Sometimes You Just Need to Stop
We are a curious mob.
We like to know why people do what they do. We like to know why we do what we do. Knowing the whys and wherefores of human behaviour is helpful in locating the starting point for change in ourselves and others.
We enjoy discovering internal motivations and drives through personal reflection and can appreciate the value of being introspective for a season – especially if it results in more detailed and intelligent repentance.
But there are times we don’t need more information about ourselves.
There are times we just need to stop.
Let me explain.
Self-knowledge can be good, but our desire to know why can be more sinister than we realise. It doesn’t take much of a nudge for it to drift into self-trust and self-salvation. Humanity’s desire to know why often masks a deeper desire to fix ourselves – to minimise the pain. “If I could work out why then I would know what to do with this problem I have.”
Here’s the bottom line: You don’t always need to know why you do what you do.
One of the reasons why (ironically) is because it is not always possible for you to know why you do what you do. The things that drive you and me often go far deeper than we can see. The prophet Jeremiah speaks directly to this in Jeremiah 17:9:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
There are some internal mechanisms you just can’t get to. They are beyond your knowledge. Not beyond knowledge. Beyond your knowledge. Read on, hope is found in the next verse:
I the LORD search the heart and test the mind. Jeremiah 17:10
God knows you better than you know yourself. He knows the dark recesses of your thoughts and motivations. He knows what you are like. He knows how you operate. And sometimes, he tells you to stop. Stop worrying (Matthew 6:25), stop being angry (Ephesians 4:26), stop sinning (1 Corinthians 15:34), stop needing to know why (Proverbs 3:5) … just stop.
Some of you are probably thinking, ‘How do I stop? What kind of stopping are you talking about?’
There is a classic Bob Newhart comedy skit where a lady arrives for her first therapy session aimed at dealing with her anxieties. In the skit, the therapist begins by clarifying the payment details, the length of the session, and then invites her to share her struggles. After listening to her brief description, he asks a few questions and then informs her of the two words which will help her in dealing with her anxiety. He leans towards her, raises his voice, and says, “STOP IT!” She is a little shocked but gathers herself and goes on to give him a little more detail. Every time she pauses he tells her again, “STOP IT!”
Is this the kind of stopping that God means? Are we supposed to ignore the complexities of life and the detailed ways in which change happens? Should we all copy the practices of Bob Newhart?
No. Not at all.
There is a time after we have grappled with ourselves, and reckoned with who God is in our midst, that we need to stop the way we are acting and reacting, because they no longer fit reality. They are unnecessary.
There is an example of this in the book of Jeremiah. Here is the backstory in a nutshell: Jerusalem had just been sacked by the king of Babylon and there is only a remnant of people left. Those who are left are afraid. They are keen to head to Egypt for what they think will be peace and safety, but before they do, they ask Jeremiah to get a word from God for them. Ten days later Jeremiah passes this message on:
Do not fear the king of Babylon, of whom you are afraid. Do not fear him, declares the LORD, for I am with you, to save you and to deliver you from his hand. Jeremiah 42:11
Do not fear the king of Babylon!? Of all things, fear makes the most sense. It is the most fitting response to the context. You can’t blame them, he just whacked them. But notice what God does through the prophet Jeremiah. Pay attention to how he zooms out the lens and shows his people the larger reality they were not seeing. This larger reality makes fearing the king of Babylon unnecessary. God is with them. He will deliver and save them. Stop fearing the one of whom you are afraid. Fear doesn’t fit.
You can see God doing this all over the place. Whenever He speaks, reality gets bigger and ill-fitting actions and reactions get exposed. There are almost countless examples of this in the Bible. We get scared and God reminds us that He is with us and He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), so we can stop worrying. We get tempted and God reminds us how He will help us endure (1 Corinthians 10:13), so we can walk past it. We get angry and want revenge, God reminds us how He is just and will avenge wrongdoing (Romans 12:19), so we can leave it to Him. Over and over, God speaks to orient us to His reality in ways that shape how we act and react.
So… sometimes you just need to stop.
Easier said than done? Maybe.
But it might just be that easy sometimes.
Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
Don’t take revenge?
Walk past the temptation?
Ok. Yes Dad.
I don’t need to know why.
You are a good Father. You love me.
I will just go with what You say.