Date: 11 Feb 2011
Text: Mark 10:26-27
Written by: Conrade Yap
This is the concluding article on the Stuck-in-the-Rut series of articles on Spiritual Growth. In Part Three, we discuss the main barrier to spiritual growth: Ourselves, and why we need God.
They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:26-27, NAS)
MAIN POINT: We are our own biggest hurdle, our greatest enemy, and our stiffest stumbling block. If we do not let God help us to address this, we will remain stuck in the rut.
Since the beginning of Winter, around October of 2010, I have started a book reading club with the staff at my church. The aim is to read a book together each quarter, as part of our spiritual challenge and nourishment. As a hopeless bookworm, I took the privilege of suggesting what books to read, or re-read. The first book was “Life Together,” a call toward community living. It was enthusiastically embraced. The senior pastor went to the bookshop to buy one. The administrative staff also searched for an online copy. I went ahead to simply pull out my personal copy from my bulging bookshelf. Guess what? Only one person read the whole book. Me! This quarter, we are starting on a second book. Undeterred, I have proposed the reading of “Why Revival Tarries” by Leonard Ravenhill. For me, each reading and re-reading has lighted up the inner flame inside my heart. What will become of the book club? I don’t know. I can only suggest and encourage. Nothing more.
Not many people read books. A lot of people prefer snippets. A one paragraph summary. A one sentence twitter update. A one word answer to some of the most challenging questions of life. A British newspaper tried to pry on the wisdom of GK Chesterton. Known for his wit, literary brilliance and his open faith in Christ, the question was: “What is wrong with the world?”
Chesterton replied: “I am.”
A) The Problem of the World
In two terse words, Chesterton has effectively summarized the problem of the world. His theology is perfect. His delivery is superb. His words are plain and direct. Indeed, unless we recognize the real problem in the first place, any powerful solutions or well-intentioned plans will miss the target. The Greek word for ‘sin’ is harmatia, which can also be translated as ‘missing the mark.’ It is because of sin, our spiritual positioning has been dislodged (missed the mark). Our moral compass has been turned upside down (missed the mark). Our human affections have become corrupted (missed the mark).
Without a recognition of human sin, we tend to think that we can build our own towers of success by human diligence or technical brilliance. We presume upon our God-given creativity and take ownership rather than stewardship. We say we worship God, but by our actions and behaviour, we spend more time with idols rather than God. Anything other than God can be an idol. The Bible warns us about idolatry. In a no holds barred indictment on sinful men, the apostle Paul writes:
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” (Romans 1:21-23, NAS)Deeply aware of the nature of man, the 16th Century French Reformer, John Calvin warns us about ourselves.
“Man's mind is like a store of idolatry and superstition; so much so that if a man believes his own mind it is certain that he will forsake God and forge some idol in his own brain.”In Redeeming Relationships, Trammel and Rollins warns us about the presence of idolatry that damages all kinds of relationships.
“Idolatry can be defined as worshiping something other than the true God. Whatever draws our attention away from God can become an idol. Even important issues can become idols if they absorb our attention and consume our energy. In America, our gods are many. We worship money, power, independence, materialism, work, pleasure, and people. Although it may not overtly demand our attention, idolatry’s bony fingers grip our hearts and slowly choke out our affection for the one true God.”
(Marty Trammell and Rich Rollins, Redeeming Relationships, GR: Faithwalk Publishing, 2007, p57)
Key Point: Anything can be an idol especially when we fail to take the log out of our own eyes when crafting out our spiritual growth.
B) With People It is Impossible
I have served in Churches for many years. One of the most pressing questions I struggle with is why the high level of burn-out? Even more troubling is the change I notice in people. A man enters the ministry with shining zealousness, but leaves with utter bitterness. I know someone who quit his job to serve in the Church. He took a huge pay-cut in the name of the ministry. He served with glee. The church applauded. Members cheered. A few months later, he quit. Expectations were not met from all sides. Before joining the Church staff, he emanates rays of enthusiasm. After leaving the Church employment, he resonates with waves of disappointment. Disappointed with people. Disappointed with self. Disappointed with God.
Yet life goes on. Nothing changes on the outside, but deep fractures are happening on the inside. Personally, I believe there is something more at stake. Nobody is immune to idolatry. In our modern world, idolatry has taken many forms. Technology, technical know-how, worry over family needs, concern about one’s career or future, looking for satisfaction anywhere other than God. All these can become idols.
Idols nibble. They nibble at us consciously and unconsciously. This is why we often do not take idols seriously enough. Anything can be an idol. An idol can be a visible stone on the altar, or an invisible thing in our mental radar. It could be expectations, placed on others as well as our own selves. It could be great and mighty plans we want to do in the name of God, but instead are working them out in the name of SELF.
We are our biggest problem That is why salvation can never come from man. That is why with man’s plans, it is impossible to enter the kingdom of God.
Key Point: Idols constantly nibble. They nibble at us when we are awake or asleep. Their goal is to make us into themselves.
C) All Things are Possible with God
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“I’ve been there. I’ve done that. So what’s next?”
Apply these words to any of the traditional understanding of spiritual growth. Apply that to prayer.
“I’ve prayed. I’ve prayed a lot. It does not seem to work, so what’s next?”
Apply that to Bible reading.
“I’ve read the Bible. I’ve done my devotion. Yet, I feel it is not working. So what’s next?”
Apply that to community.
“I’m part of a fellowship. I’ve done my duties. Yet, I do not feel I am growing. So what’s next?”
Apply that to outreach.
“I’ve done my evangelistic training. I’ve participated in outreaches. Nothing seems to work. So what’s next?”
Let me say this. This “Been-there-done-that” mentality smacks of more arrogance rather than humility. True prayer never seeks for results. It seeks God. True outreach never seeks to convert others. It leaves it to God. True community is in giving, and not measured in terms of taking. True Bible reading leads us to desire more of God, not less.
D) A Call to Unction
Let me close with this stirring call on prayer from “Why Revival Tarries.”
“No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. The pulpit can be a shop-window to display one’s talents; the prayer closet allows no showing off. Poverty stricken as the Church is today in many things, she is most stricken here, in the place of the prayer. We have many organizers, but few AGONIZERS; many players and payers, but few PRAY-ERS; many singers, few CLINGERS; lots of pastors, few WRESTLERS; many fears, few TEARS; much fashion, little PASSION; many interferers, few INTECESSORS; many writers, but few FIGHTERS. Failing here, we fail everywhere.” (Leonard Ravenhill, Why Revival Tarries, Kent: STL Books, 1972, p19)
As I read this passage to my Church staff, I can sense the Spirit moving us to pray. In fact, I am convinced that the human race does not need more ‘new’ information. They simply need to be reminded. They need to stay away from the technological deception of the ‘latest is the greatest.’ They need to avoid falling into the nostalgic trap of ‘the good old days are best.’ What the world needs is Christ. If our eyes are fixed on Christ, He will make all things new. Even our old spiritual habits. Let our prayer life be our spiritual thermometer. Let us be aware that our biggest problem is ourselves. Only God can save us from ourselves. Surrender. Let Him take over. Without God, we will remain stuck in the rut. Let us pray.
"Our Father in Heaven. Forgive us. Forgive us for our pride. Forgive us for thinking we are masters of our own spiritual destinies. Grant us humility, courage, and willingness, to acknowledge our stubbornness. Clean our inner house from idols. Make us new. Bring us to You. I surrender to You, in Jesus' Name. Amen."
Thought: It is not the finding of new ideas or things that matters. It is the recovery of our first love.
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