Sabbath School Commentary for discussion on Sabbath, June 6, 2015
In our time, authenticity, spontaneity, and feelings have somewhat displaced more objective values such as duty, consistency, and discipline. As I see it, the subjective currently enjoys a kind of monopoly in our culture: objective points of reference remain (especially when we need statistics and ‘studies’ to enforce our subjective preferences) but we all tend to favor the self over appeals to principle, wise tradition, or just plain duty and time-honored custom.
When my students are asked to express a moral stance, they commonly preface their statement with, “I just don’t feel that it is right”. When I attend church, I sometimes witness folks trying very hard to look and sound spiritually alive as if religion cannot be true unless it generates some excitement. When I sit down to work at my desk, the temptation to listen to background music evokes a tyrannical need to keep the emotions ‘happy’.
Of course, our need to feel good about everything all of the time has a downside. To be sure, we enjoy enough gadgetry that nearly every moment of the day can be ‘wired’ such that our emotions never flag. We can find ready-made solace in perpetual entertainment, shopping, ‘research’, distraction, or even work, so that we never actually have to face ourselves without a screen to enhance the view.
In the Information age, the notion of “following” Jesus makes no sense. We ‘follow’ so many things via the Internet that the notion of following Jesus sounds absurd. Firstly, Jesus demands our full devotion to the exclusion of all other things. Jesus did not favor a balanced life in which faith shrinks in order to make room for a myriad of other concerns. We know this, but we cannot accomodate it. Have any of us taken an inventory of our time spent? Have we made a simple comparison between ‘following’ the Internet (and, yes, the Internet does lead!) and Prayer or Bible reading? We dare not. If it feels bad, don’t do it. It is much easier to simply put on some authentic spirituality or crank-up the feel-good liturgy (or nurse a conveniently subjective theology).
Daniel prayed three times each day (without any background music). He had no canned music, screens, blogs, or a billion videos and photographs to distract him, but he did manage an empire. The Bible tells us that Daniel guarded that prayer time with his life (and chose death over violating his prayer habit). I suspect that Daniel did not always feel like praying, but he did it anyway. He had a duty to God and to his people. It was his primary habit.
When it comes to following Jesus our first duty is to abandon our need to always feel good. Second, we must ‘cut-off’ our penchant for distraction. And third, we must organize our lives such that we ‘pray’ three times each day without interruption and without failure until we die. I need not cushion this message with caveats, but I will: we are not ritual worshippers like so many Muslims, we do not read for ‘merit’ like the Buddhists, and we do not think that by praying regularly we can earn our way to God’s heart. But we do recognize that to follow Jesus in practical terms means that we do something consistently no matter how we feel or what the cost might be. The reward, of course, is that oh so very ‘light’ yoke which brings a ‘peace’ that the ‘world cannot give’ (yes, peace is, in part, a feeling but it does not come without a ‘yoke’). Three times per day—do it without music; do it without waiting to feel like doing it; do it until you get bored doing it and then keep doing it; do it because ‘following Jesus’ is far, far more than just a feeling—it is first and last an act.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6845