Date: 27 Jan 2011
Text: Mark 10:17
Written by: Conrade Yap
This is a series of 3 articles on Spiritual Growth. It deals with the frustration of being stuck in a rut. In Part One, we deal with frustrations that arise out of a quick-fix paradigm in our spiritual growth. Part Two deals with the fallacy of a feel-good mentality, and Part Three proposes an alternate understanding of spiritual growth. This week, we deal with the folly of "Quick-Fixing Ourselves to Death."
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)
MAIN POINT: Growing spiritually is not a matter of quick-fixing a problem. It is recognizing we first need Christ.
“Have you ever wanted to grow spiritually but are frustrated because you feel stuck in a rut?”
Last week, I asked a group of adults this question. It generated a number of frank responses. The vocal ones verbalized the obvious “i-want--to-grow-but-i-don’t-know-how.” The quiet ones silently anticipate a “show-me-what-to-do-and-i-will-do-it” expectancy.
I harbour mixed feelings when I reflect upon what has happened. On the one hand, I am glad that people recognize their desire to grow. Yet, on the other hand, I am not sure how far these people are willing to go, in terms of willingness to do what it takes to follow Jesus.
It is often said that the Christian life is likened to a long marathon rather than a short sprint. Unfortunately, many people acknowledge the marathon in their heads, but behave the opposite of what they claim to believe. This is the crux of the problem. It is not “I want to grow but I don’t know how.” It is “I would like to grow but only at my own comfort level.”
A) Quick-Fix Approach (Problem-Solution)
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We approach spiritual disciplines as if it is a quick-fix formula to spiritual growth. A few days ago, I was having lunch with a friend. He was complaining about such a quick-fix tendencies being highlighted in teaching themes. He astutely observed that quick-fix titles attract more people. If we can market our topics based on quick-fix themes, we can generate a larger following. Titles like:
- How do I have a better prayer life?
- What are the steps to better Bible study?
- How do I witness to my non-Christian friends?
- What does it take for me to be know God better?
Show me what to do. Give me the to-do list. Just send me the instructions to get things done quickly.
B) Is Spiritual Growth Mechanically Possible?
In other words, if our problem is ‘how to pray,’ the solution is recipe for praying. If our problem is ‘how to do Bible study well,’ the solution is a formula for study. If the problem is ‘how to witness,’ the solution is some steps to evangelism. If the problem is ‘wanting to know God,’ the solution is again a framework for knowing God. If we can name something as a problem, the next logical step is to look for a suitable solution. Name it. Search for methods. Apply it. Solve it.
Sam invited Melissa for a Valentine’s Day date. Throughout the candlelight dinner evening, Sam was visibly anxious, looking at his iPhone looking like he was expecting an important phone call anytime. Toward the end of the evening, Sam went to the restroom. Melissa noticed Sam’s iPhone vibrating in its silent mode. Curious, she took a peek, and to her bemusement, it was a flowchart of what to do during a dinner date! Sam, in his desire to please Melissa, had to rely on a series of problem-solution steps just for an evening date. It turns a romantic outing into a ‘mechanical’ and artificial puzzle to solve. When a relationship gets mechanized like that, love becomes fodder for self-satisfaction.
This is how we sometimes approach our Christian lives. In societies that worship efficiency and productivity, nearly everything is viewed like a problem to be solved. If you have a headache (problem), take an aspirin (solution). If you have relationship issues (problem), see a counselor (solution). Worse of all, we adopt an attitude of if there is no problem, assume it is ok. This is the root of all relationship issues. We spring into a quick-fixer when we find a problem. When there is no problem here, we concentrate on other problems elsewhere. We behave in such a manner that makes our living simply a life of solving problems.
C) Not Another Quick-Fix Spiritual Pill
What I am going to suggest is spiritual growth is NOT a religiously coated problem solving enterprise. The rich young man essentially fails Jesus’ test because he adopted a problem-solving approach to eternal life. He sees eternal life as a goal that requires him to do things, like obeying the commandments, and to fulfill tasks. This is not very different from a kind of salvation based on works.
Due to the persistent pleas from the man, Jesus suggests three actions (GO, SELL, GIVE) for the man to follow.
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
The man asks for a quick-fix solution. Jesus offers him a 3-stage solution. What is telling is the man’s reaction.
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (Mark 10:22)
If one dares enough to ask, he needs to be dare enough to obey and follow through.
The reason why quick-fixes approaches often fail is because our hearts are not on Jesus in the first place. We are in a rush because our focus is on the procedures of growing. We are in a hush because our eyes are fixated on self-gains instead of on Christ.
D) All Eyes on Christ Not Quick-Fixes
My friends, some of us may approach spiritual growth like the rich young man, in terms of seeking a quick-fix solution to spiritual health. If we keep pushing the Holy Spirit to give us that to-do list, the question is no longer the list, but how willing are we to obey the to-do list. Are we then prepared to GO-SELL-GIVE all that we have in order to inherit eternal life or for our case, a quick-fix solution to establishing spiritual growth?
This is what I will suggest. Our Christian life is not a matter of doing things for God. It is about being the best we are called to be, in God. In other words, we must surrender our own whims and fancies to God. We must give up trying to solve God. We must yield ourselves from works-driven kind spirituality, to a Word-based spiritual encounter with God.
We cannot quick-fix ourselves to death. Spirituality has to be done not at our own speed, but to be in step with the Holy Spirit. Frederick Buechner, suggests that we are called to surrender ourselves to God, if we really want to grow in Him. Spiritual things are to be spiritually discerned, not quick-fixed into our own timing and speed.
“Power, success, happiness, as the world knows them, are his who will fight for them hard enough; but peace, love, joy, are only from God.” (Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat, NY: Seabury Press, 1979, p18)
Be careful that our spiritual growth is not dependent on our own human versions of quick-fixes. Even things like prayer, witness and studying the Bible can easily become spiritual plasters that covers only surface cuts, but leaves deep wounds badly hurting. Hope in Christ. Wait for the Holy Spirit. Be faithful in Christ, to obey the Word.
“There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow.” (Orison Swett Marden)
Spiritual things can only be spiritually discerned. Fixing God or figuring God out is not our business. Our business is to fix our eyes totally on Christ, and to let God fix us.
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