A while ago, some friends and I were in a pub and we decided that we all fancied something to eat. Being the fine examples of Christian sharing that we are, we decided to get a dessert sharing platter-type-thing. We were all looking forward to having some tasty-sounding food but when the order arrived, we were all mightily disappointed. What sat before us on a dainty oblong plate was a collection of the smallest (albeit well decorated) desserts we’d ever seen. It was as if someone had thought about what might make a really satisfying pudding, halved the amounts and then halved them again just to be sure.
“Why,” we bemoaned, “would someone give us something that’s so delicious in such meaningless amounts?”
In some cases, we like bite-sized things. Fast food, snacks (I may have been hungry when I wrote this), revision notes etc.
Sometimes, bite-sized is good and stops us from over-indulging.
But sometimes we don’t want small titbits. Sometimes we want a full three-course meal with mints and coffee afterwards – we want to be satisfied and we want to be full.
This goes for things of the mind and for things of the spirit, as well as for things of the stomach. We perhaps live in a time unlike any other in history. A time where an avalanche of information is available at a moment’s notice, ready to bury us in mountains of gossip, news, cats, science, art, cats, history and cats. So it’s perhaps understandable that we prefer to have smaller chunks of information where we can.
Into this comes Twitter. Now, I’m a big Twitter fan but a few months ago I read something which made me mad. Not irritated, annoyed or irked but mad. It was the kind of mad that makes you tell a stranger off on the bus or write a strongly worded letter. What happened to cause my fury was that someone ‘retweeted’ this quote:
“It never cost a disciple anything to follow Jesus; to talk about cost when you are in love with anyone is an insult.” – Oswald Chambers
I’m pretty sure that the only thing that kept me outwardly civil at that point was that I was on a coach to Southampton at the time, and I didn’t want to cause a ruckus.
To say that it never cost a disciple anything to follow Christ is absurd in the extreme. A quick reading of the book of Acts will show you that (not forgetting the fact that Jesus himself told us to count the cost of following him). Not only is it misleading, it then piles on the guilt by calling it insulting to God if you are in fact feeling like there’s a cost.
I was worried that as this had been retweeted by a Christian leader with a certain amount of influence. Any number of new or young Christians might have seen it and been led to feel condemned for any feelings of ‘cost’ they may have had.
After my own little hurricane of indignation had subsided, I was left wondering what the intention was. I’m not sure of the origin of the quote but I imagine it comes from within some other bit of text. I doubt it’s actually heretical and after some thought I imagine it means that when compared to the blessings of being a Christian, the costs aren’t really costs at all, and that we shouldn’t focus on them.
But it was left open to misunderstanding because it was taken out of its wider context and left to stand on its own (after all, there’s only so much you can say with 140 characters).
This brings us to the risks of bite-sized wisdom. With more social media platforms than you can shake a virtual stick at, we are sharing these kinds of quotes like never before. We take them, slap them over an Instagram picture of a sunset and call it wisdom.
But is it?
When we feed ourselves on these, we aren’t getting a balanced diet of truth and wisdom. We might feel full, but its the kind of full you get from eating a whole tub of ice cream…or so I hear.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that while you may feel full, you’re not really being fed properly.
The author of Hebrews writes “…for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” Hebrew 5:13-6:1.
In fact, if you want to read about wisdom, check out Proverbs. Solomon asked God for wisdom to be a good king rather than to be rich or powerful and God blessed his kingly socks off with all three. Solomon knows what he’s talking about when he writes: “If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 2:3-5).
Now, I don’t deny that there is a place for inspiration and encouraging reminders from heroes of the faith. These have a benefit. But I would encourage all of us to not neglect the bigger, deeper things. Even if you don’t consider yourself an intellectual take whatever you can, fill yourself up with biblical truth and when those questionable inspirational one liners pop up, you’ll know what you’re reading.
(Photo via Guillaume Brialon on Flickr)