I was preparing our house for repainting recently and made a somewhat difficult decision to give away a substantial part of my library. In my spirit however I sensed that there was something more significant in this than making more living space at home.
As I began to seek the Lord about what this might significance might be I became a little embarrassed. Insight came as I was attending a celebratory meeting for a Christian organisation. An outstanding and highly decorated leader was presented with a plaque and it was suggested he could hang it up in his “hall of fame”; a passageway lined with numerous degrees and rewards.
Then the Lord showed me that my books were “totemic” and needed to be moved on for a serious spiritual reason.
Totems Totems Everywhere
We are probably familiar with images of totem poles from Native American religion. Totems are physical objects believed to provide a spiritual connection to some power beyond them. The spiritual danger associated with totems can be more subtly dangerous than the open worship of gods represented by idols.
I needed to dispose of my theology books because they represented identification with intellectual ability; an emphasis unhealthy for my spiritual life because it took my eyes off Jesus as the source of all true knowledge (Colossians chapter 2 verse 3).
Whilst our society has inherited the Greek love for knowledge the Bible categorically says “God is love.” (1 John chapter 4 verse 8). To the degree that I loved what my books represented to that degree they needed to be removed. Fair enough you might think; but are totems really everywhere?
I was reading an article recently whose author justified the smashing of church statues during the Reformation because they obscure the image of God truly located only in Jesus (Colossians chapter 1 verse 15).
His logic was that anything which is venerated as though God inhabits it in some way deserves to be destroyed because it is deceiving God’s people. But I could sense that the author venerated his own Reformed theological tradition as if it were the final word about God. On the Pentecostal side of things, Hillsong fans surely act at times as if the Spirit was somehow contained in our times of singing.
There is no real difference between these unconscious attitudes and the belief that the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper literally hold Christ in them. Rounding out my examples, “progressive” (liberal) Christians sometimes speak as if the Lord is especially with them because they are “fundamentalists”. In all these cases something other than Jesus is looked upon to validate Christian identity.
Totems are everywhere, because they fill people’s minds. That’s why Paul exhorts us to resist “every lofty opinion...and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians chapter 10 verse 5). When was the last time you took one of your own thoughts captive to submit to Jesus?
A Kind Shaking
In his kindness the Lord sometimes sovereignly intervenes to shake to pieces the totemic structures we love. He most effectively brings down ungodly pillars of significance in our lives by shaking them at their foundations. This might be a shaking that comes from losing job security, a breakdown in relational trust, shattered finances, a decline in good health or conflict at church.
In every painful situation God’s intentions for us are good because we are better off totem free; which means being free for the Lord himself.
Shake me Please
If we are spiritually discerning we will see that the Spirit is always working to shake us; “now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens”....in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews chapter 12 verse 26-27).
Unless we are arrogantly confident that our lives are fully totem free we would be wise to ask the Lord to shake up and expose these subtle spiritual powers. Since “God is faithful” (1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 9) he certainly will oblige any request for a shake up.
An aged apostle wrote these final words to a people he deeply loved; ““Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John chapter 5 verse 21). Attention to this exhortation is urgently needed by all of us.
The Rev. Dr John Yates is an Anglican minister in Perth and has 5 children and 7 grandchildren. He spends time in praying, mentoring and writing.
John Yates’s previous articles may be viewed at