Two friends and I host a weekly podcast on various spiritual topics. Last month we planned to discuss (I kid you not), How to Recognize Spiritual Assault. Schedule conflicts and illness forced us to cancel our two previous podcasts. We didn’t want to call off a third.
To complicate matters, one of my friends was still under the weather, the other was swamped with work, and I had a longstanding 6:00 pm dinner date with out-of-town friends. I planned to leave the dinner at 7:30 to make our 8:00 call.
That was the situation four hours before the podcast. This is the story that followed:
Late in the afternoon, my wife and I had a tense discussion. I missed much of my podcast planning time, leaving me irritated, distracted, and unprepared.
Our dinner reservation was changed from 6:00 pm to 7:00 pm, leaving me little time for conversation with friends, and even less time for food.
The closest parking spot was several dozen blocks from the restaurant, and I arrived five minutes late.
As I left the restaurant, a torrential downpour greeted me, and I splashed and waded the six blocks back to my car.
Three different traffic jams—three!—delayed me further. I arrived home with two minutes to spare, soaking wet, and freezing. And further irritated, distracted and unprepared.
I began the call in a frenzied, intense, and distracted state of mind. Do you recognize the frontlines of the spiritual assault?
A college friend of mine watched every episode of Marcus Welby, M. D. (the TV series about a small town, family doctor), and my friend wanted nothing more than to be a like-minded, caring, personal physician.
My friend aggressively pursued his pre-med studies, but he also countered the competitive culture of his program by tutoring other pre-med students. His life verse was, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord” (Jer. 17:7). He said he didn’t want to grind through med-school simply by his own hard work. He wanted to “trust in the Lord.”
He and I graduated in 1979 (back around the time the flush toilet was invented). He went off to med-school and I went off to the mission field.
I saw him next three years later. He had dropped out of med-school after a prolonged, unknown illness (probably Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), and he struggled to pay his mounting bills, not to mention finding a job with any sense of personal fulfillment.
He had also rejected Christianity. He said, “I trusted in the Lord, and look what it got me, illness, exhaustion, humiliation, and grunt work. Not exactly the Promised Land.”
I once read an article that blamed the plague of modern discontent on the internet. Facebook flaunts vacationing friends sailing the Caribbean, or their “perfect” kids topping the honor roll, or we drool over the mansions of the rich and famous. And our hearts whisper, “If only….”
Others argue that it is advertising that supercharges our unhappiness:
Marketers have turned television into an instrument of dissatisfaction. The shows bring an idealized, expensive world into the homes of people who can’t afford it. And the ads remind everyone that their lives are incomplete and unhappy—unless …. (Seth Godin)
It’s not that everything in our lives is bad (after all, we live in the safest, healthiest, and most prosperous time in history); we just wish our environment could be a smidgeon better:
If only I could lose twenty pounds.
If only I could work thirty-five hours a week instead of forty-five;
If only my husband listened more, or my wife was better looking (or I was better looking).
While the internet and advertisers intensify our discontent, Scripture says the human heart has an almost unlimited capacity to pin our hopes on the tiniest of changes in circumstances. As one spiritual writer put it:
The terrible fallacy of the last hundred years has been to think that all a person’s troubles are due to his environment. That is a tragic fallacy. It overlooks the fact that it was precisely in Paradise that mankind fell. (Martyn Lloyd Jones)
When I began Beliefs of the Heart, a friend suggested I adopt a Comment Policy. His site already had one, and I copied his almost word for word. The short version is: Keep comments short and sweet.
In the last seven years, about five thousand comments have been posted. Out of those five thousand comments, I have only deleted five, from four different people.
I deleted one comment because it was an advertisement for Ray Ban Sunglasses that had somehow eluded my spam filter.
I deleted two comments that were twice as long as the article itself. In both situations, I sent the readers a copy of their remarks with suggestions for making their comments punchier. Both readers edited and reposted excellent comments.
I also deleted two different comments from one reader because they were nasty. She called one reader a “moron with an elbow for a brain,” and she bullied another commenter, saying, “Why don’t you include your full name, you coward, so I can post it on Facebook and show the world what a fool you are.”
When I contacted her to explain my reasons for deleting her comments, she replied, “Are your readers so thin-skinned that they cannot handle a little honest criticism?”
Many years ago, I met with a Christian leader who had influenced me in my youth. As we talked, he offered to give me input on a recent sermon series I had preached. A month later, he shared a few positive comments, and then he added this critique: “I think you share your weaknesses too much. People need to hear our victories more than our struggles.”
I think he is mistaken.
The gospels overflow with the deficiencies of the disciples who act like puppies that aren’t housebroken: they fail to understand the parables of Jesus, they argue about which of them is the greatest disciple, they cannot cast out an evil spirit, they correct Jesus for predicting his own death, they miss the meaning of the transfiguration, and they abandon and deny Jesus.
And remember, the gospels were written by these very same weak disciples or by people who heard them tell their stories. The gospel writers hid nothing of the failures of the disciples.
And those struggles encourage me. I don’t need leaders who tell me of their great victories; at least I don’t need them as much as I need leaders who share God’s great victories even when they themselves are clueless.
In the spirit of those “gifts of victory,” let me share (again) of my failure in a current struggle.
My parents moved from Detroit to Philadelphia in September 1975. I started university the same month, and I paid my tuition, room, and board by continuing my high school janitor job in Detroit, about a half-hour drive from Ann Arbor.
That October—forty-two years ago this month—I drove my white, 1967 VW Beetle to visit my parents in their new house for the weekend. It was a six-hundred-mile drive. Three short miles from home, my poor old Beetle’s transmission shifted its last gear, grinding itself to death.
My parents picked me up, we had a great weekend, and I hitchhiked back to Ann Arbor after hearing my dad preach in his new church.
My dad was a pastor of a small church, and my parents lived paycheck to paycheck. They couldn’t afford to help with tuition (which is why I drove to Detroit on weekends), and they certainly couldn’t help with my car repair.
I was in a bind. I needed my car so I could drive to work, so I could pay tuition, but I only had $350 in the bank for repairs.
I need to sacrifice something to God, and I don’t want to.
After months of trying to sell our house, we signed the closing documents a few weeks ago. My wife and I have painstakingly pursued our hunt for a new home. For me, it’s been more of a frantic, obsessive, compulsive quest. We’ve exhaustively examined hundreds of homes, but only one fit our unique criteria for layout and land-use.
Except this house is forty minutes from our community and we wanted a house a mere ten.
That dreamhouse absorbs my mind. I think about it at night. I imagine daily life with family or hosting retreats on hearing God. And I talk about it too much. (Just ask my friends.)
In my obsession with this aspiration, I begin to doubt God’s goodness (or his power), and I think ill-thoughts of my wife (Why can’t she love this dreamhouse as I do?).
I think God wants me to sacrifice something. Because this preoccupation is leading me into evil.