Thursday, March 15, 2012

The ego and temptation

For the last few weeks I have been preaching a series on temptation and how fasting strengthens us spiritually in order to help us deal with temptation. I spoke on the temptation to be a consumer and not a producer. I spoke last week on the connection between unhealthy competition and selfish ambition. The key is to learn healthy competition and how to work for the greater good and not just our good at the expense of others. This week I'll be looking at the temptation of fame or looking for our affirmation from the wrong place. The key is to have our affirmation come from the Lord and his call on our lives so that we aren't seeking to be affirmed in the wrong ways. All of this has lead me to think a lot about the our egos and how they function within our lives.

We need an ego to help develop a sense of self and provide some basic differentiations like my bike, my car, my gender etc...While the ego isn't bad there are some real dangers associate with the ego and part of our spiritual growth is learning and recognizing those dangers and how to deal with them.

The ego is both very fragile and very powerful.

It is fragile because it always wants to be first, better and have more than everyone else. You can see this in our lives when we are consumed with always wanting to be the best, have the most, achieve the most etc...Watch parents at their child's soccer game when things don't go well for their child or their child's team is losing. More often than not you will find parents who get out of control. The fragile ego is wounded because they are not in the "best position". When we are lead by the ego we will find ourselves constantly out of sorts, discontent and wounded very easily. We will also place too much importance on things that shouldn't have that much importance and not enough importance on things that really do matter. For example we will care more about the latest fashion than the famine in Sudan.

The ego is powerful because it wants to be in control of our lives and when left unchecked it will do just that. We can find ourselves out of control and reacting in ways that just don't seem to make sense. We can become childish, punitive and just plain mean. We can become like a wounded animal who wants to fight all those who come in its way.  The ego is not designed to be the leader in our lives, simply a servant of the heart and will. We must learn to be lead by the Spirit.

The remedy for an ego that is out of control and easily wounded is spiritual practice, most especially simple biblical prayer and prayerful study of the bible. Simple biblical prayer means praying the words of the bible back to God. The psalms are a good place to start. Take a single verse and pray it for ten minutes. One verse, ten minutes, saying it maybe dozens of times. When the timer goes off be done. Get up and move on with your day. Trust God's Spirit to fill in all the blanks and to connect all the dots. Simple, yet profound.

Reading the bible slowly, and meditatively takes us out of using the bible for our purposes. Rather we are putting ourselves in a place to be formed by the words and to live from that encounter with God. This ancient and simple practices are so effective in maturing our hearts so that we are lead by the Spirit. To do this we simply read a handful of verses slowly, multiple times with a notepad next to our bible. If anything comes to mind jot it down. When the time is up, stop where you are, not worrying about how much you read. Simply trust that God is present in that time and that is good enough. These practices if done regularly will shape our hearts and mature us out of egoism and into Spirit lead lives.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Simplicity has been one of the themes that I am spending significant time thinking through. In some ways life is simple here since we don't deal with traffic and the extra things that come from driving cars. In other ways life is complex here due to the interconnectedness of all of our relationships. We work, play and live with all the same people and it is beyond comprehension if one hasn't lived in a culture like that before. Definitely not simple...

Simplicity is not easy. Rooting things down to their basics and doing that well is not an easy task and it takes intentionality to live that way. I think when we are living a complex lifestyle we can miss the essence of life since we are so distracted. As a result our lives have little or no focus. If however we focus in on the essentials of life and learn to live those well then we are going to see a clarity that we haven't before. We also are going to have a totally different rhythm to life.

For example learning to honor the sabbath is a simple concept. As Mike Breen states it we simply learn to work from rest. Then we prune and abide in Christ so that we can work from rest again. There, simple. However, making time to rest, valuing rest, resisting those things that can keep us from rest is challenging. There are other questions that come up about how to rest, what to prune, what does fruitfulness look like in our life. The concept is simple, the execution difficult. I find however as I practice one aspect of following Christ it brings other things into clarity and my life becomes a little more focused and a a little more simple.

The process is similar in the physical training I am doing. I am learning to focus on simple (not easy) functional movements that work many areas of the body. Do them intensely and be done. I am finding that I am working out less but am faster and stronger than I have been in at least 10 years. Plus I have more time available for the family. Simple, integrated and effective.

We should resist the tendency to think that our maturation in Christ means making things more complex. Maturation is just the opposite, it is simplicity and focus. The Christian life is very simple and yet challenging. We need to learn a handful of principles that allow us to connect with the way Christ lived and to connect with him directly. These principles should guide our life and be what we organize ourselves around. We need to make following Christ more simple, more integrated, less complex and more effective.