I’m sitting in a school parking lot with a dead van when I thought I was heading to a church weekend conference near the New York border. Had already told myself that this hadn’t taken God by surprise, so I have his guarantee that he’ll redeem what I face even when it’s bad (Romans 8:28).
While waiting for the tow truck, I opened the only book I have with me, The Imitation of Christ, and the book fell open to this following passage (that I had already highlighted sometime in the past!):
“Adversity is the best test of virtue. The occasions of sin do not weaken anyone; on the contrary, they show that person’s true worth.”
-The Imitation of Christ. Book 1, chapter 16, section 4.
OK… I hear you loud and clear Lord!
As a pastor for the past 21 years, I would LOVE to be able to see exactly what my listeners in the congregation are thinking… and where they are in their faith journey to help steer my praying (my private praying mostly, but also the public prayers) and to guide my sermons to help where people really are. HOWEVER, we can’t see these thought bubbles in real life! We only have two resources in this: people sharing directly with the pastor about concerns, questions, and struggles, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Because of the Holy Spirit, we do “get it right” quite often as we follow the Spirit’s leading and “nudging.” But what JOY when people talk directly with us and we can work directly with the Spirit to meet needs, offer clarification, provide comfort, extend a listening and caring ear, and pray personally with someone.
When I grew up, many people tried to claim that all I had to do was believe in Jesus and pray the sinner’s prayer and I was good to go… forever. While that’s a great starting point, I was challenged by James’ words: “So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” -James 2:17 (NLT)
And today, I ran across this Christian writer from antiquity who summed up the knowledge part of faith and the role of the “works” of faith really well:
“Even though knowledge is true, it is still not firmly established if unaccompanied by works. For everything is established by being put into practice.” – St. Mark the Ascetic, Philokalia, vol. 1, p 126, #12.
Maybe “faith put into practice” is a better way of thinking about faith and works! If our faith is based on on our head knowledge, it’s dead! But if we can put the faith we believe into practice, then we’re REALLY living out our faith!
As a child, one of the Sunday School songs started like this: “Be careful little eyes what you see…” and it reminded us that what we look at, affects our thinking, which affects our actions, which becomes a spiritual issue as well. Similar verses warned our ears and what we listen to, our hands and the things we choose to do, and finally our feet and where we choose to go.
I have been repeatedly returning to Psalm 119 over the past four or five months every once in a while and yesterday I got caught on verse 37: “Turn away my eyes from looking at worthless things, And revive me in Your way.” (New Living Translation).
I was immediately reminded of how many times I go online for some legitimate reason and “accidentally” find myself still online 20 minutes, an hour, or even several hours later. I need to redeem the time… and Facebook and Twitter can be tools and even very helpful, but they can be the door in to a longer, more wasteful, worthless online experience.
And it’s EVERYTHING we allow into our minds and hearts, isn’t it? Internet, video games, books, comics, magazines, songs (and lyrics), and the list could go on for quite a while…
Couple that with a crazy “selfie” picture that I had taken a couple of weeks ago when I had shaved my beard down and a new graphic reminder of this verse was born.
Enjoy… or be freaked out… but heed the Scriptural truth.
I know what I WANT to do, but I keep messing up. I want to do what is right. But my natural sinful tendencies are always with me. So like The Elephant & The Executive , I have to constantly choose to follow my head (where God’s will is clearly known) rather than my gut level natural reaction (which is always run by my sinful nature ).
The ONLY way to do that is to continually keep going to Christ… He alone can make a difference. That’s why David’s prayer pf repentance in Psalm 51 keeps emphasizing that which only God can do for him: have mercy, wash, cleanse, create, renew, restore, & save.
God has to CREATE something new in me. There will be NO pure heart without HIS involvement. It’s not about self-help or my will or my commitment. It’s me going back to Him constantly!