I am taking a Distance Education class through CCEF called "Dynamics of Biblical Change." There are many reading assignments of great books and articles by David Powlison and Sinclair Ferguson. The most painful assignment is called the "Self-Counseling Project." We have to pick a besetting sin or issue in our lives and go at it with all the resources of the Word and Spirit. Over the next few days I'd like to go through my memory verses with you. The overall theme is something I've used in counseling before that I like to call "The Better Than Project." How is it that laziness wins over productivity? TV watching over meditation or conversation? Lust over purity? Ad nauseum. We find those things more "promising" than God's best and the high call of our calling to righteousness. (cf. John Piper's treatment of severing the power of sin through the power of God's promises in Future Grace.)
My particular problem is materialism. Obviously, as a pastor of a small church my spending is limited! But my desires are not! Worrying about money, thinking about how nice it would be to have a _________. But it's on sale, it must be God's will, etc. Growing up as an MK, money was always tight. What we didn't have and couldn't get was always on my mind. My heart hasn't grown up.
Well here's the antidote from Proverbs:
Proverbs 8.10-11 (ESV)
Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you desire cannot compare with her.
The problem with us, as Peter identifies in 1 Peter, it that together with the world we're corrupted by desires not by deeds. By God's powerful and precious promises we have escaped and are able to escape the drift into the old desires. As Wisdom calls out to us, it's hard to hear her call because of the loudness of our desires. For most of us, silver, gold, and jewels are out of reach. But our desires don't work on godly logic. They play with "what ifs" and fantasies. Fantasy after all is much better than reality. But wisdom offers reality in abundance, substantial things: instruction (come get an earful), knowledge (come get schooled), wisdom (come get moral experience that fits the real world God made.) Our covenant God says, let's get logical! Compare your desires (two in the hand) with what I offer that can be grasped, held, invested, and reaped, now and forever (a bird in the hand.) The last thing the world, and our hearts that beat to the same foolish rhythm, wants is instruction, knowledge, and wisdom. If the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and understanding, we now see what is at stake. Like David Powlison reminded us recently, the great drama of our lives is not an emotional, or financial, or medical drama. It is a moral one. It's between good and evil. Truth and Lies. Worthy pursuits and unworthy pursuits.
All that I desire cannot compare with wisdom and her riches. This poetic personification is the wisdom literature way of saying what Paul says in 1 Cor. 1.21 It is because of God that you are in Christ: who is made for us justification, sanctification and wisdom. If I can't stop thinking about iPods, what have I stopped thinking about God? Have I lost sight of his glitz, nicknamed glory? What has captivated me? Has my heart stopped taking cues from my faith. Like we use to tell teenage guys battling lust: you think your body has a mind of it's own. You must master it. Our "wanter" (HT: David Powlison) has to become a Christian. Our desires have to be transformed by these great (compared to our puny objects of desire) and precious (how much more valuable than what we could obtain) promises.
What would it look like to repent of that desire in the middle of an iPod envy episode? This is the one weakness of my analysis in this class. I don't know how to imagine a different process. How will I treat God and turn to him when the desires strike? The short answer is "faith working through love." Beholding, delighting, entrusting, trusting his truth and promises. A worship response, the "expulsive power of a new affection," will cut that false desire at it's root, since at it's root materialistic desires are a worship thing based on "glory" and "promises." Marketing never takes a merely technological or technical approach (much like we do when we theologize about God rather than worship him.) They promise a look, a feel, an experience. Like someone wrote in modernizing Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections, this true knowledge of God is "The Experience that Counts."
Now that I have an iPod and new house in a great neighbourhood with new shiny appliances, am I still desiring? Not as much. Is that a spiritual victory? I don't know. Knowing my heart, it'll be something else. As CS Lewis said, We need stronger desires, not weaker ones. (This is what catapulted the whole emphasis of Piper and www.desiringGod.org) Pray for me. Pray that I would be struck by the "better than." Pray that I could tackle my desires in slow motion and quickly cling to the reality of my Saviour and his worth.
I hope this encourages you as well.