Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Habit of Familiarity

It is said that when the Great Library of Alexandria was burned down, only one book survived. It was a very ordinary book, not like those who were burnt which had leather binding and gold lettering. This was plain simple paperback, dog eared, and yellowed by age. When found among the ashes, it was thought to have no value. It was sold for 10 cents to a poor man who barely knows how to read.

This plain and common book however was probably the most valuable book in the world. In the last section of the book were a few sentences that pointed to a source of the secret of immortality or eternal life. This source is a tiny pebble, that if ingested will give the person eternal life!

The writing declared that this precious pebble was lying somewhere along the beaches of Desaru, facing the South China Sea in the southern tip of the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. This pebble was lying among thousands of pebbles that were exactly like it, except in one aspect- whereas all other pebbles were cold to the touch in the morning; this one will feel warm, almost as if it were alive.

The man rejoices at his good luck. He sold everything he had, borrowed a large sum of money that will last him for at least a year, booked a room at Desaru Pulai Resort Hotel, and began his search for this priceless pebble. He worked out a search grid and did his search systematically.

This is how he did it. Every morning, he will go to the assigned search area. He would lift a pebble. If it was cold to the touch, he would not throw it back on the shore because if he did that, he might be examining the same stone over and over again. Instead, he will throw the stone into the South China Sea. So each day for hours he would continue in this routine: pick up a pebble; if it feels cold, throw it into the sea; lift another… and so on, endlessly.

He spent a week, a month, a year and finally years on this quest for eternal life. His savings ran out and he borrowed more money. He got a special discount from Desaru Pulai Resort Hotel for being a long staying customer. On and on his search went: lift a pebble, hold it, feel it, if cold, throw it into the sea, lift another. Hour after hour, week after week, day after day….still no pebble of immortality. One evening, he picked up a pebble and it was warm to his touch – but through sheer force of habit, he threw it into the South China Sea!

How many of us, through sheer force of habit, accidentally throw away our precious pebbles of eternal life? I am referring to the Holy Scripture where by continual exposure to it daily, weekly, monthly… we became so familiar with it that all the precious words of wisdom and knowledge contained within it that can give us eternal life became as common as the pebbles on the beaches of Desaru. Hearing the Word of God read from the Old and New Testament during Sunday worship has become so familiar, so routine, that we are no longer hearing but waiting for it to be over so that we can get on with our service. Hearing the Word of God preached from the pulpit whether as a sermon or a homily is another familiar routine. We listen for the jokes, the mistakes the preacher makes, and think of dinner or whatever our next meal will be like. We understand what the preacher is saying yet the pebble feels cold to the touch. Some of us even listen to other sermons and talks on our MP3 players. Yet it has become so familiar that often, we miss a warm pebble because we are so used to throwing away cold pebbles.

This also applies to our daily devotion or quiet time; time we have decided to set aside to spend with God. Yet after a time, this has become a familiar routine habit. We begin to find that it is harder and harder to notice warm pebbles because there are so many cold pebbles. Could it be that we have been throwing away the warm pebbles?

Let me suggest a way to avoid throwing away warm pebbles accidentally. The way is to ask ourselves three questions

(1) When is the most important time?
(2) Who is the most important person?
(3) What is the most important thing to do?

(Pause now and write down the answers to these three questions)

The answers to these three questions are in the Bible. Yet how often have we missed them because of our familiarity with it. The most important time is now. Though the Bible has a strong emphasis on the continuity with the past and a strong eschatological component (the future), its emphasis has always been living in the present. What is important is our encounter with the living Christ in this present moment of our life. Now is important.

The answer to the second question is Jesus Christ. He is the most important person because he is the author and perfector of our faith. Because we use the word Jesus Christ so often, it has become such a ‘common’ word that we do not attach much emotional or relevance to it. Ending our prayers “in Jesus’ name” has now become a formula. In becoming so familiar with name Jesus, we often forget that He is the most important person in our life.

The most important thing to do is to love. The Bible is a love story - between God and His people. Jesus came to show God’s love for us. Paul teaches us how to love one another in community. Yet, we have become so familiar with reading about love that we do not get out of our seat and love. Do we love our spouses, our children, our families, our church, our community, our co-workers, and our country? How have we shown it today? Love is in the doing, not in the talking.


help us to remember the answers to these three questions; the most important time is now, the most important person is Jesus Christ and the most important thing to do is to love. Help us to appreciate and hold on to these precious moments when we experience a personal encounter with You and not throw it away by our habit of familiarity.




  1. You hooked me with this, from the beginning to the very end. Thanks for the timely word.

  2. The another ending of the story could be:

    One evening, he picked up a pebble and it was warm to his touch – he set up tent facing South China Sea, spent 50 years of his remaining life testing, experimenting, observing, examining, investigating, a.k.a exegeting, hermneneuting, (forgive me for misusing words!!) and died a lonely old man forgotten and gone.

    :) :) :)

  3. hi pearlie,

    I hope you are not talking about a NT biblical scholar :)

    Nice alternative ending.

    Another ending- he set up a concession stand and charges people a fee to touch the warm pebble. :)

  4. I hope you are not talking about a NT biblical scholar

    hmmmm... noooo... you have someone in mind? who?

    Another ending- he set up a concession stand and charges people a fee to touch the warm pebble.
    haha ... good one ... never thought of this, which speaks a lot about who I am, hehehe