Sending Grace Downstream

Dining on cubes of watermelon and calling it breakfast, the youngest son stands pajama-clad at the counter, his toothpick a dowser for the juiciest chunks.  In just a few end-of-summer days from now he will be up to his fetlocks in geometry, and I will be preserving the summer sweetness of our red tomatoes with one eye on the clock and the other eye (fierce!) on the boy’s screen time allotment.  We will approach breakfast with business-like efficiency, thinking about food groups and family devotions and the day’s agenda.

But today, summer is still in full sway and grace is on the menu — along with the watermelon.  In the busy days that lie ahead, is there a way to keep on living juicy, to hang onto the full brightness of summer solstice even though the planet keeps tilting us into shadow?  Brushing crumbs from the dining room table, I wonder if there’s a way to send grace downstream, like a note in a bottle, by deciding today how I will navigate the current of busy days around the next seasonal bend in the stream.

Today is a harbinger of the eventual, which means if I have my eye set on being a godly old lady someday in the far-off future, there are character qualities and mindsets that need to be set in bedrock ahead of time so that the accumulated complaints of life will weigh like feathers in the balance against the collected weight of blessings.  What better time than this seasonal transition to acknowledge the truth that bedrock does not lay down overnight?

In both of his letters to Timothy, Paul rattled off instructions and laid down guidelines for ministry.  Timothy had his hands full there in Ephesus, and that young pastor had a lot of sorting out to do.  However, tucked into Paul’s lists of qualifications and exhortations is this:

“Take strength from the grace that is in Christ Jesus . . .”  II Timothy 2:1 NEB

From one soldier to another, Paul was sending grace downstream to Timothy in the form of truth.  Truth can change the course of a day.  It can re-set a mind set.  Elisabeth Elliot translated Paul’s words into gritty practicality with one sentence:

“Whether you can take what life dishes out depends on what you take first.”

Is it possible that Paul saw a drift toward weakness in his younger brother and sent Truth as a course correction? On this late-summer morning, I invite Truth to inform my own feelings about the changing seasons with three small thoughts that carry the warmth and freedom of summer into autumn days:

There is always enough grace.

Even when my best efforts fail and progress on my self-salvation strategy of the day (also known as my do-list) proves that I am insufficient, I will remember that I am justified before God by my belief in HIS adequacy.  My obedient following makes the unseen visible and preaches truth to my own reluctance, for my smallest movement along “paths of righteousness” is met with God’s unfailing supply of grace for the next move.

Spoken words make a difference.

God stands ready to meet my unsure with sure and to galvanize my wishy-washy with a firm foundation.  There’s a good reason for Paul’s consistent use of the words “grace to you” at the beginning and ending of each of his letters, for he knew the Spirit-words that had been breathed to him would be read aloud to a fledgling church and believers would be strengthened in their faith.  Spoken aloud in a pick-up or drop-off run, murmured at the kitchen counter, these same words come off the page and dance in my imagination:
Take strength!
Don’t get tangled up in today’s mess!
Even if I am faithless, He remains faithful! 

To promote a deeper discipleship and a more faithful following in every season, I will choose to talk to myself more than I listen to myself.

Persevere in the Preserving.

Here just south of the 45th parallel, summer is a fleeting and an in-between season.  It won’t last for long, and even though the Atlantic Ocean is gorgeous all year long, there are only a few days in July and August when I can bear to feel its temperature on my skin.  The green cucumbers and plump tomatoes come in a rush and the last stragglers are snatched before the first frost.  What a perfect reminder that every moment on this planet can be a freeze frame, plucked from the blur and preserved in memory.  The colorful jars of beets and green beans shelved in my basement inform me that no good gift should be taken for granted.  Gratitude preserves joy, so I will persevere in the fight to train this oblivious heart to give thanks.

Instead of fighting the current as it carries away the last days of summer, I’m sending grace downstream by feasting on it today.  In True Spirituality, Francis Schaeffer wrote about “faith in the present moment,”  and I’m convinced that moving with grace into schedules and lesson plans, cleaning and canning, will not be aided by day-old faith.  So I will speak to my soul today:  “Take strength!” in the bee-buzzing days of summer, because this practice today and the next day (and the day after . . .) sends grace downstream by training my heart in habits of strength for a day when the living is not so easy and grace might seem a little more difficult to find.

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Beginning September 7th, I’ll be hosting a discussion group focused on Wendell Berry’s  Jayber Crow.  His story spans much of 20th century American history and demonstrates the poignancy of this quote from his musings:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful.  There is always more to tell than can be told.”

 

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Photo in featured image by kazuend on Unsplash

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Musings — July 2017

The corn’s not as “high as an elephant’s eye” here on this country hill in Maine, but it’s shoulder-high, and I’m sure the raccoons are already planning a picnic. The tomatoes are in blossom and I picked two big bags of green beans today, so canning season has officially begun.

And . . . the wedding pictures from last month are starting to roll in, so I hope you’ll indulge me for just a few:

On the Nightstand

When we choose our heroes of the faith, it’s easy to forget how they got where they are.  In the case of Elisabeth Elliot, I’ve long admired her no-nonsense observations on life and godliness, and I’ve taken to heart her tell-it-straight interpretations of Scriptural commands.  This month, I re-read her first book, Through Gates of Splendor, written after the spearing death of her husband and his four colleagues in ministry.  It chronicles their efforts to impact an isolated Ecuadorian people group with the claims of the gospel.

The story is old enough to have acquired its own patina of glory, but there wasn’t much romantic about being left as a widow in the jungle — a single mum whose only source of income was missionary support.  It takes grit to stay on the field and continue the work you began with your husband — but it takes something more than that to pick up where your husband left off and to travel deep into the jungle so that you can live with and minister to your husband’s killers.  And so, if you do that when you are twenty-something years old, I think a seed is planted which, if watered with obedience and tended by grace, grows into a voice of wisdom that can get away with saying hard truth because her listeners know that she has lived it herself:

“The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

“There is nothing worth living for, unless it is worth dying for.”

“Leave it all in the Hands that were wounded for you.”

“The will of God is never exactly what you expect it to be. It may seem to be much worse, but in the end it’s going to be a lot better and a lot bigger.”

“You can never lose what you have offered to Christ.”

“Of one thing I am perfectly sure: God’s story never ends with ‘ashes.’”

I’ve read Through Gates of Splendor countless times in the past, but picked it up this summer for two reasons:

  1.  Emily Whitten has recommended it as July’s Classic Book of the Month. If you’re curious about that, click here for information about how you can get a complimentary three month risk-free trial of World Magazine which gives you access to all their print and online content.
  2. It’s time to start planning for the new school year, and as reading material for my fifteen year old, I had been planning to pull out Elisabeth’s Shadow of the Almighty and The Journals of Jim Elliot.  I’ll add this one to the list (and enjoy re-reading the other two myself while I’m at it!)

In some ways, maybe Elisabeth Elliot never stopped being a missionary, for even in the days leading up to her death, she was showing us the Way, the Truth and the Life by the way she followed Him and graciously accepted all that came from His good hand.

Also on the nightstand:  

If you participated in the Book Discussion group last year around C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, (or even if you didn’t!) you may be interested to know that there is another one in the works!  Keep your eyes open for more details in upcoming posts in which I will be sharing details, quotes from the book (to tempt you to join us!), and eventually a reading and discussion schedule.

On the Blog

I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of a number of blogging friends this month:

Shannon Coleman who blogs at Of the Hearth invited me to be part of a series to encourage mums that it really IS possible to grow spiritually during the intense years of mothering.  I enjoyed the trip down memory lane, recalling how it feels to read the Bible with one eye and to watch an exploring toddler with the other, to endure the interruptions and then return to the task at hand. Most of all, it was encouraging to share the more current experiences of learning to roll with the changes and adjustments because of a commitment to make spiritual formation a priority.  Part One of the series gives some background and makes a case for the prudent use of little minutes while Part Two gets into details around accountability and flexibility.  If you know of a young mum who is in the process of setting priorities (or who is feeling frustrated), I hope you’ll share the links with her!

Declaration of Dependence

Debbie Kitterman shared my story of God’s faithfulness to our family during a time of crisis.  Just as King David, in times of distress, remembered what he had learned about God from past experiences of His faithfulness, the memory of being carried by God in the past can change the way we respond in the moment.  I hope you’ll join me over at Debbie’s place to be encouraged by the Old Testament story in which David took courage from the Lord.

 

The July theme at SheLoves Magazine has been “Open.”  Writing to a prompt is such a great way to examine the happenings of life through a different lens, and for me, in these days of in-between, with weddings and funerals and graduations all piling up on the calendar, it was a challenge for me to look at my days and ask God, “Are there words for this season?  Even for this?  Can you really meet me here?”  And of course He could, so I hope you’ll take a moment to hop over to SheLoves where I’m sharing about Life in the Wide Open Spaces on a lawn mower as part of our family business.

As a result of all this gadding about in cyber space, I’ve reviewed only three books at Living Our Days this month.

The top-notch journalism that characterizes NPR’s Marketplace was behind Rob Schmitz’s Street of Eternal Happiness.  Knitting together tales of his neighbors’ lives on a busy Shangai street in modern-day China, the clash of new and old is suddenly more than just a series of statistics about left-behind children and the lasting effects of Maoism in a budding capitalistic economy.  The stories left me wondering about the characters long after I had turned the last page.  If you think you don’t like non-fiction, but want to challenge that notion this summer, here’s a good place to begin.

 

I am acquainted with Sue Detweiler’s ministry through her blog, so, naturally, I was curious about her book, and the timing was excellent, because I’ve been challenging myself this year to be more intentional in my prayer life.  Women Who Move Mountains is an invitation to pray with confidence, boldness, and grace because it is not my own puny faith, but, rather, God who moves the mountains.  While the following life is not a promise of “smooth sailing forever and ever,” Sue provides examples from her own life and from women of the Bible who reveal the rich truth that prayer is essentially a relationship in which we are being trained in righteousness.

I found Thirty Thousand Days because Catherine L. Morgan found me through a mutual blogging friend, and I was thrilled to be able to review her book, partly because the math geek in me was fascinated at this numerical component:  the average human spends 30,000 Days in this journey home to God.  (As you read this, I will be living number 20,027.)  But even more than that was the beautifully crafted reminder that there is abundance to be found the midst of the mundane, that our hearts were designed to be poured out for the glory of God, and that I am here, not on vacation, but on mission.  Let this quote about the role of the church in the life of the believer light a fire under your lawn chair:

“I am an alien and stranger here in the thick of a great battle.  If I am engaged in this battle, I will need the refuge of the church.  Love will sustain me.  If I do not perceive this need, maybe I am not really engaging the fight.”

Be encouraged, my friends, as you engage in the fight wherever you are.  This has been a disturbing month in many ways, with lots in the news that is upsetting or downright discouraging.  It’s been good practice for me to focus on “controlling the controllable and leaving the uncontrollable to God.”   

Blessings and love to you!

//

Beautiful wedding images were captured by Carrie Mae Photography!

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

Once again, you’ll find me over at Leigh Kramer’s place for What I’m Into .  She throws the doors of hospitality wide open for bloggers to share their end-of-month recap posts.  If you ‘re looking for your next summer read or wondering about recommendations for podcasts, you’ll want to make a visit there.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

 

 

Guided by Your Hand

Every January 1st for the past twenty years, I have been greeted by the same bracing truth as I turn again to the first page of my well-worn flip calendar of Elisabeth Elliot quotes:

Lord, give me a quiet heart
That doesn’t need to understand,
But, confident, walks forward in
The darkness, guided by your hand.

In a sense, everyone steps into the darkness of the unknown at the beginning of a new year, and the more people we love, the more vulnerable we seem to be.  We can’t control the choices of others; we can’t foresee the twistings and turnings of the details of our days, of our employment situation, of our health; we can’t shield our loved ones from the forces of nature or the consequences of their actions.

Although Elisabeth was a young woman when she penned these words, she had already grasped an important truth that thrums through my bones at the beginning of every year:  we are walking into the unknown, but even so, we can rest in the knowledge – the deep and abiding confidence – that God wants to guide us, and the unknown is well-known to Him.

“Where then does wisdom come from, and where is the source of understanding? God understands the way to it; He alone knows its source; For He can see to the ends of the earth, and He surveys everything under heaven,” Job 28:20, 23, 24 (NEB).

God, in His wisdom, wants to guide us far more than we want to follow!  He doesn’t simply e-mail a set of directions to us or give us advice from a distance.  He has promised to be a Guide.

I am writing from a place of struggle and questioning at the end of a year that has seen more question marks than exclamation points, more misty fog than lighthouses, and many days in which I wondered if I had taken a wrong turn somewhere.  To be honest, when I have a decision to make, I want sky writing.  When it’s time to buy a car, I want to see, “Buy the blue Ford,” hanging in the heavens.    Notice, however, that whenever supernatural guidance was given in the Bible (pillars of cloud and fire, talking donkeys, angels, dreams, and visions), it was not usually asked for, but came at God’s discretion.  He is free to communicate by whatever means He chooses.

With this in mind, I want to read His promises of guidance with confidence and to sense His leading, to trust His working in my life by His Spirit to guide my steps and — perhaps even more important — to set me on the right path when I make a wrong turn.

Providing a list of “tried and true methods for finding the will of God” or prescribing how God will work in a life is presumptuous – and harmful. Our God is in the heavens, and He does whatever He pleases.  However, an understanding of how God has worked in the past is helpful in discerning how He may work in the future.

Duty

“If any man will do His will, he shall know . . .,” John 7:17. God guides those who obey. If I’m not doing what I know of God’s revealed will, I should not expect further guidance. George MacDonald said, “If any man’s will is to do His will, he shall know . . . Obedience is the opener of eyes.”**

The truth is that much of what God requires of us involves lots of “mundane faithfulness” to daily tasks. David’s harp playing skills that gave him an audience with King Saul were gained in a field watching sheep. Samuel faithfully served in the temple, and I’m sure that Matthew had no idea that he would be called to the life of a disciple on the last day of his tenure as a tax collector.

Timing

The prophet Habakkuk made no great claims to a full understanding of the ways of God, but one thing he knew – God has an exquisite sense of timing:

“Then the LORD answered me and said,
‘Write the vision
And make it plain on tablets.
That he may run who reads it.
For the vision is yet for an appointed time;
But at the end it will speak and it will not lie.
Though it tarries, wait for it;
Because it will surely come,
It will not tarry.’”     Habakkuk 2:2,3 (NKJV)

Waiting is the hardest assignment of all in the discernment of God’s will. Even Ruth, in all her faithfulness and obedience felt the weight of it and received this counsel from Naomi: “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will fall,” Ruth 3:18.

Relationships

We are subject to authority and, indeed, obligated to serve and to be sensitive to one another in the body of Christ. Fulfillment of my responsibilities to the people God has placed in my life has often served as a beacon by which God has guided me. For example, should I accept a speaking engagement that conflicts with an important meeting with the ladies of my own church? Probably not.

A word from an employer, a co-worker, a sibling, a parent, or a friend may be used to influence and guide us. When seeking guidance on a matter, it is wise to take godly counsel and to pray with a sister in Christ, “for where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them,” Matthew 18:20.

Giftedness

It is no accident that every Christian possesses a particular palette of abilities and spiritual gifts. Countless times, I have heard my husband counsel our boys, “Whatever you have in your hand, God will use,” and that’s not a thought that’s original with him. God said the same thing to Moses about a simple rod.

Desires

It gets tricky here because we are fallen creatures, barely knowing our own motives, but desires placed prayerfully before God can be a trustworthy guide. The prayer life of the Apostle Paul demonstrates his conviction that it was best to submit his yearnings to God, for even a longing to visit Rome for the establishment of the believers there was made subject to God’s approval.

Circumstances

There was nothing glamorous about the circumstances surrounding Saul being anointed King over Israel. Remember? He was in a predicament because his Father’s donkeys had wandered off. He was out looking them, but what he found instead was God’s servant Samuel who had explicit directives that Saul was to be God’s man on the throne. Our circumstances are part of the “all things” that God promises to work for our good and his glory in Romans 8:28. Often we do not recognize the hand of God until in retrospect we look back on the events of our lives and see how He has led.

Coming into 2016, I want to be attentive to God’s guiding hand, to maintain a quiet heart that waits for Him to shed light on the next step. My prayer is that my confidence in His love will overcome my need for white-knuckle control over the road map; that my “eye-opening” obedience to His directives will enhance my sensitivity to His voice; and that walking into the murky unknown, I will find grace to live in the confidence that waits for the Word of God:

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ’This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left,” (Isaiah 30:21 ESV).

Capture

This post first appeared at Soli Deo Gloria .

Image credit:  Jen Ferguson

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with these communities on a regular basis:   Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and TruthStill Saturday, Weekend Whispers, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, Playdates with God,  A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way, Cozy Reading Spot, Reflect, Literacy Musing Mondays, Purposeful Faith, The Loft, Words with Winter, Rich Faith Rising, Encourage Me Monday, Tuesday Talk, What to Read Wednesday, Booknificent Thursday, Give Me Grace, Three-Word Wednesday, Word-filled Wednesdays, Faith ‘n Friends, Essential Things

 

 

 

 

 

Reflections from the Lamp: Remembering Elisabeth Elliot

I have read Elisabeth Elliot’s A Lamp for My Feet at least a half dozen times in the past twenty years, but turned to it again at the outset of 2015.  Like an old friend, its words are familiar to me, and my copy is underlined and dog-eared and covered with scrawled verse references.  It’s a simple little book based on Elisabeth Elliot’s own personal devotions with six months of daily reflections on whatever Scripture she happened to be reading at the time.

Although I own and have read (and re-read) nearly everything Elisabeth has written, this book is in my top three, and in many ways, I have been mentored through her writing. I began reading her books with a dictionary nearby — her vocabulary far surpassed mine.  I have never met her, although I did go to hear her speak once, but was, frankly, too intimidated to go to the book table and talk to her.  By that time, she was in her early seventies and had acquired the bearing and the force of character that one would associate with Huldah, the Old Testament prophetess in King Josiah’s day, (see II Kings 22:14-20).

During the mid-90’s Elisabeth had a daily radio program, so while I was raising babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, I arranged my mornings around Gateway to Joy.  A Lamp for My Feet covers those themes for which Elisabeth was so well known:  obedience, the sovereignty of God, sacrifice, and suffering.  Her Christianity was of the bracing and invigorating variety that sustained the heroes she looked up to as a child and wrote about as an adult —  the likes of  Amy Carmichael, Lilias Trotter, and Gladys Aylward, all pioneer missionaries.

Known for being blunt and emphatic, Elisabeth Elliot brooked no excuses and suffered no whiners.  Her second husband Addison Leitch said once that some people call a spade a spade, but Elisabeth called it a bloody shovel.  In the seventies, when everyone else was talking about feminism, she was talking about femininity.  Her life was a spectacular balance of assertiveness and submission, and the fleet of present-day complementarian bloggers are among her spiritual grandchildren.  What I came to understand about Elisabeth Elliot is that she spoke with the certainty of one who had stepped into obedience enough times, who had chosen the way of faith often enough to learn the secret that the resulting joy and the deepening intimacy with God is priceless.  I find it nearly impossible to mourn her passing, because she is now experiencing the fruit of her surrendered life.

Her exhortation in the introduction to A Lamp for My Feet is classic Elisabeth Elliot:  “If you have only five minutes, don’t read my book, read God’s.  It will be a lamp for your feet.”

Capture

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I link up with these communities on a regular basis:  Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Motivate and Rejuvenate Monday, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way

Just One Thing: Gates

“They laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars. “*

Not exactly the stuff of which a “life verse” or a New Year’s Resolution is made,

But five times in Nehemiah’s counter-clockwise tour of the wall we are confronted:

What’s the point of a walled city if the gates are not secure?

Shore them up!  Every beam; every door; every bolt; every bar,

Not just for the glory of Old Jerusalem, but for the glory of God,

Who is, after all, the Center, the focus of Nehemiah’s renovation.

“Where there is no center, there is no circumference,”**

And how we need a circumference–

A boundary–

Not to hem us in, suffocation-style,

But to correct our warped geometry,

To free us up,

To establish the playing field:

“Here is the goal.”

“This is my responsibility.”

“Someone else will cover this area.”

After all, didn’t original sin sprout from the refusal of a boundary?

What if, instead of an outreached hand to harvest death,

Eve’s response had been,

“Let me not be like unto God.  Let me be instead what I was created to be.

Let me be a woman.”***

Today, and everyday, let me secure the gates.

All day long we choose

With eyes, ears, lips, fingers —

Trivial pursuits, mindless entertainment,

The gates wide-open to the corrosion of our souls.

Lay the beams, tighten the bolts and bars.

Guard your heart and live free.

 

* Nehemah 3:3, 6, 13-15

**Eugene Peterson, Reversed Thunder

*** Elisabeth Elliot, Let Me Be a Woman

For further study, read Nehemiah 3 in a sitting.  It may be second only to “the begats” in its repetitive monotony, but if your Bible has a map of Nehemiah’s Jerusalem, follow it around the wall as you read.  It really does help!

Mind the Gap

The Puritans, apparently, were not preoccupied with self-esteem issues.  John Owen’s opening thoughts in Chapter 12 of The Mortification of Sin demonstrate the great gulf between his mind set and present-day sensibilities.  Even though it may be understood that, when compared with the God of the universe, yes, any mortal creature could be filled “at all times with self-abasement and thoughts of [one’s] own vileness,” we of the enlightened 21st century would just never say it that way.  Owen’s point, however, is that in order to make much of God, it is essential to the human heart to put ourselves in our place, comparatively.  This would include:

1.  Mindfulness of God’s majesty and our “infinite distance from Him.”

2.  Awareness of how little we really know of God.  Even Solomon laments his lack of wisdom (Proverbs 30:2-4) when it comes to the knowledge of the Holy One.  Paul’s glass through which we “see darkly” is not a telescope “to help us see things afar off.”  Quite the opposite, I’m afraid.  In fact, “all our notions of God are but childish in respect of His infinite perfections.”

Owen goes on to explain this lack of understanding.

“We know so little of God because it is God who is thus to be known; i.e. He who hath described Himself to us very much by this, that we cannot know Him.”  These words make me smile with their delightful circularity, and remind me of the words of Andree Seu-Peterson:  “All reasoning is circular at the fundamental level; e.g. ‘God does not exist because the universe evolved from nothing.'”  Given that, it is heartening to remember, as Owen knew, that “we Christians have the better circle.”

There is a danger inherent in pushing to describe God out of our limited understanding, and it is this:  we “make an idol to ourselves, and so . . .  worship a God of our own making and not the God who made us.  We may as well and as lawfully hew him out of wood or stone as form Him a being in our minds.”  The distance between who we are and who God is seems to dictate that we will know God better by what He does than by what He is — “by His doing us good than by His essential goodness.”  I can’t help but see our fallen-ness in this, for even in our attempts to gaze upon the myriad perfections of God, we struggle to avoid seeing them in relation to ourselves.   Thanks be to God that in our best moments of spiritual lucidity, “to believe and admire is all that we attain to.”

4.  “We know little of God because it is faith alone whereby here we know him. . . Faith is all the argument we have of ‘things not seen.'”It is though faith that we receive the “light of the gospel whereby now God is revealed” and, consequently, are given quite enough knowledge of God “to love Him more than we do, to delight in Him and serve Him, believe Him, obey Him, put our trust in Him above all that we have hitherto attained.”  The believer cannot use lack of knowledge as an excuse for sin, and John Owen fends off any possible complaints with the wisdom that if we “used our talents well, we might have been trusted with more.”  Furthermore, the point of gospel revelation is not to “unveil God’s essential glory,” but to be a foundation for our faith.  We learn to depend on the indwelling Spirit to reveal the Father.

God’s greatness, His unfathomable other-ness, is intended to “fill the soul with a holy and awful fear of Him, so as to keep it in a frame unsuited to the thriving or flourishing of any lust whatever.”  I am reminded of Elisabeth Elliot’s words (another great saint who was not preoccupied with the matter of self-esteem):  “Until we live perfectly, which will not happen on this fallen planet, we must fear.  Until perfect love casts it out, fear is a salutary thing.  Fear saves us.”    She knew whereof she spoke, and her words came from Moses:

“The fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning, ”  (Exodus 20:20)

 

 

Image Management and the Gospel

Over-eating is an embarrassing sin.  There may be a few others that rival the obvious and detectable nature of its presence in a person’s life, but I don’t think so.  Those extra calories are there for all the world to see, filling up waist bands, bulging behind buttons, and squishing out over a starched collar.  I hate it.

But — do I hate this “galling, disquieting, and perplexing” sin because I see that food has become an idol, a replacement for God?  Do I hate that my first response to any negative emotion is the comfort of food rather than the sufficiency of the Comforter?  Am I at all concerned with more “burdensome” sins of slothfulness, lack of self-discipline and immature conflict management that might contribute to the more obvious sin of over-eating?   Chapter 8 of John Owen’s Mortification of Sin forces me to ask probing questions about whether I hate “sin as sin,” meaning anything that “grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God,” or if I am chiefly interested in image management, expressed in the all-important question, “Does this make me look bad . . . or weak . . . or fat?”

Granted, being overweight has become one of the “safe sins” in the Christian world.  Elisabeth Elliot used to quip, “No one has the right to talk about weight.  If you don’t struggle with it, you don’t know what you’re talking about; if you do struggle with it, you haven’t got any room to talk.”  (I guess that puts her in the former category and me in the latter.)  At any rate, I can’t help but think of Screwtape’s instruction to his tempter-in-training, recommending the gentle slope into sin.  While God would desire to use dismay and alarm over sin “to awaken thee to the consideration of thy ways, that thou mayst make a thorough work and change in thy course of walking with him,”  Screwtape would prefer that we choose to live with it, peaceably co-existing with root causes, while fruitlessly battling symptoms with every weight-loss fad on the market.

Owen’s premise is that “a sense of the love of Christ in the cross” is our only hope in arriving at true mortification of any sin — in contrast to mere image management which is only concerned with the sin’s effect on my own peace of mind, reputation, or comfort-level within my own skin.  He reiterates the primary principle in compelling language:

“Without sincerity and diligence in a universality of obedience, there is no mortification of any one perplexing lust to be obtained.

“It is not only an intense opposition to this or that peculiar lust, but a universal humble frame and temper of heart, with watchfulness over every evil and for the performance of every duty, that is accepted.

“He then that would really, thoroughly, and acceptably mortify any disquieting lust, let him take care to be equally diligent in all points of obedience.”

While it is true that we need only to look within our own hearts to observe the life cycle of a besetting sin, Owen graciously draws a road map, tracing the “eruption” of sin from the heart to the mind, and into sinful behavior, but the Holy Spirit will not cease to persevere in His relentless pursuit of our wayward hearts:

“Here is one, if he could be rid of the lust, I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this or he is lost.”

Here’s a question to wrestle with:

If you could over-eat [or fill in the blank here with your own idol of choice], and never have to experience negative consequences here on Earth in this body, would you still seek to mortify that sin?  I intend to think carefully about this one, because the answer reveals whether I am more concerned with “the trouble of sin” or with “the filth and guilt of it.”

Resurrecting this post today for the #livefree Thursday community!