image by Drew Coffman from Unsplash
continued from part 2
"How much of our busyness is really an effort to prove our worth and escape the sense that there is something very wrong with us?"
Smith goes back to Genesis, to the garden of Eden. He compares Adam and Eve's frantic attempts to cover their nakedness (i.e the consequences of their sin) with leaves, to our attempts to use work as a means of covering up our inadequacy; "one of our most basic inclinations as sinners." God's subsequent curse on labor, the dual labor of work and raising a family, was a curse on "the very things in which men and women would seek to find their worth."
In Smith's words, "the very things we would hope to give us meaning and worth have been cursed so that to be 'fruitful' in them will require extreme effort. You may try to take pride in your work; you may try to find life and meaning in your children, but God isn't going to make it easy for you." And why so, not out of a sadistic desire to punish and thwart us, but in order to help us realize that our rest cannot be found in these things. True rest--resolving the consequences of our sin--dealing with the sense of inadequacy--can only be found in Christ.
"The problem of being morally corrupt and sinful can't be solved by working harder."
Like how Christ's death was the ultimate and final sacrifice needed for sins, making all the Old Testament laws about priests and sacrificing animals void. Once and for all, the sacrifice was made.
As Smith points out, (yay for analyzing diction! literary techniques strike again) Christ sitting at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 10:11-14)--not standing, not pacing, not marching--is significant because "His labor for us is perfect and complete."
What a beautiful conclusion. I would have been happy ending on this note but the epilogue--Practical Strategies for Change--was a much-needed discussion of practical application. Now what? Before the hype of feeling you're so enlightened and edified dies off, what are we actually going to do to help ourselves rest more, to work in a more God-fearing way?
Learning to rest enables us to enjoy life and work more, not to mention experience the transformative and comprehensive power of God in our lives. It is not laziness, but learning how to make both our work and rest "acts of faith and worship."
image by Christian Erfurt from Unsplash
(continued from part 1)
What then, are possible reasons why we find it so hard to rest?
Smith discusses a few insightful possibilities:
1. Are we functional atheists--living in fear and anxiety due to a lack of faith in God's sovereignty and control? Often, the fear and anxiety that makes us feel unable to rest stems from a sense that without our direct, constant involvement/labour, our world will come crashing down around us. That the church will collapse if we don't shoulder every burden (this, of course, with qualifications; not to be taken out of context.) Though this might be successful at driving us to constantly work harder and better, it's neither healthy nor godly. Needless to say, this is a huge self-imposed burden of responsibility on our own shoulders, as well as a toxic sense of guilt and insecurity whenever we try to rest. Like the typical rat-race, we're ceaselessly toiling, afraid to lose out.
Without mincing any words about it, Smith identifies "if I don't do it, who will?" as a prideful claim of self-sufficiency which is unhealthy. It reflects a lack of understanding that in God's providence, His will is accomplished without needing us. Whether He chooses to do so through us, or not, it is part of His plan. We tend to place too much emphasis on the contribution our hands make, forgetting that all things are in His hands; those "hands that flung stars into space" are not depending on us to achieve His purposes.
2. People-pleasing. We may think that we're concerned for others, that we serve out of love for them, but if we do so because we want to make them like us, or we want them to think well of us, it's really just a perverted form of self-love. We do not manipulate people by doing things for them, or labour under the delusion that we can only love them if we constantly give them whatever they ask of us or whatever makes them happy. "Decisions based on love are about the welfare of the other person, not what they think of you."
So we shouldn't say yes merely because we want to make the person asking us happy. This is something I struggled massively with as a teenager; I couldn't bear to disappoint anyone, be it taking on a new task, helping them out with wedding prep, or joining them for dinner. Even if I knew it was not a wise decision based on my schedule. At that moment, I just really wanted to please them, not to spoil the mood with a refusal.
Similarly, Smith notes that constantly leaping to shoulder every need that arises may also deprive others of opportunities to grow. Do we encourage them to trust us instead of God?
3. Motivated by insecurity, do we keep ourselves busy to distract ourselves from a unhealthy shame and inadequacy?
Perhaps there are areas in our life that we know we need to face, yet--like productive procrastinators--we distract ourselves instead with busyness.
Or perhaps we rely desperately on the fleeting sense of achievement, success, or praise from others for our work, to boost our sense of self-worth and identity.
"How much of our busyness is really an effort to prove our worth and escape from the sense that there is something very wrong with us?"
In contrast, Christ is the only way to acknowledge our sinfulness and flaws, with truth and yet also with hope and empowerment. As Smith points out, Christ is "our Sabbath rest;" having attributed to us His perfection and holiness, and taken the full punishment for our sins, we can experience true freedom from the otherwise relentless drive to prove our worth, to make up for our failures.
(continued in part 3)
image by Adi Goldstein from Unsplash
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
We may not like to admit it, but this word perfectly summarizes the times in our spiritual life when we've fallen into a comfortable plateau. Sure, I'm not growing, but at least I'm still coming to church every Sunday, right? Isn't that the most important thing? As long as I have that I can't be too far off. I'll work on my prayer life and deal with those petty sins when I'm less busy, at a better time. When was the last time we caught ourselves thinking something along these lines?
Laodicea was a thriving, prosperous city. Much like Singapore today. Many things, many people, many concerns; so many things to do, to earn, to enjoy, to worry about.
They had a booming textile industry, especially in producing a valuable type of black wool. They were famous for their medicine schools and pharmaceuticals. And not surprisingly, for such a wealthy city, they were also a financial center for banking and money changing.
How did the church in Laodicea fall away from their first love into lukewarmness? When did the marriage between Christ and this church first start to crumble, so to speak? When did the church become just another social club where you can get by as long as you pay the basic dues expected of the members--turn up, contribute financially, and occasionally participate in the "extra" activities.
When did Christ fade out of the picture?
When we reduce Him to a religion of habit and convenience.
When believing in Him and serving Him becomes no more than another practice--activity--habit--which adds to out lifestyle.
Like brushing our teeth every morning, or exercising once a week, or watering our plants. Just another "good habit" which gives us a sense of satisfaction, which we're used to. Ask us to do more and we get uncomfortable. Hey, that's a bit much, you know? Of course, one day I'll try harder, but for now, this is good enough, I'm getting by...
When we're willing to fulfil the "basic obligations," (and maybe, afraid to do less) but only as far as it suits our habits or convenience. As long as it doesn't infringe on the rest of our lives--our time, our energy, our resources, our pleasures, our plans, or even our concerns. As long as it doesn't challenge our current lifestyle and desires. Unwilling to commit to more, because we see it as a sacrifice.
I call this the bare pass mentality, speaking from years of experience as a frustrated teacher. That student may not actually hate the subject; they may like you, they may even like your lessons, and have some sort of interest in it. But when it comes to the hard work of finishing assignments--struggling with quizzes or essays--practicing everything, everyday, without leaving out the hardest arpeggios or the sight-reading they hate--they shirk anything more than a token minimum. I just need to pass, right? they say with a shrug. I'm really busy with my other subjects in school now, you know.
And I've lost track of the number of times I've yelped (at wit's end,) "Just cut down on Youtube for ten minutes, play one less handphone game, or put in five minutes every day--you definitely can make the time to do a better job than this. Why settle for the bare minimum? You're going nowhere at this rate. If you're don't put in the effort it deserves, you'll never experience the fulfilment and satisfaction of being good at this skill."
Similarly--what are we settling for? A false god, like Greg Gilbert describes in What is the Gospel?: "...just a good-natured, low-maintenance friend who's really easy to talk to--especially since he almost never talks back, and when he does, it's usually to tell me through some slightly weird 'sign' that what I want to do regardless is alright by him...he's grateful for any time he can get...has wishes but no demands, can be safely ignored if you don't have time for him..."
And Christ becomes a mockery of what He truly is. That's why lukewarmness is such a serious sin. To Christ, lukewarmness is worse than coldness--contrary to the lie we like to tell ourselves. "I will spit you out of My mouth..."
He tells us, urgently, to wake up. We, who feel so comfortable and complacent, are in desperate need: "wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked."
The nakedness and blindness of the Laodiceans were problems that none of their famous black wool, their famous eye salves, their money, could solve.
We think we know what the answer is, that it lies in the things we busy ourselves with. Instead of recognizing that what we need is Christ, we draw further off from Him, thinking that He will distract us, take up more of our time. We are afraid to commit to Him, grudging the sacrifices we associate following Him with.
It's as if we have a cancerous growth on our face, but we refuse to get it removed, because we insist it's too much trouble to stay in hospital. Instead, we busy ourselves with the latest makeup skills to cover up the growth.
And even then, Christ loves us. In all our foolishness and misguided ways, He loves us and longs for our repentance:
"Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me..."
image by Cameron Offer from Unsplash
It's a horrible feeling, isn't it, when you realize what you should have done--but didn't.
After the storm of an outburst fades, and the fury gripping you gives way to regret.
When you realize that the bitterness you clung onto poisoned your relationships and ruined chances for reconciliation and healing, both for yourself and others.
When, unable to resist, you end up contributing to the private gossip sesh behind someone's back. What felt like harmless, negligible entertainment doesn't feel like that when you're looking at them face to face.
After that sudden eye-opening jolt when for the first time you feel convicted of laziness, selfishness, pride; you see how they've been leaving dirty tracks over each day, each seemingly small action or scene.
Failure, especially failure to do what you should have done.
We talk a lot about Christ's death for us on the cross (and we ought to) but when we reduce it to an isolated event we diminish its staggering significance, the full weight of its impact.
The context of His death--the OT prophecies and history of God's covenant with His people, which the Gospels so insistently refer to, to remind us--the symbolism, the parallelisms, between the Old and New Covenant, between the first and the last Passover Lamb--and also, the life that He lived on earth, before it culminated in the cross. As Wayne Gruddem points out, we often neglect this aspect in our discussion of Christ. Jesus's "active and passive obedience," as the term goes, are the two halves of His perfect redemption of us. They mirror the concept sins of omission and sins of commission, which I still vividly remember learning for the first time from Edna Gerstner's lovable book Conduct for the Crayon Crowd.
"Do not steal," "do not lie," "do not kill,"...these are sins of commission, things we ought not to do, but did.
"Honour your parents," "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and strength, and mind...and your neighbour as yourself," these are sins of omission, things we ought to do, but didn't.
All those years on earth growing up, going through all the mundane processes of childhood, adolescence, puberty, the burdens of adulthood, but WITHOUT SIN--Jesus lived the perfect, spotless life we all should have lived. He wasn't simply biding His time, waiting idly until the time for Him to die on the cross. Every day--every moment--in every small everyday routine and action of His 30 years, He was purposefully, faithfully, steadfastly, working out His redemption for us.
The cross is the ultimate expression of Christ's love for us, but it is precious to me to think of how each ordinary day in Christ's life was also dedicated to His love for us.
He fulfilled what we failed to do.
And His passive obedience? For our sins of commission--all that we did, which we should not have done--He took the punishment for them on the cross, meekly and humbly accepting what He did not deserve, even though any moment He could have stopped it, found relief for Himself or revenge on His enemies.
He suffered what we deserved to suffer.
And His redemption of us is perfect. Complete. Comprehensive.
It redeems us from guilt.
When you struggle with this sense of inadequacy, when guilt for what you failed to do haunts your mind and cripples you, remember that the perfect life--so impossible to us now!--has already been accomplished for us, that on God's record, we have already done all, done well.
"...perfect redemption, the purchase of blood..."
As I prepared for this lesson, I did some reading up on the topic, mainly because last week's lesson had given me so much food for thought. One thing I am very thankful for is how engaged the children are. They constantly ask questions and offer opinions which show me how much--young as they are--they're thinking through and relating to what we're studying. It is humbling to realize how much you don't know, at the same time you're trying to teach so much--a paradox that I've experienced only when I'm teaching spiritual things.
On the other hand that also means being frequently stumped by baffling questions. Do babies go to heaven if they die? can girls be pastors? if demons/fallen angels repent can they go back to being angels? do we wear clothes in heaven? isn't God really annoyed or busy if He has to listen to everyone's prayers and requests at the same time? if God already knows what's in our minds why do we still bother praying? won't we feel sad if we're in heaven but we know that our loved ones are in Hell? does Satan feel joy? if God is all-powerful why can't He come up with another way to save us instead of Jesus having to suffer so much?
And all this was just in one class! Teaching Sunday School is no simple thing. It feels like a crash course in theology sometimes. Four out of ten times I feel woefully inadequate, praying nervously throughout the weekend as Sunday approaches. But it's a challenge which has made me grow--at a rather breathless speed perhaps (try answering weighty theological questions thrown at you from five different kids on different aspects of the Bible at the same time)--spiritually, in ways that I would never have otherwise. Let's be honest--how many of us are dedicated enough to read up and research on questions we might have? I had questions, of course, but was too lazy to bother studying and thinking them through--or too fearful. I think many Christians are too fearful of addressing doubts and tough questions that can't be answered pat. Acknowledging and understanding that there will be questions, there will be things hard to explain, is a form of spiritual maturity, a form of applying what that crucial Biblical phrase means: "the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) We shouldn't shy away from them in the misguided idea that we're "thinking too much," that we might end up losing our faith or becoming a heretic, is hardly what Paul calls us to be when he urges us: "For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but of power, and love, and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
We have God's sovereignty and other attributes--our knowledge of Who He is and what He is like--as our guidelines, as well as the bottomless treasure chest of the Word.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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