In 1985 Robert Bellah wrote Habits of the Heart after studying the faith and religious commitments of the American people. The book contained an interview with a young woman named Sheila Larson who described her faith in these words:
I believe in God, but I’m not a religious fanatic. I can’t remember the last time I went to church. I don’t have to go to church or read books about religion. My religion is just my own little inner voice. I call it ‘Sheilaism.’
Bellah went on to say that while most people would not describe their spiritual life those words, that type of faith is widespread in America. For many people, religion and faith is whatever they want it to be. There is no outside authority, no commandments, no God to challenge you, or, to give you anything to hope for. There is just your own little inner voice. Folks like Sheila might even go to church sometimes, but they pick and choose what they want and disregard the rest. God is whatever you want him, or her, or it, to be. And, God says whatever you want him/her/it to say. It is all up to you.
Christians believe we have heard something more significant. We believe we have been addressed by another voice. We listen to a voice from outside of ourselves. When you go to church you hear words from another person, but you expect that what the pastor says is based on something other than his or her own inner voice, thoughts, feelings, or opinions on the matter. Pastors are called to preach and teach the Word of God, a word that comes not from inside of us but from the outside. It is a Word that was revealed long before we were here, and will still be here long after we are gone. We may not always hear and obey that word correctly; and good, honest, Bible-believing Christians might disagree on all sorts of things. But we know where to look for the answers– and it is not to our own little inner voice. Rather, we look outside of ourselves, to God’s Word, and do our best to understand that. God is the Creator of all life, so the best way to understand life and how to live it is to look to God’s Word. We are lost without it.
The sixth chapter of Mark describes the large crowds that followed Jesus wherever he went. Even when he tried to get away and get some rest (verse 31), they followed him. This happened throughout the ministry of Jesus. What were all those people looking for? Whatever it was, it wasn’t that little inner voice that Sheila lived her life by. If that was all they wanted, they could have stayed home. But they did not stay home. They followed Jesus all over the countryside because they heard in his words something more significant, something they desperately needed, and something they knew that they would never find within themselves.
Jesus sensed their need and responded to them. Mark 6:34 says, “Jesus saw the large crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began to teach them many things.”
There are many in our society who are in great pain, not because of some psychological malady and not because something bad happened to them when they were five years old. They are hurting because they are wandering around like lost sheep without a shepherd. They are lost and confused. It is usually not that they are sick or have been born with the wrong genetic make-up or have not had any luck in life. Sometimes, in fact, it is those that are born with every opportunity that have the most trouble. They just “don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Many people get into trouble not because they are sick or deprived, but because they have not been taught. They might be highly educated in some areas, but they don’t know anything about life: what it is all about, why we they are here, what to expect from life, how to live it, and how to face the inevitable end of it. Many would agree that God could provide some help, but they don’t know much about God. They, like Sheila, have been listening only to their own little voice. They have not taken the trouble to think through what it means to have faith in God, how to listen to God, and what God might have to say to them about life and death. They confront the complexity of life with bits and pieces of insight cobbled together from here and there. Or they try to live in an adult world with the faith they received as an eight year old and ignored since they were teenagers. They are, like Jesus said of those who came to him, sheep without a shepherd. And so the crowds followed Jesus wherever he went to learn from him. They did not want to be lost anymore. They saw in Jesus someone who could show them the way– a better, a more solid and secure way than their own little inner voice.
We have to realize that the ‘little inner voice,’ prized by so many people, doesn’t get there all by itself. What is inside of us gets shaped and formed by what comes to us from the outside, from all the other voices we have heard over the years. We are bombarded every day by thousands of messages created by other lost people in advertising, entertainment, and the news. And as you know, these many other voices often present a world view and a way of living and a system of values that are not Christian, not helpful, and not true.
We are shaped by all these messages. That ‘inner voice’ does, in part, come from God. God has placed within us a conscience that can give us some guidance. But that conscience is not all that speaks in the inner voice. Also implanted into our minds are all the other messages and other voices that we have been exposed to over the years, and most of those messages are very different from what Jesus would say. It is those other messages that can get us lost and cause us pain.
When Jesus was here he fed people, healed people, and even raised people from the dead. But what he was doing most of the time was teaching people about God and his claim on our lives, about life and how it is best lived, and about death and the hope we have in God for life beyond the grave. These words of Jesus are the words that help lost people find their way. (continued…)
Sermon on the Mount, 1886, James Tissot
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, 1952:
The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him (Christ) take us over, the more truly ourselves we become… He made us all. He invented— as an author invents characters in a novel— all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him.
It is no good trying to ‘be myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call ‘My wishes’ become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils. Eggs and alcohol and a good night’s sleep will be the real origins of what I flatter myself by regarding as my own highly personal and discriminating decision to make love to the girl opposite to me in the railway carriage. Propaganda will be the real origin of what I regard as my own personal political ideas. I am not, in my natural state, nearly so much of a person as I like to believe: most of what I call ‘me’ can be very easily explained. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.
Luke 23:34a — Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Mark 6:31 — Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Mark 6:34 — When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.
Lord, I am blind and helpless, stupid and ignorant. Cause me to hear; help me to know; teach me to do; and lead me. Amen.
–Henry Martyn (1781-1812)