Diets. Self-help books. Gym memberships. Book lists. Vitamins. Miracle pills. To modify an aphorism: “The road to depression (as well as bankruptcy and guilt) is paved with good intentions. We’ve all been subjected to the litany of horrible infomercials, the slick Photoshop bodies, the too-good-to-be-true slogans, and the amazing deals that can be yours if you “just call now.” As incredible as the products we are daily bombarded with are, what’s even more amazing than the wonder-working powers of Vitameatavegamin is that there is no end to these gaudy lies and tacky falsehoods on every streetcorner and supermarket magazine stand. You’d think that, after a while, word would get out that 95% of what’s being sold cannot and will not deliver what the marketers would have you expect. It seems that one sweet day, the marketers would be forced to stop their nonsense because the world’s population finally discovered how to see through the half-truths. But this glorious day is yet to come. For some odd reason, the average person will still be sold a product marketed as a palace even while knowing that in the end he’ll wind up just buying the farm.
The human desire for greatness for less than average effort that makes us all susceptible to the nonsensical pontificating of self-help experts would be quite comical if it weren’t for its devastating results. The desire to be healthy, wealthy, and wise harnessed with the belief that one shouldn’t have to (or can’t) do the hard work of becoming great leads many down dead-end roads that result in episodes of guilt, depression, frustration, and anger, which leave people in a worse position than before they attempted to attain the object of their desire. The self-loathing that comes from repeatedly trying and failing can be quite incapacitating, destroying the will and endurance to struggle until the goal is attained. It leaves the individual in a self-hating slump, unable because unwilling, unwilling because overcome by a sense of failure–until the next great promise of victory through a preposterous regimen of inane actions rouses one up to try to gain more for even less.
Unfortunately, the dehabilitating effects of great desire combined with little perseverance is not confined to the arena of material goods; it is just as much a problem in the spiritual life as anywhere else. Ask any Christian if he wishes he could pray more consistently and effectively, and he’ll undoubtedly tell you yes. The same goes for “witnessing,” ministering to the needs of others, understanding the Scriptures, living a more holy life, and a host of other activities, duties, and delights of the Christian life. However, much like the binge dieter, these people desire greatness but are unable to see their grandiose plans to a satisfactory and lasting conclusion. Hence the never-ending market for Christian self-help books and manuals, to-do lists of Christian activities and disciplines, and motivational speakers and conferences. It’s not because dieting is a bad idea that we have whole stores filled with dieting booklets, but because people are unable to do what is needed to attain and maintain the results of their diet. Likewise, the constant stream of information on Christian activities and spiritual disciplines does not mean that learning how to be a good Christan is the problem. No, the problem is much deeper than that because the problem is within ourselves.
Despite the common sense so praised by one of the men honored by this blog’s title, it seems that human beings are also surprisingly resistant to the voice of reason and prefer to believe the unbelievable than simply follow their noses. Case in point: wonder diets. Ever perused a representative sample of men’s and women’s health magazines in the grocery store check-out line? Every magazine has the latest research on health and dieting that proves it really is possible to lose gargantuan amounts of weight without altering your lifestyle or disciplining your body. We all know that there is no way that eating more steak and less pasta (or more pasta and less steak, depending on who you ask) is going to make a hefty size 15 slim down to a size 4 in just 10 days, no matter how convincing that size 4 cover girl looks. Yet, we still fall for the bait and get hooked on another sure-fire exercise in failure, certain to result in heaps of guilt and self-deprecation.
In response to this depressing phenomenon, Reinhard Engels has come up with the ultimate antedote–the common sense diet (the offical in name is the “No S Diet”). In a delightfully rambling FAQ section, Engels explains his honest diet and honest diagnosis of human psychology. Surprisingly simple in comparison to, well, just about anything, this diet and it’s creator get at the root of the problem:
It sounds crazy, but a lot of people’d prefer to stay fat and blame McDonalds or refined carbohydrates or hydrogenated vegetable oil or their lousy genes or anyone and anything but themselves. I’m not saying these things aren’t factors, but they are not the decisive factor. The decisive factor is just that: human decision.
Health aside, I’m amazed at how many people prefer to trade their sense of free will and human dignity for carte blanche to fail. It’s like Esau selling his divine birthright for a mess of pottage, choosing to be a slave because it is easier than being free. If you’re one of those, keep searching, this diet isn’t for you.
The problem is two-fold: 1) our techniques and standards may be faulty, and 2) we really aren’t looking for a solution so much as for an excuse. Number one is really not an issue because usually we can see right through the bad techniques and standards. The reason we don’t is because we choose not to, because those techniques and standards end up providing us with an excuse if we are unable to attain the results they promised. After trying the Prayer of Jabez out for a few months and not receiving the pink Cadillac that was meant to be proof of our enlarged borders, we can shelve not only the bad technique, but also justify shelving the idea that perseverance in prayer is something attainable in this life. Six months after faithfully giving 10% of our income to the church without seeing our stock portfolio increase exponentially, we trash Benny Hinn’s notion that God will materially and exhorbitantly bless those who give, dumping our committment to persevere in the Scriptural precept of laying down our life for Christ’s sake as well. When the Purpose-Driven Life becomes one more passing fad in our spiritual life, we tell ourselves that our ability to live a purposeful life is just as elusive.
So we sink into laziness and mediocrity after having safely fortified ourselves from accomplishing anything truly great in our life by convincing ourselves that, since the too-good-to-be-true techniques failed us, our attempt and subsequent failure justifies our continued complacency. The stories of Christians who found the secret of persevering prayer, who joyfully accepted the seizure of their goods for the sake of the Gospel, who walked on water and caused the blind to see, become so many more glitzy photos in a magazine of impossible bodies and impossible dreams.
To all of this I suggest a simple solution: Get up, take up your mat, and walk. Dispense with the notion that the latest mega-church message is going to do the trick. Forget about the next big craze that will enable you to be a superman without any more effort. If Jesus has called you, has spoken your name, get up and follow him. “He who has found his life will lose it, but he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” There are no magic pills, no wonder diets of prayer, no nuggets of devotional truth that will enable you to avoid the very simple and very real task of following in the footsteps of Jesus. His path led to Calvary and surely the servant is not above his master, is he? Yet, His path also led to right hand of the Father where He sits in glory. And there our path leads as well, if only we commit the wonderful and mysterious act of deciding to put one foot in front of the other until we reach our destination.
Of course there are many great aids available in the form of teachings, books, and advice from Christians who have gone before us and I certainly encourage you to avail yourself of them, and often. However, the good advice and teachings won’t be the short cuts to holiness or cheat codes to living the Christian life. They will be those things that recoginze that the journey must be made, it cannot be avoided if one is to truly live. Rather than offer an easy way out, they will provide the tools necessary to persevering to the end.
HT to the Jollyblogger for highlighting the wonder diet of Reinhard Engels.