God of Wonders Part One: We Wonder Where Wonder Went
There was once a righteous man named Job who was blameless and upright. In spite of Job’s righteousness, the LORD brought serious affliction upon him. After a time, Job’s companions began to speak with him accusing him of sin and eventually, Job spoke up to plead his case and even said that he wanted to plead his case before God.
Now the only one in the story who speaks accurately about the situation is Elihu, who says in
Job 37:14 “Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders.
Then he goes on to list several wonders of God, things far beyond Job. The next chapter God replies and multiplies Elihu’s list. Perhaps the Job story, has as part of its purpose to show the importance for God’s people to stop and consider God’s wonders. When we don’t, when we take them for granted, when we lose that sense of wonder for God, his works, his world we lose perspective. Once we stop and consider God’s wonders, considering that we don’t but God does, we don’t but God does, we don’t but God does, then we return to a place of humility.
Before we go any farther, let’s give a clear definition of Wonder: to think or speculate curiously, to be filled with admiration, amazement, or awe, to marvel
The philosopher Rene Descartes in 1649 defining wonder as intense intellectual interest included it as one of the “six passions of the soul.” As “jaded adults” do we not at times envy the wonder of a child. We tend to lose that over time. Thus, wonder is a capacity that we, by effort, must keep alive.
Consider one of the natural byproducts of wonder. Excitement. Excitement is a state of being that we secretly long for. We are secretly excited about being excited. Unless, of course, you’re in the right place. Excitement doesn’t have to be a secret at a football game and a Pentacostal worship service because everyone around you is standing up and shouting and displaying their excitement. Again, one of natural outcomes of wonder is excitement. And the goal of the next few weeks is to reclaim the art of wonder in an effort to renew our excitement for God and his works.
Consider one of the antonyms of excitement: boredom.
Klapp in Overload and Boredom writes: “a strange cloud hangs over modern life. At first it was not noticed; now it is thicker than ever. It embarrasses the claim that the quality of life is getting better. It reduces commitment to work. It is thickest in cities where there are the most varieties, pleasure, and opportunities. Like smog, it spreads to all sorts of places it is not supposed to be. The most common name for this cloud is boredom.”
Boredom is a distressing, uncomfortable state of mind, from which we desire to escape. It is an experience in which the claim is made that there is nothing to do. Even more distressing is the active desire not to do the things that are available.
This morning I’d like to look at some of the causes of boredom and how we can overcome it in order to reclaim our sense of wonder.
One cause of boredom is lacking a sense of meaning or purpose.
When we don’t see a meaning or purpose behind an activity, when it seems meaningless to us, it is easy to become bored.
Consider a repetitive or monotonous task and how one who doesn’t see the greater purpose behind that task would see it as meaningless and thus boring. Statistically, the job deemed as the most boring is assembly line work. Rarely does the assembly line worker come to work with the big picture in mind, excited about the fact that he is putting together cars or computers for the benefit of the end user. So the repetitive or monotonous task is usually seen as boring. But on the other hand, Josh, who is learning guitar may play the same chords on the same guitar over and over again, but probably doesn’t see that repetition as boring because he sees the big picture and knows that the repetition is for a greater good; he sees the meaning and purpose behind it. Melissa leads her dancers to practice the same dance routine over and over until they have it perfected. Chances are, they don’t see that repetition as boring because they have the big picture in mind and know that the repetition is for a greater good; there is meaning and purpose behind it.
When we fail to recognize the meaning of life and the purpose for which we were made, we will fail to recognize that the seemingly meaningless tasks in everyday life are part of a much bigger picture, a larger story in which God has invited us to play major characters.
I am convinced that our purpose is to know God, love God, and enjoy God, to make God known by bearing His image and being the light to the darkness, and to love and serve others.
But what do the magazines on the racks in the checkout lines at HEB, the commercials on TV, the entertainment industry, and the American culture at large tell us that our purpose is? It’s all about you. Look out for number one. Get more stuff. What you currently own isn’t good enough. You need one of these. Pleasure is the goal. Oh, you look like that? Well, you should look like this. It is for the most part narcissistic and self-serving, and pleasure-seeking with little to no regard for God and His glory.
When we are bombarded by a message that says it’s all about you and your pleasure, and we buy into it, neglecting our true purpose of knowing and loving God, loving and serving others, what is the natural outcome except boredom?
Gene Veith puts it this way in Boredom and the Law of Diminishing Returns: “Boredom is a chronic symptom of a pleasure-obsessed age. When pleasure becomes one’s number one priority, the result, ironically, is boredom.”
If one of the causes of boredom is lack of meaning and purpose, and the things that we find ourselves doing day in and day out do not line up with our God-given meaning and purpose, we will ultimately end up bored.
Want to escape boredom and live a life that is enjoyable and exciting, one way to do that is to examine the things that you spend your leisure time doing and ask yourself, “Is this activity in line with God’s purpose for my life?” If it is not, then it is in your best interest to replace it with an activity that is. Otherwise, in an effort to escape boredom, you may be running headlong into an activity that will only perpetuate and foster boredom.
Another cause of boredom is a sense of disconnection. If we do not sense a deep connection with the subject or topic at hand, we will find it boring. Some people in here can watch golf because they find a connection there. Some of us can’t because we don’t find a connection. Think about the classes that were boring to you when you were in school. Maybe for you it was math. Maybe you thought, I could care less about the Pythagorean theorem, I don’t care about sin, cos, and tangent? That stuff has no real connection to my life. If you feel disconnected from something, there is a greater tendency to find it boring.
And if one finds church or bible study boring, chances are, there is a sense of disconnection. If studying the history of the nation of Israel is boring, chances are, there is a lack of understanding of our true connectedness to that body of individuals. We, as the church are connected to them, we have been joined together with them to be a part of the family of God. It is worth taking the time to intentionally wonder and marvel at this mystery.
If studying God, his attributes, his character, his inspired words – if that is boring, then chances are, there is a sense of disconnection, a lack of understanding of our true connection to Jesus Christ as the head of this body to which we belong, a connection to God, our father, as his beloved children.
If we come here and sing of those things and intellectually assent to those things, but don’t truly wonder at them, don’t truly find amazement and awe in them, if we don’t curiously contemplate them and meditate on them, if that doesn’t truly sink in and penetrate our souls to the point of excitement, then chances are, we will have a sense of disconnection and thus boredom.
Yeah, God is awesome. Yawn. Yeah, we are the new Israel and thus the apple of God’s eye. Yawn. Yeah, we are children of God and call him Abba, Father. Yawn. If there is within you a disconnection to those realities, then most discussions about them will be boring.
Jan Burthe and Daniel Araoz in Paralysis of the Soul: When Life Becomes Boredom, describe the symptoms of boredom in this way: Nothing excites or surprises the bored individual. The sense of awe is gone. Life has become plastic, mechanical, artificial. The bored person goes through life fulfilling obligations, often doing what is expected very well but in a robotized manner. Detachment, insensitivity, insolence, and apathy describe the bored person’s life transactions. The poetic is absent. The bored person has become disconnected from savoring life’s beauty.”
In order to avoid this paralysis of the soul, the boredom that results from a sense of disconnection, let’s find, reclaim, or maintain the connection that we have with the Creator, with the Savior, and with his people.
- Let’s contemplate our connection to God the father as his children.
- Let’s contemplate our connection to Jesus the savior, as his redeemed.
- Let’s contemplate our connection to Israel as fellow heirs to the promised Kingdom.
Another cause of boredom is being passive recipients instead of active participants
Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (mee-hy cheek-sent-mə-hy-ee) in his work, Flow discusses principles that can transform boring and meaningless lives in to ones full of enjoyment. He found that it is not the things we usually expect that give the most satisfaction. He states that the most rewarding activities are those that are not passive but active, those in which our minds and often our bodies are stretched to their limit in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Often at the time of a task the person is not aware of himself or herself but become absorbed in what they are doing.
He says the flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth but passive entertainment leads nowhere.
He says that unless a person takes charge of them, both work and free time are likely to be disappointing. Most jobs and many leisure activities – especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media – are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck the marrow of our lifes, leaving only feeble husks.
Consider the difference between the following two scenarios: on the one hand you go to a rock concert with a friend. You’ve never heard the band before in your life, so you’re just there, kind of passive. But on the other hand you go to your favorite band’s concert. You know all the songs. While you’re there, you’re an active participant, singing along. Which of the two is more exciting? The one in which you were a more active participant.
Don’t misunderstand me here. Coming to church is a good thing. Hearing the proclamation of the truth and the exposition of the scriptures is a great thing. During my commute to Temple M-F, one of my favorite things to do is listen to sermons by others because I need to be challenged.
But consider the nature of simply coming to church. If I simply come to church, sit in a chair, as a passive recipient
- passively listening to a message
- passively participate in praise & worship
- and then leave, do nothing of the sort for the rest of the week, I’m more likely to be bored than if I was actively involved.
If I am actively pursuing a relationship with God during the week, actively praying, actively studying the scriptures, actively worshiping, then on Sunday morning, I will not be merely a passive recipient but
an actively engaged listener, hardly bored.
I will be an actively engaged worshipper, hardly bored.
I will be an actively engaged prayer, hardly bored.
And if I am actively serving:
- in the children’s ministry
- or actively serving by helping to set up or tear down
- if I am actively serving by preparing the slides for the screen
- or actively serving by hosting or leading a bible study
- actively serving by setting up service projects or fellowships
- if I am actively serving by updating the webpage or our facebook page
Then, I am far less likely to be bored than if I was merely coming as a passive recipient.
The last source of boredom is the combination of leisure, overstimulation, and the Entertainment Industry
If you’re like me, you tend to feel like work consumes the great majority of your waking hours and it is difficult to find leisure time. With all of the hustle and bustle of modern day life, when can we find time to slow down and stop to consider God’s wonders?
Startling statistics. While it may feel like life is busier now than ever, consider the following:
- In the mid 1800’s the average work week in America was approximately seventy hours, or the equivalent of six twelve hour days per week.
- Turn of the last century this figure came down to 60 hours/week
- Before the Great Depression of 1929, 50 hours was the expected norm
What is my point in sharing that? Technology has provided some amazing advancements to help automate work. We let machines wash our dishes, do our laundry and a host of other things. This has contributed to extra hours of leisure.
Robert Lee puts it this way in Religion and Leisure in America (1964). “It is a striking fact to note that the working man of a century ago spent some seventy hours per week on the job and lived about forty years. Today he spends some forty hours per week at work and can expect to live about 70 years. This adds something like twenty-two more years of leisure to his life, about 1,500 free hours each year, and a total of some 33,000 additional free hours that the man born today has to enjoy.”
Geoffrey Godbey and John Robinson in Time for Life, 1999, in their studies of how Americans us time found that average leisure time grew from about thirty-four hours in 1965 to about forty hours in 1985. How do we use most of that extra time? We watch television.
In 2001, statistics:
- Average adult watches 4 – 5 hours of TV every day
- Average child watches 3
- TV turned on in average home for 7 hours & 45 minutes every day
In the 40-50 hour work week we tend to spend much of our leisure time surfing channels, surfing the web, playing videogames, and the like. Passive recipients of entertainment.
Back in the 70 hour work week, how did people spend their leisure time? Used to spend time as active participants engaged with others, eating meals together, playing games together. Part of our purpose in life is loving and serving others and this is done in the context of deep and meaningful relationships. With mouths closed and eyes glued to the screen, there is little room for meaningful deep interpersonal and relational conversation.
What else did they do for leisure before TV? They used to spend time using their imagination as active participants, telling stories, finding creative ways to entertain themselves and others, but little is left to the imagination when it is presented before you on the screen.
In the early 2000’s a PBS documentary Frontier House filmed three family groups who lived for six months in the lifestyle of early frontier settlers in 1883 in Montana. Through the spring, summer, and fall of 2001 they were observed as they built their houses, planted food, tended livestock and caught fish in the stream all without the help of modern technology. One family was interviewed after their return from the Montana cabin to their Malibu mansion. One of the children was having a hard time adjusting to a life where basic needs are met so much more easily. She said, “Life in 2000 is boring. Where’s the fun in going to the mall every day?”
Robert Lee, whom we quoted earlier puts it this way “One often hears it said about a particularly active person that he died from overwork. With the shifting focus from work to leisure, is it possible that men now die of boredom, that they die from overleisure?”
A callous is a form of the body’s self-defense against too much stimulation. It is a thickening and hardening of the normally sensitive skin. Boredom could be the psychological manifestation of an inner defense mechanism. The less often you climb the monkey bars the more your hands hurt – they aren’t used to that level of stimulation. The more you climb them – the more stimulation – the harder your hands get, callouses develop and you can climb more and more. The harder your hands get, the less sensitive they become and the more it will take to stimulate them.
The less we receive stimulation from television, movies, and the like, the more sensitive we are to it. The more exciting it is.
The less explosions we see, the greater impact each explosion will have. Wow. Did you see that explosion? But the more explosions we see, the more explosions it will take to grab our attention – yep, another explosion; we have developed a callous. The more we see the more we need.
The ratings are going down because people have now developed a callous to what we were putting on the show, so in order to meet their new level of entertainment expectations and keep them sensitive to our stimulation, let’s make it more interesting by showing more illicit relationships, more sex, more sensation.
Richard Winter puts it this way in Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment, “The mass culture created by the entertainment industry in America now creates a fantasy world in which we aspire to live. The media create expectations for us, so ordinary life seems increasingly boring and we grow more dissatisfied. Thus we crave more of the media’s sensational entertainment.”
If we really step back and stop and think about God’s wonders, if we think or speculate curiously, if we marvel at God, if we are filled with amazement, awe and admiration for God and his works, if we intentionally cultivate our sense of wonder, then we will find that there is a great sense of excitement.
But we are likely to be bored as long as we
- Try to find meaning or purpose in selfish pursuits, instead of knowing, enjoying and loving God, loving and serving others
- Fail to find true deep inner connection with God, His word, and His people
- Operate as passive recipients instead of active participants
- Use the times of leisure that we do have to seek excessive amounts of passive entertainment
Isn’t it ironic that in an effort to escape boredom, we have turned to excessive entertainment where the tendency is to want more; this has perpetuated our boredom…for it is overstimulation. It develops callouses.
Why does the person with a thousand channels ever say, “There’s nothing on”?
Why does the person with a closet full of clothes say, “I have nothing to wear”?
Why does the person with a fridge full of food say, “there’s nothing to eat”?
Why does the kid with the most toys, gadgets, and gizmos say, “I have nothing to do”?
Why are we bored? Too much. We have tried to cure boredom by rushing headlong into the very things that cultivate boredom.
NO LEGALISM; EXPERIENCE TALKING
Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not telling you don’t watch television or movies. That would be the epitome of hypocrisy because I do those things. Those things are fine in moderation, where we can stay sensitive, pre callous.
But it is precisely because I have experienced many if not most of these things first hand that I can speak from experience in sharing with you my assessment of their adverse effects on our ability to cultivate wonder for the truly wonderful, namely God and His Kingdom.
I can tell you that the deeper I have been sucked into the vortex of a television show and become so engrossed in being passively entertained I had less passion for and excitement about things that are actually important.
So I am not telling you don’t, you can’t, or even you shouldn’t seek to be passively entertained. If you’ve been here at NCF for a while, then you know that legalism is not something that we are into. I am simply sharing what I have found in my own personal study and observation. What I am encouraging you to do is the very thing that Elihu told Job to do, “Stop, and consider the wonders of God.” For you, that may mean turning your TV off. It may be setting your phone down.
FOR THE GOOD OF THE NEXT GENERATION (MY KIDS AND YOURS, TEENS, TWEENS)
Some in here are preteens, tweens, or teenagers, or we have children in that age range, or we have young children who will, in the blink of an eye, be that age. That age group is the most prone to saying, “I’m bored.” While I think we can all grow from a message like this, I think the greatest impact this content will have will be upon those young people. If we can become aware of some of the causes of boredom…aware of ways to counteract that…we can spare them from the strange cloud hangs over modern life called boredom.
Over the next few weeks I’d like to work toward this end of reclaiming a passion and wonder for God and his work by exploring some of his wonders in the Scriptures.
I’d like to close this morning with a quote by William F May: “Perhaps boredom is the best modern term to characterize this deadness of the soul…Although the modern sophisticate feels no need to apologize for his being bored-his attitude, after all, merely reflects the poverty of his object – the man of faith must confess his boredom as his sin because his attitude reflects the poverty of his own soul. To be unmoved and untouched in the presence of God [and I would add, his creation] exposes an interior inadequacy.”
Next weeks: Psalm 78/Psalm 105