by David Phelps

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.” - Mother Teresa

September, 2000

Recently, I heard about a woman who had spent $80,000 on cosmetic surgery to make herself look like actress Pamela Anderson. The woman was a gymnast and was tired of her muscular, athletic figure and small bust. She said she wanted to be "perfect." While Pamela Anderson is certainly pretty, it's a stretch of the imagination to call her "perfect." Furthermore, many female gymnasts, such as gymnast-turned-actress Cathy Rigby, are quite attractive. Personally, I have nothing against self-improvement but this woman wasn't trying to be the best her she could be, she was trying to be the best someone else she could be.

Detail of "Swans Reflecting
                  Elephants"Surrealist painter Salvador Dali is best known for his painting, “The Persistence of Memory” (the painting with the melting watches). However, he has painted numerous other works, and each displays his own unique vision. Another of his paintings, “Swans Reflecting Elephants,” shows swans floating on a lake. But when you look more closely, you see that the reflection of each swan is an elephant: the body of the swan becomes the head of the elephant, the wings of the swan become the ears of the elephant, and the neck and head of the swan become the trunk of the elephant. Even the trees on the shore become the legs of the elephant.

During the first century AD, in the city of Ephesus, some Jewish exorcists, “Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, . . .” (Acts 19:14a NIV) tried to cast out demons in Jesus’ name, even though they were not Christians themselves (Acts 19:13-20). They would say to the spirits, “‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’” (Acts 19:13b NIV). Then, in verses 15 and 16: “One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’ Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.” They were defeated because they were trying to claim a power they had never experienced themselves. They were trying to claim a second-hand faith.

What about us? Who are we? Is our faith real? Is it a first-hand faith or merely second-hand? Are we merely pretending to be faithful? We may seem spiritual and godly to those around us but God sees the things we try to hide. We may look like beautiful, graceful swans but God sees the dull, plodding elephants we really are. It is only through a genuine experience with Christ that we are able to defeat the demons of life. And it is only through a genuine, personal experience that we are able to let the people around us see Christ. If we are called to be elephants, then we need to stop trying to be swans and concentrate on being the best elephants we can be. If we are called to be swans, it does us no good to put on trunks and paint ourselves gray—we will either be bad elephants or unsuccessful swans. Either way, we will only end up defeated, naked and bloody when we try to confront the demons around us.

Spiritual perfection comes only through giving up our pretenses and following Christ (Matt. 19:21). We cannot be perfect by trying to be something we are not. Instead, as Paul told the Colossians, “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.” (Col. 1:28 NIV).

The world is full of people who are challenged by demons of all kinds: demons of sin, guilt, addiction, oppression, poverty and more. We cannot help them escape their demons through a second-hand faith. Our faith must be our own, and we must help them to make it theirs as well.

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13 KJV.)


Copyright © 2000 by David Phelps