Sunday, November 13, 2016

The thorns of mercy

This morning's sermon was another iteration of something the Holy Spirit has been prompting me to see.

It started two weeks ago, when our pastor preached from Romans for Reformation Sunday.

I had been working slavishly, unhappy with myself for not exercising and eating clean every day, keeping my house clean, and emptying my to-do list.  Often I did two or three of those in a day, but not all four, and I was frustrated.

The passage that week was Romans 3:20-26, but my heart snagged right away on the first verse.

By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight.

Even if I accomplished all I was striving to do, even if I got it all still wouldn't justify me in God's sight.  So what was I striving for?

I knew God wouldn't approve me because I won the Happy Homemaker award.  I realized I was striving for two reasons:  for the approval of man (including living up to the standard I see on Pinterest et al., and remember from my own mother's very clean and efficient home), and so that I could hold my head up in pride.  

My house is sparkling and I've done All the Things and I jogged six miles before I drank a kale smoothie for breakfast this morning.  I don't struggle with anything!

When I realized my motivation of pride, I began to see what a kind blessing it is that I can't do it--because if I could, my pride would be smug and satisfied.  My inability causes me to despair of myself and search for help.

To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the keep me from exalting myself!  'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.'  Most gladly therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses...for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

2 Corinthians 12:7-10

{Why were you given that thorn, Paul?}

Naturally, I hate being weak.  

I want to be self-sufficient, not grace-sufficient.  

I hate that I get exhausted every afternoon and I run out of energy every evening.  I hate my lack of dietary self-control, which is sin--but maybe having self-control in this case would be sin.  I want self-control so I can look down on other poor schmucks who lack it.  And so I can quietly exalt myself.

Put no confidence in the flesh.

Philippians 3:3

I myself might have confidence even in the flesh.  If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more...

But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ...I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord...and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ."

Philippians 3:4-8

Is it a blessing that I have more on my plate than I can do?  Is it a blessing that my energy runs out every afternoon?

Weight loss, healthy eating, disciplined exercise, a clean house, task efficiency--these things are rubbish compared to knowing Christ.  Not just not as important, but loss and liability, if they keep me from knowing Jesus.  Which is what they do if they feed my pride. 

 Let me lose the admiration and approval of the world; let me lose a place on Pinterest; let me lose a completed checklist; let me lose control and order...just give me Jesus.  I want to know Him.  I want to press into Him--the Prince of Peace, Lover of my soul, glorious Redeemer--my Sufficiency.

I realized that I had been chasing my own version of perfection, which is a joyless road.  It's the road to pride paved with guilt and despair.

If I take a different road, I give up trying to impress others.  They might judge me and scorn me and criticize me.  I give up the satisfaction of achieving my own perfection.  

I lose these things to gain Christ and to know Him.  

It may be painful to be scorned.  Then I will know the fellowship of His sufferings, knowing that I gave up that pride-fueled performance for His sake.

I lose pride and gain Christ.  I am humbled.  I become less, and He becomes more.

Such were my meditations on Romans 3.  

Today's passage was Philippians 2:1-11.

...Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men...

Four comments from the sermon:

1.  Jesus embraced our limits.  "...although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped..."

He whom the angels worshipped on heaven's throne became a man of no social stature.  He who was limitless in power and glory willingly took on our limitations to be like us in every way except sin.  

Shall I repine at my limitations?  Shall I be discontent with the bounds of energy and time and position God has given me?  Or shall I, like Jesus, submit willingly to God-ordained limitations?

2.  To be humble, I need people around to bug me.  "...Have this attitude in yourselves..."

You can't be humble all by yourself.  Humility requires other people to live with you and annoy you, so you can lay aside your preferences for their best interest.  It requires people who will hurt you so you can humbly forgive them, and people whom you will hurt, so you can humbly ask for their forgiveness.  

Man, I'd be so good at humility if I could do it without other people making it hard.

Leading to point #3...

3.  Humility requires that I put away my demands that others conform to me.  "...regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others..."

I really wish everyone who lived in my house had the same love of order that I have.  Obviously the way I like things is the right way, but others don't always see it that way.  Yes, I have a duty to teach my children life skills, including picking up after themselves, but that's different from an attitude that demands conformity to all my preferences, with no room for childishness.

4.  Humility is the result of humiliations.  

Bringing this all back to the thorn of just-not-being-able-to-do-it-all in my side, that prevents me from exalting myself, our pastor had this to say:  Never despise what brings you low.  Whatever conforms me to the humility of Christ is my friend.  

So, knowing that He uses all things to conform me to the image of Christ--yea verily, even every candy wrapper stuck under the couch cushions--may I rejoice in my weakness, knowing only Him and making Him known.

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