Keep It Simple, Stupid
Every now and again I find that I am astounded at myself. Not because I am astounding, for clearly I am not. What astounds me is how I can take something that is simple and straight forward and turn it into a complicated mess of epic proportion. And it’s not as if I wasn’t already aware that I do it…I was, and yet, I still do it.
For the past three years I have tried to keep focused and live by the mantra ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid‘. Now, I am not speaking stupidity over my life by using this mantra. It is simply a aide de memoire, to help me from making a colossal fool of myself. It is not something I use to beat myself over the head with, but just a gentle reminder to think differently.
I woke this morning (Saturday 29th August) at 4 am with the revelation that I had gone and done it again and made the simple complicated. I will come onto the details of which shortly, but first I want to set the scene as to why I need to keep things simple.
For those of you out there, like me, who have what could be best described as an ‘over-analytical mind’, you will understand what it means to over-think things. We are the fixers, the engineers, the deconstructionists, the social scientists, the transactional analysts and the crusaders of the world. We think that by analysing the problem we will find the solution. In a great many applications this is an absolute truth. But not in all things. Not with God things. In fact, with God things, it is often the case that completely the opposite is true. And so, because I have spent a great deal of my adult life trying to fix computers, women, friends, enemies, cars, websites, databases, parents, and anyone else who crossed my path, when I was faced with my own brokenness I had to adopt a different approach. Why? Because, sometimes, what we try to do with others is to compensate for what we fail to achieve in ourselves.
I hate computers. Anyone who knows me will tell you that. It is true that I have an understanding of how to correct them when they go wrong and that, until a few years ago, I fixed computers for a living. But that doesn’t mean I have to like them, right? I only mention them at all now for the purposes of writing this post. I needed an example to employ a Hegelian Principle illustration.
Computers are pure logic. They have no choice. Well, that’s not quite true – it is all choices for computers but on a simple, logical basis – that of yes or no based upon predefined rules. There is no thinking outside the box for computers, despite what PC manufactures would have you believe. They work exactly how they are instructed to work. So, when they go wrong you use logic to fix them.
People are not pure logic. They have complex minds and make decisions based upon a whole host of variables such as upbringing, genetics, life-experiences etcetera. People can think both inside and outside the box, or not at all. They rarely work in the way they are instructed to and when they go wrong only a certain amount of logic can be applied when trying to fix them.
In the Hegelian Principle you have two opposing ideas that when they come against each other the friction causes them to produce a new idea, which is often an amalgamation of the first two ideas or something new completely. Throughout history we can see this principle at work with political ideologies. Quite often the friction results in revolution or war. The two opposing ideas are called the Thesis and the Antithesis and the outcome is called the Synthesis. Now I may be in danger of making this too complicated (not good when you are trying to make a point about simplicity), so please bear with me.
When we were children we adopted the same logical approach to life that computers do towards the information they are given to process. We accepted whatever our parents told us. We believed what we saw and didn’t make things complicated. As we grew older and life started to happen to us, we learnt from life. Occasionally, those experiences made our thinking complicated and even cynical. Let us call our approach as children the Thesis and our approach as adults the Antithesis. Usually in our day to day lives there is little or no friction between these two approaches. We either think like children or like adults. But, as always with God, there is a better way.
Jesus said that unless you become like little children you will not enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 18, Mark 10, Luke 18). And yet we know that He was speaking to adults. His better way, His Synthesis is this:
To stop thinking the way the world does and to start believing. He doesn’t want us to be like computers – just all logic. And he doesn’t want to be like adults with all that baggage from past experiences. But instead He wants to be like both children and maturing adults. To believe like children but to behave like adults. To be like children when He teaches us and like adults once we’ve learnt it.
And it has been this lesson that God has repeatedly trying to teach me for nearly 30 years now. Sometimes I get it. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I need to be taught all over again. Over the last few months God has been teaching myself and Caz about trust. About total, utter, free-falling trust in Him. And we have been learning. The lessons are often hard, especially if you try too hard to understand why. But, if you let God show you without questioning why – just like a child will do – you soon find that it becomes second nature, or rather, new nature very quickly.
With Cornerstone He has been showing us exactly what can be achieved without any money. Not just us, but others too are learning. Most of them aren’t what your church might describe as believers either. Just God showing people that anything is possible if you trust Him and let Him do it for you…just as a father would for a child.
But here’s the thing. He isn’t just teaching us about provision or trust. He is showing us His way. Not the way churches do these things. His way. The Better Way. I am not saying that churches have got it wrong. I am saying however, that there is a better way of doing things. Not just things like Cornerstone, but everything we do in churches by which we use His name. There is always a better way than our way. His way is always better.
Let me give you an example of this.
If you have read any of the previous postings, and particularly ‘Fed by Ravens‘, you will be aware that we have been on somewhat of a journey for a while now. Now what I am about to tell you is directly connected to this journey. It is through our experiences and the word of God that God reveals Himself to us. We just need to learn the same basic commands as children. But, if you are a fixer like me, then the temptation is always there to either expedite the process or take control of it yourself. You see, we have no patience. None. We say we do. I say I do. But I don’t. We take inactivity as a sign that God has forgotten us or gotten bored and moved on. So, like Abraham and the account of Ishmael, we often intervene (Genesis 16).
Anyway, there we were, just plodding along, being ‘fed by ravens’. Never without what we needed. And along comes my over-analytic mind and starts questioning it all. You know the sort of thing: ‘Is this for a season or set period of time?’; ‘When will it come to an end?’; and so on. I had spent a few days generally whining about it privately to God. Surely enough is enough I would say to Him. Occasionally I would sit and wait for Him to tell me something about it. I don’t mean to say that I hear an audible voice – how it mainly works with me is that I am aware of an idea. I don’t where exactly it comes from but it is just there in my mind and generally makes sense and is in line with what God says in the Bible. On Thursday last week I had spent some time just seeking God; checking that our own house was in order and that we should just continue to ‘yield’ to His will and accept whatever comes along. I asked God why it was taking so long to come out of this period of being ‘fed by ravens’ and, to my surprise, I was aware of a voice inside of me. It, or rather He, simply said “You are in a battle right now, stand your ground”. And for a moment I saw in my mind a sword of fire flashing away at an unknown opponent and arrows of fire reigning from the sky towards the sword. I had an understanding that we were being defended and that the arrows of fire were attempts to unsettle us and discourage us from following God’s advice, which was to wait.
I have to say that it is rare for me to have something as vivid as this in my relationship with God and so it did effect me quite profoundly. It was as if I had suddenly been let in on a secret. As if what had been mysterious was now explained. In fact, it explained so much. I went for a walk and tried to get my understanding around the idea. If we were in a battle it was one that we couldn’t see, that much I understood. It was a glorious sunny day in Hunstanton and I looked to the skies as if looking for some sign to confirm that a war was raging around me. But of course, the unseen world remained hidden. And without eyes to see I could only imagine. And that’s where the trouble starts. Within 24 hours I had convinced myself that we were being besieged in the spirit realm by dark forces who are opposed to the work we are doing at Cornerstone. It was this siege that was causing our financial situation. It is easy to do this because many churches teach such imaginings. I turned to the Bible to see what I could find about sieges and was drawn to two accounts, both from the Old Testament.
The first I looked at was that of Hezekiah and his encounter with the Assyrian King, Sennacherib. I could see that Hezekiah had pleaded with God and He had acted by sending an angel who killed the entire Assyrian army of 185,000 men in a single night (2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 29-32 & Isaiah 36-37).
The second account was similar to Hezekiah but involved Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20). On this occasion the king pleaded with God and God acted alone once more.
I decided that I should pleaded with God to lift the siege that we were in and everything would be alright. I prayed. I walked around the town declaring this and that under my breath. I convinced myself that what I was doing was effective. In the spirit realm demons were fleeing and all the stresses of the trials we had been facing would disappear. Now, I am sure that antics like this will sound familiar to some. I can tell you that I have actively been involved in churches that teach such methods. They call it spiritual warfare. And, at 4am, I was suddenly aware that I had no idea at all of what I was doing. There is nothing whatsoever in scripture to support my methodology.
You may sense a theme developing in the pages of this blog. There is. I keep looking at things we do in churches and asking why we do it. On this particular subject, I would have no misunderstanding. What I want to do now is discuss what we do and whether or not there is any basis in the New Testament for such behaviour. If there is no basis, the question then has to be why are we still doing these things?
First, however, I will tell you of the 4am revelation. For some time, as I have said previously, God has been teaching us about trusting in Him and what it really means to yield to His will. When we truly yield and trust in Him several things happen. The primary thing that you notice is that you stop worrying. You become anxious for nothing. There is peace with you about every situation, no matter how dire it appears. The moment you start to over-analyse the situation, the peace of God leaves you. The moment the peace of God leaves you, fear creeps in. The moment fear creeps in, you are no longer trusting God. It is a very simple process. So simple we think that it can’t be true. But it is true.
At the moment I started to question the situation, the Holy Spirit spoke to me about the battle. He was really saying ‘hang in there, we’re winning, it won’t be long’. But God also wanted to reveal in me another weakness of mine as well as encourage me. If He doesn’t reveal these things that let us down, we will never learn to keep hold of His peace. Without His peace we are lost. The moment He told me about that battle, He knew the path my mind would scamper down. He didn’t want to prevent me doing it. He wanted to expose it to His light.
When I awoke at 4am I simply understood it. I can’t explain it anymore than that. I was in a dream-like state and knew I had to write it down as soon as possible or it would be lost. So, I got up and went downstairs and wrote in my journal. I realised everything that had happened. If I had stuck with just yielding and not started questioning the situation and trying to ‘fix’ it, I wouldn’t have had the words or images of the battle. Because of that, and instead of being encouraged by it, I developed the idea and did what many preachers and teachers of modern churches do – I took an idea from the Old Testament and over-analysed it and made something out of it that was never there and then made it into a practice of spiritual warfare. I realised that at the heart of my foolishness was this practice common to so many churches – which I am going to call the ‘Dan Brown Approach’ – where we are looking for answers or formulas hidden in scripture and we take the account of Hezekiah and instead of seeing the simple thing that Hezekiah did (asking God to help and knowing it was God’s battle), we give ourselves roles and make a massive drama out of absolutely nothing. I thought of the New Testament and realised something very fundamental about what the early church actually used the Old Testament for – they simply used it to reveal Jesus. Nothing else. Just Jesus. No complicated mysteries. No hidden codes. No secret weapons. Just the Son of God revealed in stories of the history of the Jewish nation. Beautifully simple.
And in that moment of sweet understanding I realised that keeping it simple was absolutely vital. And so, to keep it simple is the way I choose. The better way.
But I would like to now turn my attention to what the Bible actually says about spiritual warfare. I strongly encourage you to do your own research. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you. Read James 1 carefully. God gives wisdom in the face of trials. You see there are lessons we can draw from the likes of Hezekiah and Jehoshaphat but they are not complicated. They teach us that if we are in trouble we can rely on God to sort it out for us. They don’t teach us to imagine all sorts of spiritual situations that we have to get involved in. Look at the accounts. God does the work. Every time they call out to Him, God does the work. Not them.
When God allowed me the slightest glimpse into the unseen realm I wasn’t actually there. Because I am here in this realm. One day we will see in full but for now we only see in part. Whatever battle was going on I wasn’t invited to it. God can handle this stuff for us. I have no doubt that there is a battle going on over us, over Hunstanton, because we are here doing God’s will. But the victory is God’s already. The Old Testament all points to Jesus. He is already victorious. We are on the winning side. It is only our mind that fails to realise that and starts trying to get involved and sort it out. That is why Ephesians Chapter 6 is so important to understand correctly. We look at it, and we teach on it as if it is our mandate for fighting God’s battles for Him in the heavenly realm. He has angels for that. He is called the Lord of Hosts. He is in charge. Look again at the great battle described in Revelation 12. We’re not there. Look again, carefully, at the armour of God that Paul describes for the disciple of Christ in Ephesians 6. In the main the items listed are for defence, not attack. Only the sword is a weapon and is often used defensively. The rest of the armour we protect our minds and hearts with. We are not engaged in the battle that rages in the heavenlies. That is God’s job. Him and millions and millions of angels. Our job is to live lives worthy of our repentance; to show the world that they can trust in God; to practice kindness; to love each other. Ours is not to complicate things, but to be like little children whilst He teaches us His better way and to mature into adults who are able to teach others. Jesus told us to go into the world and make disciples. The early apostles did that and when they looked at the Old Testament it was only to show the world that Jesus was there all along, and not to use it to make complicated practices out of stories designed to show us how easy it is to trust God.
The battle belongs to the Lord…He’s got your back.