It’s Only Stupid If

I recently heard a popular Christian speaker tell of a “rich spiritual exercise” he began practicing in secret. A friend of his encouraged him for years to try it, and for years he resisted. Finally, he gave it a shot. And he loves it.

The friend who introduced him to the spiritual practice is an Eastern Guru, and the exercises themselves are born out of Eastern Mysticism. At first, the popular speaker feared mixing eastern religion with Christianity, but afterward he spoke of the wonderful, inner-peace he feels. “The proof,” he preached, “is in the pudding; ‘We’ll know it by its fruit.’”

When he indulges in these practices, he asserts he “is more kind to himself, has learned to receive, has discovered his self-worth, grown in self-love,” and is “growing in heroic self-care.”

He concluded, “It’s only stupid if it doesn’t work.”

When it Seems Not to Work

A pastor who read Hearing God in Conversation recently told me about “learning to know God’s will.” Ten years ago, he felt called to a smaller, poorer church. When he accepted the invitation, he and his wife put up their suburban house for sale and bought a house in the city.

Their old house took twenty-six months to sell. A bridge loan handled the double-payments.

God’s delay bewildered them. They thought they heard his guidance, they priced their old house fairly, it was a seller’s market, and the darn old house sat there empty. After it finally sold, they had five years of extra monthly expenses before they paid off the loan.

Whenever they asked God about it, they sensed him say, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” Thought provoking but hardly inner-peace.

When the bridge loan was finally paid off, they found they liked their simpler lifestyle. Instead of buying a new car, they gave that monthly money to a missionary in Ghana. When they told their story to the congregation, many of them began to donate more also.

Soon, the church itself donated over 30% of their monthly income to missions and charities.

The pastor concluded, “The fruit of God’s ways was to transform our minds to think more about other people: the local poor, our missionaries, and the people they care for. We could never have changed our own hearts in our own wisdom. It took adversity.”

God’s Ways Often Make No Sense

Obedience only shapes us when we disagree with God. When we agree with him, we obey our own reasoning because the alternatives themselves seem stupid. Only when God’s ways seem stupid have we begun to understand what obedience means. And what does God command?

Scripture prohibits mixing with other religions ten times more than it speaks against murder or adultery. Why so over the top? Because we naturally agree that violence and betrayal is bad, whereas idols disguise themselves by promising something good. To us, it seems intolerant to reject practices of other religions: how could a loving God forbid fruitful-spirituality?

Idols have eyes that can’t see, ears that don’t hear, and mouths that don’t speak (Ps. 115:5-8). They promise good that they cannot deliver. Yet we believe them. Christians today are abandoning faithfulness to God at the same rate our culture abandons marital fidelity.

Real spirituality is born in the fires of adversity, declining a good for the sake of the best, and God alone knows what that is. Jesus himself “learned obedience through suffering” (Heb. 5:8).

The fruit of that famous speaker was his increased self-focus, nurtured in an inner-peace of disobedience. The fruit of that poor pastor was an increased other-focus, nurtured in the suffering of obedience. “To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere” (C. S. Lewis).

It’s only stupid if we don’t obey God’s way.

Sam

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30 thoughts on “It’s Only Stupid If

  1. Sam – skillful reminder of how SELF is the idol we most stumble over throughout our life. Really good writing and post!

    • One of the reasons I believe Christianity is its counter-intuitive approach to life. Just today I read Luke 14:11 “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

      It doesn’t make sense until I quit trusting myself (and my grand schemes for life) and trust that God knows best.

      Which is a relief. My ways usually end up in wrecks.

    • It is so fortunate for me that I cannot escape God: Ps. 139:8 “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” Even if I make my bed in Michigan!

      • Can you imagine Jonah being stuck in a stinking fish in the bottom of the ocean.

        This wise post about man’s way of escape through “meditation” needed to be said. It’s like a drug that only makes you feel good while you’re using it.

        I find it to be richly rewarding when I go “painfully deep” with God.

  2. Terrific and important post. Never considered why the Bible condemns idolatry ten times more than moral evils. Also the positive character outcome of financial difficulty. Thanks!

      • AMEN! God has delivered me through countless storms, and knocked me off my ‘high horse’ more times than I care to remember. And through His Love, He opened my eyes to reveal that I had devoted more time, more talent and resources to fulfilling my dreams as well as other people’s dreams instead of building HIS Kingdom.

        When it finally dawned on me that living according to His will is the ONLY way to live, I had to let go of every earthly ‘treasure’ that I had deemed important. That decision came at great personal cost. I lost favor with my entire family and most of my friends. My status as eldest daughter and ‘Golden Child’ quickly became ‘Black Sheep of The Family’ as one of my nephews so eloquently proclaimed at a family gathering many years ago. And I responded: “Baaaaa, baaaaa.”

        During the lonely years that followed, I sat at the Lord’s feet quite often, and He whispered to my heart time and time again: “I AM here.”

        I cling to those moments, I live for those moments when God whispers His Words of Peace to my heart, and all anxiety, all fears disappear, and I am immersed in His Love.

        It can be a crazy, cruel world out there, and it’s up to us to touch EVERYONE we meet with God’s Love – friend and foe alike. It’s easy to love people who love us in return… it’s a breeze. The challenge is to love those who don’t love us.

        By the Grace of God, I’m slowly learning how to do that, and OUCH, it hurts. So, I look to His Cross and Resurrection, and He strengthens me moment by moment to pick up my cross and follow Him in obedient surrender. And although it’s difficult, and seems impossible at times, I’ve never been happier.

        “If you wish to come after me you must deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow me. For if you wish to save your life, you will lose it; but if you lose your life for my sake you will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).

        • The one word that strikes me about your final verse is “daily.” We take up our cross, “daily.”

          And for me, taking up my cross means letting the old Sam die that the life of God be nurtured. Not my way, but His.

          Thanks

          • Well said! … taking up our crosses, letting our old selves die that the life of God be nurtured in us. My own experience in following His will, learning and practicing His ways has been a bittersweet journey, a lifelong slow conversion from worldly ways to God’s ways. His love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness astounds me at times!

  3. When I started reading this article only the top showed until i clicked the link for the full article….. I was so afraid you were going to endorse whichever practice was being promoted, and if felt so wrong! Thank you for standing firm. Totally agree with you… am reading about too many borderline practices by leaders with loud influential spiritual voices that blur the lines and make it really a challenge to discern Truth; even for those who are trying to, let alone anyone young in their faith or investigating faith. Preach it! I’ll share this article! Love your work, and still loving the reading plan…. have a great week!

    • Well, you caught me. I deliberately left the beginning vague. And that was hard to do!

      The way of the pastor seems so much more difficult than the “wisdom of this world,” and yet it is the way of the cross. Jesus tells us to take up our cross “daily.” (Yikes!)

      I’m loving the reading plan too 🙂

  4. Sam – Good words! So…how would you counsel a follower of Jesus who wants to join a yoga class? They say, “It’s only exercise, and the leader doesn’t talk about anything spiritual or about the roots in Hinduism.” Is this harmless or stupid? 🙂

    • Mark, I can’t believe you asked me that tough question! Here is my response, a lengthy excerpt from my book, Hearing God in Conversation:

      The first commandment says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:3). But the word “before” means more than “precedence,” it mostly means “presence.” It’s not merely suggesting, “Let no other god take priority over me”; it commands us, “Bring no other gods into my presence.” And his “presence” means every part of our reborn lives.

      Throughout the Old Testament, God continually admonishes his people to put away idols, to shun even a hint of other gods, and even at the risk of their lives, to avoid mixing the local gods with the religion of the Bible. Yet Solomon, wise as he was, was also a master at syncretism. Mixing pagan practices with true worship of God was the root of Solomon’s horrific, devastating, spiritual demise.

      We modern believers rarely think of idols. Whom do you know who has a hidden shrine to Baal in their garden? Our idols are subtler and a bit more insidious: the gods of the perfect family, or good looks, or people-pleasing. These idols are harder to root out.

      The only obvious religious syncretism of our times is our mixture of Eastern religious practices with Christianity. It’s the Christian who practices yoga for fitness or Eastern meditation for relaxation.

      At first blush, it appears harmless: you’ve taken out the Buddhist mantras. But these practices arise from religions that do not worship the God of the Bible. Somewhere between us and the Buddhist monk in our training ancestry, someone decided yoga was safe as long as “X” was removed. Do we know who that removal expert was? Do we know their spiritual maturity? Do we know if the removed “X” was enough? If you were that removal expert, do you really trust yourself enough to know what good you can learn from a religion that is contrary to the Bible?

      Solomon, in all his wisdom, was deceived. Do we claim superior wisdom to Solomon?

      Idols appealed to the Israelites. Why was that? Wasn’t God all that they needed? Yes, he was, but they wanted faster or different results. They turned to other gods for crops, fertility, and peace of mind. We do the same thing with yoga and Transcendental Meditation. The Idols promise one thing, and for a time it feels like they deliver, but their end is hell on earth. At the very least. At least for Solomon.

      Jesus offers meditation teaching too: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27). The word consider is a meditation word. It means to think deeply about this truth. Eastern religions empty the mind in order to block out to the world. Jesus invites us to fill the mind with his words and creation. Both practices result in a type of peace, but only one kind of peace is from the God of Scripture.

      My critique of yoga will be unpopular with some readers. Many who disagree with me use yoga-workouts as an opportunity for Scripture meditation as described in chapters 5, 6, and 10. They may claim this as an area of Christian liberty (Romans 14:12–16). While I do not wish to offend further, let me urge such practitioners to consider the story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 1:5-20). These four young men refused to “defile” themselves with any health-practice (not to mention idolatry) that conflicted with God’s Word, and their refusal seemed senseless to the culture around them. Yet their faithfulness to God resulted in noticeably greater fitness than all who listened to the health experts of their time, and they found favor with God and man.

      God’s ways are mysterious. Sometimes his commands simply don’t make sense. That’s why God urges us to have “faith in him” rather than asking us to “agree with him.” Oftentimes it is only after we have walked in non-comprehending faith that Scripture promises to make clear the things that puzzle us today (John 13:7).

      [This is an excerpt from my book, Hearing God in Conversation, Appendix A: https://www.amazon.com/Hearing-God-Conversation-Recognize-Everywhere/dp/0825444241/ ]

  5. I read part of your writing to my daughter, and one sentence stood out: “When we agree with him, we obey our own reasoning because the alternatives themselves seem stupid.” She reminded me of her own strong-willed personality. We didn’t realize she was a strong-willed child until much later, because rebelling seemed stupid to her. It resonates with my heart, too, as our family develops a new normal built around my unexpected cancer diagnosis, which has brought all of us into a much more intimate dependence of God. I wasn’t ever terribly rebellious, as a child or a Christianish person, but I haven’t been following very closely lately. My attention is sure riveted now.

    • What an insightful daughter! Most of us see stuff in other people. It takes bravery to see it (and then admit it) in ourselves.

      I am just now in a season where I realize I haven’t obeying God as much as agreeing with him. But that habit trains me to act out of my reasoning–or my ways–instead of his. It’s a painful lesson 🙂 .

      Sam

    • Hi Katherine,

      Thanks! I’m sure many people will disagree, but I have to ask them: Have you made a THOROUGH search of Scripture?

      Just two weeks ago I read Deut. 12 and 13, and I was yet again amazed at God’s ferociousness against the slightest forms of mixing religions. In Deut. 13, he says that if (a) a religious leader does great signs but leads you to other religions, you shall put him to death, and (b) if your brother, son, daughter, or closest friend secretly entices you to serve other gods, you shall kill him, and (c) if one of your cities (of the Israel nation) serves other gods, you shall burn it and never let it be built again.

      Now, all that violence is frankly shocking, repulsive even; and on the cross, Jesus prayed for his enemies, so our approach to judgment is different this side of the cross. But Scripture is still clear about God’s commands against mixing religions.

      Thanks for commenting,

      Sam

  6. Is Tai Chi (sp) a practice of another religion and Yoga? I’ve not done either but have considered.

    • Hi Judy,

      Yoga has always had a physical, mental (meditative), and spiritual core, all based on Hindu or Buddhist practices. I know some Christians who claim to have “baptized” Yoga and made it Christian (or at least agnostic). I think Scripture is quite clearly opposed to adopting other religions in any fashion.

      As I mentioned above, God commends Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego simply for merely avoiding the DIET of non-believers (Daniel 1:5-20); and they all ended up healthier. To me, God’s commands against mixing religions are so clear and so abundant throughout Scripture that I would avoid any practice that has a hint of idolatry in its past (or has a hint of mixing religions with Christianity).

      I don’t know much about Tai Chi, but I’ve always thought of it as an agnostic (non-religious) martial art, like boxing or wrestling.

      Sam

  7. The Holy Spirit has been opening my eyes more and more to just how much mixture of secular humanism and other religions has infected modern “christian religion.” I won’t even call it christianity as pure christianity seems to have been lost in our modern christianity, no matter what label has been attached to any particular group. Seems like the most mixture is in the groups that think they have the least mixture! I’m not pointing fingers — I’ve been part of each group in some way or form over the course of my life with the same pride of being part of the “God’s best behaved child” syndrome. I have an observation to make, though, about obedience. Even our obedience is an idol because it is still self-focus. It still points to me/us. The only obedience I want to focus on, or maybe I should say MEDITATE on (and I use that word on purpose), is Christ’s obedience. Scripture is not a self-help book teaching us how to live … it’s a love story pointing us to Jesus — His finished work and our life in Him. When my focus is on Jesus, the rest falls into place organically. (This rambling of mine may exceed the too lengthy criteria. Lol.

    • Hi Joanne,

      I like your acknowledgement that we’ve all been infected (at times) with the slow creep of culture into Christianity. May God open our eyes and hearts.

      I also like your comments about obedience. When it comes to obedience, there are two spiritual levels we repent for:
      –First we repent for our disobedience;
      –Then we learn to repent for our obedience done for wrong reasons.

      Thanks

  8. I agree with you, but that’s because I’m already committed to a heroic ideal version of Christianity. For regular saved folks, I think their reaction to the first example would be, “But what’s the catch?” Which is the punchline to the old joke of the devil offering everything the guy wants except that in the end he’ll go to hell forever, to which he replies, Yeah but what’s the catch?

  9. Sam, a home run as always. Thank you for inserting C.S. Lewis’ words in your blog: “To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere.” Amen. Amen.

  10. Colossians 3:17. If I use some of yoga exercises to stretch my back, but do not buy into the rest of the mysticism, instead claiming anything beneficial as belonging to the Lord, have I mixed with another religion? I don’t believe that another religion gets to claim that the benefits of the way they do physical exercise or deep breathing belong to them. Our heavenly Father is the Creator of processes that benefit our bodies, regardless of what another religion claims. I’m speaking exclusively of the exercises and deep breathing.

  11. Excellent post! God’s ways are above our ways. We need to trust Him when it does not make sense in our minds, but in the end it will and works for our best good. Thanks for sharing this great post.

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