January 5

Should we pray for a car park?

 

Consider these scenarios  You’re driving around a busy shopping centre car park on the weekend before Christmas and there is not an empty spot to be found. Or maybe you’re late for an important meeting and you don’t want to have to park miles away. “Come on! Please!!” you mutter with frustration as you search for that elusive space. But then you realise there is a much more spiritual solution. You recall your Creator and turn to him in prayer. “Dear God. Please find me a park!”

If you’re a Christian (or even if you’re not) you’ve probably been in this situation. Praying for a car park is a perfect example of seeking a spiritual solution for a pretty petty “first-world” problem. But is it really a wrong thing to do? Is it ethical? Is it an inappropriate use of prayer? Is it theologically correct? Is it spiritually edifying? Now even spending time thinking about such questions may seem to some people the bigger waste of brain activity, but I think that it raises some interesting issues and it has been the subject of some fun debate among some godly friends of mine, so I thought I’d throw in my thoughts on the topic.

What is Prayer?

Well, I could write a whole blog on this very important question, but I thought I’d explain just briefly that from a biblical perspective, prayer is not something magical. It does not have a power in and of itself. It is not a method of manipulating God or moving or evoking spiritual power for your own ends. It is not a form of New Age positive thinking based on the “law of attraction” where your thoughts tell the Universe what you want (as popularised by such books as “The Secret”).

Prayer is pure and simply, talking to God. It doesn’t need to be long and wordy. It doesn’t need to be in a specific form of words, or in a specific spiritual space, or prayed in a specific body position (hands together, eyes closed, on your knees, etc) It is simply talking to God. It can be a request, or a confession, a word of praise or thankfulness, a declaration of truth, or it can simply be a pouring out of the heart and a sharing of the soul. Jesus himself prayed often to God the Father and, although most of the time he prayed privately (Luke 5:16), we do have a record of some of his prayers (see for example John 17). He also taught us principles about prayer and gave us what is commonly known as “The Lord’s Prayer” as an example of a prayer that uses those principles. He taught us, “when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:7-8) So Jesus grapples with (or at least, doesn’t ignore) that question about, “if God knows everything, what’s the point of prayer?” Clearly, for Jesus, God does know everything and yet he still encourages us to pray.

One of the key reasons for this I think is that prayer is an exercise and and expression of what we believe about God. It is a display of our faith. It shows us (and others, if we pray with others present) who we are and who God is. Now, that may seem like a bit of an anti-climactic purpose for prayer, but remember, as people created in the image of God, that is what we are primarily created for – to know, enjoy and display to truth about God. Prayer, along with love of our neighbour, have got to be the two most potent ways in which we bear the image of God and express the truth about him in our life.

Now, if that was all a bit wordy for you, what I’m basically saying is… prayer reveals what we believe about God. The content, frequency and motivation of our prayer says many things. As Jesus points out in that passage above, those that “babble” when they prayer, show that “they think they will be heard because of their many words” and that they don’t really trust that God “knows what you need before you ask him”. Our view of God will inevitably effect how we pray and what we pray for, and so in the reverse, our prayers can be a great indicator of what we truly think about God.

Now, to get back to the topic, if that is true, what does it say for us to pray for a car park? What might it reveal about how we view or treat God?

1. Treating God like your Valet (serving your every convenience)

If you pray for a car park it may reveal that you treat God like your personal valet in the sky. Your prayers are mostly about making sure you don’t have to walk further than you would like, and doesn’t really take in to account the fact that God has the right to answer your prayers with a big fat “No”. Your expectation, is that because God loves you and he is kind and generous, then of course he would want to make sure you got the most convenient spot in the whole parking lot. In your mind,God is your heavenly servant and you expect nothing but health, wealth, blessing, prosperity and that perfect sweet car spot.

If that sounds a bit like you, I’d encourage you to remember that the Jesus that we worship called us to die to ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. And what are we following him into? Well, look at his life. Hardly, an example of a “convenient” life. He was rejected, mocked, tortured and murdered, and he did it all for the good of others. His way is not a path of perfect car spots and “your best life now”. He received persecution and hardship and he promised that anyone who would follow him with integrity would receive the same (See John 15:18-20Matthew 24:9, 2 Timothy 3:12 & 2 Corinthians 4:7-18).

Be wary of forgetting who is the Creator and who is the created. God may have other plans that are slightly more important than saving you a few seconds walking time. In fact, one of those plans might be making you park further away so that you have to walk and get a bit more exercise! In God’s economy, character and Christ-likeness is much more of a priority than convenience. The harder, longer, more complex, more challenging, more painful, less “fulfilling” path may just be the path that God wants to take you on for his glory and your ultimate good. Are you willing to take it? Are you willing to even pray for it?

2. Treating God like your Superhero (solving your every problem)

Maybe you don’t pray all the time expecting God to give you every little convenience. Maybe, you rarely pray to God at all. Only on special occassions. When you’re reeeally in trouble. Like just before a big exam that you haven’t studied for, or when your looking at an increasingly cloudy sky and you’ve organised a BBQ at the park, or when you really, really need to find a car park because your late for your best mate’s wedding. Praying to God in these situations, and these situations alone, is like treating God like your personal Superhero. You ignore him pretty much all of the time, but when things are tough, or you’re in danger, or you really need some divine intervention, you send up the SOS prayer, and like the Bat signal shining up in the clouds, you expect God to swoop down and save the day.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with praying to God in times of distress or trouble. Jesus modelled this in praying to his Father in the garden of Gethsemene before he faced his arrest and crucifixion. Also, it is true that God is able to save us and has more power than the greatest of Superheroes. The problem is that, when we only pray to God in these situations we are still ultimately treating him like a servant. We chose when we want to engage with him, we relate to him on our terms, and when we are done using his very important services, like a plumber who has fixed the leak in the bathroom, we thank him and show him the door.

The idea that God wants your whole life, seems way too extreme. But that’s what Jesus says. When asked what the single most important thing God wants us to do, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:36-38). Not simply call him to solve all your problems, but love him with all your life. As Kyle idleman, author of the challenging book, “Not a Fan” says, “In the Gospels, Jesus never seemed too interested in fans. Is that how you define your relationship with Him? An ‘enthusiastic admirer’? Close enough to Jesus to get the benefits but not so close to require sacrifice? He was looking for followers. Not just any follower though, but a completely committed follower.”

If you find that you treat God like a Superhero or a plumber – not just in praying for a car park, but in the rest of your life as well – I’d encourage you to get a bigger and deeper picture of God. I completely treated God like this for the first 16 years of my life, partly due to my own pride and apathy, but also partly because I never knew that I could enjoy an intimate, personal, real relationship with my creator. Like Batman, he was more “symbolic” than real. It was only after I discovered that Jesus came to make that real relationship possible, that I gave my whole life to him and turned from being simply a fan, to a follower. So, next time you cry out to the heavens for help – whether it be when you can’t find a car park or your house keys or the meaning to life – use that moment to think about how you’re treating your Creator.

3. Treating God like your Puppet Master (directing your every decision)

You may not treat God like your servant or your Superhero, only calling on him when you really, really need him. You may go in the total other direction and treat God like your Puppet Master. What I mean by this, is that because we know God loves us and knows all things, we can sometimes expect God to guide and direct every single aspect of our lives. You may have a really solid conviction about God’s sovereignty – that God is not limited in his power and ability and so he is ultimately responsible for every action. That is what the Bible teaches. God rules everything. He is sovereign. And so, it may seem perfectly natural for you to ask God to open up a car park for you. He can make drivers move where he wants. If he wanted to, he could even make cars disappear to give you that perfect car spot! He’s God! Why not ask? And on top of that, God wants us to bring everything to him in prayer. As I explained above, Jesus said to love God with EVERYTHING! That means he wants us to surrender ever part of our life to his purposes and his plan. So if all that’s true, doesn’t that also mean God wants us to ask him where we should park our car? Doesn’t God know the very best place for us to park, and if he knows, why would a loving God keep us from such information??

Well, the danger of such a conclusion is that it’s based on really good premises of God’s love and care and sovereignty. The problem is that it develops in Christians an unhealthy immaturity and dependancy on God’s direct and daily guidance. Now, I’m not saying God can’t or doesn’t guide Christians through the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:26-29 is a great example of God doing this), but there is no instruction in Scripture to ask God about every little detail of your life. The Bible has much more to say about developing godly wisdom and making intelligent responsible decisions, whilst holding on to your plans lightly, knowing that God may have other ideas. For example:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2-3, emphasis mine)

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

“You ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:15)

Someone who gets this unhealthily wrong is John Eldredge, in his book “Walking with God”. Now, I have actually met John and enjoyed some aspects of his most famous book “Wild at Heart”, but in “Walking with God”, he suggests that Christians should be asking God for guidance about every aspect of our life. Things like, “Should I go to the ranch this weekend?” (pg. 30-32), “What passage should I read in my Bible today?” (pg. 44), “Which chapter in the gospel of John should I read?” (pg. 44), and, “Should I ride the horse today?” (pg. 80).

On that last example, he tells of the story of how he had asked God whether or not he should ride and felt God say “yes”, but along one path his horse got spooked by a pile of wood and bolted, ending in an accident which breaks his nose, one wrist and dislocates the other wrist requiring surgery. His conclusion to this tragedy is not that he heard God wrong, but that after getting a “yes” to going for a horse ride, he should have asked God exactly where he should ride. “That’s a really important part of listening to God, by the way. Ask the next question. So often we get an answer to the first part of a question but fail to ask the second half. . . Don’t just get a first impression and then blast ahead. It might have been good for us to ask, ‘Where should we ride?'” (pg. 81) (For a more in depth critique of “Walking with God”, click here)

This sort of relating does not inspire childlike humility and intimacy with God. Rather, in the end, it simply inspires immature dependancy and fear of maybe missing out on “God’s perfect plan for your life”. I used to be a lot more worried about that. I used to be afraid of stepping outside of God’s will and so missing out on what God might want for my life. I used to think God has a very specific plan for my life that I had to seek out and try to discern.

Then one day, Richard, a godly friend of mine, encouraged me by saying, “Simon! Don’t worry so much! God is your heavenly Father. You’re his child! He loves you no matter which decision you make. Even if he does have a plan and you make a wrong choice, he will use your mistakes. Just try to make the best choice you can and let God look after the rest.” It was sound and comforting advice.

The more I read the Bible, the more I see that God does not have a specific plan for every moment of our lives. He has a broad fence that he wants us to keep within, but within those guidelines he gives us a lot of freedom as to where we will live, who we will marry, what job we should do, what course we should study and even, what car spot we should park in! The question we should be asking isn’t “What is God’s plan for my life?” but, “What is God’s plan. And how can I use my life to be a part of it.” God does have a plan for this world – it’s to build his kingdom, bringing more people into it and growing those people to be more like Christ. Get that plan in your sights and then you may not stress about getting guidance from God about which car spot you should park in!

4. Treating God like your Heavenly Father (providing your every need)

Now, up until now, I may seem to be fairly down on the idea of praying for a car park. Well, I wanted to offer one more possibility of how praying for a car park may actually reflect that you have a godly and healthy relationship with God. It doesn’t need to reveal that you treat God like a Valet, or a Superhero, or a Puppet Master. It may show that you simply treat God as your Heavenly Father.

Some people think that we shouldn’t pray to God about small mundane things like a car park because God must have bigger things on his mind. This is the picture of the distant Father God who is reading the paper and couldn’t possibly have any time to spare or interest in your petty little problems. But that is not the picture the Bible gives.

Although as I pointed out earlier, God has big plans for the Universe, he is also intimately concerned about his children. Consider these wonderful passages:

“O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord…  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” (Psalm 139:1-4, 13-16)

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7)

“Do not be anxious about anything,but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

“Jesus said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.’ Then he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.” Then the one inside answers, “Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!'” (Luke 11:2-13)

man-with-sonThis last passage especially shows us that if you’re a Christian, then you can call God “Father” and he loves you and is concerned for you like a good father should be. Sure, like any father, he doesn’t want us to abuse the relationship we have with him or take him for granted, but when we are anxious or have a problem, he cares for us and so wants to hear our prayers. He may not take away the circumstances that are giving us anxiety, but as the passage from Philippians says, he will give us peace that will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Also, in the Luke passage, Jesus gives an example of a prayer in which he encourages us to ask God for “our daily bread”. Clearly God is not simply concerned about the big issues in the world with no time for our simple, daily needs.

God loves followers of Jesus as a father loves his children. He cares about what is causing them grief, even when it is petty or small on a cosmic scale. Think about when a child breaks their favourite toy. Does a kind father just say, “Get over it! Don’t you know there’s a war in Chechnya going on??” No, they care for them – maybe helping them see that it’s not the biggest problem in the world, but mainly comforting them and showing that daddy cares. Now, if the child is 45 and chucks a tantrum over breaking a toy, then maybe the father of that person tells them to “build a bridge”, but that’s because we rightly expect more from people as they supposedly grow in wisdom and maturity.

I think God also expects us to not be anxious about petty things and care more about important things as we grow in faith and maturity, but that’s another sign of God’s fatherly care for us – he disciplines us.  As Hebrews 12:7-11 says:

“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

So feel free to pray for a car park if you are stressed and want to go to God with your problems. Know that he cares for you and that he has the ability to provide every need that you may have. But also know, he is in the best position to really know what your needs are.

car park

Maybe you need a perfect car spot. More likely, maybe you don’t.

Maybe some elderly man needs it more than you. Or a single mum with three screaming kids.

Maybe, like me, what you really need is to park further away so that you can walk a little bit and get some exercise so you don’t die of a heart attack before you’re 50!

Maybe, God just wants you to use your wisdom and God-given intelligence, to get the best park you can with the circumstances you have and not grumble about how terrible your lot in life is.

So, next time you are driving around madly trying to find a park and you begin to pray, “God, please find me a…” you might remember this blog and pause, wondering how you are treating God.

Maybe that contemplation itself might be the best gift a good Father can give you.

(4312)

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October 27

My Statement of Unfounded Beliefs

Businesses, organisations, clubs and even individuals often get to a stage where making a clear decisive statement of what they truly believe can be helpful. This is called their Statement of Beliefs. My theatre company, The Backyard Bard wrote up our Statement of Beliefs many years ago (you can read it here).

On this blog, I often am trying to explain, defend, explore and articulate my beliefs. I hope the testimony of this blog is that they are founded on Scripture and my own experience of life and God. But I also acknowledge that I hold many unfounded beliefs. Beliefs that I hold to dearly, that are founded on very little if anything other than my own imagination, superstition or paranoia.

I thought it good to state my unfounded beliefs (the ones I am aware of, or at least, the ones I could think of in the last few hours). May they be recorded for posterity, reflection and understanding. May I live my life admitting and uncovering the beliefs that I hold without foundation.

 

SIMON CAMILLERI’S STATEMENT OF UNFOUNDED BELIEFS

 

1. DAIRY PRODUCTS WILL IMMEDIATELY GO OFF IF LEFT OUT OF THE FRIDGE FOR ANY MORE TIME THAN ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

I think this one was instilled by my father who insisted that the milk be put away immediately after use. I also have many distinct and fond memories of mum or dad coming home after a big shop at the supermarket and as soon as you heard the car horn beep it was all hands on deck! We all had to run out to help bring in the bags of groceries and re-enforced every single time was the important principle that all the fridge stuff had to be put away first and as quickly as possible.

As you can imagine, every time I go on a church camp I experience great angst when during breakfast the jug of milk is just sitting on the table for the hour or so while everyone eats. Every time I can hear my internal Statement of Unfounded Beliefs screaming “PUT IT BACK IN THE FRIDGE!!”.

 

2. SPIDERS WILL JUMP ON YOUR FACE IF YOU LOOK DIRECTLY AT THEM, AS OPPOSED TO RUNNING PAST THEM WITH YOUR EYES DIVERTED.

You would think that this arachnophobia was caused by some traumatic experience as a child when a spider jumped on my face, but no, a spider has NEVER jumped on my face, but I would put that down to the fact that I never look at them directly and I run past them with my eyes diverted. See! It works! Just like I save myself from being eaten by sharks by not spending to much time in the ocean and I avoid being attacked by bears by not going to Russia. It all makes perfect sense to me.



3. GETTING THE PERFECT SEAT IN THE CINEMA IS VITAL TO AN ENJOYABLE MOVIE GOING EXPERIENCE.

Dad, I must once again attribute this principle to your training. You know how when you go to the movies they rip your ticket and then you go to find your particular cinema, well, back when I was a boy you used to have to line up outside of your cinema before they ripped your ticket and let you in. My dad loved (and still loves) the movies and we would get to the cinema as early as humanly possible in order to be as close to the front of the queue as possible to get the best seats in the cinema. On the tragic occasions that we arrived at the cinema after a long queue had already formed, I distinctly remember on more than one occasion, my dad would instruct me to sneak to the front of the queue so that I could get in and save seats for the rest of the family. I would have to have only been around 6 or 7 years old at the time.

So there I was, a young innocent child carrying four large jackets ready to claim seats for my parents and my two older brothers (and maybe my baby brother, I can’t remember). Not conspicuous at all! Well, I sort of felt less than convincing as I tried to sneak in to near the front of the queue. So, of my own cunning, I developed a technique. I used the fact that I was a child standing alone and I simply stood near an adult so the everyone else thought I was with them. If the adult or family I was standing with got suspicious, I would simply lean a little closer to another adult and their suspicions would subside. So my life of crime and deceit began, and so Number 3 on my Statement of Unfounded Beliefs was written in stone.

My friends (and especially my wife) know that if you’re going to a movie with me then you’re going early or you’re booking online. If there’s a big group of friends meeting before the movie, I will abandon all the social catchup and unhelpful human relationship building that traditionally goes on as you wait for everyone to arrive. I will grab my ticket, get into the cinema and save the best seats for everyone. I think in my entire life (which must involve around 1,000 movie-going experiences) I can only remember 3 times that I have had to endure crappy seats – “The Witches” in 1990, “Twister” in 1996 and “Paul” in 2011. I guess 3 out of a 1,000 ain’t too bad.

 

4. I CAN DO FULL-TIME WORK, PART-TIME MINISTRY AND PART-TIME THEATRE, WHILST MAINTAINING A HEALTHY MARRIAGE AND AN ACTIVE SOCIAL LIFE… AND HAVE TIME TO BLOG.

Back in my twenties I seemed to be able to juggle all these things… or at least that’s what I believe as I look back with nostalgic eyes at the “glory days” when I had so much time and energy and could do so much. But come to think of it, even that is an unfounded belief. I never worked full-time in my early twenties. I worked part-time as a checkout chick at Safeway for most of it! I did do part-time theatre, but that was my main involvement in ministry, whereas now I lead the Bible Reading Ministry at my church, run a support group for guys struggling with porn addiction and am getting my “Elephant Room” ministry off the ground. I also hope to co-lead a Bible Study in my home with my wife next year and am getting more involved in various leadership roles as my church stretches its legs in its new church building. As for my marriage, well I was married at 23 and it ended in divorce! So I guess I shouldn’t really look on my twenties as my “glory days”. They sorta sucked. 

I am older and more overweight than I was, but I’m also a lot more busy with more important things, and now that I am married again, I want to invest in it and prioritise it. So I do need to realise I can’t do it all. I sometimes think of it like I’m driving on the freeway of my life, and parallel to my freeway is another freeway, where another Simon is driving a different life. At some point, I made a choice at some junction and now I am on this path. There are multiple freeways all travelling along next to each other. On one freeway I travel the world doing storytelling. On another freeway, I moved to the US to study to be a psychologist. On another freeway, I spent my days single, pursuing reconciliation with my first wife. On another freeway, I went back to Uni to study to be a teacher. I can not live every possible life and then at the end of them all see which one glorifies God the most. I must chose a freeway. And I have. And I love the freeway I’m on. So, when I’m reminded of all the things I could be doing and I look across at the other Simons driving on the other freeways, I can just smile, give them a wave and keep driving. 

 

5. A CHICKEN SCHNITZEL SANDWICH IS A HEALTHY LUNCH BECAUSE IT HAS SALAD IN IT.

My efforts to eat healthier are full of unfounded beliefs and the world of marketing is full of lies from “Mars Bar Lite” to Nutra Grain being “Iron Man Food”. Over the years, I have worked jobs that have required me to eat at a shopping centre food court, which has always kept me looking for the newest top rated weight loss supps – but enough is enough. I have come to believe that if I can avoid KFC and the Fish n Chips outlet and stick to the healthy Sandwich Bar, I am safe… not matter what I buy from them. I have a particular fancy for Chicken Schnitzel sandwiches, with swish cheese and mayo… oh, and lots of salad as well, which clearly makes up for all the fat that I consume from the other stuff.

I recently saw at my regular lunch venue, just how they fry up the chicken schnitzels that I love so very much. They guy lathered on at least a centimetre or two of pure margarine across both sides of the crumbed schnitzel and chucked it on the hot plate. After witnessing that, this unfounded belief just became a little more unfounded!

 

6. IT’S GOING TO BE A STRUGGLE FOR CAT & I TO LIVE ON JUST MY WAGE NEXT YEAR.

In 2013, Cat & I will try to live on just my wage and have all of her wage going into savings. This is partly because we want to save but mostly because we’re hoping to start a family in the next year or so and Cat wants to be a stay at home mum for the first few years. If that is going to be our life, we thought it best to start getting used to living on only one wage. This seems hard. It’s going to be a real challenge. It will take a lot of budgetting and financial planning and luxury sacrificing to pull it off.

What a load of first-world baloney! Here in Australia, we have very little concept of real poverty and real struggle. When we think of the poor, we think of people who have a beat up old car, live in a crappy high rise apartment with mould on the walls and who are unemployed. But (not to diminish the suffering of anyone who is in those circumstances), on a global scale that is still incredibly wealthy. Half of the world’s population lives on around $2 a day. 

I don’t have any concept of what it means to live without clean drinking water, access to a toilet or to actually feel real hunger that could endanger my life, and the truth is, it is almost impossible in Australia that I could ever be in that position. Even if both Cat & I lost our jobs tomorrow, we would realistically never end up living on the streets. I enjoy the luxurious benefits of material possessions, money in the bank, University education, a wide social circle, and general health (despite the chicken schnitzel sandwiches). But even if I lost all those things, I live in a country that provides water, sanitation, education, health services and employment assistance to anyone. I am truly rich. I am filthy rich. I have no right to complain about the potential “struggle” I may face by living off only one income. That income still puts me in the top %1 of the entire world, and if I have to make some petty sacrifices to adjust to a slightly lower income, they will be very superficial on a global scale.

It is so so easy to compare your plight with the wealthy around you. As we may shake our head and laugh at someone who thinks he is doing it tough if he has to travel business class rather than first class, I would look even more ridiculous to the majority of people in the world. I must always keep that in perspective and my blindness to my own privilege and wealth has earned this unfounded belief a place on the list. 

 

7. I CAN MAINTAIN A HEALTHY, INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD WITHOUT READING THE BIBLE REGULARLY.

This is actually not something I consciously believe. I mean, I would never say this or teach this or encourage this, but I guess the real test of what we believe is not what we profess with our mouths but what we actually do. Like the guy who says, “I love you honey”, but treats his wife like crap, our words are pretty shallow expressions of our beliefs if they are not backed up by action. The Bible is full of this principle. Like Isaiah 29:13 where it says, “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.'” or 1 John 3:17-18, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”, or if you want it from the mouth of Jesus himself, check out the challenging passage in Matthew 7:15-28, where Jesus warns that it’s not enough to call Jesus “Lord, Lord” and listen to his words, you have to put them into practise.

God doesn’t want just lip service, he wants wholehearted discipleship, and it is by our fruit that we will be known. If you say you believe that God hears our prayers and that he is powerful to act, and yet you do not pray, then something is very wrong. As Samuel Chadwick, the Methodist preacher said 100 years ago, “Prayer is the acid test of devotion”.

Well, I find the same hypocrisy in my own life when it comes to Bible reading. I very rarely read the Bible to commune with God. I read it often to look up something, or to prepare for a study I’m writing, or for a biblical storytelling performance that I need to practise. But the Bible is not simply a text book of useful information. The Bible is the inspired Word of God. What that means is that although the words of the Bible were written down by ordinary people, God’s Spirit had a hand in guiding and at times even dictating directly what they were to write. As Peter wrote, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21). So the Bible is a collection of writings that are inspired by God. They are, as Paul puts it, “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16)

But they aren’t simple a record of things that God once said (or wanted to be said). They hold ONGOING truths. Truths that are unchanging and must be engaged with by all people. The greatest example in the Bible of this truth is found in Hebrews 3:7 where it talks of an Old Testament scripture as something that the Holy Spirit “says” not “said”. The tense is present/continuous not in the past. Now, you have to be careful to seek wisdom as to how you understand and apply scripture and Christians may disagree profoundly on this, but what we must not disagree on is the fact that the Bible is Scripture – it is sacred. It is God speaking.

Now all that is fine and dandy to write in a blog with such confidence, but what do I actually believe? If I actually believe that God is real, and I have a relationship with him that is real, and the primary way in which he communicates with my Spirit is through the Bible, then why on earth aren’t I reading it more often?? Does it simply come down to a lack of discipline? Is it laziness? No, not really. I seem to fill my days with lots of other stuff I deem important enough to fit in. Is it because I find the Bible boring or difficult to understand? Not at all! My years of doing and teaching Biblical Storytelling has given me great tools for enjoying and understanding the Bible, along with my involvement with the Christian Union and my own church, Bundoora Presbyterian, both of which have helped train me in how to study and interpret the Bible. Is it actually a sign that everything I just wrote about the Bible being God’s Word is a big lie – an unfounded belief? I don’t think so, but I have to test my heart closely on that one, because as I said earlier, a person’s true beliefs are shown by their actions.

I actually think one of my problems is pride. I have read the bible lots over the last two decades and I have studied most of its books in depth. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of Scripture and so I go to the Bible with a sad expectation that I have heard it already. I know God will speak to me if I read the Bible, but I also arrogantly think I will know what he will say!

I recall my first few months as a new believer at age 16. I consumed the Bible like a starving child that had been just given a banquet to eat! I read it with passion and real spiritual hunger. Have I lost that hunger? Do I just feel full and think it now not all that necessary to feast. Maybe a snack now and then, but I’ll rely on what I took in yesterday to get me through tomorrow. In the end, if that is the source of my lack of regular bible reading, I really need to wake up. 

I can maintain a healthy, intimate relationship with God without reading the Bible regularly just as well as I can maintain a healthy, intimate relationship with my wife without ever communicating with her. Or imagine if I just wanted to talk to my wife Cat, but I made no time to listen to her (don’t ask Cat if that is ever her experience… please). In the end, we may still be married, but our relationship would definitely not be healthy and intimate. But I want a healthy, intimate relationship with my wife, and I want a healthy, intimate relationship with God. And so, I must talk and listen to Cat, and I must pray and read the Bible with God. Let’s hope I will learn this lesson, be shaken out of my pride and my true beliefs (backed up by action) will be revealed.

 

 

So, that’s my list… so far.

I’m sure there’s lots of unfounded beliefs I still hold. Some petty, some profound.

Why not reflect on your own life and bring out into the light some of your own unfounded beliefs. You may not have to throw them out (I think I’ll always try to get a good seat at the cinema, and I’m not going to start staring at spiders) but you can at least own them for what they are. It also has been a lot of fun and it has helped me identify those beliefs I hold that I actually do think have a foundation.

 

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August 26

The Blind Men & The Truth of The Elephant

 

Seven blind men were on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant.

One day, the first blind man bumped into something. “I’ve found the elephant!” he yelled with excitement.

The group cheered and asked, “What is it like??”

The first blind man felt around and replied, “Hmm. It’s long and thick like a big snake!”

The second blind man reached out his hand and felt the elephant that was infront of him. “No” he said, “It’s sharp and pointy, like a spear!”

The third blind man bent down and grabbed the elephant. “You’re both wrong! An elephant is wide and round, like a pillar!”

The fourth blind man described what he was touching and said, “Well you’re close, but an elephant is actually wide and flat, like a huge fan.”

The fifth blind man said, “You guys are fools! An elephant is clearly large, rough and flat, like a brick wall.”

The sixth blind man said, “Heresy! I know for a fact that an elephant is long and thin, like a piece of rope. You should all be burned at the stake!”

The six blind men continued their heated arguing, each one convinced that what they were touching told them the truth of the elephant.

The seventh blind man simply shook his head. “Silly men!” he said with a sigh. “Don’t you realise that you are but holding one part of the elephant and that in truth, all of you are right!”

The six blind men stopped their arguing and asked, “What do you mean?”

The seventh blind man continued, “Well, you…” addressing the first blind man, “…are simply touching the elephant’s long trunk which feels like a big snake.”

He then addressed the other men, “You are touching its tusks which feel like a spear. You are touching its leg which feels like a pillar. You are touching its ear which feels like a huge fan. You are touching its side which feels like a brick wall. And you, my fiery friend, are holding its tail which feels like a piece of rope. You can not see or feel the whole elephant. You can only experience the part you feel. You must not judge or condemn others for knowing the elephant to be different from you. You are all right! Each one of you should share your knowledge of the elephant with each other and together you will come to true enlightenment. Only when all of your truths are combined will you fully discover the truth of the elephant.”

“You are clearly a man of deep thoughtfulness…”

“Why thank you!” the seventh blind man replied. He then paused, confused. The voice he had just heard did not sound like any of the other blind men. “Sorry, who said that?” he asked.

“I did.” the voice replied. “I understand you didn’t notice that I’ve been standing here the whole time. I can see you are all blind.”

“Yes, we are. So.. you have the gift of sight then?” the seventh blind man asked curiously.

“I do” the voice replied. “Would you like me to share what I see?”

“Oh, yes!” the seventh blind man said with a smile. “You see, we are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant, and we have finally found one! Please, tell me what you see!”

“Are you sure you want to know? By what you said to the others before, you seem to already possess great wisdom about the elephant.”

“But that’s exactly the point of what I was saying!” the seventh blind man said encouragingly. “All of our perspectives are valid and important. Please share the truth of what you see and then your truth can be added to our truths.”

“Fair enough.” the voice replied. “Although I’m not sure you’re going to like it. What I see is quite different to what you may think is before you. The first blind man bumped into one of the other men and grabbed on to his companion’s arm. His blind friend seemed used to this and so wasn’t aware that when he spoke of the elephant feeling long and thick, like a snake, he was actually talking of his arm.”

“His arm??” the seventh blind man exclaimed, “So the elephant isn’t there at all?”

“Oh the elephant is there. He was not far off in fact. But, being blind, he didn’t know where to reach and he just grabbed for whatever he could find. An arm is as good as an elephant to someone who can’t see any different. The next three blind men made a similar mistake. One man is touching the pointy end of a tree branch and it feels to him like a spear. Another man is reaching up and touching the tree’s broad, flat leaves which feel like a fan. And the third man is kneeling in front of the tree and hugging its wide pillar-like trunk. You were right that the elephant’s leg is very similar in shape. You were also right that these three men should stop their fighting and realise they are simply holding different parts of the same object. You just couldn’t see that their squabble is over the truth of the tree. Sadly, none of them are actually holding the elephant.”

The seventh blind man was stunned and confused. “And what of the others?” he asked.

“Well…” the voice continued, “There is another man who is, believe it or not, literally touching a brick wall. It feels exactly like a brick wall, but he so desperately wants it to be an elephant his imagination compliments his desires. He can not accept the truth that is right in front of him. I do so wish he could see. He might be disappointed at first, but walls are rather lovely to look at up close and eventually he could continue on his quest to find the elephant that is actually standing so close to him. As it is I fear, he may well be standing in front of a brick wall for years, thinking his quest is over.”

“How sad,” reflected the seventh blind man. “But what of the man holding the tail that felt like a rope? He was so confident! So quick to condemn the others! What is he really holding? A tail? A rope? A vine from a tree?”

“Nothing.” said the voice. “This blind man is holding absolutely nothing in his hands. He simply heard the other men claiming knowledge and felt like a fool when he reached out and couldn’t feel a thing. See, he wasn’t standing near the tree or the wall or the elephant. He was facing in completely the wrong direction. But his pride and his fear could not leave him empty handed, and so he claimed to hold the truth of the elephant, knowing no one else could prove otherwise.”

“Other than you, of course.”

“Other than me.” said the voice, sadly. “I see all too clearly his pride and his lies and his fear, and yet he will live his life and never see me.”

The seventh blind man and the voice went silent for a long while. Eventually, the man swallowed hard and asked, “Sir, please… Can you tell me who you are?”

“Haven’t you guessed already?” the voice replied with a smile. “I am the elephant.”

“The elephant??” the seventh blind man said, now more confused than ever. “But elephants can’t talk!”

“How do you know? You are on a quest to discover the truth of the elephant. How do you even know that an elephant has a trunk like a snake or ears like a fan or a tail like a rope? You cannot see. You are blind to the truth of the elephant and you are also blind to the truth of yourself. You claim wisdom and insight that all truths are right and everyone is just holding different parts of the elephant, but you do not know. You are as blind as everyone else. But maybe… you don’t have to be.”

“What do you mean?” the seventh blind man said, a little worried.

“Well, I am a talking elephant. I quite possibly possess other magical qualities that you are unaware of.”

“You mean…” the blind man stammered. “Can you heal my eyes?”

“Do you want me to?” the elephant asked curiously. “Do you realise what that would mean? If I gave you your sight, you would see things as they really are. You would see where I am and what I look like. You would know the truth and the truth would set you free. But there is a downside.”

“How could there be a downside to knowing the truth?” the blind man asked.

“Well, when you see the truth, you also see the lies. You would see your companions and be able to point them away from their false “elephants”, but they will still be blind. They will not believe you.”

“Of course they won’t, but they’ll believe you!”

“They will call you arrogant and narrow-minded for claiming to know the truth.They will rather you continued to teach what you taught before. That each of their truths are true. That message is one of peace and tolerance. The real truth divides and causes conflict. Why don’t you simply stay blind and continue n the path you were on when I found you?”

“But how could I? Oh, please let me see you! My quest was for the truth of the elephant… no matter what that turned out to be.”

And with that, something like scales fell from the man’s eyes and the brilliance of light pierced his vision. As his sight slowly came into focus, there before him was the scene of his six blind friends, exactly as the elephant had described them. And next to the tree, there was the elephant. Grand and magical and bright green. With a huge trunk and two glorious wings and smiling eyes that twinkled in the sunlight.

  (11191)

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February 24

Blenders & The Paradox of Pain – A Poem

BLENDERS & THE PARADOX OF PAIN

a poem by Simon Camilleri  29/9/09

I put my hand into a blender and pressed the button “HIGH”
and in a flash my hand was gone and, shocked, I wondered why?

Why God? Why now? Why not THAT guy? Why’d this happen to me?
Why didn’t you just stop the blades? Or stop my hands, at least?

Aren’t I your child? Were you asleep? I thought you had my back!
I thought when I teamed up with you I’d live life free from lack.

And now I lack a whole right hand! How can you call this love??
I shook my fist (now just a wrist) at the heavens above.

I wondered how, in such a world, could God really be there?
If he exists, he’s either weak or worse, he doesn’t care!

This suffering seemed so pointless that I slowly filled with doubt.
So I thought I’d take a break from church until I’d worked it out.

So I ditched my Christian friends who all just didn’t understand.
It’s easy to say “God is good” when you have both your hands.

Yes, the complex paradox of pain would take deeper contemplation,
and what better way to think it through than in complete isolation.

See, I had lost my hand, I had lost my faith, I had lost my church and friends,
but I still had no idea just how my life had reached this end.

And as I pondered this I sat down on some railway tracks.
I began to juggle hand grenades and chainsaws to relax.

I wondered how could bad things happen to good folk like me,
as I smeared my face with honey and threw rocks at swarms of bees.

“It’s a mystery”, I finally said, “The great paradox of pain!”
and I shrugged as my left hand reached for the blender once again… (1048)

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February 21

Stupid Deals

I have noticed a few stupid deals being offered of late.

The main two are by Budget Direct car insurance and Flight Centre.

Budget Direct is offering a deal where you receive $50 if they can not beat your present car insurance fees (as long as you are with RACV, AAMI or GIO). As the terms and conditions on their website states, “If Budget Direct cannot beat the renewal price as verified by the renewal documentation provided, you will be sent a cheque for $50.”

So how does this work? Does anyone ever get the money? When is it more financially sensible for them to go, “Gee, I don’t think we can on this occasion lower our fees to price match our competitor and consequently gain a customer that will give us thousands and thousands of dollars over many years. Bob! Write another cheque for fifty bucks!”

Flight Centre’s latest deal is even more ridiculous.

Picture this… Flight Centre has one price for a flight and you tell them of a cheaper flight that is being offered by another Australian airline. You have to show them written evidence of the cheaper flight and the consultant has to check and verify that is it actually a valid flight. Once all these criteria have been met, the consultant has a choice – either they beat the offer by $1, or they give you the flight for free!

That’s right! It either costs them charging you $1 less than their competitor or it costs them charging you $0. On what planet does anyone ever get a free flight out of Flight Centre?

Sure, you may say that the whole “fly for free” thing is just meant to be seen as not the point and that they’re really just saying, “we will always beat our competitors”. But as the above picture shows, they really push the FLY FREE as a genuine deal that could be taken by any customer.  On their website, there’s even a tab that simply states “Fly Free”.

Both of these deals are just ways of suckering you in to going with their business as they offer you something that it’s never in their interests to follow through with. They might as well say, “If we can’t beat our competitor, we’ll give you the entire store and pay all your bills for twenty years!” That would impress a lot of people, and maybe even get some suckers to walk through the door, but anyone with half a brain would see through the stupidity of the offer. But make it not a spectacular, like a free flight or a $50 cheque and people are blind to way they are being suckered in.

It’s like a deal that was being offered at a pub/bistro near my work. The Doutta Galla Hotel in Flemingtonhad a sign on every table stating that if, when you ordered your meal, they didn’t offer you garlic bread, you got the meal for free. They weren’t offering you garlic bread for free. They were asking you if you wanted to purchase garlic bread… At $4.90 a pop, mind you!

So basically they were trying to upsell you. Hoping that you will buy some garlic bread that you didn’t originally want or ask for. And if they didn’t annoy you with this suggestion to buy something extra, you get the meal for free! I would think that not being pestered to buy something I didn’t want was reward enough! But no, they want to pay for my entire meal!

This was clearly just set up, not to better serve their customers, but as an incentive for the staff to get into the habit of upselling. If some poor staff member did happen to forget to suggest garlic bread and the customer got their meal for free, I’m sure you can imagine who would have to pay for the meal in the end.

While the deal was on I always wondered what would happen if I went up to the counter and said, “I’d like the Chicken Parma and THAT’S ALL! NOTHING MORE!” What would they have done? Would they lean on the side of good customer service and not suggest I buy something I clearly didn’t want to buy? Or would they so avoid having to give me the meal for free, that they would still ask me?

What about if I had said, “I’d like to order 6 serves of garlic bread… No, seven. Yes, seven. That will be completely satisfying. I won’t need any more garlic bread after that!” Or what would they have replied if I said, “I’d like to order the Greek salad but make sure there’s no garlic in the dressing. See, I’m allergic to garlic and will die if I even smell it. And make sure there’s no croutons either. I can’t have any bread products or else I break out in a pus-filled sores over my entire body.”

I’m curious as to what they would say.

Would they begin to twitch and start saying “Error! Error!” as steam came out of their robotic ears?

Would they whisper to me saying, “Look, I know you’ll say no, but my boss’ll kill me if I don’t offer you some garlic bread.”

Or would they just stare at me like a cow standing in the middle of a country road, and ask, “Would you like garlic bread with that?”

Stupid. (1551)

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