Elvis Presley’s Bible, containing his handwritten notes and thoughts on Scripture, just sold for $94,600 at auction. Apparently, Presley didn’t always translate what he read to what he sang. Consider lyrics he made more famous than when Frank Sinatra first recorded them: “For what is a man, what has he got / If not himself, then he has not . . . The record shows I took the blows / And did it my way.”
What does it say about our culture that “My Way” is considered the most frequently recorded song in history? Can God bless a nation that does it “my way”?
Jesus’ third Beatitude promises, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). “Meek” translates praus, one of the most fascinating words in the Greek language. The word in English today carries a sense of being passive, shy, quiet, reserved. It meant the opposite in Greek. Its basic definition is “submitted strength.” Praus is best illustrated by a powerful stallion bridled and yielded to the control of its master. Jesus used it to describe someone who is constantly yielded to God as King.
Does our society value such spiritual submission? Or does it teach us self-reliance, the confidence that we can do anything if we get up earlier, stay up later, and try harder? Is worship seen as a time to surrender our lives to our King, or as an experience we judge by how it makes us feel? Is church a community to serve or an organization that exists to meet our needs?
Transactional religion is nothing new. I’m writing today’s cultural commentary from Rome, where I’m leading a Bible study tour. Ancient monuments dedicated to ancient gods stand on nearly every street. Each gave Romans another way to do business with their gods—if they were going to war, they would sacrifice to Mars so he would bless their army. If they needed wisdom they would sacrifice to Athena so she would guide their decisions. Do what the gods want so they’ll do what we want—that’s the spiritual DNA of our culture.
However, there’s room for only one ruler on the throne of our lives. If you and I do not begin every day by submitting to Christ as our King, we will be king of our lives that day. Tragically, we will then forfeit the blessing God can give only to those who are surrendered to his power and purposes. Conversely, we can make Jesus the King of our day as it begins and of each decision and temptation we face. We can bring our lives to him as “living sacrifices,” refusing to compromise with the world but seeking to be transformed by his Spirit and word (Romans 12:1-2a). And we will experience personally his “good, pleasing and perfect will” (v. 2b).
Our culture does not value a submitted life, but it’s the only kind of life God can bless.