers. Christians often point to these touchstone statements as a sweeping command from God to transmit our faith to our children. Certainly, the passage demands we use every experience in life for the sake of teaching that we are to love the Lord our God with all of heart, our soul, and our strength. Yet, central to this passage is the call to seek God as the Lord over every area of one’s life. The fact that the Shema begins with an acknowledgement of God being one cannot be overstated. This understanding that God is One stood in stark contrast to a world which had assigned false deities to virtually every known celestial body, environmental condition, and life experience.

The danger of compartmentalizing without a Biblical worldview is that while we maintain control over some parts of our life, we can easily rationalize our failure to apply godly principles to other parts—out of sight, out of mind. The simple truth is many of us will be faithful to our spouse, but not faithful financially. We’ll teach a Sunday School class, but treat colleagues and employees poorly. We’ll have a quiet time, but fail to yield to the transforming power of the Spirit that brings His patience to difficult circumstances. I, for one, want to begin the year with a fresh surrender to the one God and His transforming power in every area of my life, not just in self-serving categories of my own choosing.

Gary Maze is the Associate Pastor at Broadmoor Baptist Church in Madison, Mississippi. Gary has been in the Jackson area for over 35 years. During that time, he has served as a church planter, Executive Director for Youth for Christ, and has been an adjunct faculty member at Belhaven University. He and his wife, Kathy, have two children: Josh, a worship pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, Tennessee; and Karleigh, a sophomore at Mississippi College.

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