While writing these devotionals, I sometimes get the feeling that I’m repeating myself. Regularly, I search back through what I’ve already written, to see if what I’m writing now overlaps with something from before. But, I’ve been thinking—why does this matter so much to me? These devotionals are all repetitions—repetitions of ideas and teachings that have been told and re-told for thousands of years. My entire Christian walk has consisted not so much in learning new things, as in learning how to put the old things into practice!
Our culture places a great premium on originality and creativity. If a new album, new movie, or new book doesn’t have anything actually new in it, it gets criticized. And it doesn’t matter if all the old stuff in it is great stuff—it’s not new! This desire for newness is itself nothing new—here’s what Luke reported when Paul was in Athens:
“Athenians and visiting strangers used to spend their time in nothing other than telling or hearing something new.” -Luke
Two thousand years ago, in entirely different people, we find the same cry for some new thing. And, going back another thousand years, Solomon intensely sought anything at all “under the sun” that could truly satisfy and give meaning to life. He found nothing—nothing new, only the same patterns repeated again and again.
“A generation goes and a generation comes, the sun rises and the sun sets. Blowing toward the south, then turning north, the wind continues and returns. The rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. Where the rivers flow, they flow again. What has been done, it is what will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” -Solomon
As I was reflecting on all this, I realized that I’m not actually trying, or even wanting, to say anything new. I just don’t want to personally sound like a broken record, always quoting the same verse, or always making the same observation. Obviously, though, that’s just me not wanting to look bad. Paul seems to have a much different opinion:
“To write the same things again is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.” -Paul
Now this seems a wiser approach. Paul has no qualms about repeating himself, and views it as a good thing—that, spiritually speaking, repetition leads to safety. And Paul’s not the only one with this idea:
“I will always be ready to remind you of these things, even though you already know them. I consider it right to stir you up by way of reminder, that you will be able to call these things to mind.” -Peter
Peter fully agrees. Even when his listeners already know what he’s going to say, he’s going to tell them again anyway. Peter teaches us that this sort of reminder helps us keep these things in mind, ready to recall them when needed. And here’s one more example:
“We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” -Hebrews
It seems we need to hear, and re-hear. We need reminders, and remembrances. Even though we already know these things, keeping our minds set on them keeps us grounded. We are prone to drifting away! If our heart (or our culture) pushes us to have disdain for things that aren’t new, then our heart (or our culture) is wrong and needs repair. An old friend of mine often quotes this maxim, “If it’s true, it’s not new, and if it’s new, it’s not true.” He says that it’s a bit of an exaggeration, but that the basic principle is sound: we should be on guard against having hearts that pine for something new—and not be gullible and fall for each “new” spiritual thing.
From a different angle, Jude (one of Jesus’s brothers) adds this:
“While I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith that was once for all time handed down to the saints.” -Jude
Jude desired to write about the positive topic of our salvation, but felt a need for an urgent appeal. It’s this appeal that sheds some light on what we’ve been discussing. Jude’s urgency is about “the faith” which was given “once for all time.” There are not multiple “faiths,” but only “the faith.” And this faith was handed down “once,” not piecemeal. The essence of the Christian faith has never changed. If the faith you received is not the faith of Jude, it’s not the faith—there is only one faith.
So, given all that, I’m going to be a lot less concerned about repetitions and overlap going forward.
I feel there’s also a secondary lesson here, an object lesson (with me as the object). I have been well aware of all the verses quoted above for decades, but it wasn’t until today that I saw clearly that it’s primarily vanity that led me to take pains not to repeat myself. (I’d have thought I was mostly concerned about not frustrating or boring the readers.) I was needlessly troubling myself, and losing the focus of simply writing something good. I had, at least in part, allowed my nature and my culture to dictate to me that good means innovative and original. Now, I have a clearer understanding and the question seems settled. Not that I planned this—but I did tell you that my Christian walk consisted mostly in learning how to put the old things into practice. Here it is again.