Prayerfulness as Faithfulness

In Deuteronomy 5:32, Moses says, “So be careful to do what the Lord your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left.” Moses addressed these words to Israel. We know history. We know that they did turn to the right, left, up, down, in every possible direction, variation and combination.

How can we be careful so as to not turn aside to the right and the left?

As always the answer is prayer. But it is not just prayer, rather it is prayerfulness. Prayer is an act, but prayerfulness an attitude. Prayerfulness is a way of being marked by “ceaseless prayer” as Paul says in Thessalonians 5:17.

I was reading about Origen’s thoughts on prayer, “those who give themselves continually to prayer know by experience that through this fervent practice they avoid innumerable sin and are led to perform many good deeds.” Prayerfulness is about filling up our consciousness with ceaseless prayer to God. Such prayerfulness is the mark of the life of a Saint. Such prayerfulness is the source of all virtues.

There are 3 aspects to this way of prayefulness.
1.Prayer places us before God.
2.Prayer reminds us that God is present and looking at us.
3.Prayer changes our disposition.

When we are filling up our mind with ceaseless prayer, then the mind has little space for the seeds of sin to germinate. A mind filled with the sense of ceaseless prayer is focused, it is not distracted to the right or the left.

In the life of Israel, anytime they were stressed they were prone to turn to the left or the right, away from the straight path. When Moses did not come down from Mount Sainai, they decided they would figure out a way to recreate God’s image and made the golden calf to worship it. During times of stress and trail people of Israel channeled their anxiety into things, as in Golden Calf, that took them away from God.

We too do something similar in life – when we are faced with some stressful choices, financial anxiety, fear of rejection, shame about the past. To palliate our negative feelings, we are tempted to turn to the right or the left to distract ourselves using a range of compulsive behaviors from watching TV to giving in to addictions. In these stressful situations, being prayerful means that we channel our energy into praying to God. Stresses an anxieties of life channeled into prayer deepens our identity in God, changing our disposition, making us more faithful to him.

The way to live the Deutronomy 5:32 life of faithfulness is through prayerfulness, practicing ceasless prayer. If we are stressed about something, instead of trying to find relief from the negative emotions by compulsive behavior, we channel this energy into prayerfulness, the cornerstone of our faithfulness.

Motivation towards Freedom

Proverbs 16:12 says, “All a person’s ways seem pure to them but motives are weighed by the Lord.”

In the book Why We Do What We do, Edward L. Deci speaks about an experiment done with moneys. The moneys are given a puzzle to solve, but without any external rewards. He found that moneys kept doing that puzzle over and over again just because they enjoyed the process of solving that puzzle. The monkeys did not need some external reward, they were satisfied with just the process of solving the puzzle. They monkeys had “intrinsic motivation.”

motivation

Intrinsic motivations are one which are not dependent upon external rewards. Intrinsic motivation is about seeing something as being worthy in an off itself, without concern for external personal rewards. In the book Edward L. Deci says goes on to say that little children often display this kind of pure intrinsic motivation. They are motivated by curiosity, and the desire to learn about the world, so they are happy to touch and taste everything, exploring the world.

When Jesus says that to enter the kingdom of God, one has to be like little children. I suppose one could say children have an innocent in as much as they have ‘intrinsic motivations.’ If they become extrinsically motivated – as in wanting to do something to get cookies, then they would be tempted to take short cuts, lie, manipulate to get the desired external outcome. It appears that intrinsic motivation is a kingdom value that is amply evident among little children.

This brings up the question as adults can we ever reach the stage of having pure intrinsic motivations?

Deci says in the book that intrinsic motivation is seen in adults when they engage in leisure activities where it be fishing or reading or gardening – it is enjoying something for the sake of itself. Doing something for the sake of itself is the very of worship. West Minister’s confession says, “The Chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”

How can we attain this state of being?

Proverbs 16:13 gives the answer, “commit to the Lord whatever you do.”

To commit whatever we do to the Lord is to commit our efforts to the glory of God and let God handle the outcome.

In stead of committing our efforts to God, if we are driven by a compulsion towards outcome orientation, then that is when we end up with impure motivations. In a spiritual context outcome orientation can mean many different things. For Christians in leadership, outcome orientation takes the form of obsessing over numbers – how many people came to Church this week? For Christians who are lay members, this outcome orientation can take the form of expecting to have some ‘feeling’ as an outcome of worship. To go into worship wanting an outcome that can be qualified merely in terms of feeling is an impure motivations.

As Christians, who follow Proverbs 16:13, we have to relentlessly commit every one of our actions to God. How do we commit every action to God?

I take 10 seconds to quickly pray about whatever I am doing, and commit it to God so that my actions, regardless of my personal outcome, brings glory to God. This sets my intentions aligned towards intrinsic motivation. When I pray to committing all I do to God, I find myself in a place of freedom in Christ.

An example… Even as i am writing this post, if I am outcome oriented then I may be concerned about a whole range of questions from – How many people will read my post? Will people like it? Will people be benefited from this? This is the way of slavery. If on the other hand, my motivations are not related to any personal eternal outcome, if my motivation is intrinsic – that is, my motivation is to write for the sake of glorifying God, then I am freed to express myself to glorify God without care for any external impact/outcome. This is the way of freedom.

Proverbs is a pointer to the way of wisdom God knows our motivations and will reward us for our motivation. Proverbs 16:1,2 tell us that way of wisdom is keep our motivations intrinsic. Intrinsic motivation is achieved by taking 10 seconds out of hour to pray committing our effort to God’s glory, regardless of personal outcomes. Compulsion towards seeking external personal outcomes leads to slavery. Our intrinsic motivation to glorify God leads to freedom in Christ.

Call to Self Transcendence

When I am stuck in a place where I am pre-occupied with my own emotions in a way that is detrimental, then in order to transcend out of it, I listen to say Bach’s Fuges. Being from the Baroque era, Bach saw his music as a reflection of God’s glory. So his music had the multi-faceted majesty of God’s glory. When I listen to Bach’s fuges I am transcend out of my self-absorbtion to a place of apprecation for the majesty of his music.
I have been reading David Brooks new book The Second Mountain. The book’s central thesis is that everyone climbs their first mountain, usually some career goal, driven by personal ambition. Then after they get to achieving their goal, they find that something is still missing, the first mountain wasn’t satisfying after all. Then they have to figure out how to climb the second mountain. This second mountain takes the form of ‘care for the other.’
City-Arts-&-Lectures-David-Brooks
The first mountain is often one driven by hyper-individualistic motivation and fancy restaurants. People who are the second mountain people give off themseleves freely, they are exhausted, but still they have a sparkle in their eyes. Brooks mentions a lady from Houston, Stephanie Hurek, who teaches kids after school – she thinks of every hour she spends with the kids as creating a better future for them.
Brooks is not a Christian. But the principle of the second mountain had some interesting Christian parallels. The kind of second mountain’s giving of the self for the sake of the ‘other’ is akin to Paul saying that he find himself being poured out as a drink offering 2 Tim 4:6. The call of the Bible is the call to a place of giving off of oneself to the love of neighbor.
Every person, Christian or not, has common grace. So everyone has the ability, up to a point, to give of themselves to serve the weak and the vulnerable around them. But special grace enables Christians to serve others even in the most desperate situations. Etty Hillesum was a Christian jewish person who was in one of the Nazi concentration camps. When she was set to go to take the transportation to the death squads, she had a kind word for everyone on the way out. From the train she threw a postcard that had words written “Christen, The Lord is my high tower.” Brooks gives Etty Hillesum as a second mountain person.
Brooks calls people like Staphanie Hurek and Etty Hillesum ‘weavers.’ They are second mountain people who are have given themselves to caring for people around them. They ‘weave’ the social fabric. In a sense the cross carrying Christian is a ‘weaver’ of God’s kingdom.
Going from the first mountain to the second mountain involves going through a valley. The valley is where the hyper individualistic ambitions die. For Brooks, the valley came when he got divorced and he had to move to an apartment. There he realized though he was very successful in life life, he was drive by selfish ambition. It was his first mountain which was not satisfying for him at all. Then he had to learn what it means to give up his former life and climb his second mountain.
From a theological stand point this valley experience is what Jesus talks about in Luke 9:23 where Jesus say anyone who wants to follow Him has to deny self, then take up their cross daily and follow him.
The cross carrying that Jesus talks about is a call to the second mountain. It is a call to self-transcendence by the way of self-denial. Within the Christian life, the pathway to this place of self denial, aka the valley, is something that one does not have to walk alone. As Christians we have the help of the Holy Spirit to make it through the valley between the first and the second mountain.
The call of the cross is the call to self-transcendence. God sent Jesus to us to forgive our sins, and also, to call us away form our narcissistic self-absorbed first mountain lives, to the world of self-transcendence as ‘weavers’ building God’s kingdom by being the loving presence of Chris to people around us. Then Christians will be people with a “sparkle in our eyes,” as Brooks notes, sparked by the Holy Spirit.

Capitalism VS Communism??? Really!!!!

All of the media propaganda and the progressive economist say that capitalism is the solution to fight against the evils of communism. But that argument goes only until wall street is on its own feet, if at any time it indeed was on its own (it could be argued that it is always standing on the feet of the American tax payer). Once every couple of decades the wall street buckles down and needs infusion of billions upon billions of dollars from the FED to get back on its feet. Depending on FED to get back on its feet is to depend on the tax payer to bail oneself out. This is not capitalism, it is communism.

The basic difference between capitalism and communism is that in capitalism none is entitled to anyone else’s economic well being but in communism each man is responsible for the others economic well being. Capitalism is about catering to self-interest in such a way that everyone caters to their self-interest, communism is about catering to the other’s-interest.

In a recent interview with Bill Gates about the global economic down turn and what impact it would have on his development work in the third world countries, he was asked a question. “Now that the American way of running the economy has failed, wouldn’t the other countries say ‘why do you want to do this the American way, after all it has failed’?” Gates replied “No, I don’t think so, I think the other countries would like to have the kind of problems that America has… (it is better than the kind of problems they have)”.

I was immediately reminded of the late Russian thinker, Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s classic Harvard lecture which earned him a boycott from the western elite, where he said

“But the blindness of superiority (of the west) continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.”

America, though it considers capitalism as the ultimate ideal for economic and social development, has to resort to communism to stabilize itself because of the imbalances created by the capitalistic ideals. Without communism, capitalism will buckle down into an everlasting demise. When communism comes to the rescue, the tax payer takes it upon himself to rescue the mismanaged financial firms whose CEO made millions of dollars for that asset management credentials. The financial firms somehow by a sudden change in the mood become entitled to the tax payer’s money. Capitalism suddenly becomes communism.

And wall street, the paradise of capitalism, gets back on its feet, thanks to the ‘transient’ communistic mood, and it again gets back on its capitalistic ideals of ‘individual self-interest leading to collective good’, only to find itself playing a different ball game of communism a couple of decades when it buckles down. Spat comes the ideal of communism to the rescue.

The problem is that the western world simply fails to understand that greed and self-interest cannot give the right ethos for life in the long term. No matter how many lessons we learn we are never able to unlearn that the ideal of ‘individual self interest leading to collective good’ is simply not right for life.

It is a classic irony of every age that the icons of capitalism of each age whether it is Rockefeller, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, all of them after having reached the pinnacle of capitalism by seeking self-interest and resorting to ruthless business strategies, have to espouse communism to make some sense of their life. This again proves that that ideal of goodness of greed and self-interest does not really make sense in life in the long term, but then this is another of the lessons that will never be learnt.

The bottomline being that for capitalism to be a long term way of life, communism as to be its life-line. Selfishness cannot exist without large doeses of selflessness and in that 700 billion dollar bailout what it is the large dose of selflessnes of the American taxpayer that compensates for the selfishness of the wall street executive who rakes in million of dollars. This capitalism at work, this is capitalism standing on the feet of communism, as against capitalism working against the evils of communism as the media elite would like us to believe.