“Many things done in church can be clothed in piety but hide deeper and subtler sinful motives.”
WHAT DO YOU DO when a whole nation is on the move in the arid desert, and there is no water to drink? at was Moses’ problem. e frustrated grumblings of the people were growing in decibels by the moment, and rebellion and chaos were looming (Num. 20). With his brother Aaron, and feeling helpless, Moses went to the Lord and “fell facedown”.
God did not engage in any sentimental talk but came straight to the point. His instructions were as clear as can be. Take the staﬀ. Gather the people. Speak to the rock (Num. 20:8). God promised that the rock will become a national stream, supplying water to the thirsty nation. Moses followed God’s instructions to a point, but his rising anger blinded him. He must have seen and heard the grumbling rebels gathered around him and felt a sudden surge of anger within him. He gave in to his angry impulse and struck the rock twice with his staﬀ – a terrible oﬀence in the eyes of God, so serious that God disallowed Moses from entering the Promised Land (Num. 20:12).
Though Moses pleased the Lord most of the time and walked as a righteous man, he was no stranger to his sudden surges of rage that struck from time to time.
We can remember the time he killed an Egyptian or the time he broke the tablets containing the Ten Commandments.
If Moses had a problem with angry outbursts, others had problems with other forms of sinful impulses such as pride, greed, or lust. ink of Judge Jephthah’s rash vow (Judges 11:30f) or David’s deplorable sin (2 Sam. 11). Others, like Peter, thought that they meant well but followed their impulses and ended up saying or doing stupid things (Mk. 9:5-6, 14:29-31; Jn. 21:3).
The first moment in any given situation is often the moment of impulse – it is what you feel immediately, and because of that, it is a moment that is filled with spiritual danger. We will appreciate this better if we remember that the sinful self (even in converted and born-again Christians) likes to be first, and often has the loudest and most urgent voice. It likes to jostle for our attention by pushing itself to the front of the queue. If we are not spiritually alert, we can become victims of our sinful impulses, either because we have got used to giving in to them, or because we confuse them for godly aﬀections or aspirations.
For example, an idea may be suggested to do something in church. On its own, there may be nothing wrong with that idea. But sinful impulse can take over, and the person can proceed with the idea with sinful ambition rather than with godly obedience. Many things done in church can be clothed in piety but hide deeper and subtler sinful motives. One may have an opportunity to tell the truth as it is in a given situation, but considerations for one’s own safety may take over to make the person shower the other with flattery or tell an outright lie.
Living the impulsive life is dangerous to the soul. We live in an age where we are coaxed and encouraged to live impulsively, to “just do it” or “obey your thirst”. ose who sell things in the marketplace know all about how to make people buy impulsively. Sales people, whether it is someone on the phone oﬀering you an attractive cash advance from a bank or a tout in a shopping centre who leeches on to you, do not like those who want time to think about it because thinking people cannot be made to act impulsively.
Satan, the old hand in these things, is a master in tempting people to act on impulse. It is for this reason that spiritual writers have warned against the impulsive life. Many of the church fathers saw the dangers of impulse or passion (often tainted with sin) and gave useful advice on how to deal with them (cf. Gal. 5:24). In the same vein, the 17th century French spiritual mentor Francois Fenelon advised people to train themselves to “suspend the hasty movements of nature, and wait for the second moment when we can act through grace by listening to God”.
The first moment is often hijacked by sinful nature or demonic wile. at is why the Bible advises: “Give careful thought to your ways” (Hag. 1:5, 7). Habitual reflection in the presence of God is a necessity if one is to live a holy and godly life. e second moment is therefore a time of reflection (producing knowledge of God and self) that should lead to obedience to God. is is especially crucial in our day, where the “impulses of the jungle” are threatening the laws and principles of the Kingdom.
Experience tells us that at times, if not often, the second moment can also degenerate into the third moment which is characterised by procrastination and eventual disinterest and apathy. When volunteers were needed in Israel to deal with marauding enemies, the tribe of Reuben is remembered as the epitome of procrastination. ey were experts in the long and eventually useless third moment.
“In the districts of Reuben there was much searching of heart … ” but there was no obedient action (Jud. 5:15).
ARE OUR CHRISTIAN RANKS filled with people who are living their lives in the first moment of enthusiastic impulse or the third moment of pious indiﬀerence? How do we guard ourselves against hot, sinful and infantile impulses that are dressed in religious clothes, and cold ritualism that is frozen in religious habits that have little to do with obedience to God?
The answer is to develop a life of prayer. We protect ourselves against the dangers of the first hasty moment by turning to God in prayer, making it a habit to look to God first in every instance, seeing the eyes of Jesus to seek His will. If we sink to the third moment, we can also pray in order to repent from our lack of obedience, our excuses and our constant religious chatter to hide our failure to obey.
We should be careful of the first moment and avoid the third moment. Instead we must learn to thrive in the second moment – by prayerful reflection and faithful obedience. As Christians we must become deeply familiar with the second moment, for that is where the Kingdom is best understood and experienced.