Stop arguing with yourself and enjoy God’s presence
Fred Mok | JULY 17, 2019 | 3 MIN READ
God is big. But in line with his gracious nature, he doesn’t always speak loudly. Hearing his voice can be difficult especially when I’m in the midst of fighting with myself. I have many voices going on in my head: the snarky contrarian, the positive Christian idealist, the relentless egomaniac, the compassionate shepherd, the curious adventurer, and more.
But often the loudest voice is the inner moral critic. He’s a yeller.
When I start to get distracted by some other streams of thought - say the egomaniac's pining for public affirmation or the curious adventurer’s lust for exploration - and lose focus from whatever I was supposed to be doing, I stop myself, become aware of my wayward thoughts, and the shouts of the inner moral critic begin to escalate.
Let’s say I get distracted watching cat fail videos on YouTube for 15 minutes. The voices start to argue in my head:
Curious Adventurer: Oh my gosh. Either these cats are really dumb or they’re totally being set up by their owners. I need to research this more.
Positive Christian Idealist: There is definitely sermon material here. Cat fails are a metaphor for total depravity.
Animal Lover: Do cats go to heaven? Is there a Cat Jesus?
Compassionate Shepherd: Isn’t it wonderful that cats are a part of creation?
Moral Critic: Did you seriously just waste 15 minutes watching Youtube videos and rationalize it as sermon research? Are you kidding me? Are you 10 years old?
The demands of the inner moral critic generate tensions that I alleviate by further indulging my curious adventurer persona so I can try to ignore the criticisms. And so the vicious cycle of guilt, shame, and condemnation spirals downward.
And yet recently I’ve started to recall some helpful words from Brother Lawrence that I’m realizing communicate the essence of the Gospel. They come from his little book, Practicing the Presence of God, which I read in college after my brother recommended it to me. The book encouraged him during a summer missions project in Yellowstone National Park for Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) in which my brother cleaned hotel rooms. It was mind-numbing work. But the book helped him sustain a conversation with God amidst the mundane routine.
Here are Brother Lawrence’s words (in the third person) that encouraged both him and me:
"When he had not thought of God for a good while, he did not punish himself for it. But after having acknowledged his failing, he returned to Him with much greater trust."
Brother Lawrence doesn’t mention gratitude, but it is evident in his words. He is thankful God is always present to commune with. Even when our minds stray from his presence, it doesn’t mean he has left. He eagerly waits for us to notice him and come back. And when we return, he delights in our small but significant repentance.
I suspect many people are not that different from me. You may not experience full-blown internal fights but I suspect many Christians struggle to decide which internal voice to listen to. And unfortunately, we often perceive the voice of the moral critic to be the voice of the Spirit.
However, the scriptures teach that the Spirit leads believers into truth and not condemnation (John 3:17-18; John 16:8-13; Romans 8:1). It’s a distortion of the Gospel to believe that God’s dearly loved children are constantly being judged and condemned.
Today, I’m learning to allow the voice of the compassionate shepherd to gently calm my temperamental inner critic. I’m learning to consider the shepherd’s voice as the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The conversation might continue like this:
Moral Critic: Did you seriously just waste 15 minutes watching Youtube videos and rationalize it as sermon research? Are you kidding me? Are you 10 years old? (My young son loves fail videos)
Compassionate Shepherd: Well, you learned something about cats. Your son would certainly approve. He has your curiosity, and it is such a gift. At any time, you can return to the task at hand. You are wonderfully accepted, and God is excited about you.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Rant for the Exiles on September 5, 2018. It has been updated and published here with the author’s permission.
Fred Mok is the Associate Pastor at Garden City Church in San Jose, CA. Fred is a second generation Chinese American who has been married to his marvelous wife, Judy, for 20 years. They have four children: Caleb, Micah, Abby, and Elliot. Fred was spiritually formed at Chinese Church in Christ – South Valley in south San Jose and spent the past ten years there as English Pastor. Prior to vocational ministry, he spent nine years as a project manager and business analyst at IBM and Hitachi. You can find Fred reading the latest pop science book, reflecting on the gospel on his blog, and forcing his kids to do jumping jacks with him. Fred has a B.S. in Business Administration from the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and a M.Div. from Western Seminary.