Tuesday, October 07, 2008


Fear is a real human condition. It affects our way of thinking and our actions. It impacts our way of life. It paralyzes one from making and doing good rational decisions. In fear, all kinds of foolish acts are possible. Some cling on to their crummy jobs because they fear that they will then be jobless. Some fasten themselves onto whatever structure their hands can grab hold of, every time the winds of change blow their way. Others refuse to give up their current possessions for fear of not having anything for the future. Some will sacrifice others in order to save themselves, due to fear. Fears are often internal. Some people fear that their children will not get a good enough mark for their education, and during that time, compromise all other things to make sure that their children are studying hard enough for the dreaded exam. Many people will take annual leave, give up social engagements and all other entanglements so as to ensure that their children perform well academically. If we were to measure anxiety, I wonder whether the person taking the exam is the child or the parent? I am not surprised when it is the parent who are more anxious than the bewildered child.

Inner fear is one of the most damaging emotional causes of depression and despair. We are becoming a therapeutic nation, where every symptom we encounter is something that needs treatment straightaway. I have heard that doctors usually treat symptoms rather than the whole person. They cannot handle emotional problems patients have. That will dangerously compromise medical ethics as well as lead to a sharp increase in medical premiums! There is also another aspect of fear that is deeply damaging, especially in the long run. Fear distracts us from the main focus of our calling, which is to Christ. CS Lewis says it powerfully through the character of Screwtape:
"The use of Fashions in thought is to distract the attention of men from their real dangers. We direct the fashionable outcry of each generation against those vices of which it is least in danger and fix its approval on the virtue nearest to that vice which we are trying to make endemic. The game is to have them all running about with fire extinguishers whenever there is a flood, and all crowding to that side of the boat which is already nearly gunwale under." (CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
Indeed, fear has kept us from becoming our true selves. Distractions move us away from the strait and narrow road that the Spirit is leading us along. Distractions disturb our inner beings from that steadfast mind on Christ. Distractions deceive us into thinking that only when we have a wide arsenal of different tools of worship can we then worship God the Father. Some think that they can only worship God through many spirits and many truths. No! When that happens, one becomes vulnerable to make these methods and tools into mini-gods of worship. We will unconsciously become like these idolatrous images. The Lord our God is one. He desires our one focus and our single attention. He does not need many ways in order to get to him. Instead, he wants ALL of our ways to bend toward him. The Lord is one, and all of us who desire to worship him must do so in spirit and in truth, that is with one heart, one mind and one soul all dedicated and focused on him. The act of love is one of paying attention.

Weaning Ourselves From Milk
Dietrich Bonhoeffer urges Christians to be focused on God through the Word alone. In Life Together, he writes:
It is not necessary for us to find new ideas in our meditation. Often that only distracts us and satisfies our vanity. It is perfectly sufficient if the Word enters in and dwells within us as we read and understand it. (D Bonhoeffer, Life together, MN: Fortress Press, 1996, p88)
Like a growing disciple of Christ, we need to go beyond milk unto solid food. We need to wean ourselves away from milk that does not satisfy. What are the common things that we need to wean from?
  1. SEMINARS: Some of us attend seminars and make it the main course of our spiritual life. We pay hundreds, sometimes a few thousand dollars to get that momentary boost. Often, most of the seminar learning evaporates after the last day of the seminar. We then stumble back to our normal way of life, waiting for another re-injection of the next latest and greatest seminar in order to feel more 'spiritually' alive. Avoid this form of spiritual narcotic. Seminars can supplement our spiritual growth, but it should not become the main staple of our Christian diet.

  2. NEWER METHODS/IDEAS: We live in a world of ideas, where the latest and the greatest becomes the talk of the day. People flood to such movements.
    - "Why didn't the worship team use the latest Powerpoint version?"
    - "Why don't the pastor use more multimedia in his sermons?"
    - "Have you read the Bible in a Kindle yet?" (Kindle is the Amazon machine for reading ebooks)

    The truth is that many new ideas are like fads. They do a better job in distracting rather than focusing on worshipping God. For example, I remember one church that uses beautiful Powerpoint slides, which are beamed upfront with the words of the songs of worship each Sunday. All goes well if the slides are in sync with the worship leading. Occasionally, the words for the right song failed to appear, and worshippers end up frustrated by not being able to participate along. I found myself distracted by the different slides and words that do not flow in sync with the worship leading.

  3. HAVING MORE: We do not need many things in order to live a life meaningfully. Some people find that only when they have a zillion variety of dishes will they be able to satisfy their guests. This has more to do with a faulty view of true hospitality. Lauren Winner, an adjunct professor at Regent College writes:
    God’s creation gives us a model for making and sharing homes with people, but the reality of God’s Trinitarian life suggests that Christian hospitality goes further than that. We are not meant simply to invite people into our homes, but also to invite them into our lives. Having guests and visitors, if we do it right, is not an imposition, because we are not meant to rearrange our lives for our guests—we are meant to invite our guests to enter into our lives as they are. It is this forging of relationships that transforms entertaining (i.e., deadly dull cocktail parties at the country club) into hospitality (i.e., a simple pizza on my floor). As writer Karen Burton Mains puts it, ‘Visitors may be more than guests in our homes. If they like, they may be friends.’(excerpted from Mudhouse Sabbath available from Radiant magazine.)
    In fact, having less things to prepare can free us up to spend more time with our guests.

  4. BOOKS: Too much of a good thing is not necessarily good. The dangers of reading too many books is that we have less time to read the Bible. Even Qoheleth in Ecclesiastes admits it after a long search for meaning via the study of many books.
    But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. (Eccl 12:12)
    We need to adopt reading as well as applying what we learn. In other words, 'talking-the-walk' must be done together with 'walking-the-talk.'

  5. FEAR: We come back to this point introduced from the beginning. We need to be careful that we do not fear the small fires of our lives and get distracted from the fiery furnace of sin. Like in Screwtape's advice to Wormwood, people have a tendency to re-direct their essential fire-extinguishers to put out small fires, emptying that saving device to leave themselves vulnerable to a real fire looming right ahead.
We must wean ourselves from all of these and adopt the posture of Christlikeness through simplicity, focus and self-discipline. We must be focused on the goal of our life: Glorify God. John Ortberg writes that "the enemies of simplicity are multiplicity and duplicity. (John Ortberg, The Life You've Always Wanted, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, p175)" He has a good piece of advice for us:
The goal is not for us to get through the Scriptures. The goal is to get the Scriptures through us. (Ortberg, p187)
Truly, true spirituality involves the discipline of simplicity. A story was told of Abba Ammonas
who was asked, 'What is the "narrow and hard way?" (Matt. 7.14) He replied, 'The "narrow and hard way" is this, to control your thoughts, and to strip yourself of your own will, for the sake of God. This is also the meaning of the sentence, "Lo, we have left everything and followed you." (Matt. 19.27)
Indeed, let us wean ourselves from distractions that may extinguish little flames at the expense of preparing ourselves to fight against the bigger flames that may come our way at any time.


No comments:

Latest Posts