I’ve been reading a lot about idols, particularly this post and this post by Skye Jethani. I’m also listening to The Screwtape Letters (book written by C.S. Lewis) radio drama. Skye Jethani makes the very important point that we must not let our mission become our idol. God doesn’t love us because of what we do for Him. It’s the exact opposite – we love God because of who He gave us. Doing activities for God, even things that are good in and of themselves, is only part of our life as a Christian. If we neglect our inner life because we are always out “doing” something, we miss something vital. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard myself and other people talk about being too busy for prayer and worship. So, we end up neglecting the part of life that isn’t immediately visible to the rest of the world.
C.S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, makes the point that we should not make our faith solely a part of our inner life. He emphasizes that we are both physical and spiritual creatures (he has Screwtape call humans “amphibians” because we live in the physical and the spiritual world). One thing that really sticks out to me is that our position in prayer can affect our praying. It’s not that God says the we must kneel or fold our hands or whatever. Rather, by placing ourselves in a certain physical position, our body is reinforcing in the physical realm the reality in the spiritual realm. In Lewis’ eyes, we need to make sure that we don’t sit around and navel-gaze without making our faith real by acting in a way that pleases God.
It might seem that Jethani and Lewis are saying contradictory things. They’re not, though. They are each writing to warn us not to go too far in the wrong direction. It’s like we are walking on a very narrow path in which we are balancing faith and works. The book of James tells us that faith and deeds are inextricably connected; you can’t have one without the other. If we go off the road on one side, we make an idol of the good things that we are doing and hoping that God will approve us because of them. If we veer off the other direction, we become so focused on our prayer, Bible study, knowledge, and spiritual feelings that we’ve made an idol out of being “spiritual” (because we know that works are not what provide salvation).
The balance here is that, the longer we walk with Jesus and tend appropriately to our inner spiritual life, the more that we will (if we are obedient) live a life focused on other people and meeting their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. Our faith and our works go hand in hand. If we allow one to become our complete focus in life, we have made an idol of it. When we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will stay on that straight path with both our inner and outer lives being appropriately tended. Clearly, I’ve not arrived at this state of spiritual maturity. Too often, I find that I’ve been so busy trying to do good things that I’ve left Jesus by the wayside. At other times, I pay close attention to my reading, Bible study, and prayer, but then act selfishly and in other ways that Jesus would not encourage.
I don’t have great advice on this subject, since it’s one that I struggle with. I do think, though, that I’m learning to live minute by minute and making sure that I’m hanging out close to Him (in a spiritual sense) so that each decision I make or direction I take is with God. That sounds really mystical, but it’s not as spooky and “smoke and mirrors” as it sounds. The more that I pray, read Scripture, and study Scripture, the more resources I have to make decisions. If I’ve just been reading about love in the book of 1 Corinthians, I’m more likely to act in a loving way; the more often this happens, the more it becomes a habit. No, I don’t hear voices and I don’t trust impressions. Rather, I rely on prayer and the Bible.
I hope this was helpful for someone reading it. It was good for me to write it. And convicting about my need to clean up some in my inner and outer lives. Thoughts? Ideas?