Ask Pastor John: Three Strategies for Overcoming the Superficial Life

Ask Pastor John: Three Strategies for Overcoming the Superficial Life April 27, 2017

How do we break free from triviality in order to cultivate habits of deep thinking, and all for the sake of increasing our delight in God? It’s a question that comes to us from a podcast listener named Michael. “Hello Pastor John. How do you think deeply, when you have created, by whichever way, a superficial manner of thinking that skirts matters and gets bored before you have gotten to any real depth? And if you get bored, how can you challenge yourself to still engage with a matter or a biblical passage without being blasé?”

Three Strategies for Overcoming the Superficial LifeMichael has given half the answer to his question, I think. He has said, “How do you think deeply when you have created a superficial manner of thinking?” This is really a huge part of the answer to the last half of this question; namely, what do you do if you get bored before you even engage with biblical passages long enough to see anything profound?

The answer to that second half of the question is addressed in the first half; namely, the more basic superficial mind-set needs to be reversed. That superficial mind-set that has built up over time needs to be undone, reversed, and I think this is a very perceptive question. It touches on an issue that is epidemic among human beings in general, in every age, and perhaps more than ever in our age of ever-present distraction by superficial input from every manner of media.

The epidemic I’m talking about is the tragic loss of wonder and amazement, and all joyful discovery of beauties and glories in the world and in the word and in our own selves — the loss of it. Human beings really are glorious creatures, made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27), full of potential to know God and to know things the way God knows them and feel with the affections that even God has in his own heart.

Yet we are, as one author put it, glorious ruins. We have fallen, and one of the great evidences of our fall is that we are so easily bored with glorious reality. We go to visit the magnificent Rockies, or Alps or Himalayas and, for a day or two, we are breathless with amazement. By the end of the week, we’re sitting in front of the television in our chalet on top of the mountain, watching pitiful, human, cinematic efforts to create amazement. That’s just who we are. It’s tragic. It’s the great, tragic effect of the fall: superficiality in a world of wonder, easy boredom, loving something for two, three repetitions, and then after that, ho hum.

Michael is not alone in this entanglement with small, trifling, trivial, empty, insignificant, silly input from every side. The question is, how do you rebuild a mind-set that might wake up to the sleepwalking of silliness that postures as meaningful life? The first thing you do is repent and confess to God that this is a huge problem and involves much sin. Then you cry out to God for help that he would wake you up from the slumbers of emptiness and meaninglessness and boredom in the endless quest to be titillated in body while the soul is languishing and starving for greatness. You cry out for help to God.

Then you set yourself on a conscious quest to obey God’s strategy for cultivating a spiritual mind that is fully alert to the glories of God, radiant in the world, and radiant in the word. You make Colossians 3:1–3 your marching orders: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” You pray that God would cause you to be stunned by the meaning of those verses, and be disciplined in the pursuit of that new mind-set, of setting your minds on things that are above.

Then you go over to Philippians 4:8 to get specific, and you realize the challenge before you: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” In other words, Paul is calling us to discipline the focus of our minds so that we fix the mind, the focus of the mind, on things that are worthy and that have the potential to deepen and strengthen and purify our souls. The specifics that I would recommend would be these.

  1. First, be part of a local church where the preaching is blood earnest and serious, where God-besought joy and not flippant silliness marks the wonders of the word of God. That’s first.
  2. Second, I would look carefully at my friendships. Who am I spending time with? And I would remember1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” Superficiality is a very, very, very contagious disease. If you only hang out with superficial people, you will almost certainly be superficial people. If you only hang out with superficial social media and TV programs, you will almost certainly be a superficial person. On the other hand,Proverbs 13:20 says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” That’s so good. Psalm 119:63 says, “I am a companion of all who fear you, of those who keep your precepts.” Hebrews 10:24 says, “Let us consider” — think about, ponder — “how to stir up one another to love.” Love is the greatest thing in all the universe — if we understand what God understands by love.
  3. The last thing I would say is, read, read, read the great, dead Puritan writers whose works are unlike anything you will find in the twentieth and twenty-first century, because they are so non-superficial, non-silly, non-trivial, non-man-centered. The works of Jonathan Edwards and John Owen and Jeremiah Burroughs and John Bunyan and J.C. Ryle and Charles Spurgeon and John Newton — I’m thinking of you, Tony, when I sayJohn Newton.

A steady diet of these authors will go a long way to reversing a superficial mind-set and replacing it with a deeply joyful mind, ready to discover wonders and be amazed everywhere we look. These authors, I think, will drive us back to the word of God with eyes that are able to see the glories that God really did put there. 

Find other recent and popular Ask Pastor John episodes here.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including A Peculiar Glory.

(By Desiring God. Discovered by Christian Podcast Central and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Christian Podcast Central, and audio is streamed directly from their servers.)

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