Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What's Your Preoccupation?

Title: What’s Your Preoccupation?
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 20 July 2010
"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." (2 Tim 4:7)

MAIN IDEA: We are used to asking what we want to do when we grow up. Rather than asking what our occupation will be, what about asking ourselves, what is our daily preoccupation? The fact is, the things we are pre-occupied with most of the time, should offer up clues to our vocation.

During my growing up years, I have been asked regularly by my parents, my uncles and aunties: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” In my teenage years, my peers will ask me: “So, what do you want to do next?” Now in my midlife, I ask myself, “Been there; Done that; So what’s next?

Forrest Gump’s famous words say it well:
My momma always said, "Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

This issue of SabbathWalk will deal with the kinds of preoccupation we can have. It then proposes a new form of preoccupation.

A) Preoccupation over Pleasures/Needs
Indeed, what we want to do in life does not always happen. Many of our Plan As just fail to happen the way we would have liked. Instead, Plan Bs and even Cs are the norms for much of our lives. This explains the popular quote:

Man proposes. God disposes.

But is God a killjoy Being up above? Can’t He simply allow our Plan As to succeed, instead of making us scramble for Bs, Cs and even Ds? Does God not know what it means to have fun? Couldn’t He simply create a world where all of our dreams can come true? Maybe, a spiritual Disneyland would have been just about right. A place where there is no suffering or pain, and where our deepest dreams can all come true. We can pick up an air-ticket for a heavenly chariot and fly celestial class, to our heavenly destination. On the way, we get to be served by the gentlest looking angel on board. Upon arrival, we will be given a detailed itinerary about our heavenly places, and check into a mansion that Jesus prepared for us. I guess when I am preoccupied with leisure, I dream of the heavenly Disneyland. Think about that. Rollercoaster with the Apostle Paul; Merry go round with the 12 Disciples; Parting the Red Sea with Moses.

Back down on earth, I just have to keep my dream of a spiritual Disneyland on ice. These dreams are fun, but is not something I will live for. For I am certainly not preoccupied with pleasure. There is a word that talks about pleasure: Hedonism.

Hedonism is a form of belief that sees the pursuit of pleasure as the chief aim of life.

I remember my Primary school history teacher telling me about how the wealthy Romans in the ancient world manage to eat all day long. Without regard for consequences, they will delight in food and wine, song and dance throughout. When their bellies are full, they will tickle their tongues, vomit themselves empty and then resume their eating regimen. The Bible does not have good things to say about pleasure-seekers.

Qoheleth asserts that pleasure seeking is a meaningless endeavour (Eccl 2:1). Paul warns Timothy about people who tends toward lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Tim 3:4).
"But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them." (2 Tim 3:1-5)

I thought in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless. (Eccl 2:1)
Our modern pursuit of pleasure is not on the same scale as ancient Rome. Nevertheless, they cannot be underestimated. In fact, pleasure and pain go hand in hand. When one seeks pleasure, it also means pain avoidance. Go through the paths of maximum pleasure and minimum pain. The best epicurean equation would have been 100% pleasure and 0% pain.

Subtly, for some people, this preoccupation with pleasure shows itself up among some churchgoing Christians. If Church A offers the best feel-good atmosphere over Church B, I’ll switch. If Church C offers a more pleasurable and satisfying experience, I’ll ditch my current church. Maybe, if no church meets my needs, I’ll just stop attending church altogether. The logic is simple and difficult to argue against: “If my needs are not met, forget about church.” When we are too preoccupied about our needs, barring peculiar circumstances, it is quite likely that changing church or getting out of church altogether will happen in a matter of time.  Let me suggest that while the Church is not perfect, neither are we. 

B) Preoccupation Over Ambition
What about a preoccupation over occupations?

I have thought about medical school when I was very young. Too bad, my grades were simply not good enough. Although I am an above average student, I do not have that special gift, talent or connection to be selected into the class of the elite. Moreover, medical school is not possible, as I do not think I can stomach the frequent spectacle of blood and ghastly body tissues. Anyway, I am in a sour grapes mood.

The truth is, my choice of Engineering school has no apparent ‘engineering’ logic. I chose it because my good friends then were all doing Engineering. I chose it because that was what my academic grades point me to. I chose Engineering because I do not know what else I could do. Maybe it is a guy thing, which assumes engineering is a macho profession without sissies. Case closed. So much for intelligent choices and ambitions coming true for me.

Anyway, getting into Engineering School is like a dream coming true for my parents, who are preoccupied with their children’s future. My parents have only three years of rudimentary school education, but they learned more through the school of hard knocks. Like any typical Asian parent, they would rather work hard with their hands, so that their children can have a brighter future with better education.

C) Preoccupation with "Finishing Well" - YES!
Christians should ask what things they are frequently pre-occupied about? Perhaps, for some they are preoccupied with what is God’s will for their lives. Let me caution anyone pursuing this line of thinking. Whenever you ask for God’s will be done, first ask for that WILLINGNESS to do God’s will when it is revealed to you. I shared the other day about a person asking God about God’s will for his life. When God revealed “INDIA” to him as a mission field, he grumbled and ask God to show him the next will on the list.

The trouble with some people who ask God for His will is that they want to know, but the heart is not prepared to obey. It is one thing to know God’s will. It is yet another, to obey it when it is revealed to us. On my other blog called ‘TheologyAtWork,” I recently embarked on a series of daily meditations after 150 days of Psalms. For today's meditation on Proverbs 1:7, I shared about the definition of the 'Fear of the Lord' which drives home the point of this article:
The fear of the LORD is a total preoccupation with what God thinks of you.” (Huang Sabin)

Bummer! That is what we should adopt each day. We cannot behave in a disabled manner, preoccupied only with hedonistic tendencies for pleasure seeking or self-fulfillment. These things are sometimes necessary but they cannot be allowed to garner prime space that exhaust our limited resources. We cannot become trapped in our occupations, and worry all the time about our careers and ambitions. These things may be important, but if they start to confuse needs and wants, urgent and important matters, we will have a problem of prioritizing. We may then start to replace our need for daily bread with a daily lobster, or a simple gratitude with a selfish demands. Instead of humility, we may desire luxuries that puff up our egos, till they become deadly idols to our spiritual life. Each of us needs to ask ourselves:
  • “What does God think of us right now?"
  • "How does He want us to live our life?" 
  • "What cross are we carrying as we follow Christ?”
  • "Is my life more self-dependent, or God dependent?" 
  • "How can we be freed to obey Christ more fully, to be preoccupied with pleasing God?" 
The answers to these questions will reveal what we all need to be preoccupied about. Then we will learn the fear of the Lord, and pledge to do everything we can to ensure that we are fully preoccupied with what God thinks of us. There is one more thing that I encourage you to be preoccupied with: “Finishing Well.”

Bob Buford interviewed Dr Dallas Willard and asked about what finishing well means to Willard. Willard replied:
“It would mean that I would stay with the objectives that I believe have been placed before me by my family, and by my God, and by my country. I really believe that there is a unity there, and those objectives have to do, in my case, with teaching. Now by teaching, I don’t just mean classroom, I mean talking, writing, and so on in a way that would actually help people deal better with their lives before God, and what I would like to be able to do is to keep my strength and carry on with this, and to die in the presence of my loved ones with the manifest presence of the other world around me. That would be finishing well.

And what will you be doing the week before you die?

I would hope working at the things I love, and enjoying fellowship with my family, those who are still here at that point, and that’s my idea of bliss, is to carry on with my work, and be in the presence of my loved ones.” (Dallas Willard) [Interview can be downloaded here:]

Thought: What are you preoccupied daily? How do you plan to finish well?


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