Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book review: Empty Promises The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You're Believing By Pete Wilson

Pete Wilson has written another thought provoking book! The thing I like about Pete Wilson's writings is that it is simple, yet contains profound, thought provoking questions that makes you think, reflect.  This book is about realizing and identifying the many life's empty promises and replacing them with a focus and worship of Jesus.  In reality, all of us give our devotion to somebody or something, and it is either God or anything less than God.

As Pete said:
“Simply put, we are a people wired to worship. The question isn’t, “Do we worship?” The question is, “Who (or what) do we worship?”
We are to be careful to guard our hearts. Are we striving to find our identity in things like acceptance, power, and money instead of in who God says who we are? John Calvin famously said, “The human heart is a perpetual factory of idols”  In fact, the scaffolding of power, praise, perfectionism, and performance we buy in to just goes to show how shallow and easily satisfied our hearts are with the cheaper alternatives rather than with God Himself.

C. S. Lewis wrote that,
"If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

In the chapter on the seduction of achievement, Pete suggests that the very reason why we struggle so much with insignificance, and the need to fight to accomplish something as well as the aspiration to dream and risk for our achievements is actually a God-created desire within us to become great.  However, if we are not careful to guard it, we can allow this drive to significance to turn into an obsession and in the process of our insane pursuit of it, we may hurt others and ourselves! Pete then outlines a few traps that we need to be careful of (and to realize that the ultimate meaning and significance of our lives lies in our restored relationship with our Creator). Among the traps that Pete talks about include:

•    The want to achieve regardless of what it does to the people around you
•    The need to depend on the approval of others
•    Confused with who you are versus what you accomplish  
•    Comparing yourself with others and the struggle you feel when others succeed
One way to check this is to regularly ask ourselves questions like:
  1. Do you believe that if you make mistakes, you are a failure?
  2. When you’re criticized for your job performance, do you tend to take it personally?
  3. Do you regularly use humor to put others down just for a laugh?
  4. Do you find yourself criticizing others in order to feel better about yourself?
  5. Do you often compare yourself to other people?
  6. Do you tend to covet another’s accomplishments more than celebrate them?
  7. When a colleague or partner is praised or rewarded, do you usually feel glad . . . or grumpy?”
As Pete says,
"Power at its worst is a sin of comparison. For example:
It’s not enough to have (or be) a pretty wife. We have to have (or be) the prettiest wife.
It’s not enough to climb the ladder. We have to be at the top of the ladder.
It’s not enough to be a good mom. We have to be seen as the best mom.
It’s not enough to be a good pastor. We want to be known as the best pastor."

C. S. Lewis also pointed out that subtle lie that
"what we call “ambition” usually means the wish to be more conspicuous or more successful than someone else. It is this competitive element in it that is bad. It is perfectly reasonable to want to dance well or to look nice. But when the dominant wish is to dance better or look nicer than the others—when you begin to feel that if the others danced as well as you or looked as nice as you, that would take all the fun out of it—then  you are going wrong.”
Pete further listed a few questions to help us unravel the lie of the seduction of achievement:
  • Do you get very upset when people don’t specifically do things the way you want them to be done?
  • Do you have a hard time following the rules other people establish? Do you often believe you know a better way?
  • When things go wrong, do you tend to shift blame to others?
  • Do you find yourself needing to win every single argument you’re in?
  • Do you sometimes “play games” or manipulate others to get your way?
  • Do you often lose your temper when situations don’t go your way?
  • Do tool malfunctions (car trouble, computer trouble, etc.) really push your buttons?
  • Have you ever been told you have “control issues”?”
As Pete rightly says: "If winning every argument is an issue with you, it may not be because you’re so passionate about the truth. Could you be craving the power that comes with dominating another human being?”

On the chapter on peril of power, Pete wrote that not all arguments or leadership campaigns or even sexual relationships involve unhealthy power trips. In fact, most of us are wired to want to make a difference. We want our lives to count for something great. but the danger is, at the center of every idol we worship is an underlying God-given appetite. The problem comes when we turn to someone or something other than God to fulfill it. That’s true of power too. I’m learning that people don’t usually seek power because they desire to become belligerent, self-seeking persons. The initial attraction to power usually begins with a God-given appetite for purpose.

As Tim Keller wrote (quoted in the book), 
“When human beings try to become more than human beings, to be as gods, they fall to become lower than human beings. To be your own God and live for your own glory and power leads to the most bestial and cruel kind of behavior”
When any of us allow power to become an idol in our lives, we begin to get our very sense of identity from it. As a result, we’ll do everything in our control to cover up any hint of weakness—whatever suggests we’re not the commanding, in-charge kind of person we so desperately long to be. The second red flag that we might be slipping into the worship of power is refusing correction.

Chapter 6 is about money and Pete poignantly said that both a person who may spend like crazy in an attempt to feel worthwhile and a person who may be super frugal and sock away every penny into investments— both these people who may be using money to make them feel safe and in control, are making an idol out of money although their behavior may be different.

A good question to check ourselves is 
“Which of the following statements creates more anxiety in your heart: ‘There is no God’ or, ‘There is no money in the bank’?”
All of us are susceptible to feeling anxious about our finances. Few of us can go through this world without looking to money to give us what only God can. Among other questions that we should regularly check ourselves with, include:
  • Do you often find yourself saying (or thinking), “If I had this much, then I would be satisfied”?
  • Do you spend more time thinking about what you do not have than you spend thanking God for what you do have?
On the issue of religiosity, Pete said that religion always tends to complicate what God has made simple. It’s elevating an action or experience to idol status by adding it to Jesus. Religion, with all its traditions and preferences, was simply not big enough to contain our God. As Pete says:
“Do you like the person you’re becoming? If not, might I suggest that you take a look at what’s on the throne of your heart? Because one of the fundamental truths of human nature—and the greatest dangers of idolatry—is that what we worship shapes who we are.”
The danger is
  • If we worship money, in other words, we’ll become a greedy person.
  • If we worship sex, we’ll become a lustful person.
  • If we worship power, we’ll become a corrupt person.
  • If we worship accomplishment, we’ll become a restless, frantic person.
  • If we worship love and acceptance, we’ll become a slave to others.
  • If we worship external beauty, we’ll become shallow.
I believe one of the reasons God so adamantly speaks out against idolatry throughout the Bible is that we simply can’t worship something other than God and still live out our God-given purpose. What is that purpose? It’s revealed in the very first chapter of the Bible:
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. . . .”
So God created human beings in his own image,
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Gen. 1:26–27 NLT)”

Pete also wrote about an ancient belief that only kings were made in the image of a powerful God. Peasants or common folks were generally thought to be made in the image of inferior gods. However, that's not what the Bible says. Everyone is made in the image of God.

Nonetheless, we can’t just relinquish an idol. We have to replace it with something bigger. In other words, we can’t just say, “I want to stop caring so much about accomplishment in my life” or, “I’m going to stop being a control freak.” We can’t just stop worshiping a certain idol. We have to start actively worshiping God. When we are regularly engaging in worship, we are constantly reminded that there is an infinite, all-powerful, limitless God who is drawing us into his presence, where we are constantly being shaped by his ever-present grace into something that resembles him more and more.

Many of us are addicted to noise, so much so that we are driven to eradicate all silence. As Dallas Willard put it, "Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of our life. It reminds us of death, which will cut us off from this world and leave only us and God. And in that quiet, what if there turns out to be very little to “us and God”?”

Chapter 11 is about some spiritual disciplines that may help us to live closer to the truth, including prayer, meditating God's Word, solitude and fasting. Regarding fasting, Pete says that this discipline reminds us of our humanness. It shows us what we really need and what we actually desire. It nudges me to remember just how much we need to remain connected to the life-giving source that is Jesus Christ.

John Piper wrote,
"The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18–20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.”

It’s widely reported that the average person is bombarded with some three thousand marketing messages a day. While there is some debate on the number, no one disputes that normal life for most Americans includes a constant barrage of messages that are strategically designed to create a vision of the good life:
• “Eat this.”
• “Drive this.”
• “Say this.”
• “Wear this.”
• “Think this.”
• “Spend this.”
• “Buy this.”

The issue is: can we find God's voice in the midst of all these noises?

In short, this book is not meant to be a book to be read once and return to the shelf. It is a mirror, a diagnostic tool to detect idolatry of our hearts.

(Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this e-book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”)

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