“So then, let us not sleep as others do, but let us keep awake and sober.”I Thessalonians 5:6
Our family had tickets to Disney World the day it closed in March. That week, like everyone, all our plans changed. For months, we’ve all lived without some of our usual distractions like sports, our busy schedules, and our social lives.
Life looks different without the usual distractions. When the WiFi goes down, we notice things we hadn’t before. We are stirred, in a good way, even shaken. It’s also disorienting. When that happens, we miss our old distractions. They’re an escape. They help us forget life’s rough edges.
Rest is good. Sabbath is commanded. And yet distractions can serve as a decoy to our responsibilities. We can’t avoid them. Yet we prefer distraction. We accept what is easy, and avoid what is right. We’re not the first to live this way.
100 years after Jesus, there was a Roman poet named Juvenal. He saw his fellow Romans wanted distractions. Everyone loved bread & circuses. They wanted full stomachs and a show. The danger was, some were willing to provide it at a cost. Roman leaders gave the crowds bread & circus. The crowds looked the other way at their corruption. It was a shrewd but powerful transaction. Juvenal saw that with enough bread & circuses, people fall asleep at the wheel of their lives. Anything goes.
A bread & circus lifestyle keep us on the path of the least resistance. It’s like falling asleep on the subway, and waking up at the wrong end of the city. If we fall asleep in life, we’ll wake up at the end full of regrets. We can spend our lives being consumed by our phones, our busyness, our culture only to find at the end that we’ve lived, but we haven’t spent our life. When we accept what is easy, when we settle for bread & circus, we’ll avoid what is right.
Paul’s words to the early Christians set them (and disciples today) on a more difficult path: “let us keep awake and be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5.16) Seasons of scarcity—when our distractions fail us— keep us awake to who God is and what He is doing. Instead of being lulled to sleep, of choosing the easy way, scarcity shakes us and surfaces the narrow way of Jesus. He invites us to live wide awake for His Kingdom, both today and tomorrow.
As society reopens, we don’t have to rush back to the bread & circus lifestyle. Yes, we should enjoy life’s good things. We should never be consumed by them. Life is too grand an opportunity, and Jesus too good a King, for us to spend our days asleep at the wheel of life.
The early church father Irenaeus put it this way: “the glory of God is a human being, fully alive”. We are fully alive when we are fully awake to Jesus’ return & His mission. Be awake; sober in heart, soul, and mind to make Jesus famous in our day, to love even our enemies well, and to work for peace with everyone we meet. Then in the final day we’ll have no reason to flinch. We don’t need to settle for the bread & circus. Being alive to the way of Jesus, with His Spirit, to the glory of the Father is more than enough.