On Lifehacks & Living for God
But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. - Ephesians 4:20-24 ESV
A lifehack is a term we use today to describe a unique strategy or simple twist in an activity that helps to make use of time and energy more efficient. Lifehacks are a way of getting what we want more easily. For myself, I have benefited from many books, blog articles, and videos on topics such as time management, systems and goals, and practical tips.
Many preachers seem to make it their goal to be a kind of biblical lifehack miner. Some preachers' sermons consist mostly in attempting to show how the Bible can make you bold, confident, happy, joyful, productive, etc. People love to hear how they can be better, and it's easy enough to capitalize on that to build an audience.
The Problem with Lifehacks
The problem is that this focus on self-help and lifehacks is concerned with or predicated on how to achieve the desires you have, not change them out for the ones you ought to have. Many professing Christians want their lives to be enhanced when they actually need their selves transformed.
Biblical preaching calls for the old desires to be left ungratified because they are selfish and belong to the old self. Sinners don’t need hacks for their desires, they need their desires to be hacked. To pieces, that is.
Why is this true? The apostle Paul helps us make sense of it in the Ephesians passage above. Paul is specifically attacking the idea that to continue living your old life is ok. Rather, not only the outward profession must change, but also the inward desires.
We are called here to live as we are taught, and that means putting off your old self, disrobing your soul of its old tired trappings, and putting on the new self that God himself has stitched together.
Why do we get excited about lifehacks and self-help advice? I can speak for myself as I imagine I'm not much different from most people. Lifehacks and self-help tend to make life more convenient for me, less stress-inducing for me, and less resistant to the achievement of my desires. And I think these reasons are precisely the problem when it comes to the pursuit of holiness and living for God.
What is wrong with all these reasons? They are fundamentally about me and for me. Lifehacks and self-help do not so much challenge my deceitful desires that led to my former manner of life as much as they do enable them. Self-help greases the skids for my own selfish desires. The problem with focusing on lifehacks and self-help, in other words, is that they do not teach me how to live; they teach me how to get what I want.
Checking Our Goals
There is a basic question that is often skipped. People don’t question their desires, but they should. We ask, “How does this help me?” But what they need to ask is, “How do I need to be helped?” In other words, we need to be taught what help we need before we evaluate the helpfulness of something.
In order for our life to be renewed on the outside, the spirit of our minds needs to be renewed on the inside. How we live on the outside is an effect of our minds, not the other way around.
What I am proposing is that living for God must start with an understanding of how I am not living for God. It is not that we should look to see how God can help us, but what help we need from God. But so often we bring our list of desires to God. Instead, we should bring a blank sheet of paper for him to fill out for us!
Why do we look for spiritual lifehacks anyway? It seems to me to be because we desire to streamline our spirituality. Efficiency often trumps quality. But it seems to me that there is in my heart a desire which I imagine others share: we want to get the “spiritual” part of our day done as quickly as possible so that we can resume the status quo as soon as possible. In other words, our pursuit of God is relegated to a few very specific contexts, like when we read our Bibles, pray, attend a worship service, and/or participate in communion.
The problem in all of this is that our pursuit of God by and large does not consist in a few specific contexts but in the status quo itself. It is the status quo itself which is the locus of our pursuit of God. And our lifehacks so often are thus entirely wrong-headed: they enable our desire to keep things as they are while assuaging our consciences rather than helping us to examine the things which are bothering our consciences. Our consciences are our alarm bells. We don’t need to pacify them; we need to heed them. We need to examine those parts of our lives which are producing the alarm, and that will almost always be in the so-called “status quo”, the unspiritual side of our lives. We need to realize that there is no unspiritual part of our lives. We are spirits, so everything we do is spiritual. We can no more be unspiritual than a rock can be unphysical.
So what should we do? As is so often the case, I believe we need to start by humbling ourselves. Humbling ourselves before God forces us not to rush things, not to pursue shortcuts to holiness, because there are none. Humbling ourselves recognizes our dependence upon God and the fact that we must wait on Him.
And in humbling ourselves, we can perhaps do best by meditating on the excellencies of Christ in contemplation, considering God in the fullness of His beauty, and reorienting all our intellect, affections, and choices toward Him. This has the effect of fixing our heart's aim on Christ rather than ourselves, which serves to give our moral GPS a sense of our intended destination. Then, as we consider where and how we ought to be, we can discern much more easily by contrast the ways in which our lives are oriented toward something else. To speak in terms of a GPS, humbling ourselves and meditating on God as revealed in Scripture gives us the destination, where and how we ought to be. And once we have the destination, we can discern more easily where we are currently by the contrast created between our current location and the destination. And once we have these two data points, the destination and our current location, we can begin charting our course so that our location matches our destination.
At the core of the issue is that so often we forget that we have been created after the likeness of God. We do not decide what we are. We are modeled after the nature and character of God. When we put ourselves first, making our self-actualization the goal rather than godliness, we will more easily find ourselves drawn to those things which enable selfish desires rather than godly ones. Let's not abuse God's word to enable us to fulfill our selfish desires. Let's submit to God's word to learn what our desires should be, and then find the best ways, even through "lifehacks", to accomplish those. Let's use lifehacks for godliness.