“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
Self-fulfillment? Or self-denial? Which characterizes you? No self-respecting Christian would claim the former, for we all know we are supposed to deny self. The scripture this week, however, alerts us to a potentially lethal spiritual problem. Our self-fulfillment desire may be so deeply ingrained that we are not even aware of it. Thus any pretense to self-denial is simply another rationalization, only this one is in religious garb.
I came of age in the 1970’s, and have since been able to reflect on the tremendous shifts in spirituality during that tumultuous period. Daniel Yankelovich, a social scientist probably best known today for the polls he conducted for the New York Times (now for CBS), noted that during the 1970’s the self-fulfillment ethic overtook the self-denial ethic. Previous generations knew well how to delay gratification and work for a common good whether in a nation or even in a marriage. These earlier generations were well-suited for meeting the demands of world wars or a depression.
In the 70s, however, we began listening more to our “felt needs” and emotions. The effect has been huge, and you can see it most any Sunday at a church service. If I were to read, and read well, a sermon from one of the leading preachers of the first half of the 20th century, a modern congregation would either revolt because of its length (35 minutes!!) or walk out of the sanctuary puzzled over what they heard. Everyone in ministry is trying to engage an increasingly uninterested audience who is clamoring for something that interests or excites or entertains them. And all we have to offer is a gospel with self-denial at its core.
Forget the huge cultural shifts. Think about the implications of the self-fulfillment doctrine on personal spirituality. I’m not talking about the gross and overt sins we all see and publicly loathe. I’m talking about the more subtle sins that we can gloss over because we produce a modicum of good works in other areas. Otherwise good church people can be involved in activities so plainly wrong, yet if you were to suggest to them the wrongness they would look at you in wonder, denial, and likely anger.
Prophets like Jeremiah are unsparing in their warnings about deep seated spiritual corruption that touches us all. My heart is deceitful. I truly do not understand some of the actions I engage in or thoughts I entertain.
Lent calls on us to honestly confront the things in our personalities that do not need to be there. We must further look deeply into ourselves, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and seek out the alienation from God lying at the root of these sins.
This task is enormously difficult, and precisely the reason we need a season of Lent, not just a day or a weekend retreat. Even Paul at the full flourish of his theological insight wrote in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” Perhaps he had just read Jeremiah, and had become acutely aware of the spiritual narcissism plaguing us all.
So can you trust your heart? Consider carefully your answer in light of the prophet’s message. Have you become so accustomed to some patterns of action and thought that you do not even realize their harm? Can you honestly confront certain areas of your life that render you spiritually vulnerable?
As you move through this day and week admit that you are at the mercy of some very deep spiritual currents and some of them are dangerous undertows. Be certain also, however, that Christ is always trustworthy. He will never ask you to confess, deny, and turn away from anything that is not in your long-term best interest. Beware of the subtle and deceitful traps of self-fulfillment. Embrace Christ and find the life you’ve always wanted.
Dr. Terry Ellis
February 26, 2012
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Okay… I slowed down and listened after a verse I read that spoke of knowing the seasons, not needing divine guidance for that which is common sense, and knowing when I'm being a hypocrite… (I'm paraphrasing of course… I wonder if he minds when I'm a smart alec)
I came back and read this which I missed entirely the first time…
"Be certain also, however, that Christ is always trustworthy. He will never ask you to confess, deny, and turn away from anything that is not in your long-term best interest. Beware of the subtle and deceitful traps of self-fulfillment. Embrace Christ and find the life you’ve always wanted"
BTW, my full name is Joshua, my brother, Jeremiah… I have a feeling God knew in advance I was going to be a stubborn child! 🙂
I just wrote you a novel on another post… I can tell from this post that we have points of view that are HIGHLY at odds with one another… I will likely become a regular reader of your blog! 🙂 I mentioned in my other comment on your blog about blind faith that I do not wholly trust scripture because I do not trust man's word, and with 44,000 Christian Denominations alone, how can I possibly rely on scripture as my sole guide?
I contradict not to be a smart mouth (which, I am by the way, but I do not mean to be here! 😉 But in all seriousness,
Luke 17:20-21 Once having been asked by the Pharises when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus Replied "The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say "Here it is, or There it is" because the Kingdom of God is within you". (from a New International version.. I know in other versions they actually go as far as to say "Within your heart")
I hope I have not misinterpreted this part but it has rang true to me since childhood around 8 years old… I came back to actually looking at the bible for guidance only a few years ago at about 30 years old… I'll be 34 in May. But the way that it speaks to me is that when the end times are upon us, our heart will be our sole earthly decision maker aside from a faith built over a lifetime of study. There is also a similar verse in Matthew. The Gospels tend to be my center in scripture. I trust them more than any other part of the bible but only because not only do they match one another but they match the word of the holy spirit I heard all my life even when I didn't know I was listening.
I will say this. I recognize more than most the dangers of trusting ONLY in the heart, Satan is more than capable of using our heart, using "the fire" against us. It is his easiest access to our thoughts, our emotions, and our voice. But interestingly enough, my heart tells me when I need to turn to scripture and where to turn. 🙂 Or, in this case, a blog! 🙂 It's all God though, I've finally accepted that much! (You have no idea how many times I said "But GOD didn't write the blog… so and so did!)
I know I contradict myself but I've taken my purpose in this world far too serious since childhood… it lead to some heavy drinking between 21-31 years old… and for a couple years now I've been both trying to seek out what's next for me and how to get back up, and struggled since about May that Revelations/"End Times" IS indeed upon us… trust me, that's a STRANGE feeling for somebody who still refuses to be identified as strictly a Christian! (I'd follow Christ to the bottom of each ocean, it's scripture and the church which I refuse to accept as my sole resource), I do feel though that End Times are followed directly by Beginning times the very next day. Have you ever looked to the sky in the morning, and Seen R-O-Y pass by (Red, orange, Yellow… The day is filled with Roy's buddies Green and Blue, and the evening brings us Indigo and Violet… and all the various colors built into our color spectrum not mentioned in RoyGBiv . I had a vision last may, I was able to see each and every shade of the violet that ran by in the evening, and the last color was this Purple Fog, a Purple Haze… I swear I hadn't listened to Jimi any time near that week! LOL.. It was that night I realized we see our entire universe pass in the sky each and every day and we're blessed that God sends it back the next day…
Take that for what it's worth of course, it is most definitely from my heart, head, and Jimi Hendrix… But Genesis seems to agree if I understand "Thus the Heavens and the Earth were created in their vast array" And each day of Genesis new colors seem to come along. Seperated Light from Darkness, The Sun and Moon one day, the sky another (Blue/Indigo), the Seas I'm sure refracted the light quite well once that was put into place… 🙂
I sure do wish I could just take blind faith! 🙂 Funny thing is I found your blog by googling "Blessed is he who is able to follow the Lord without question on blind faith alone… his gift is truely rare!" Strange thing is I don't think that's anything written… Then again, I don't think God and Jesus ever stopped talking to us.