Perhaps you too remember when Sonicflood released their first worship album and basically created the latest fad of rock ballad worship songs that changed the worship scene as we know it.
Twenty years ago I purchased my own copy of Sonicflood. That’s right, back then we actually had to buy music. I was listening to it over and over and over on my discman, riding in a 12 passenger church van on our youth group trip up to a Wisconsin snow camp. With headphones on my ears, eyes closed, and tears streaming down my face, this music beckoned my soul to worship. Now, if I were to listen to those same songs today, my experience would doubtfully be the same (as many were played endlessly and on repeat to an early grave).
Nonetheless, the power and truth of their lyrics remain. The profound spiritual truths expressed in one of my favorite Sonicflood songs, “In the Secret”, impacted me and set me on a trajectory of seeking to make my inner life deeper and richer. It increased my desire to learn the art of spiritual disciplines, many which came neither easily nor quickly for me.
A few weeks back, Jennifer Stanely did a great job of introducing the term “vainglory” and illustrating how it steals our joy and our reward. A word not used in contemporary vernacular, vainglory simply means excessive pride over one’s own achievements, abilities, appearances, relationships, etc. Two questions come to mind regarding this topic:
(1) Is it wrong to have desires to be loved, to belong, and to achieve?
First of all, many of our desires to be liked, praised, or appreciated come out of a healthy longing to be loved and valued. God created us with these desires. So we find many of our natural desires are not wrong, but misplaced. We wish to find them in others or in our accomplishments, only to later recognize their inability to fully provide the depth of fulfillment we desire. Jennifer alluded that Jesus was not creating a new rule book of ‘never tell anyone about anything you’ve ever done’, but rather wants our actions/motivations to be rooted in love and to glorify Him, not ourselves. Only then will we receive the fulfillment and contentment we’re after. As Augustine is often quoted, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
(2) How do we create a desire within to shift fleeting attempts to bring glory to ourselves and instead, be more concerned about glorifying God?
The conscious choice of choosing virtue over vice is certainly an important step on the path of spiritual maturity. However, it will not alone accomplish the depth of virtue we seek. We are not always conscious or even understanding of our own motivations as they surface. They are tainted and gray– not always one or the other. Behavior modification alone is not what we’re after here. We’re called to seek a deeper shift in our motivations, for the “why” behind the “what” we do to ever increasingly align itself with God’s purposes.
“The practice of solitude is not merely learning to be alone. It’s learning to be alone and content with oneself, learning we are loved without the striving, achieving, or performance. It’s learning to be alone and yet, not lonely. “
So what is the recipe for creating a life marked by humility rather than hubris, a soul not deceived by vainglory? This virtue (like all virtues) is not acquired by inaction or mere desire to posses such a quality. It is cultivated, nourished and allowed to grow…slowly… until it naturally flourishes in one’s life. The spiritual discipline gurus offer us the remedy through (among others) the practices of solitude, silence, and confession.
Solitude. Silence. Confession.
If we desire to always please others or feel we must be seen and appreciated, we must learn to be alone and content with oneself. We must learn solitude. If we desire to boast of our accomplishments, we must let the practice of silence train us to do the opposite. If we want others to only see our accomplishments and strengths, we must cultivate the practice of confession where we share our faults and failures. As Jennifer alluded, it is a pendulum, a practice of walking in a certain direction. It might first start simply with the recognition of what we are doing is prideful, vain, or self-promoting. Then we might desire to change and perhaps next time choose not to feed our pride.
The gift of practicing spiritual disciplines creates in us the person who will naturally act not out of forced coercion, but out of character. The practice of solitude is not merely learning to be alone. It’s learning to be alone and content with oneself, learning we are loved without the striving, achieving, or performing. It’s learning to be alone and yet, not lonely. Solitude affords us the space to serve without selfishness. It allows us to focus on the one thing rather than be allured by the many.
The practice of silence isn’t just refraining from speaking; it’s understanding listening is loving. Silence allows us to listen to ourselves and wrestle with those deep seated emotions and dark worries which only formulate when given the space. Silence allows us to practice listening to others and places them in the seat of importance while we submit and sit at their feet, attentive to learn. It is forced humility. Confession is not a public declaration of one’s faults in order to appear ‘real’ or ‘relatable’. It’s a humble declaration to the party offended. Confession is the discipline reminding us daily we are in desperate need of grace.
“Through solitude, silence, and confession, Jesus simply wants us to know, despite our feelings of aloneness, that we are not truly alone and are oh so deeply loved.”
In the secret, in the quiet place, in the stillness you are there. I love the alternative name of the song that so captured my attention is “I want to know You more!” For all of our attempts at the spiritual disciplines are to know and love Jesus more. Jesus is the one who offers us our true identity and enables us to stand alone in wholeness, not in shame. Jesus is the one who desires to speak so we might listen and come to know his deep love for us. Jesus is the one who beckons us to come to him broken, who reminds us confession is really for our benefit and maturity. Through solitude, silence, and confession, Jesus simply wants us to know, despite our feelings of loneliness, that we are never truly alone and are oh so deeply loved not because of our glory, but because of His.
Why not try it this week?
Solitude – Break away for a few minutes/hours/ days ALONE- seeking to sense his presence. Recognize your inner struggle to do, rather than be, to distract, rather than rest.
Silence – Turn off the phone, the music, the chatter, the TV, the internet or choose to close your mouth and listen rather than speak.
Confession – Say you’re wrong, admit the reality of the situation to yourself and to others, tell God your secret thoughts for in the secret he can keep them, he will not share them with others or lord it over you.