Contented Worldliness: A Sneaky Foe

After attending a production of “C. W. Lewis on Stage” this week, my husband and I both came away impressed by one particular phrase: “contented worldliness.” It comes from Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, in which Screwtape, an experienced demon, is coaching his nephew on the finer points of tempting humans. In this passage, Screwtape discusses the problem of war:

And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless.  (p. 27 of the 1982 paperback edition)

Now it’s true that contentment is generally a good thing. The Bible urges us to embrace it (Philippians 4:11-12; 1 Timothy 6:6; Hebrews 13:5).But we’re also warned:

Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, NIV).

In other words, when our worldly existence is free of obvious threat, a subtler enemy lurks at our door. His name is Contented Worldliness.

photo by Mark Owens - Flickr.com
photo by Mark Owens – Flickr.com

Picture a father who has just come home from a long trip. Of course, he comes bearing gifts because he thought of his kids often during his absence. But what he really wants is the reunion with his family. He wants them to smother him in joyous hugs and kisses while exclaiming, “We missed you, Daddy!”

Contented Worldliness turns us into children who grab the gift from our father’s hands, tear off the wrapping and packaging, and race away to play with our new toys.

Where does that leave God? At the door, standing in a pile of trash and yearning for a hug.

Hosea sums up Contented Worldliness this way: “When they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hosea 13:6, NIV). And Scripture provides us with many examples of this foe’s handiwork. David’s faith was strong when he had to fight giants and evade murderers; but he fell (hard!) when his position and reputation were secure. We see this pattern repeated in the lives of Solomon, Asa, Hezekiah, and others.

So how do we fight this threat? That same passage in Deuteronomy gives us the solution: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day” (verse 11). But I also like the way Screwtape puts it:

Remember, always, that He really likes the little vermin, and sets an absurd value on the distinctness of every one of them. When He talks of their losing their selves, He means only abandoning the clamour of self-will; once they have done that, He really gives them back all their personality, and boasts (I am afraid, sincerely) that when they are wholly His they will be more themselves than ever. (The Screwtape Letters, p. 59)

For my part, I find there’s no better way of “abandoning the clamour of self-will” than to spend time daily (at least) with the Daddy who “sets such an absurd value” on me.

What about you—how do you battle Contented Worldliness?

Warning: Biohazard

A nasty virus like smallpox or ebola is never “safe,” even when it’s contained in a laboratory. A contained biohazard is safer, but it is never safe.

biohazard - flickr - plsasterousNo matter how many times a lab technician sees a sign like this one, she can never, ever grow lax in her protocols for suiting up, handling, and disposing of the biohazards she sees every day. Even if she spends her entire life working in this lab, she must not lose respect for the danger. Her life depends on it.

As Christians, perhaps we should adopt a similar mindset regarding sin. Like that lab technician, we spend our entire lives around danger. Yet we can’t afford to get comfortable with sin.

Instead, we should respect it for the dangerous animal it is. We shouldn’t take it out of its box and play with it, foolishly believing that we’ve got it adequately caged, declawed, and under control. Sin is always dangerous.

Moses understood this. “He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:25, 26, NIV).

Like Moses—and like that lab technician—we must always respect the danger of sin. Christ paid a huge price to rescue us from it.

Welcome!

shoes & mat - Pixabay - nuzreeWelcome to my new website! Like all remodeling jobs, it took longer than expected, but I think all the buttons and links are working now. So kick your shoes off, have a look around, and make yourself at home.

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What’s Wrong with Resolutions?

There’s something magical about the idea of making New Year’s resolutions, of envisioning ourselves healthier, holier, and more productive by the time another year rolls around. But statistics tell us that our usual methods of making resolutions aren’t terribly effective in actually getting things done.

©iStock.com/Zastavkin
©iStock.com/Zastavkin

For me, a resolution is too much like a promise to myself. Once I break that promise, it’s broken for the whole year. The result is that I end up feeling like a failure. Maybe you can relate to this problem.

A priority, on the other hand, is more like a GPS device that keeps me focused on my chosen destination. When I get off course (which I usually do), it provides me with the orientation I need to get my journey back on course.

 

Enter: The Priority Reset

After a couple of frustrating attempts at New Year’s resolutions, I began a different kind of New Year’s ritual, one I call a Priority Reset. This amounts to prayerfully reviewing my course over the previous year and writing down a new list of priorities for the year to come. For several years, this was the whole process. I kept the new list under the glass on my desktop, where I could review it frequently to remind myself of my intended destination.

For me, this worked really well. When confronted with the choice of taking a run or studying gross anatomy (which is quite aptly named, I assure you), all I had to do was glance as my desktop to remember that “Health” outranked “Grades.”

Somewhere along the way, I learned that writing down specific goals was important too. My first attempts at this weren’t very helpful, and I soon realized that I had too many goals. Again, consulting with my list of priorities helped me determine which goals were most important during that particular phase of my life.

My yearly Priority Reset continued to evolve over several years as I evaluated different ways of staying on course. This is the final version, including an example of how I use it, as a PDF or a Word document. If you find it helpful, you’re welcome to use it as is, or to revise it to fit your own needs.

 

Using the Priority Reset

General: This is only one page long so I can refer to often and easily. I like to keep mine in my journal, which I open nearly every day. Sometimes I keep other copies in places I frequent (e.g., under the glass on my desk at work).

The human mind and body are finite. We cannot concentrate on an infinite number of priorities or work toward an infinite number of goals during any given period. For most people, setting a total of 6 to 10 goals is best for maximum effectiveness—fewer won’t sufficiently challenge you; more spreads your energies too thin.

Remember this principle at the end of the year, too. If you’ve done this right, you won’t actually reach every single goal (if you do, you probably didn’t challenge yourself sufficiently).

Done! - ©iStock.com/ gpointstudio
Done! – ©iStock.com/ gpointstudio

However, you will also find that you managed to do things you’d only dreamed about doing before. Merely writing goals down has been shown to be a simple but powerful tool.

Realize that everything about the Priority Reset represents an ideal. People don’t set goals to do things they’ve already accomplished or to form habits they’ve already mastered. The point here is to grow. If my every action were to bless others (as in the example), or if I lived every moment with the attitude of a servant, then I wouldn’t need to remind myself of these ideals by writing them down. To become more than we are, we must choose goals that are attainable but that stretch us a bit.

This process is best done with God’s help. (Isn’t everything?) Don’t set your course for an entire year without prayer.

Mission & Motto: If the Priority Reset is like a GPS, then the Mission and Motto are your overall destination and method of travel (attitude).

Priorities: All of your priorities should move you toward your Mission. Rank them in order of importance, and don’t forget the basics. For example, almost every other priority, even that of serving others, will be affected negatively if you are unhealthy, so this priority must be very high on anyone’s list.

Goals:  Every Priority should have at least one Goal; these are like the routes you follow to reach your chosen destination. The little caution signs are areas that tend to detour or distract you from your goal. You may not always know what these areas are at the beginning of your journey, but try to identify them so you can formulate an action plan that takes them into account.

You may already be familiar with the idea of setting SMART goals. The acronym stands for elements that help you set goals you can actually realize.

Specific – e.g., “Lose 10 pounds” vs. “Lose weight”

Measurable – e.g. “Miss no more than 10 days of work this year” vs. “Be more reliable”

Attainable – i.e., realistic; e.g., “Live 500 years” is not humanly possible

Results-focused – e.g., “Run a marathon” (outcome) vs. “Run 30 minutes/day” (process)

Time-bound – e.g., “Run a marathon by Christmas” vs. “Run a marathon someday”

Plan: Design specific actions that will help you move toward your Goals. Be sure to target the areas you identified as problems. If you find that the plan you set forth doesn’t work—maybe it proves unsuccessful in moving you toward your goal, or maybe you just can’t keep up with it—modify it.

 

Good Luck!

I hope you find this New Year’s tradition helpful. What other New Year’s rituals do you find useful?

Has Your Year Mattered?

 ©iStock.com/ Nobilior
©iStock.com/ Nobilior

I’ve sat through bunches of lectures. I’ll bet you have too.  But how many do you actually remember? If you’re like me, you won’t need all ten fingers to do the math.

In my case, I can really only remember one lecture. But that message affected my perspective so drastically that it changed the way I approached life.

That talk wasn’t delivered by a famous preacher, a powerful politician, or even a professor with lots of letters after his name. It was delivered by Mrs. Laurene Jenkins, a dormitory dean, during a half-hour worship service.

So what was this life-altering topic? “The Urgent Versus the Important.”

You see, I’ve always related to Martha, the hard-working sister that held Mary and Lazarus’s home together. Like her, I enjoy being busy. I relish the sense of accomplishment and the satisfaction of being helpful.

As a consequence, I can so relate to Jesus’ gentle rebuke to this industrious woman. “Martha, Martha,” he said, “you are worried and upset about many things. Only one thing is important” (Luke 10:41, 42, NCV).

Martha had become so focused on the many urgent tasks required to provide for her guests’ needs that she lost sight of the only task that was truly important: knowing God.

What about us?

The end of the year is a great time to reflect, reviewing what we did, what we didn’t do, and what we wish we’d done differently. Did we spend our time and energy on important things—things that will matter in 10, 20, or 50 years? Or did we fritter away the year, buzzing around from one urgent task to the next, hardly looking up to see where the fickle trail of urgency was leading us?

I’ve never been one for making New Year’s resolutions. But after that talk in college, I started doing something I call a “Priority Reset” every January 1st. It’s my way of evaluating my course—of looking up to see where I’m going—and of applying any needed course corrections to make sure that I’m using the life God gives me on things that matter. It’s been a truly useful practice for me.

Through the years, I’ve had a number of people ask me about this process, and I’m happy to share it with them. If you’re interested, I’ll share it with you next week. However, it’s more effective if you’ve had a chance to prayerfully reflect on the previous year.

So how was your 2014?

What did you accomplish that you feel good about?

What do you wish you’d accomplished that you didn’t get around to?

Do you feel like you’re generally heading in the right direction? If so, what did you do to support this movement? If not, what direction do you feel you should be heading in?

* * * * *

P.S.  You may have noticed that this isn’t the new website I promised. That’s turned into a bit more of a challenge than I expected. But stay tuned—I’m still working on it!

Putting on my Hard Hat!

©iStock.com/andresrimaging
©iStock.com/andresrimaging

This will be my last post for a few weeks — a month, I’m guessing. My website will be undergoing reconstruction during this time. I’m already a bit foggy about how to do what needs doing, so I’ve decided not to confuse myself further by adding more material while in the process of transferring the old.

The remodeled website will look different, but the address itself (DellaLoredo.com) will stay the same. If you’re already on the email list, you should receive a notification when the new site’s up and running. If you’re not on the list, but would like to be notified, you can join the list by hitting the “Follow This Blog” button to the right of this blog.

God’s Delights

©iStock.com/Warren_Price
©iStock.com/Warren_Price

Have you ever had divinity?  Mmm, mmm, good!

As a kid, I thought that this yummy confection of egg whites, sugar, and nuts was actually from Heaven. I mean, who but God had the right to give it such a pretentious name? So I figured it must be His favorite candy, and I imagined Him mixing up batches of the stuff, using the angels as taste-testers before sending it down to earth. (I’ve always had a pretty active imagination.) In other words, I thought divinity delighted God.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that God was a bit deeper than that. And I began to wonder: well, (if not divinity) what does delight God? What warms His heart and brings a smile to His face? Continue reading God’s Delights

Delighting in God

©iStock.com/yulkapopkova
©iStock.com/yulkapopkova

“Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4, NKJV).

Wow! That’s some promise, isn’t it? Just delight in God, and He’ll give you whatever your heart desires!

There’s just one problem: delighting in God isn’t exactly natural for us sinners. In fact, in Romans 7, Paul describes an internal battle that makes it impossible for us to truly delight in God.

So what’s the deal? Is God taunting us? Does He purposely dangle a carrot in front of us that He knows we can never reach?

No. As Paul goes on to point out (Romans 7:24, 25), Jesus is able to deliver us from this battle. All we have to do is accept His victory and cooperate with the Spirit as He transforms us into the image of Christ—and into people who truly delight in the same things that delight God.

But cooperation isn’t a passive endeavor. We can encourage this transformation by choosing to participate in certain activities. For instance, we can: Continue reading Delighting in God

Jonah the … Jerk?

Okay, maybe that’s a bit strong, but, really, what was Jonah thinking? He preaches to a doomed city, gets probably the best response any evangelist has ever received … and gets mad?

I’m talking about Jonah 4, which is today’s chapter in the Revived By His Word reading plan. If you’re not familiar with this program, you can check it out here. The commentary by Jim Ayer on that blog today focuses on the remarkable fact that God continues to talk to the curmudgeonly, even nasty, Jonah as long as Jonah keeps talking to God. This is a great point, and one that’s key to spiritual growth: Never stop talking to God, no matter how you feel.

But something else impressed me in this chapter—an unusual side-by-side comparison of how a good God and a sinful human respond to exactly the same event. Continue reading Jonah the … Jerk?