“Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” – Matthew 26:41 KJV
If God is everywhere, why do so few people seem to be able to find Him?
By “find Him,” I don’t mean just clinging to a vague notion that God exists, but rather, experiencing an intimate, moment-to-moment flow of understanding, guidance, and the special energy called “grace,” coming directly from Him to us.
After all, not only is God omnipresent, but we’re told His greatest desire is to have a personal relationship with each of us, whom He created in His image – to direct our paths and become our ultimate destiny. In other words, to be our God.
Why then are so many of us so lost?
Jesus made this mysterious imbalance painfully clear when he stated, “Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
That’s pretty tough talk for a soft generation like ours, where comfort is king and instant gratification – including “drive-through salvation” – is everywhere. It grates on our psyches to hear that only “few” find the genuine path “which leadeth unto life.” Such words, even from Jesus, just don’t seem to be in sync with our modern notions of “cheap grace” and stadiums full of people being instantly “saved” in great crusades and the like.
I propose we take a little journey of discovery together, past the babble and bombast of the modern institutional church with all its high-profile problems – from lesbian ministers to subversive leftist political agendas to emotion-drenched, entertainment-oriented “worship services” – and venture out into the open fields and fresh air of honest, uncomplicated reflection on the words of Christ.
If we’re blessed, maybe we’ll glean a better understanding of how to stay on the “strait and narrow” path through this life – so full of wonder and adventure, yes, but also full of predators and dangers of every sort.
First, let’s acknowledge a painful truth: Though four out of five Americans today call themselves Christians, most don’t have a clue about what it means to follow Christ.
To illustrate, only 9 percent of those self-identifying as “born-again Christians” even hold a biblical worldview, according to respected Christian pollster George Barna, whose organization has been tracking believers for over two decades. Almost half of “born-agains” – 45 percent – teach their children there are no absolute values.
“You might expect that parents who are born-again Christians would take a different approach to raising their children than did parents who have not committed their life to Christ, but that was rarely the case,” Barna said.
In fact, reported the pollster: “For years we have reported research findings showing that born-again adults think and behave very much like everyone else. It often seems that their faith makes very little difference in their life.”
Which brings us to painful truth No. 2: Our churches obviously aren’t doing a great job of shepherding a righteous nation. But this shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. After all, major scandals – like the Roman Catholic Church’s 10,000-plus cases of alleged clergy sexual abuse of children, or mainline Protestant denominations on the verge of splitting apart over astonishingly absurd and unbiblical issues like ordaining open homosexuals as religious leaders – are driving many people away. The crisis in the establishment church is so great, some are even calling for major reformation on par with the Protestant Reformation in the 17th century.
As a result, writes Barna in his 2006 book “Revolution,” “Committed, born-again Christians are exiting the established church in massive numbers.”
Likewise, author David Morrow, in “Why Men Hate Going to Church,” documents the feminization of the modern Christian church, which the author says caters to women, children and the elderly by creating a safe, boring, predictable environment. Although many men, he insists, really do desire an authentic faith experience, they consider run-of-the-mill church services to be tedious and irrelevant. (Interestingly, this is much the same observation some critics of public education have made about today’s schools – that they’re geared more toward holding girls’ attention than boys’.)
One result of this crisis is the growth of the home-church movement – something basically unheard-of a generation ago, but experiencing rapid growth in the last few years.
As the Washington Post reported: “A growing number of Christians across Washington and around the country are moving to home churches, both as a way to create personal connections in the age of the megachurch and as a return to the blueprint of the Christian church spelled out in the New Testament, which describes Jesus and the apostles teaching small groups in people’s homes.”
How widespread is dissatisfaction with traditional churches? Barna “estimates that since 2000, more than 20 million Americans have begun exploring alternative forms of worship, including home churches, workplace ministries and online faith communities,” reported the Post. Startlingly, Barna predicts that “over the next two decades, traditional churches will lose half their ‘market share’ to these alternative start-ups.”
Widespread disillusionment with modern Christianity has contributed to many other things, including an upsurge in the popularity of pagan, New Age, Eastern and other religions and philosophies, not to mention a major spike – and even growing cultural cachet – in militant atheism.
What’s going on? If 80-plus percent of Americans are Christians, attending tens of thousands of church services every week brimming with music, prayers, sermons, ceremonies and missionary outreaches, why is America rapidly losing her very identity as a Christian nation? With the country dangerously polarized – and millions of families disintegrating, including many Christian families – where is God? How come He’s not infusing each believer’s life with meaning and direction and joy and power like all the ministers say He will? How come so many so-called “born-again Christians” are getting divorced, taking antidepressants, hooked on online porn, or just plain confused, resentful and dissatisfied with life?
Even among those churchgoers who believe they’re “full of the spirit,” truth be told, many are just emotionally high on religious excitement, ever needful of being pumped-up again every week at church. Yet in their quiet, honest, reflective moments they have to admit – if they’re sincere – that something about their Christian walk is just not quite real. Not yet.
Somehow, too many of our churches have lost the essence of what it means to walk with God, and have filled the vacuum with either excitement and entertainment or dry theology and ceremony. Bottom line, writes Morrow about today’s churches: “If we want to shed our reputation as a place for little old ladies of both sexes, we must recapture the challenge of following Jesus.”
“Following Jesus.” That sounds totally awesome. But what do those words really mean? How do we actually “follow Jesus”? We all parrot the same phrases (“I’ve committed my life to Christ,” “I do it all for God,” etc.) we’ve heard from others, who in turn are repeating what they’ve heard from still others. But how many of us really understand deeply, first-hand, what the heaven we’re talking about?
Christianity is a mystical religion, not a legalistic one like Islam, where you can supposedly please Allah by diligently performing endless rituals such as praying a certain number of times a day while kneeling in a certain position on a certain type of rug facing in a certain direction. Anyone, including someone with an unspiritual or even violently deranged mind, is capable of fulfilling such requirements – just out of fear, or desire for reward.
But the Christian faith is very different. How do you mechanically, legalistically “follow Jesus”? Where is He? Obviously, you can’t accomplish this without genuine understanding from God. When Scripture admonishes, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5), how do you get His mind in you? Brain surgery? When Jesus said, “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7), Nicodemus asked: “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4) He was thinking mechanically, not spiritually. When we read “Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2), what do these profound instructions really mean? How do you renew your mind? These Scriptures aren’t just feel-good religious mantras for us to nod our heads to as the minister recites them. They mean something – something powerful, essential and thoroughly real, just as real as the sun shining overhead.
To try to shed some light on this, let’s start by going back a few hundred years. Back before the shallowness and soullessness of the modern secular era. Back when being a “good Christian” wasn’t quite so easy. Back when things like introspection and repentance, impeccable character and “dying to self” were considered essential to living a righteous life, acceptable and pleasing to God.
Consider the profound advice one of America’s Founding Fathers, William Penn – founder of Pennsylvania – gave his own children on the subject of finding God:
So soon as you wake, retire your mind into a pure silence from all thoughts and ideas of worldly things, and in that frame wait upon God, to feel His good presence, to lift up your hearts to Him, and commit your whole self into his blessed care and protection. Then rise, if well, immediately; being dressed, read a chapter or more in the Scriptures, and afterwards dispose yourselves for the business of the day, ever remembering that God is present the overseer of all your thoughts, words, and actions, and demean yourselves, my dear children, accordingly, and do not you dare to do that in his holy, all-seeing presence, which you would be ashamed a man, yea, a child, should see you do.
And as you have intervals from your lawful occasions, delight to step home (within yourselves, I mean), commune with your own hearts and be still; and, as Nebuchadnezzar said on another occasion, One like the Son of God you shall find and enjoy with you and in you: a treasure the world knows not of, but is the aim, end, and diadem of the children of God. This will bear you up against all temptations, and carry you sweetly and evenly – through your day’s business, supporting you under disappointments, and moderating your satisfaction in success and prosperity.
This is mystical stuff, not legalistic. “One like the Son of God you shall find and enjoy with you and in you” – that’s an extraordinary statement. Penn, a Quaker and close friend of the movement’s founder George Fox, is quite dramatically saying God can somehow be found in stillness, echoing David the psalmist who wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)
For his insights, Penn was arrested and imprisoned several times in England, before deciding to seek refuge from religious persecution in America.
Then there’s the famous 16th century Catholic priest, Saint John of the Cross, who authored the Christian classic “Dark Night of the Soul” and others. He said this: “Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved” (that is, for God). And this: “If you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually. If you deny your appetite for them, you will enjoy their truth, understanding what is certain in them.” This is a mystery. We spend our lives coveting and acquiring the possessions and relationships we think will make us happy. And here we’re being told that to find true happiness, we must somehow forsake these very desires. How? And more importantly, why?
By the way, for his efforts at religious reform, John was imprisoned by religious authorities and flogged publicly every week, only to be returned to isolation in a tiny cell barely large enough for his body.
And what about Jean Guyon, the 17th century French author of many Christian books including “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ”? She gently nudges believers in the direction of “retreating inward, and seeking after tranquility of mind” in order to do all things “as in the Divine presence.” In “A Guide to True Peace,” Guyon and her two co-authors wrote:
“Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Therefore, know your own state, and the need you have to be purified by means of temptation, and keep always on the watch, lest the unwearied enemy gain access to your souls by his insinuations and pleasing allurements, which he will suit to your present situation and condition: for, in your passage through life, there are many things which he will offer you as temptations; endeavoring to produce in you an inordinate inclination and desire for them; which if you give way to while you are in this manner tempted, great will be the danger of your being wholly overcome.
If the malignant enemy is not resisted in his first attack, he enters by gradual advances, and takes entire possession of the heart: and so long as opposition is deferred by habitual negligence, the power of opposing becomes every day less, and the strength of the adversary proportionally greater. Therefore, when you feel in yourselves a strong and eager desire after anything whatsoever, and find your inclinations carry you too precipitately to do it, strive to moderate yourselves by retreating inward, and seeking after tranquility of mind. To do all things well, we must do them as in the Divine presence, otherwise we shall soon get off our right center, and be in danger of being wholly overthrown.
There’s that “give-up-your-desires” theme again. One might wonder what’s with these people – are they all against enjoying life? Quite the contrary, as we’ll see presently.
Oh yes, for Guyon’s so-called “Quietist” teachings – sternly condemned as heresy by the Catholic Church – the French government imprisoned her in the Bastille from 1698 to 1703. Her co-authors, Michael Molinos and Francois Fenelon, were also punished as heretics. Whatever doctrinal reasons the Catholic Church might have had for rejecting Guyon, it’s hard to dispute the classic wisdom, espoused here, of seeking God in stillness.
Let’s try to make sense of what these and other Christian thinkers who have emphasized self-awareness and repentance over doctrine and dogma – many of whom were persecuted, imprisoned and sometimes tortured and executed by religious or secular authorities – have been saying through the centuries about finding God. And let’s talk about it, not in flowery medieval verse or elusive metaphors, but in plain, modern English.
Tug of war
Remember those Walt Disney cartoons featuring Donald Duck or Goofy with a little angel on his right shoulder and a little devil on his left, each desperately trying to persuade him to their viewpoint? In some ways, this is a surprisingly good approximation of reality.
We need to realize there really is a Creator God, Whose presence within us manifests primarily as conscience. And there’s also a malevolent intelligence within each of us that exists to confuse us, to cause us to doubt truth, to tempt us to become angry and upset and even rebel against our God-given conscience.
This is the fundamental dynamic of our lives. How we deal with it determines our values, decisions, relationships – our very destiny. That’s why a Judeo-Christian understanding of life – that man is indeed a “fallen being” and saddled with a “sin nature” in competition with our more sincere, searching side that is compatible with God’s influence – is essential. It’s not just a “religion” or “philosophy.” It’s reality – the way things really are – and without recognition of this reality, life never makes sense, we can’t deal with stresses gracefully, we can’t understand how evil works, and we can’t find the “strait and narrow” way to true life.
Now let’s pose a few questions prompted by the statements of our persecuted martyr friends:
This business of finding God in stillness – is that some sort of Eastern, New Age claptrap?
Does it mean to stop thinking and feeling? That sounds moronic.
Do we really need to give up worldly pursuits and possessions?
No, no and no.
In reality, what these Christian teachers are intently focused on is simply starving their pride – their “dark side,” the “born-in-sin” nature – which most of us are feeding all the time. The selfish pursuit of comfort, security and pleasure, the lust for power and prestige – as well as escape into entertainment, food, sex, drugs, whatever – all have a way of enlarging our pride, which causes ever-growing conflict with our conscience. It also “protects” us from clearly seeing our sins and repenting.
This is what Jesus was talking about when He said, “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.” (John 12:25)
The apostle John expressed the same truth this way: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” (1 John 2:15-17)
Many believers throughout the centuries have tried to extinguish their desires for “all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh” and so on, by separating themselves physically from temptation – say, by living in a monastery, or overcoming selfishness by giving away all their money, or keeping away from the opposite gender to quell the “desires of the flesh,” and so on.
But God doesn’t require this of us. We don’t need to live in a cave, and we don’t need to fast from food. We do need, however, to discover how to “fast” from hatred, resentment and unforgiveness, the food of pride, which sustains our “dark side.”
To better understand what Christian leaders of the past have suffered and died to tell us about Christ’s message, let’s explore the words of Jesus Christ Himself. In fact, let’s focus on a one-word command Jesus urged His followers to take to heart on many occasions: The word is … “Watch.”
‘Watch and pray’
As He prepared to pray in the garden of Gethsemane, shortly before His mock trial and execution, Jesus told a few of His disciples who were with Him to “watch and pray.”
“And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:40-41)
“And saith unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful unto death: tarry ye here, and watch.” (Mark 14:34)
One might be tempted to think, “Well, I guess Jesus was just telling Peter and the other disciples to stay awake and ‘watch’ Him during His hour of need in Gethsemane.”
Or, in light of a verse like this one – “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man. (Luke 21:36) – we might conclude “He must want us to watch current events so we can predict the end of the world before it actually arrives.”
But this would be missing the mark. The instruction to “watch” is found throughout the New Testament:
On many occasions, Jesus gives this mysterious command to “watch”: “And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.” (Mark 13:37)
Paul said to the people of Corinth: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)
To the church in Colossae, Paul exhorted.: “Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2)
To the Thessalonians, Paul said: “Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thessalonians 5:6)
In his letter to Timothy, Paul said: But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. (2 Timothy 4:5)
What about Peter? He said, dramatically: “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer.” (1 Peter 4:7)
Even more sobering, in the Book of Revelation, is Jesus’ admonition to the human race: “Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee.” (Revelation 3:3)
What is this special “watching” that Jesus and his disciples are pointing to? What exactly does Paul mean by “Watch thou in all things”? Or Jesus, when He says, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation”? Clearly, this is an admonition that we must be watchful of what’s going on within us, because that’s where temptation assaults us and attempts to overtake us.
Basically, our conscious mind – that’s the part of us that’s aware right now of the ticking of the clock on the wall, or the refrigerator humming – can either be totally absorbed in our thoughts and feelings (as in a daydream), or it can watch those same thoughts and feelings more objectively, as in the biblical admonition to “be sober.”
Watching is introspection – literally, “to look inward.” God gave us the capacity to observe our own thoughts, our reactions to stress, our emotions, upsets, angers and so on – all that transpires in these mortal bodies and minds. To be a watcher is to understand ourselves, and others. However, spending a few minutes sitting quietly and objectively observing our own thoughts, emotions and body sensations takes a genuine commitment to God. Why? Because when we are honestly introspective, we tend to see what’s wrong with us, and really prideful people can’t stand to do that.
But if we’re willing to be truly aware of the sometimes-strange thoughts and feelings that surface within us – to watch the ongoing machinations of our own sin nature, in other words – something amazing starts to happen. Once we’re a little separate from our constant rehashing of the past and worrying about the future, and instead remain focused on what we are observing inside us right now, we’re actually closer to God, in stillness. And that enables us to see our own flaws and imperfections with a new type of clarity, insight and innocence that leads to real change.
It’s as though we’re allowing a light to shine on our failings merely by quietly, faithfully watching them. This is actually not a metaphor, but reality. When we stand back and “watch all things” honestly, as Paul said, we’re literally allowing God’s light to shine in our souls and purge the “things of the darkness.” In contrast, when we’re thrashing around “down there” in our thoughts and emotions, trying desperately to solve our problems with worry and frustration, we’re literally blocking His light.
Here’s an amazing description of this situation from John the apostle: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) Do you get what he’s saying? If we allow the light of God to shine within us on our sins, simply by our willingness to face them honestly, then we are at that very moment being forgiven and cleansed by Christ’s blood. What a magnificent truth!
Floating down the river
OK, let’s bring this “watching” thing down to earth.
Suppose, for example, you suffer from back pain. Almost always, physical pain also gives rise to emotions – maybe resentment toward the discomfort, still more resentment over the silly accident that led to the injury, and perhaps intimidation and fear toward the prospect of future pain and disability. And so, we wallow in this debilitating jumble of physical and emotional pain. But what if you were to stand back, so to speak, and observe the back pain objectively, as well as the emotions that surface? You’d find that although the physical pain remains, the emotions – if you watch them diligently without wallowing in them or feeding them – gradually dissipate. And pain without the attendant resentment is far easier to endure.
Truth be told, our normal waking mental state is a turbulent, ever-churning jumble of thoughts and feelings and unconscious mental riffraff. If we think of our thought-stream as a flowing river full of driftwood and debris, then we’re accustomed to floating down the river with it, swept along with the swirl of our own thoughts. Where we really need to be, however, is sitting on the bank of the river, watching the thoughts and feelings go by.
What do we do if we’re watching ourselves and notice something really ignoble or rotten inside us? Say we detect a subtle feeling of satisfaction over somebody else’s misfortune. Or we may notice irritation or resentment toward little children for their carefree innocence, because it reminds us of our lack of those qualities. This is somewhat painful to realize, but there’s a bit of darkness that’s made a home inside us during all the years when the light of God wasn’t so welcome in us and we were emotionally reacting to the cruelties and confusion of everyone around us. But it’s all right – we don’t have to do anything about it. Just suffer it graciously – which means don’t deny it and don’t hate it. Rather, watch – and pray.
Suppose we become aware of a big ball of rage deep down inside us? News flash: Most people reading these words have an anger problem of one kind or another – it’s epidemic among human beings. We bury the angers and resentments of our youth, and then unknowingly continue to feed the beast with daily doses of irritation and upset. Although this rage is suppressed and somewhat out of view, it’s perfectly positioned to spill out and spoil our life and marriage, and perhaps to cause some dreadful disease to boot. But rage too can be observed, and if we’re not intimidated by the big anger-bully inside us (or others), but calmly and steadfastly watch it, it too will gradually yield to the light of observation and slowly lose its hold on us.
What about lust? A man walks down the street, notices an attractive woman – and before he knows it he experiences lustful thoughts toward her. Part of him knows it’s wrong. After all, didn’t Jesus say with great clarity: “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) And the Ten Commandments affirm the same thing: “… thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife.” (Exodus 20:17) So, how to deal with this? By watching that lustful impulse in an objective way. If we just watch it, but don’t get carried downstream with it, we observe it out of existence, by God’s grace. We’re actually being separated from the sin by patiently watching it and 1) no longer agreeing with it and wallowing in it, nor 2) resentfully struggling with it. Both just enlarge the problem – but simple, faithful watching weakens the hold sin has on us.
Impatience with what we see masquerades as some sort of righteous attempt to fix ourselves. But in reality it’s just pride and faithlessness. If we really had faith in God, we wouldn’t have the compulsion to fix ourselves through anger.
What about worry? When Jesus says, “Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?” (Matthew 6:27), we understand Him to mean that we shouldn’t fall to worrying. But how do we not worry? It’s a compulsive mental activity that plagues all of us when we’re lacking in faith. In an effort to stop worrying, do we just manufacture some sort of emotionalized faith, quote some Bible verses, turn up the “praise” music on the radio? No, because underneath it all, the worry is still there, and when we lie down in bed at night the worry thoughts flood back into our mind. Just watch it – and pray.
Watching objectively can be painful, because we’re literally moving toward our conflict with God, rather than running away from it toward comfort and distraction – which is basically what most everything else in the world offers us. Think of it this way: We’re walking down the street and we see, far off, someone coming toward us whom we have previously wronged. The closer we get to him, the more anxious and agitated we feel. We have an urge to turn around and walk the other way. Excuses rise up in our mind as to why we shouldn’t face him – “Not now, it’s not the right time, he probably hasn’t forgiven me, I’ll be late for my appointment” and so on. But if we don’t wimp out, once we come right up to him and apologize plainly and guilelessly for what we did, it’s over – and we feel lighthearted for the rest of the day, free as a bird, like we’ve won a great victory. Indeed we have.
When the One we reconcile with is our Creator, the result is peace with God. The other kind of “peace” we can choose is peace apart from God. The more we get lost in distraction, pleasure, food, the approval of others and the like, the farther we get from conscience and the necessary conflict it causes us.
That brings us to the difference between the kind of “stillness” experience which Christian saints espouse, and the counterfeit variety Eastern gurus offer. The Christian version brings peace with God, because we’ve literally gone in the direction of conscience and conflict, by facing our sins. The Eastern variety delivers peace without God by taking us in the opposite direction – away from conscience. Remember this: With false spirituality, despite all the talk about God and being one with the cosmos and all that, there is no repentance. And how could there be, when its very purpose is to relieve your inner conflicts by taking you as far away from your conscience as possible, which is exactly what mantra meditations do?
Thus, “being still” for a Christian doesn’t mean we block thoughts or impose some Eastern-type empty-minded stillness (by suppressing thought) or mutter a mantra under our breath. Rather, we’re observing ourselves – our thoughts, feelings, problems and upsets – in a way that effortlessly calls out to God for help.
So you see, when Saint John of the Cross says, “If you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually,” he’s not spouting mystical-sounding mumbo jumbo. He’s saying: When you separate yourself from temptation – not physically, but simply by observing the subtle strings of temptation pulling on your frail body of sin, and allow God to do the rest – you’re “purify[ing] your soul of attachment to and desire for things.”
When Jean Guyon warns us, “When you feel in yourselves a strong and eager desire after anything whatsoever, and find your inclinations carry you too precipitately to do it, strive to moderate yourselves by retreating inward, and seeking after tranquility of mind,” the “tranquility of mind” and “moderation” of our urges she’s talking about are the natural consequence of watching patiently and faithfully.
Therefore, to overcome selfishness, we don’t need to give away all our money to the poor. We just need to watch – that is, observe honestly – our selfishness, and resist the temptation to fix it (as if God needs help in fixing us). Don’t try to compensate by being “generous” – that’s phony. Don’t get mad at yourself for being selfish – that’s pride (the cause of selfishness). Simple, honest observation of our compulsively sinful tendencies is sufficient for God to transform us through genuine repentance.
Where is faith?
Our mind has an incredible capacity for fooling us, for manufacturing fake righteousness, “right” thoughts and “right” behaviors. But it’s all an act. It is only through soberly seeing and comprehending our own sin thoughts and feelings, and allowing ourselves to experience the natural and gentle embarrassment and pain God graces us with, that we change, that we are “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2)
What about faith? The first step to discovering real faith is admitting honestly we don’t have it yet. Emotional excitement isn’t faith. Sorry – it’s just not. Singing praise songs, memorizing Bible verses, or even being a Bible scholar – none of these require faith. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with memorizing Bible verses and singing hymns and learning Greek and Hebrew. They’re just not faith and don’t require faith.
So where is faith? Well, remember that always crouching at our mind’s doorstep is doubt, the little devil on Goofy’s left shoulder. The way to deal with doubt and the malevolent spirit behind it is by watching it objectively. We can’t wrestle it to the ground, outthink it, outsmart it, out-trick it or overpower it. We can’t overcome it by getting mad at it, dialoging with it, or struggling with it in any way whatsoever. That just gives it power. But here’s the wonderful truth hidden in all of this: Simply recognizing doubt as doubt is evidence of a little bit of faith.
Many of us have been led to believe holding on to certain beliefs and doctrines will save us. But it’s possible to acknowledge all the right stuff, yet still remain full of pride and secret rebellion against God. Don’t you think the devil knows the truth?
The “strait and narrow” path is not ultimately paved with doctrine, important as that is – but rather, with humility and repentance and effortless transformation. The good thief on the cross – whom Jesus promised, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43) – didn’t know anything about the trinity or any other doctrinal points, and I seriously doubt he was baptized. All he had was honesty, a humble spirit, and a relationship with Christ. We need to be more like the good thief.
When we “watch in all things,” a wordless confession naturally follows: “Oh my gosh, look at my compulsive worry. Look at these resentments I have toward people. Look at this tendency I have to doubt everything, I’m a regular doubting Thomas. Wow, look at this insecurity I have about money, about my looks, about people” – about whatever.
Watching the compulsions of sin inside us, we are moved to repentance and appreciation of God’s mercy. It is then, in those private moments of awkwardness, embarrassment, emptiness and need, to which He responds with His infilling grace – which is true life – that we are closer to Him than at any other time. Closer than when our spouse and children embrace us and warmly say they love us and God loves us. Closer than in Yosemite in the springtime, beholding waterfalls cascading into more waterfalls. Closer than in a mighty cathedral with soaring organ music and choirs singing glorious hymns.
Because the most splendid choir on earth is just a pale imitation of the angels. And it is the heavenly host themselves, we’re told, that celebrate the private redemption of the sincere watcher. As Jesus put it: “I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. (Luke 15:10)
This repentance and forgiveness in the light, and the effortless renewing of our minds that follows, is how we bond with God – and break the bonds of the world. It is then, as Paul told the believers in Corinth, that “we have the mind of Christ.”
Note: All Bible quotations in this article are taken from the King James Version.
Editor’s note: The preceding column was originally published in the December edition of WND’s monthly Whistleblower magazine, “Heaven on Earth,” which is available at WND’s online store.
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