‘Society’s Policy’ Can Damage Your Christian Life

The Seven Storey Mountain

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“We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.”
Thomas Merton (The Seven Storey Mountain)

The Merton quote above paints a stark picture of a society that is addicted to falseness and superficiality.  Do you agree with his assessment or is it an overstatement? What can we eliminate from our lives to help break this addiction to artificial desire and “synthetic passions?” Maybe then we will experience the God whose existence is rich, deep, unfathomable, powerful, and unceasing.

One thing that we can do is simply eliminate the amount of information clutter in our lives. I find that the more information that is flooding my way the more jumbled and distracted my mind becomes and the more susceptible I am to the falseness that Merton describes. Here are a few things I do to limit my information intake:

1. Take a real lunch break – I am such an information junkie that I could spend my entire lunch break surfing the web and reading countless web sites but it leaves me disjointed and jumbled. I try to get out of the building, take a book of fiction, and just disengage for a while.

2. Listen to more music – instead of listening to news as I get ready for the day I listen to a CD, instead of listening to sports talk radio in the car I listen to my MP3 player. It really helps at the end of the day when I need that “cool down” period to move from work mode to family mode.

3. Keep the Sabbath – I try to get all of my “honey dos” and errands done on Saturday so that Sunday is open for worship, rest and time with family. We have to unplug from the “tyranny of the urgent” and just be for a time.

Has any of our discussion over the last three days given you some thoughts on what you will be intentionally eliminating from your life next week? Again, I will be going on a Sports Fast from Monday through Sunday. I would encourage you to pray about it and make it an activity that God is involved in from the very beginning. I would also caution you to be wary of choosing something that is too big and too difficult. If you have not had much experience with fasting you will want to start small and make it doable.

Eliminate to Illuminate

If I am not careful, my stack of books to be read can grow by the day. I have never met an interesting website that I didn’t want to subscribe to. If I enjoy a blog or writer I am never satisfied with reading just a few things by them, I have to read their entire body of work. If I find a workout or nutrition program interesting, I want to follow it to the letter even though half of what is being asked doesn’t apply to me or requires too much money or time. Call me obsessive compulsive, a nerd, or even crazy, but what it really comes down to is that I consistently and foolishly think that I can add infinitely more to my life and that somehow that is a good thing.

The truth is, the only effective way to change is by first eliminating all that is a distraction, a burden, or time waster. No one followed Jesus without sacrificing something, maybe even something that was good. Even if we have many Godly things in our lives or Church activities that fill our schedule, we may need to cut some of these things out of our lives so that we can make room for God in an intentional way.

Over the last few years, I have stopped following every sport that showed up on Sports Center and streamlined the teams and events that I will let myself get fanatical about. I have tried to keep the list of books that I am reading at one time down to two so that I can take notes and fully consider what I am reading. I have stopped checking email obsessively and have become okay with emails gathering in my inbox or going unanswered. I no longer feel the need to read a magazine from cover to cover. I have been known to take whole months and devote them to one area of interest or activity instead of being thinned out by trying to keep up with multiple interests.

I mention all of this to possibly help you realize that if you have visions of including more prayer in your life, or reading through entire chapters of the Bible, or being more consistent with your Spiritual Enrichment Workout, you are going to have to eliminate something that you currently do. Piling on things to your already busy schedule cannot be sustained and will only lead to frustration and guilt.

So I would like to propose an exercise to be done starting next Monday and lasting one week. For this activity, I will be going on a Sports Fast where I will not read about or watch sports for one week. I will instead, try to use any extra time or mental storage space for meditating on God, spending time with my family, or praying and reading scripture. Your biggest distraction may not be sports. It may be political talk shows, or Facebook, or reality TV, or People magazine, or iPhone apps. Whatever it is that is teetering on becoming an obsession with you and it is getting in the way of  what is truly important you must eliminate it for one week.

My posts for this week will talk more about fasting and will be designed to prepare us for our upcoming Week of Elimination.

Single Best Habit For Spiritual Growth

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I am an information addict, I like to know a little about everything. I also am a big fan of music and enjoy a large variety of different styles of music. So, what I am about to suggest is very hard for me but when I do it I never regret it. The single best habit for spiritual growth is turning off you car stereo.

Think about the reasons we flip on our radio or cd player as soon as we enter the car. For some, it could be to hear the latest news information, for others it is in hopes of hearing music they like, for others it is to be entertained by humor and schtick. In each one of these cases, we are essentially demanding this electronic device in our car to distract us and we commonly punch around stations and song tracks in hopes of a quick “hit” of a feeling we may be after at the time. We can often be insatiable with this mentality of “give me what I want” and do it now. In our cars, we demonstrate some of our worst addictive behaviors toward technology.

The solution is to take a leg of our commute or a drive to a particular destination and intentionally remove this addiction. I often make my return home from work as my “radio dark” time. It is amazing how many thoughts get suppressed by the simple noise of a car stereo. But, if we want to have an effective prayer life and environment for growth, we need to be honest with our thoughts and worries and then take those to the Lord in prayer. It is not just the bad thoughts that can surface in silence but good thoughts of God’s blessings and our protection under him. All of these thoughts can easily be turned into prayers and praises when there is not something else vying for our attention.

If you are a stay at home Mom or Dad and are never in your car without a child in the car with you it may be a little harder to maintain silence but you can still turn off the car stereo. I have found that my kids are usually more quiet when I have the radio off plus you are teaching your kids that electronic devices to not always have to be on. This lesson could be invaluable to them as they mature and figure out how God interacts with his people.  For those that only listen to religious programming, you are not off the hook on this one. Though the message of the song or sermon may be a message of the Gospel, we still need to be willing to practice silence sometimes so that God can more fully speak to us in our current context.

Try it  for one week. Pick a 15 minute or longer drive and go dark. Listen for God’s voice and be honest with your thoughts and prayers.