The Transcendentalist Christian

I probably threw some of you off by the title. How could somebody possibly be a Transcendentalist Christian? I think we try to fit Transcendentalism into the Christian life so we can have the pleasure of doing things ourselves.

First off, what is Transcendentalism? Transcendentalism is the idea that we are not sinful; we are our own God. Transcendentalists believe that God is everywhere, in everything – like the Force in Star Wars, He exists in the energy that surrounds us; but we are also this God. They believe that all people possess a piece of the “Over-soul” (God). Because the Over-soul is one, this unites all people as one being. Religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism, and Sikhism, fall under Transcendentalism. However, in some ways, as we will see, particular aspects of Transcendentalism will match up with the Christian life we practice today.

What I want to focus on is this one point in the Transcendentalist thinking: that all people are “at their best” when they are truly “self-reliant” and independent. We often think we do things best when we work solo. We rely on ourselves to get the job done, and then we pride ourselves in the task accomplished. We frequently rely on our own strengths. How often do we think we are “at our best when we are truly self-reliant and independent”? We don’t really think we need God. We think we can do it on our own. We don’t need help. We’re completely self-reliant and independent, and that’s exactly how we want it.

Why? Because we don’t like the thought of having to succumb to authority. We want to be our own authority. We enjoy having complete rule over ourselves. We’re stubborn and rebellious; we don’t want God to reign over us. Therefore, we reject His help. We go it alone. How often does that turn out?

But the second biggest thing that I think Transcendentalism and our Christian lives today have in common is this: we all want to have that feeling of spirituality without any responsibility. Think about it – in the religions above, each has their own point of “oneness” with their “Over-soul” (whatever form that is). They have their spiritual rituals and things that they do to reach that point. They strive for the experience. But as C.S. Lewis said, “Experience by itself is nothing”. They want the spiritual experience without any of the responsibility required. And that’s what each of those religions gets.

But how often do we want the spiritual experience without any of the responsibility involved? How often do we just want to go to church, sing the hymns, listen to the sermon, and then go back to living our regular lives throughout the week? We get that spiritual emotional experience on Sundays, but how often do we carry it into the rest of our week? This is where I think we want to live the Transcendentalist life-style under a Christian label.

How do we defy this? Is it wrong to want the spiritual emotions, the experience? If you’re aspiring and striving for the experience, then yes. Everything we do should be for Christ alone, not for an experience or feeling we hope to gain. We don’t always feel that spiritual emotion. There are some days when we wonder if God’s even there at all. But we shouldn’t strive for the experience of religion.

So again, how do we defy this? How do we go against being our own authority, and desiring experience without responsibility? We die to ourselves. We die to our fleshly desires and seek the desires of God’s will for us. We go against our human nature.

This seems near impossible. In fact, it is impossible – in our own strength. However, with God, all things are possible (Mk. 10:27). With God, we can die to ourselves and defy our human tendencies to be our own rulers and have the spiritual experience without responsibility.

Now, the point of this post was not to say that we are secretly Transcendentalists at heart. I merely wanted to point out how often we haven’t completely surrendered to Christ. I’ve learned a little about Transcendentalism recently, and was shocked at what aspects of that mindset reflect the average Christian. And no, not all Christians are this way. This is just an observation that I made contrasting Transcendentalism and today’s Christian.

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Thoughts From a Prayer Warrior Wanna-Be

I’ve been struggling with prayer. I haven’t spent as much time in prayer as I would like, as I need to, or as I think I should. So I’ve taken the time to stop and think about prayer and what it means to the Christian life.

So, so many Christians have misunderstood prayer. We’ve turned prayers into a quick poem we recite before dinner, or a rushed murmur for energy before we start the day. We’ve forgotten what prayer is and what it’s supposed to mean.

God created us to glorify Him, to worship Him, and to delight in Him. He loves each of us enough to send His only son to die for us. He knows us personally, but he also wants us to know Him personally. To get to know someone personally, we communicate with them. We have conversations, we ask them question, we listen to them. We spend time with them. How are we going to know God better when we don’t communicate with Him or spend time with Him?

Prayer is this means of communication. Prayer is talking to God. However, so many people have taken this for granted. We’ve turned it into something it was never intended to be. We’ve turned it into being about us instead of Him. How did we do this? I want to look at a few ways that we do it without even realizing it.

So many of us don’t set aside the time for prayer. We pray when we feel like it or when we have the time. It’s become an obligation for most, another check mark on the list. When we set aside time for prayer, it becomes something important to us. If we just do it whenever it suits us, we do it to fit our time schedule, and we put ourselves first. This isn’t how it was intended to be. We’re to put God first in everything – this includes our time, and our “schedule”. If we really want to know Him better, we aren’t going to shove prayer to the bottom of our priority list under the excuse that we “don’t have the time”. We’re going to desire to spend time alone with Him, talking to Him.

We view prayer as another chore. We don’t want to tack on an extra thing to the day. A lot of the time, we often don’t see the benefits straight away, and it seems pointless. We get upset when we don’t receive the answers we wanted, and we want to hear responses instead of feeling like we’re talking to the air. Therefore, we pray with a grumbling heart, wishing we could be doing anything else. We go into it grudgingly, feeling that it’s something that every good Christian does, and so we should do it whether we want to or not. God wants us to pray because we want to get to know Him, not because it makes us look like or feel like a better Christian. He wants us to pray because we love Him and desire to be with Him, instead of doing it because we’re told to have a “quiet time” or because we feel obligated to do so.

We don’t give Him our attention. We would rather be doing other things instead of talking to someone who doesn’t respond audibly. While we pray, our minds wander to other things we want to get accomplished, other projects we have yet to do, or other activities during the day. Then, when we actually do try to put some effort into praying, we begin to feel proud of ourselves and begin to think of how spiritual we must appear. God wants our hearts. He wants our undivided attention, our full focus, complete concentration. He doesn’t want our distracted hearts and wandering minds. He wants us to give Him our broken and contrite hearts.

Then we go and spoil it by praying for stuff. We live in such a materialistic age. Our prayers are often devoted to whatever it is that we want. Even things that truly matter can become our sole focus in every prayer. There’s nothing wrong with praying for ourselves, as I’ll mention in a bit, but it shouldn’t come to the point where every time we pray it’s all about us and what we want. God wants to see us praying for others’ needs as well as our own.

Jesus gave us an example of how to pray. In Matthew 6: 9-13, he says what most people refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer”. He prays: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (NIV) I want to break this down into a few sections and look at the construction of this prayer a little closer.

V. 9: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Here, Jesus begins His prayer honoring His Father’s name. It begins the prayer with respect and reverence to the Father, and it begins with a form of worship. It also serves as an example that He comes first in everything.

V. 10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
This shows that it is to be the desire of our heart that God’s will is to be done, not ours. Just as His will is done in heaven, His will is to be done on earth. His kingdom – His children – are to be on the earth just as in heaven. A kingdom is made of “subjects”. We are His subjects, He is our King. He wants us to add more souls to His kingdom.

V. 11: “Give us today our daily bread.” We are to trust God with the nourishment we need for each day; both spiritual (Matt. 4:4) and physical (Matt. 6:26). We should pray for every need, trusting Him to provide.

V. 12: “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”
This one kind of caught me by surprise when I looked at it closely. (I’m sure everyone else saw it long before I did.) We are asking God to forgive us in the same way that we have forgiven those who have sinned against us. Ouch. Imagine how many times we have held a grudge, refusing to forgive someone in our hearts even if we said “I forgive you” on the outside? God knows our hearts; we can’t hide anything from Him. How often do we really want Him to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others?

V. 13a: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”
We have to desire to flee from temptation if we are really going to ask this. God will always provide a way out from temptation when we are tempted; we only have to choose it.

V. 13b: “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” He finishes the prayer with worship and honor again, an example that everything is solely for God; He is the Alpha, Omega, beginning, and end. It also ends with us asking that all we have just spoken please God, and may His will be done.

So back to the main question: How do our prayers end up being all about us? It’s simple – we put ourselves first in everything instead of the other way around. Is it wrong to pray for our own needs? Absolutely not. You should definitely pray for your own needs; it’s even fine to pray for things that you want “just because”. Just don’t turn your prayers into miniature wish-lists. Remember that God comes first in everything, and our point in praying is to communicate with and grow in our relationship with Him.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.” Rev. 22: 13

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” James 5:16b

Live for One

Recently, I have been confronted with how greatly I influence others, specifically my brother. I see it happen all the time; he copies everything I do. I’ve seen it happen in lots of families – the younger siblings always copy the older siblings. Why? Because we as older siblings (some of y’all don’t have to deal with this) have a great influence on our younger siblings, for better or worse, consciously or subconsciously.

But our sphere of influence extends beyond our own families. We are also affected by the people we interact with on a regular basis. I’ve seen it in my brother, but I recognize it the most in myself. However, I want to talk about how we influence others.

I notice how my brother will take after me in actions, speech, ideas, even little things that I do. I am charged with a big responsibility: being a good role model. Whether I want to be a role model or not is beside the point; I have a daily influence on him, and I can either be a good one, or a bad one. I can never know exactly what toll my influence will have upon him. All that I can do is set the example. If I say something, he’s probably bound to say it at one point or another – so is what I say uplifting, encouraging? What I do, he’ll probably do, too – so is it something that I would later regret, or is it something that will affect him positively? It’s hard to go through life with this in mind. It’s naturally in us to do what we feel like doing now, without thinking of the outcome. But if we pause and take a minute to remember who’s always watching us (or Who), then we might choose to pay more attention to what we say or do.

I know I certainly don’t want to go around always worrying if what I do is going to have a good influence on my brother. That’s not how I envision spending my days! But if I am living for an audience of One, I don’t have to worry about how my influence will affect my brother. “But just as He who called you is holy, be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’,” 1 Peter 1:15-16. If we are seeking after Christ in all we do, actively trying to please Him and be just like Him, then we will already be setting a positive example. So it’s not about living as an example for others; it’s about living as an example of who Christ is.

Like I said, it’s not just setting an example for your siblings. It extends to our friends, little kids at church, or even adults. People are watching you when you don’t even realize it.

But let’s talk specifically about our affect upon our friends now. I know that certain friends have influenced me in both good and bad ways. Every one of my friends has influenced me in one way or another, for better or worse. The Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:33 “Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals.” And we are also admonished in Proverbs 13:20 “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Obviously, God knew that the influence of other people would be strong and that we would need His wisdom to make good choices in our friendships. So the same principal applies to us. If we know that our friends influence us, we should know that we also influence them.

But when we live solely for Christ, then that’s all that matters. Everything we do will stem from our relationship with Him. As I said before, it’s not about living as an example for others; it’s about living as an example of who He is. Live for One.

Change

Those of you who know me know that I hate change. HATE it.

Recently, I stopped taking lessons from my favorite piano teacher for good. Yes, sometimes I can be dramatic, but this really was hard for me. This teacher was the teacher that I had respected the most, learned from the most, and loved the most, and after a year and a half of my dedication, I had to stop.

Yet, it’s for the best.

With my new teacher, I’ll have more opportunities, the drive will be cut in half, and I’ll advance more than I had before.

Still, it’s change.

It’s hard for me to accept change, big or small. When I was little, I’d cry over every old, broken, or dirty thing that had to be thrown away. I cried the day we threw out our old, broken washing machine. I cried the day we got rid of our old, dirty, torn furniture. I cried over every little thing we got rid of. Fortunately, I outgrew that and realized that I just had to let some things go. In the same way, sometimes we have learned all that we can from one class in life and need to graduate to the next level.

I lived near Austin for over half of my 14 years. When we moved here to Houston, I was devastated. My dad, who had worked at home all of my life, was getting a job outside of the house. I had to leave all my friends, forcing me to realize that I only had one true friend (who was loyal to me through it all, for which I am so grateful). I had to get used to a new place, new people, new activities. Everything I had known had suddenly changed so drastically. This was SO hard for me. Yet, it was for the best.

When we moved, we left the church where my dad had been a pastor. That, too, was extremely hard for me. We immediately started looking for a new church home in the area. For two years we visited church after church after church, new church plants, home churches, mega churches…to the point where I was sick of it. I was tired and discouraged from looking and looking and not finding anything. So, I started to have a bad attitude about church. But then we stumbled upon the church we are attending now. It was completely different from the contemporary churches we were so used to and thought that we wanted, but we liked it and kept coming back. Eventually, we made it our new church home, and it inspired me to seek after Christ in a way that I never had at our old church.

It took me a long time to see how leaving the church my dad had pastored was for the better. But my life and my relationship with the Lord now are evidence that, once again, it was for the best. It took me two years to see this.

Sometimes, it takes us a while to see the outcome of change. Sometimes, we may never understand. It’s hard to accept change. But with Christ in control, it will always be for the best.