Thinking Out Loud

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

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October 30, 2017

Setting Your Agenda as You Start the Week

I started the day thinking of the great contrast which exists between the American ideal of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” and the words in the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism,

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

I started thinking how I could frame my week in such a way as to render all the individual tasks and goals flowing out of a desire to glorify God, rather than working for the things that would grant me happiness.

The full phrasing in the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Twelve years ago, fellow Canadian blogger Tim Challies wrote about the phrase from the Catechism and noted an internal potential conflict for some Christians:

While this is not a phrase drawn directly from Scripture, the wisdom behind it surely is. The Bible tells us with great clarity that man was created in order to bring glory to God. Thus the chief end of Christians and of the church is to bring glory to God. There is no higher calling…

I believe, though, that many evangelical churches would disagree with this. They might not say so, but their actions would prove that they feel man has a higher calling. It seems to me that many churches would say, “Man’s chief end is to evangelize the lost.” For many Christians and for many local churches there is no higher aim than to bring others to the Lord…

His own doctrinal perspective surfaces when he states, “this belief is based on Arminian assumption” but he does come close — without actually using these words — to the idea that a balance is to be found between the activity of a Martha and the sitting at the feet of Jesus of a Mary.

The notion of life, liberty and happiness avoids both.

Perhaps it’s no accident that Jerry Bridges’ most enduring work is titled The Pursuit of Holiness, not happiness.

So instead of asking myself on Monday morning what will best drive my personal pursuit of happiness, I need to ask myself what will glorify God and cause my mind to dwell in all his attributes and delight in him? At the end of the day, each of us must answer individually for how we’ve used our time, talents and resources.

Footnote: While we have listed some national mottoes below, the provincial motto of Newfoundland in Canada is “Seek ye first the kingdom of God.” Perhaps that best sums up what should be the goal of the Christian, for then and only then will “all these things” — the necessities of life — “be added on to you.”

Clarification: In fairness, given the appendix which follows, the national motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.”


National mottoes (translated) of selected countries:

Antigua and Barbuda: Each endeavouring, all achieving
Bolivia: Unity is Strength
Brazil: Order and Progress
Denmark: God’s help, the love of the people, Denmark’s strength
Dominica: After God, The Earth
Ecuador: God, homeland and liberty
Fiji: Fear God and honour the Queen
Florentine Republic: Fall, you kingdoms of luxury, for the cities of virtue shall thrive
Gambia: Progress, Peace, Prosperity
Guatemala:Grow Free and Fertile
India: Truth alone triumphs
Iraq: God is the Greatest
Kenya: All pull together
Liberia: The love of liberty brought us here
Mali: One people, one goal, one faith
Panama: For the benefit of the world

…continue reading more at Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

May 31, 2016

Driver’s Ed and the Meaning of Life

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I still remember the four principles I was taught in Driver’s Ed. all those many, many years ago. I know they probably teach something different today, but here they are:

  • Aim High in Steering – Don’t be one of those people who is looking down at the asphalt directly ahead of them and fails to see what’s happening in the block ahead.
  • Get the Big Picture – Be aware of the general traffic pattern; cars that a trying to merge; drivers who are in a hurry; people turning from cross streets.
  • Make Sure They See You – Don’t drive for long stretches in other people’s blind spots; make sure they know your intentions
  • Leave Yourself an Out – In a 3-lane freeway, don’t pull into the space between the car in lane 1 and the minivan in lane 3; have an escape route if there’s a problem

This list of guiding principles has been useful many times, but took on new meaning last night as I was counseling a recent university graduate on next steps.

  • Aim High – It’s time to think about career. In the meantime there may need to be an entry-level position, but being a bagger at the Walmart Supercenter isn’t necessary. At this point, there are some things you can start turning down, but don’t expect a reserved parking space or a corner office anytime soon. Maybe it should read aim higher.
  • Get the Big Picture – Know the industry, trade or profession you want to work in. Read its journals. Study its online resources. But also have a handle on the job market in general, and what’s going on in the local community as well as nationally. Learn to be conversant in several employment dialects.
  • Make Sure They See You – You’re building a career resumé now, not simply looking for spending money. Start thinking about what that piece of paper will look like five years from now. Make an impression. Have a business card. Start a personal website. Commit to excellence.
  • Leave Yourself An Out – At this stage, if the job is a stop-gap measure with little chance of upward mobility, say so. Tell the employer you intend to do good work, and be worth his or her training investment, but that you see the position as temporary. When the moment comes where something better arrives, leave on good terms.

 

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