Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Squirming on the Altar

Many times in my life I’ve told the Lord that my life is His and to do with me as He pleases. Yet when difficulties come that I did not want or expect, I start kicking and screaming on the altar.

Funny how that works. Even when I offer my life to the Lord—a blank check with no stipulations—I still find that I want want to write in part of what it says. I’m willing to say “Yes Lord,” but when God brings something unexpected, my initial reaction is, “But not that!”

And that depicts the Christian life, at least for me. “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) I want God to do with me as He desires, but I want the comfort and security of the people and things around me. I want God to lead, but I want a say in what happens. The two don't often mesh well.

During my teen years, one of my favorite passages was Romans 12:1-2. Verse 1 speaks of being a living sacrifice. This was a desire I had from a young age, but most 12-16 year olds don’t grapple with the reality of this kind of desire and prayer. As I think back upon this passage that had much impact on me, I smile at how God was using even that to lay foundations for the work He would continue to do in me. That work God began was refining on more of a surface level, and He continues to work that deeper into my heart. 

I believe the most challenging part of passages like that is not going somewhere or doing something God wants you to do (although at times that is the most difficult). Consistently, the hardest thing for me is submitting to the heart work God wants to do in me. Allowing Him to "hand pick trials" and bring circumstances to unveil the deeply rooted sin in my heart is not my choice way of growing in holiness. I'd rather it just happen as I read my Bible and pray. Wouldn't that be easier? But without the struggle, we'd lack gratitude for the work God is doing and future hope that someday we won't fight the dark sin in our hearts. God's ways are so much better than ours.

I've heard it said that the problem with a living sacrifice is that it can climb off the altar. Submitting to what God wants to do in our lives is not a one-time thing. Working with Him and allowing Him to change what is most needs, our hearts, is the hardest part of the Christian life. But it is necessary that we might be purified and holy and conformed into the image of Christ.

Let's get back on the altar, trusting that the work God is doing is good.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

After the Weeding: the Growth of Spiritual Fruit

If you haven't, read part one here.

Spiritual weeding catalyzes growth and produces joy.

Frequently "joy" is not the first thing that comes to mind when we consider the daily grind of life and fighting the sin in our hearts. If the fruit of weeding out our sin produces eternal rewards, why don’t we often find joy in doing it?

Because it’s costly.

And it’s humbling.

Weeding out sin involves giving up a right to something: the right to hold a grudge, respond in anger, withdraw in fear, blame our circumstances, manipulate to control, or get back at someone. It means I have to see my sin as my biggest and deepest problem. Honestly, I’d prefer to blame someone else other than myself for my problems.

Sometimes I get stuck in the here-and-now and wonder if obeying God is really bringing about eternal fruit. The truth is, while weeds grow quickly, real fruit grows slowly. It takes cultivating and watering. Consider the sowing and reaping principle in Galatians 6:

“Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

Real fruit comes long after after the sowing of the seed. Similarly, this the case in our spiritual lives; we don’t immediately see the fruit of faithful prayer and Scripture reading, of putting off sin, or of running after righteousness. This is why it's tempting to grow weary; because the work is intense, and we don't always see the fruit.

But isn't this exactly where God can work—at the point of desperation, when we feel like our attempts at fighting sin are faltering and our work is in vain?

This is why we need Christ. We need His power to that we might do the hard work of weeding out sin. But we need His grace just as much after the weeding, that we might consistently sow to the Spirit and bear fruit. This is where we must remind ourselves daily of our need of the gospel, of the cleansing that comes through Jesus Christ, and the power that enables us to do what He commands. In this He is glorified, as we bear much fruit and prove that we are, indeed, His disciples. (Jn. 15:8)

So don't give up in your fight against sin. Don't neglect to sow to the Spirit. As Paul prayed, may we be "...filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God." (Phil. 1:11) 

One day the hard work will be a mere shadow of the past, and as we see God face to face, we will know it was all worth it. 


Monday, April 6, 2015

Spiritual Weed Pulling

I don’t really like weeding.

It’s hard work and tedious. Often you sit there and start pulling, just to realize all you’ve done is pluck the tops of the weeds off, while the roots still remain deeply in the ground.

But every time I weed, I’m reminded of the spiritual correlations of weeding out sin in my heart.

I think of how much easier it is to pull the small weeds than the huge ones in the garden. But how it is also tempting to leave the “small ones” because there are so many! I’d rather just ignore them and pull the bigger, more obvious ones. It’s faster, after all.

I think God gives us this vivid picture for a reason. There are spiritual analogies in weed pulling that need to be continually on the forefronts of our minds. Hebrews 12:15 exhorts us to see that “…no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.”

Don’t you find it interesting that God links bitterness with roots? Roots aren’t visible, but they are often strong—especially of the weed variety. And if we let something like bitterness take root, the ugly fruit will start to spurt out in our lives. Lashing out, criticizing, withdrawing, or other sinful responses will begin to wreak havoc. I know how quickly the root of bitterness can spring up in my life. It’s not pretty, and digging it out is certainly not fun.

But the consequences of failing to weed out the sin in our hearts are more devastating. Letting the weeds take root only results in more problems in our relationship with God and others, and overruns the good fruit, just as weeds, in time, overrun and steal the nutrients of the plants in a garden.

Thorough weeding takes time. And so does spiritual weeding. It includes being suspicious of my own motives and actions. It means not being content with “weed wacking”, but actually digging to get to the roots. Weeding out sin is not a moralistic "stop this and do that" type of response. It involves recognizing our weakness and depending on God to produce the needed change in our hearts.

With the cross before us, we must see the urgency to fight the sin that so easily entangles (Heb. 12:1), and look to Jesus. Rooting out sin won’t be enough if it's not replaced with real fruit. And we can’t produce fruit. Only God can do that work. It is only through abiding in Him that we can bear much fruit (Jn 15:5).

So let us take seriously our responsibility in spiritual weeding, and by the grace of God, carefully cultivate our relationship with Him and allow Him to prune us and produce the fruit needed in our lives.