But what did that look like practically? How should their beliefs impact their daily lives? What did being a Christian really mean? Peter dives into those questions in the next section of the letter.
Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming.
- 1 Peter 1:13We have a hard time understanding what it means to worship Jesus Christ because we think of worship as something that only happens in a church on Sunday morning. Human beings are wired to worship. We are worshipping something each and every day, and in every decision we make. It doesn’t have to be God. Worshipping is treating something like a god. You treat something like a god when you put your hope in it, when your relationship with it is the most important thing in your life, and when you build your identity on it.
Everyone puts their hope in something. Just ask yourself: what makes me a worthwhile person? Or, what has to happen for me to become a worthwhile person? What defines you as a human being? We all have an answer. We all need an identity.
Before I became a Christian, work was my god. I loved my job, and how it made me feel. People were impressed when I told them what I did. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment, like I had done something with my life. No matter what else was going on, I could fall back on my job. It gave me security. Everyone needs to make a living, but it was more than that. My job was my identity. I didn’t know what I would be without it. When you identify as something, you give it power over you. You feel like you can’t lose it. I treated work like a matter of life and death. I was constantly worrying about what I would write, whether it would be good enough, and whether people would like it.
Anxiety comes from worrying about things we can’t control, and that’s what I spent most of my time doing. I was hardly the only one. The numbers from this New York Times article are staggering:
In its annual survey of students, the American College Health Association found a significant increase -- to 62 percent in 2016 from 50 percent in 2011 -- of undergraduates reporting “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. Surveys that look at symptoms related to anxiety are also telling. In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA began asking incoming college freshman if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent. Those numbers -- combined with a doubling of hospital admissions for suicidal teenagers over the last 10 years, with the highest rates occurring soon after they returned to school each fall -- came as little surprise to high school administrators across the country, who increasingly report a glut of anxious, overwhelmed students.There are a million reasons for the rise of anxiety, but the underlying sources is the same. We don’t give kids stable identities. They are terrified of failure because they think failure defines who they are as people. I thought this comment from the teenager profiled in the New York Times piece was particularly revealing:
He had already spent weeks challenging his own thinking, which often persuaded him that if he failed a single quiz at school, “then I’ll get a bad grade in the class, I won’t get into the college I want, I won’t get a good job and I’ll be a total failure.”One of the most liberating moments in my life came a few months after I became a Christian. I was praying for someone who was struggling after breaking up with his girlfriend. I could see what was happening because it’s always easier to diagnose someone else’s problems. He had built his identity on that relationship. Dating her had given him purpose in his life. I told him he was defined by his relationship with Jesus Christ, not any human being. At that moment, I realized I saw work the way he saw his ex-girlfriend. If I got fired, I would be exactly where he was.
I had to change the way I saw myself. My life still had meaning if I got fired, and I didn’t make it as a writer. It still had meaning if I didn’t have a cool job. It had meaning if I didn’t have one at all. I wasn’t a writer who practiced Christianity. I was a Christian who happened to write. I had spent all my life pushing myself to be successful, but I didn’t have to anymore. I was free.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.
-- Matthew 7:24-27If your house is built on sand, you should be anxious. When you base your identity on how much money you have, and how far you advance in your career, you are basing your view of yourself on something that can be taken away from you at any time. You can get fired. Your job can be downsized. Your savings can be wiped out in the stock market. There are no guarantees, no matter how hard you work. The things you were counting on to get you through tough times may not be there when you need them. How could you not worry?
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on Earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
-- Matthew 6:19-21There’s a big difference between deciding something with your head, and believing it with your heart. There are still days where I get my self-worth from my job, and I start comparing myself to other people. One of the most challenging things I’ve felt like I had to pray for recently is for Kevin O’Connor, one of the other basketball writers at The Ringer, to be more successful than me. I used to be really competitive with other writers. I would read their articles and look for things I could have done better instead of trying to learn from them. I didn’t want anyone else to be better than me because I got security from the idea that I was the best. When your identity is grounded in Christ, you don’t have to be better than other people to feel good about yourself. You can build people up instead of trying to tear them down.
There are so many negative habits and mindsets that I’ve had to unlearn as I’ve walked with God. That’s why praying and spending time with God every day is so important. Building a house takes time, and you have to partner with God at every step. That’s what Peter is telling his readers. Set your hope in Jesus. Define yourself by your relationship to him. Build your house on a rock.