16 years ago today, I wrote this in my journal:
I’m still trying to be a light at work. I’ve encouraged drifting Christians and I witnessed to someone last night. One problem is I worry too much about what I’m gonna say rather than trusting God, but I’m working on that. I read a lecture by Charles Finney that spoke right to me. He warned people about being self-conscious. They’re afraid to witness or talk about God publicly and when they build up the courage to do it, they get conceited.
I’ve had this problem, too. The solution is to become less self-aware and focus on God and do His will. I need to quit thinking about myself and what others think of me, and simply obey God out of love for Him and concern for the souls of others.
My spiritual life has been strange lately, but God as been a Wonderful Counselor. I also read a lecture by Charles Finney about true and false converts and it scared me. He explained how many professing Christians pray, worship, read the bible, go to church, witness, and even die for God, but they’re not saved because it’s all for selfish motives. They don’t want God. They want to look good to others, they want others to join their club, and they want happiness.
After reading this I analyzed myself and was miserable for about three days. I was afraid that I wanted Heaven and not God, and I was worried I might not be saved because of this. And being worried that I might not be saved only confirmed the idea that I’m a believer for selfish reasons. Yes, I had admitted I deserve Hell. But was that because I thought if I admitted that, I’d be saved? What a vicious cycle!
Despite all this confusion, I never strayed or stopped praising God and He brought me peace one night. I realized that if I’m scared of being selfish and I want to love God, then I’m not selfish and I do love Him. I love Him because He is what He is and He is excellent!
I’m reading an A.W. Tozer book called Whatever Happened to Worship? It’s good. I’m reminded that God created me to worship Him and that’s what I want to do. My constant state of mind needs to be, “Praise God!” Lately I’ve been afraid of having a hard heart. Bernard of Clairvaux said, “Only he is hardened who does not know he is hardened. When we are concerned for our coldness, it’s because of the yearning God has put there. God has not rejected us.”
Thank you, God, for being such a great God! I don’t deserve your loving guidance, for I am nothing compared to you, but you’re always there to help. I will praise your name forever and ever!
— February 11th, 1999
Dear Former Self,
You call God a “Wonderful Counselor,” yet he left you confused and terrified for three days while you tried to figure out whether you are actually saved. Did he do this so you could figure it out on your own? And if so, then why do you need a counselor?
You say he brought you peace one night, but wasn’t it actually the quote by Bernard of Clairvaux that brought you peace? Essentially it says that if you’re concerned about being selfish, it is God who planted that concern there, which means God hasn’t abandoned you, which means you’re saved. So why do you pretend God taught you this when in the next paragraph you say you learned it from a book by A.W. Tozer?
What you’re beginning to realize is that it’s impossible to be completely selfless. Technically, even people who regularly do good deeds such as giving to the poor and volunteering at charities do those things because they want to. So ultimately every motive is selfish, whether it’s to help oneself or to help others.
Think about it: If you want to worship God for eternity, it’s not just because that’s what God wants. It’s also because that’s what you want. Still, don’t you think you’ll get bored? After a million years of singing and worshiping God, don’t you think it’ll start to get a little old? You might say, “No, because God will make me happy forever.” Aw, so that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it? It’s all about happiness.
This is the primary motivation of almost every human being. But true happiness can be difficult to achieve, and it is often interrupted by unexpected setbacks and tragedies. This causes many people to become frustrated and depressed, and that’s where religion comes in. People are comforted by the thought that someday, after their bodily deaths, they will finally be happy forever. It’s a nice fantasy, but until there’s some empirical evidence, a fantasy is all it is.
Don’t you find God’s purpose for you a little demeaning? What is the point of worshiping God forever, and why does he desire to be worshiped so much? If the minds of humans are hardly better than the minds of insects compared to God, then why does he care whether we worship him? It would be like the owner of a flea circus demanding that the fleas take time to worship him everyday.
I urge you to create your own purpose in life. It won’t be as simple and comforting as this supposed religious purpose, but at least it will be real. And at least you won’t have to believe that compared to God you’re a lowly insect who is good for nothing more than worshiping him and getting others to do the same. There’s a right way and a wrong way to be selfish, and you are doing it all wrong.
— Matt, February 11th, 2015
This is part of an ongoing series called Letters to My Former Self.