July 31, 2016

Trained to change

A well-known singer croons a song with the words, “I did it my way.” Those words remind me of a small child who insists “me do it” when trying to do something impossible with his tiny fingers, or a teenager when confronted about her behavior and declares, “It’s my life . . . .”

Me, myself, and I is my worst problem. God wants me to do His will and that goes contrary to natural inclination. To be clear, the desire to do things the way I want to (in contrast to God’s way) is not as simple as mere preference. God does not concern Himself with whether my walls are green or purple, or I like chocolate better than vanilla. He is looking for a heart that is yielded to His will. We don’t start out that way. Isaiah says . . .

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)

Doing it my way can be innocent and about preferences, but when it comes to the will of God, my way is sinful to the core. His will is that I love and obey Him, but sin puts commands like loving Him with all my heart and my neighbor as myself in reverse priority. Sin twists the Golden Rule to expect others to do for me as I want done. Sin is a habit from childhood that is only overcome by the power of God in a regenerated life.

Because of how I understand sin, I don’t understand these words from today’s devotional reading, “Many of us are all right in the main, but there are some domains in which we are slovenly. It is not a question of sin, but of the remnants of the carnal life which are apt to make us slovenly. Slovenliness is an insult to the Holy Ghost. There should be nothing slovenly, whether it be in the way we eat and drink, or in the way we worship God.”

Slovenliness is the failure to do things that I should do. One example: evil exists when "good" people fail to act. This failure is closely related to sloth or laziness, considered one of the seven deadly sins by the early Catholic church. Proverbs 6:6-19 has a different list of the seven worst sins, but the failure to live up to the will of God is always considered a sin in Scripture.

In my understanding, slovenly is about laziness in any area of life. I don’t beat myself up over a messy desk or watching television when I should be weeding the garden, but I have noticed that this attitude carries over into spiritual responsibilities. If insulting the Holy Spirit is not sin, I would not know any other way to describe it.

That said, God is at work to produce steadfastness in me rather than letting me be slovenly. The Greek word for steadfast is: “the power to withstand hardship or stress; especially the inward fortitude necessary.” Like most virtues, God uses the ordinary things of life to teach us fortitude . . .

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4)

Some things are not a big test of faith. For instance, I make quilts. Usually there are no deadlines, but because of my easily distracted mind, there should be. I can start one, get bored, start another, and pile up a host of unfinished projects. Is this slovenly? It must be since God is impressing on me that I should finish what I start, be diligent. Most of us know that if diligent in one area, that same attitude transfers to others. That is, if I can keep my desk clean, I will also be able to do the same with my kitchen, car, and mind.

Jesus also said that he who is faithful in little will be faithful in much. (Luke 16:10-12) If I can be diligent in a little thing, I will be able to grow in diligence for bigger things.

For this growth, God uses trials. They bring out the ability to withstand greater trials. This is so important that James tells us to joyfully face our trials. I know that each trial is a test of faith, so will I trust God in this or will I abandon faith and do it my way? The more I trust God in the little things, the more apt I am to trust Him in the bigger trials.

The point of today’s devotional reading is that God allows no escape in this training. He keeps bringing me back to whatever issue in life that needs change. “It may be a question of impulse . . . mental wool-gathering, or independent individuality” whatever is “not entirely right.”

This doesn’t mean I’m failing as a Christian. It does mean that I need to grow in my faith and never assume any slide into ‘doing it my way’ is a good thing. God will persist until I trust Him totally, so much so that I can say with Jesus, “Not my will, but Thine be done.”

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