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The Devil's Chat Trick


King David was once offered a free threshing-floor on which to make sacrifices to God. He replied that he would not give to God something that had cost him nothing. (2 Samuel 24:24)

There is a constant temptation for us as Christians to find a painless way to "sacrifice", and yet pain (of some sort) is an almost indispensable part of all true sacrifices. I'm not saying that we must deliberately make something painful, but I am saying that what we save in effort one way puts a responsibility on us to increase our efforts in other ways.

As I type this, I am sitting up in my bed, with a pillow behind my back, covered in warm blankets against the winter cold. So who am I to talk about making sacrifices? I could go out in the cold, sit on the stones of the parking lot where I am staying, and write with a quill dipped in ink; but that would be silly. I thank God for technology, and for material comforts. But I also know that what I say loses its credibility if it comes too easily.

The fact that I am out here in the desert to begin with, that I have been separated from my wife for seven of the past ten weeks, and that I have had to endure a lot of criticism to do what I am now doing helps at least a little bit to balance out the picture. The fact that it is very early in the morning, that I write for ten or twelve hours a day, and that I have done it for more than thirty years without a guaranteed income also must be taken into consideration.

Nevertheless, I realise, as a writer, that I have the easy job. As the saying goes, "Those who can, do; while those who cannot, teach." Teaching is the easy alternative. And nowhere is it more tempting than in the field of religion. In religion, everyone has an opinion, and you don't need to spend years of hard study at a university to voice it.

But the hard part is finding an audience. In general, that has been the wake-up call to all the Billy Graham wannabe's. We could hire the halls, but who would come? We could write the books, but who would distribute them?

However, with today's technology, it is possible for people all over the world to imagine themselves to be religious authorities, just by creating a website or entering a chat room. It's true that the internet has (at least theoretically) made the world our oyster. But even there it is not easy to get people to listen, or to get them to visit our sites. Chat rooms have very few genuine listeners, and even the browsers tend to be malcontents or people searching for ways to promote their own causes or websites.

One might need to fossick for days, weeks, or even years to find one really genuine hungry soul who has been searching for the truth that you preach. And along the way, you will encounter thousands of others like yourself, wanting to tell the world how to solve their problems... if only the world would listen.

Nevertheless, chat rooms and web sites have a way of making us imagine that we are speaking to a bigger audience than we really are. If we were to stand on a street corner preaching the same things, it would be evident that the general public cares little for what we have to say. We would see them walking away in their thousands.

But on the Internet, we cannot see what is happening at the other end of the line. We know that through all the connections we could be reaching the entire world. But are we?

I'm not saying that we should not use the internet. Indeed, it does seem to be a great opportunity, and one that we should seek to exploit. But do not be fooled by the fact that, through the internet, you can stay inside, and hardly move a muscle to do your preaching. In order for it to achieve more than would be accomplished in the same amount of time out on the streets, we must come up with something more than an open line in a chat room.

We could compensate by putting in longer hours. After all, it is not as physically exhausting, and so we should be able to keep going longer while sitting down.

Or we could come up with other techniques and strategies. Our website, with its library full of teachings, search engine, article descriptions, star ratings, etc. is a jump up from a single tract or book on the streets. But that too took thousands of hours of work before it was set up, and it still is wasted if people do not visit it. And the truth is that most of our visitors still come from people who received a tract on the street and then went to the site because it was printed on the tract.

Delusion is often associated with a short-cut to fame. We want to imagine ourselves to be great, but without the blood, sweat, and tears that it took others to get there. There have been some instances of people fluking overnight fame. But for the most part, it does not happen that way. Even the overnight discoveries are usually just discoveries by the general public of someone who has been faithfully labouring for years in an effort to be discovered. That includes politicians, sports heroes, and movie stars, as well as authors and big name evangelists.

So do not be deceived into thinking that you can leap-frog your way to the top without years of hard work. Do not give up hope that you and the truth that you have to offer may be discovered. But be prepared to pay the price to make it happen too.

(See also A Sense of His Story.)


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