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 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 the 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.
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