Once I was trying to peel an onion but when I picked it up, I was surprised to find that it was hollow. The onion was rotten to its core though it still looked very nice on the outside. Is our spiritual life like this? Nice on the outside but rotten inside? I hope not. As our life gets busier, we are in a greater danger of neglecting our spiritual life. We may not even pay attention to it, thinking that it is alright.
Generally speaking, there are three groups of people. The first group are those who are growing and maturing in the Lord. The second group are the nominal Christians. They are only Christians in name, not concerned about obeying the Lord but still living their own carnal life. The third group is the most worrying group. They are those who seem spiritual but may not really be. They may be very hyped up with their Christian life but may not have depth. Of course, only the Lord and ourselves know which group we belong to.
There are many things in the Christian life that we can get hyped up with. We can get hyped up with serving God. Some people are so busy serving God that they neglect their spiritual life. There are also those who get hyped up by ‘new’ teachings. They especially like to hear about things like numerology and symbolism; certain things we are not sure what the Bible really meant or intended. We can also get hyped up by prayers. We can pray in tongues and pray aloud and passionately but we do not pay attention to the proper interpretation of God’s word, as such we can end up distorting the meaning of God’s word. One example is the way people are praying for prosperity. Another example was about a prayer group deducing from the date and time of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s passing to claim that he was saved. Some others are hyped up about their leaders. This usually happens in Charismatic churches where the charisma of the founding pastors command unreserved obedience. They are often treated as though they are gods. Members seldom question whether their leaders are doing the right thing. Many others are hyped up by prophecies, signs and wonders. They pay more attention to prophecies by the present day ‘prophets’ than Word of God in the Bible and seek after the manifestations of God more than obeying the word of God. A recent example would be seeking after gold dust and gems. Finally, there are those who are hyped up by spiritual experiences. These are not the usual testimonies about how we all can experience God or receive answers from God, instead their focus are on experiences such as going to heaven and hell, or certain near-death experiences which are not normative. I had heard about a church preaching and conducting Bible study solely based on all these strange encounters. Certainly, these can make us feel excited, but these should not be the anchor point of our faith.
Though many of these practices may not be totally wrong (some certainly good if practiced correctly), but we cannot say that they are surely right too. Some of these experiences are extra-biblical and subjective. We must be careful lest we drift away from God when we seek after these more than after God Himself. Though I myself come from a charismatic background, I caution all of us against various kinds of spiritual hypes but instead aim to build depth in our relationship with God through the word of God. My advice is to focus more on objective truth that is derived from the proper interpretation of God’s word rather than subjective truth that usually come from experiences and manifestations though I know that they can be so real.
The bottom line is that our understanding of God must always be based on the Word of God and not on experience alone. We should always seek God Himself rather than manifestations of God. We need to grow to be more like Him and be rooted in Him and His word. Remember that hyped-up spirituality will not make us more spiritual; it only make us look spiritual.
An active faith starts with small beginnings
The Gospels tell us that our faith is like a mustard seed, though small, it can grow to become a big tree. Our faith can start small. It is alright to start small. We should not despise small beginnings. Never think that something is too small for us to do for God. If we miss these small beginnings, then we may not start doing anything at all, not to say grow something big. Rev Edmund Chan once said, “Dream big, start small and build deep.” If our faith is active, we would have a lot of small beginnings—small little things that we do to transform our own lives for the sake of God, self and others. One day, these little things would make great impact in the kingdom of God.
An active faith makes effort to grow in transitions
Sometimes we are discouraged to see how slow our faith grows. As Rome is not built in a day, our faith will not grow substantially overnight too. For a mustard seed to grow into a big tree, that would take years. There is no need to get discouraged if we are moving slowly. The important thing is that we are moving! As it is written in 2 Peter 1:5-7, “For this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.” The verse before this tells us that the motivation to grow in faith is Christ. We can grow in faith because of His divine power and great promises. Peter went on to tell us that we need to make every effort to add to our faith. This faith is being added on incrementally when we walk in tandem with God. We are not transformed over night, but bit by bit and step by step. Verse 8 made it clear, “For if you possess these qualities in increasing (italics mine) measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” If the world has been telling us to be effective and productive, it is time to be effective and productive in Christ first! Let God sail us through those transitions in faith, He does not want us to stay stagnant.
An active faith acts from within
I am sure most of us are familiar with James argument regarding faith and deeds in Chapter 2. But we need to take note that this is not only an external behaviour, but something that stems from within. In fact, an active faith begins with the right attitude. James argued that if we were biased against the poor, it is as though our faith is dead. Our faith, then is one that is “for show only”. We can easily fall into this trap of performance these days. We can serve because of our need to perform (and sometimes for others to see) rather than worshipful acts from within. Inside us, we may be hollow. Someday, we may just breakdown. Take down that mask and be genuine. Let acts of faith grow from within us. It is never too late and too slow because we have a God that is greater than what we think, behave and act.
The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. But this is not a license to shut up every feedback. The differentiation must be made.
To give thanks in every circumstance means that there is always something that we can thank God for in every situation. In good things or bad things, there is God’s will and purpose in it. We can give thanks to God as He reveals His plan to us.
However, in these circumstances, they may be a result of both good and bad choices. As such, there is room for improvement and change. Giving thanks and feedback can coexist together. Giving feedback does not mean we are not grateful to God. It does not negate what God is doing at all. In fact, it brings our thanksgiving further. Not only can we give thanks for the work God is doing, we can also be responsible to improve and correct the wrong we made.
However, feedback is not negative. It is given to build and not to destroy. We must not use the opportunity to give feedback as a license to criticize others. We should also take note that it is easier to give feedback than receiving feedback. It is always easy to spot something that is not right and question why we did not do it better. But we should also have the humility to receive feedback from others so that we can improve. This exercise can take place both in personal and corporate levels.
Let us be thankful to God in every circumstance, let us also be open to give feedback and receive feedback. This can bring about improvement not only in our church, but also transformation in our personal life.