Wash Your Hands!

Wash your hands, you sinners!
(James 4:8)

The Sayler home has a sign hanging in the main-floor bathroom that says, “Wash your hands and say your prayers, because Jesus and germs are everywhere.”  It’s cute.  And now more than ever, a very timely reminder.

We’re well on into our 5th week of “social-distancing” due to the spread of the Coronavirus.  There are all sorts of community, state, and national efforts to help slow the spread of the infection, but one of the simplest and easiest things each one of us can do is wash our hands.  

I found this picture that shows the effectiveness of handwashing: 

hand washing

My boys and I also enjoyed watching this video on hand-washing:

In short, 20 seconds of hand-washing with warm soapy water is the best way to help prevent getting and spreading viral infections.  While you’re washing your hands, sing a song (Amazing Grace) or recite Scripture or catechism questions, which you can put on index cards and tape to your mirror.

But all of this begs the question, were people not washing their hands before this?  I’m reminded of my favorite quotes of R.C. Sproul, “What’s wrong with you people?”

The fact that we needed to be reminded to wash our hands is bad enough. Then there was a run on soap and hand sanitizer, so that you can hardly find it in stores today. This tells me that some of you weren’t washing your hands like you were supposed to.  What’s wrong with you people!

It has always bothered me that we have to have signs in the bathrooms of restaurants and stores that remind employees they are required to wash their hands. This should just be a given. But then I’ve watched in amazement as people come into a bathroom, do their business, then leave without even approaching the sink. They’re out touching the groceries – argh!

Sorry – Where was I? Oh yeah, hand-washing.

While the text above from James reminds us to wash our hands, we have to remember that’s not really what James is talking about. James wasn’t worried about the spread of a virus. Instead, he was pointing us to a deeper sickness that had infected the Church. James was addressing a worldliness that had crept into the Church, and still lurks in the heart of the church today.  In his letter he comments on an arrogant, selfish, and quarreling spirit that all stemmed from unchecked pride.  This is not what the Church is meant to be, and James unequivocally calls the Church out on it.

Sproul’s video that I shared early relates to this as well.  We tend think so little of the holiness of God that we think his punishment for sin too severe. We then think the peccadilloes that we harbor in our hearts are inconsequential and will be overlooked in the end. What’s wrong with the church if this is our attitude?

James is calling the church to repentance. “Draw near to God” – you’ve been distant from him because of your sin – “and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands” – they are covered in sin – “purify your hearts” – for your love for God has been mixed with worldliness.  

How do we come clean? There’s no amount of hand sanitizer or pumice soap that will clear the stain of your sin. James is pointing us to something else. “Humble yourselves before the Lord,” he says, meaning: repent. Confess your sins to Christ, come clean. Look to Jesus alone for your salvation, your hope, and your peace.  Be obedient to him, for He is your Lord. Let his grace cover you, but also humble you, so that you can love, forgive, and be forgiven.

James is calling us to wash our hands of the stain of sin, that we would live as the true Church of God in Jesus Christ. That is what the world needs now more than anything else: A Church that will live and proclaim the Gospel clearly. The worst part about this viral epidemic is not that so many people are dying (that is tragic enough indeed), but that they are dying in their sin, not knowing the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ. May they come to know that grace through the witness of the Church today.

SDG

The Perilous, Pernicious and Pervasive Problem of Pride!

Following the recommendation of a fellow pastor, I have taken up a book by the great Puritan writer, Jeremiah Burroughs, and committed to reading just a section of his book each day.  Burroughs (1600-1646) was one of the Independent members of the Westminster Assembly of Divines, and a Congregationalist. He was so highly regarded by his peers that they published 13 volumes of his sermons after his death. The book that caught my attention was “Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions.”   Like a good Puritan writer, Burroughs thoroughly explores each topic in depth before moving on to the next, but does so in a way that is relatable and applicable to our lives today.  

“Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions” examines the roots and effects of division in the body of Christ, and offers a forward-looking approach for healing the divisions. Burroughs’ study makes suggestions for greater unity, challenging the church to focus on moving ahead in its essential work. Just looking through the contents page will give some indication of where the book is going.  Under the Causes of Divisions, Burroughs addresses Pride, Self-love, Envy, Passion, Jealousy, Whispering, Meddling, and Revenge, just to name a few.

As I read through this work, I’ll give a brief reflection on Burroughs’ work, and I pray that God may bring healing, to our divided hearts and churches, through this study.

The first cause that Burroughs address is pride, which he calls “the chief dividing distemper.”  “It is the great incendiary in the soul of man, in families, in towns, in cities, in all societies, in church and state: this wind causes tempests to arise.” It is pride that hardens our hearts to the needs of those around us; pride that makes us blind to our own sinfulness; pride that keeps us from being useful to the Lord and His Church.  If we are to identify what causes divisions in our relationships and in the Church, the chief and underlying cause will always be our pride.

How does pride work in us? This is one of the great strengths of the Puritan writers: they don’t just name the sin, they examine how the sin really affects us.  Pride, Burroughs says, works in the following ways:

  • Pride makes a man think too great to be crossed:  its is beneath a proudful person to bear any injuries or offenses that others might cause.
  • Pride makes men swell beyond their bounds: “the way to keep all things in union is for every man to keep within his bounds: the swelling beyond tends to the breaking all in pieces.”
  • Pride hardens men’s hearts: “If you would have things cleave, you must have them soft; two flints will not join.”
  • Pride causes men to despise others: Seeking honor for himself, a proud man cannot tolerate other’s success, and cares nothing for others’ sufferings.
  • Pride causes every man to desire to be noticed: One way or another, either through good works that bring fame, or through clamor and opposition, a prideful person must be noticed.  “Proud spirits will venture the setting the temple of God, yea, church and state, on fire, that they may have a name; whatever they do or suffer to get a name, they will rather venture, than die in obscurity; that above all things they cannot bear.”
  • A proud man makes his will the rule of his actions, and would have it be the rule of other men’s too.

This, then, the perilous, pernicious and pervasive problem of pride.  It is worked into each and every heart, and must be driven out by God’s redeeming and purifying Spirit of grace.  Burroughs calls “every man look into his own heart, and see what pride hath been, and still is there, and be humbled before the Lord for this. All you contentious, froward, quarrelsome people, you are charged this day from God with being men and women of proud spirits, and what evil there is in our sad divisions, that pride in your bosom is a great cause of it.”

As we allow the Spirit to show us how deeply pride has set into our lives, we know that God’s work is not merely to crush us under the burden of sin.  “The Lord humbles us, that he may reconcile us, not only to himself, but to one another.”  When we realize how pride as come between us, and between us and God, it is so that we may repent, turn from our prideful ways, and be reconciled and restored by His great grace for us in Jesus Christ.  

SDG

Burroughs, Jeremiah. Causes, Evils, and Cures of Heart and Church Divisions. New York: Carlton & Phillips, 1855. Print.

Do You Do Well To Be Angry

And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
(Jonah 4:4)

I began to write some reflections on this passage today, when it all started to sound somewhat familiar.  I did some searching through my old posts on the blog, and found this article from over 12 years ago.  Two things came to mind: 1) I am grateful for the way in which the writing has held up over the years, and 2) I am saddened that I still struggle with the same prideful heart these 12 years later.

We are all in the midst of God’s transforming work, He’s not done with us yet.  May this word be cause for reflection, and a source of hope in overcoming anger.


In C. S. Lewis book, The Great Divorce, Lewis has a dream in which he finds himself on a bus ride from hell to heaven.  Along the way, he observes as various passengers on the bus either decide to turn back to hell because the transition is too much for them to bear, or they are transformed into those prepared to dwell in heaven forever.

During one such encounter, Lewis watches as a woman passes by, grumbling and babbling about nothing consequential, while her angel companion cannot get a word in edgewise.  He writes,

The shrill monotonous whine died away as the speaker, still accompanied by the bright patience at her side, moved out of sight.

‘What troubles ye, son?’ asked my Teacher.

‘I am troubled, Sir,’ said I, ‘because that unhappy creature doesn’t seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation.  She isn’t wicked: she’s only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into the habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right.’

‘That is what she once was.  That is maybe what she still is.  If so, she certainly will be cured.  But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler.’

‘I should have thought there was no doubt about that!’

‘Aye, but ye misunderstand me.  The questions is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble.  If there is a real woman – even the least trace of one – still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again.  If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear.  But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our eyes forever.  They must be swept up.’

‘But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?’

‘The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing.  But ye’ll have had experiences… it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it.  And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it.  Ye can repent and come out of it again.  But there may come a day when you can do that no longer.  Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.’

C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce.  (The Macmillan Co., New York, 1946)

I am always surprised to find how writers like Lewis, Brennan Manning, Blackaby, or Chambers seem to be writing specifically about me.  Perhaps Lewis struggled with grumbling and anger the way I do, that is how he could write with such wisdom.

I would not describe myself as an angry person.  I don’t yell and scream at people, I am usually considered pretty easy going.

But I know myself.  I know the rage that festers and fumes within, needing only the slightest catalyst to set it off.  Maybe its the lady at the grocery store with 25 items in the express lane, or the guy who parks his truck in the middle of the school parking lot, gets out of the truck, and casually walks his children to the door, meanwhile blocking the ten people behind him from dropping off their children and getting to the office on time.

I find myself fuming over the littlest of things.  It began as a grumbling mood, but I am afraid I have embraced it.  I pray I have not reached that day when I can no longer repent of it.  Then there will be no me left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.

God warns us against rage and anger.  In Genesis 4, Cain is angry with the world because God has accepted his brother’s sacrifice and not his own.  Gen. 4:5-6 reads, “So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.  Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen?  If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door.  Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.’”

Wow – do I know that feeling.  Sin is crouching at the door, waiting to jump out and consume me.  God says I must rule over it, I must conquer this beast.  But it’s so difficult.  Part of me likes the rage, maybe I’m holding out for that moment when I get so mad I’ll start turning green, rip through my clothes and become the incredible Hulk (yeah, I read too many comics as a kid).

But getting angry at least gives me the feeling of having power.  I can fume and fuss and cut someone down and feel really good about myself – but that feeling is temporary at best.  I’ve held on to this anger for so long, now I don’t even know what I’m angry about, and the satisfying feeling that comes with the eruption is less and less each time.

I need a change of heart, a change of perspective.  I need God to soften my heart.  I need a little time under Jonah’s shade tree.

You see, I think Jonah had the same anger issues that I am dealing with.  Jonah was a prophet of the Lord God, and the Lord called Jonah to go and preach to the city of Nineveh.  As the story goes, Jonah refused to go and preach to his enemies, so he went the opposite direction, hiring a ship to take him to Tarshish.  While at sea, a terrible storm raged, and Jonah confessed his sin and was thrown overboard, only to be swallowed by a whale.  After three days, Jonah was thrown back out on the shore, and God told him again to go to Nineveh.

This time Jonah went, and he preached God’s message – a threat of impending doom if the people of the city did not repent of their evil ways.  Sure enough, the people repented, and God relented of the disaster.

Now, you would think that Jonah would be happy that over 120,000 people had responded to his message, but instead he was displeased, and angry with God.  He told God that he would rather die that see the Ninevites repent.  And God said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

So Jonah went out to a hill overlooking Nineveh, and he sat there, waiting to see what would happen.  As he waited, God planted a shade tree for Jonah, and this made Jonah really happy.  The next day, God put a worm in the tree so that when the sun came out, the tree withered and died.  Again, Jonah grumbled against God, “I would rather die…”  And God said again, “Do you do well to be angry?  You complain about a tree that you did not plant.  Should I not be concerned for Nineveh, for the 120,000 souls that are there?”

What Jonah needed was a change in perspective.  He was concerned with his reputation as a prophet, he didn’t want to be associated with these despised Ninevites. He was more concerned with his comfort and his reputation than with the souls that needed saving.

I need a change in perspective.  My anger comes from that deceptive and pervasive sin of pride.  I have put my needs, my comfort, my advancement, myself, above the needs of everyone else.  I only get upset because I don’t feel like I get the respect, the response I deserve.  God is saying to me again, “Do you do well to be angry?”  It is foolishness to hold on to this rage.  Prov. 14:29 teaches, “Whoever slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly.”  What a fool I’ve been.

‘Do you do well to be angry?”  I know the answer is “No.”  I pray that God will help me to rule over it.  This can only be done through the power of Holy Spirit – I can only conquer my fits of rage as the Spirit of God develops in me “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:21-22).  While I hold on to my anger I cannot hold on to Christ.  When I take up my ax, I cannot also take up my cross.  As long as the greenie-meanie lives I cannot say, “I have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

SDG

God gives grace to the humble…

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'”
(1 Peter 5:5)

As I prepare for this Sunday’s message from 1 Peter 5:1-5, I realize that there’s just not enough time to go into full detail on everything that is touched upon in this passage.  The final point that Peter makes, urging all to humility in their relationships with one another, is a vital aspect of our life together as the body of Christ.  In all honesty, this one verse could occupy an entire series of sermons on what it means to be humble, how and why God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble, and how humility is demonstrated in the life of faith.  That series isn’t in the works, yet, but perhaps it should be.

In the midst of study on this passage, I read again a prayer from the Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions.  I’ve shared prayers from this collection before. I’ve even read them in worship on occasion.  The prayer I read today is called “Humility in Service.”  It’s written primarily for the Elder in service of the church, but could be applied to everyone who aspires to serve the Lord in faithfulness.

The prayer, as with most of the Puritan Prayers, is devastating in its candor and vulnerability, and is absolutely Christ-centered in its hope.  I offer it to your for prayer and reflection today.

Humility in Service *

Mighty God,

I humble myself for faculties misused,
opportunities neglected, words ill-advised,

I repent of my folly and inconsiderate ways,
my broken resolutions, untrue service,
my backsliding steps, my vain thoughts.

O bury my sins in the ocean of Jesus’ blood
and let no evil result from my fretful temper,
unseemly behavior, provoking bitterness.

If by unkindness I have wounded or hurt another,
do thou pour in the balm of heavenly consolation;

If I have turned cold from need, misery, grief,
do not in just anger forsake me;

If I have withheld relief because of my poverty and pain,
do not withhold thy gracious bounty from me;

If I have shunned those who have offended me,
keep open the door of thy heart to my need.

Fill me with an over-flowing ocean of compassion,
the reign of love my motive, the law of love my rule.

O thou God of all grace, make me more thankful, more humble;

Inspire me with a deep sense of my unworthiness
arising from the depravity of my nature,
my omitted duties, my unimproved advantages,
thy commands violated by me.

With all my calls to gratitude and joy
may I remember that I have reason for sorrow and humiliation;

O give me repentance unto life;

Cement my oneness with my blessed Lord,
that faith may adhere to him more immovably,
that love may entwine itself round him more tightly,
that his Spirit may pervade every fibre of my being.

Then send me out to make him known to my fellow-men.

Amen

* Bennet, Arthur. The Valley of Vision (The Banner of Truth Trust, Carlisle, PA, 2009) Pg. 178.

Defeating Pride by Showing Honor

“Outdo one another showing honor…”
(Rom 12:10)

The attitude of pride and arrogance is like a cancer in the body of Christ.  A prideful spirit focuses all the attention on itself, sucks up all the body’s resources, and if unchecked will, ultimately, spread throughout the body bringing death in its wake. That is the power of pride.

Pride comes in all shapes and sizes.  It is the arrogant and boastful person who likes to be the center of attention; never really listening to what others have to say, only waiting for another opportunity to speak.  It is there in the unyielding, undisciplined spirit that refuses to submit to the authority of God’s Word, and certainly not to the authority of the elders.  Pride is at the heart of the disaffected member who clings to the bitterness of past offenses and refuses to forgive and be forgiven.  It is pride that keeps us from confessing our sins that we may be reconciled, sharing our sorrows that we may be comforted, revealing our needs that we may be supported, and withholding our gifts so that others may be built up.

To be honest, pride is the sin that I struggle with most.  I think this is one of the great hazards of the ministry.  It’s difficult to stand in front of a congregation Sunday after Sunday, preaching the Word, and not letting the appreciation and praise from the congregation go right to your head. When the congregation is growing, and people are responding to the gospel, the temptation for the pastor is to think that this is his work, and to revel in the glory.

Add to that my disposition toward those activities that highlight individual achievement.  I love to run, and when I cross the finish line, that’s one more thing to boast about.  I love the theater, to stand front and center in the spotlight, leading the show and hearing the applause of the crowd.

All of these things feed the prideful spirit.  And yet, when you feed pride, it’s a lot like eating Chinese food.  You get filled up quickly, but an hour later you’re hungry for more.  There’s never enough praise, never enough attention, and the successes of others is a threat to your achievement.

So how do we root out this pernicious and perilous pride?  I believe the apostle Paul is addressing this in Romans 12:10 when he tells the Christian, “Outdo one another showing honor.”  It almost sounds like a sport.  Make a competition of honoring one another.  If you are going to excel at something, if you want to show off, then show your mad skills in honoring those around you.  If you want to stand in the spotlight, use your time there to bring glory to God and to honor others.

In order to truly honor others, you have to begin by humbling yourself.  Paul writes in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  Humbling yourself simply means having a right understanding of your own situation in relation to God and to others.

Here’s the humbling truth: Standing in the presence of God apart from Christ you are a wretched and wicked sinner in desperate need of salvation. It doesn’t matter how eloquent you might be, or what achievements you’ve had in work or in play – all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). And the Good News is just as humbling, for it is by “grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”  There is no place in the body of Christ for pride, and if we are to boast, let us boast only in the cross of Christ our savior (Gal 6:14).

Once we have a true measure of ourselves in the light of God’s Word, and when we come to trust in His sovereign work for our eternal security, then we can have the confidence and strength to seek the honor of others before ourselves.  Pride is really nothing more than a defense against a perceived threat. When we rest secure in the promises of God, then pride serves no purpose, and we can honor God and one another as we are commanded.

Let us then root out this pride that so easily disrupts the Christian life, the arrogance that keeps us from being reconciled and united in the Lord.  Trusting in God’s grace, let us confess our sins, seek forgiveness, and preach the Good News of Salvation in Jesus Christ for all eternity. Resting secure in His work, may we outdo one another in showing honor.

SDG

While I was talking to God…

And your Father who sees in secret will reward you..
(Matthew 6:4 (ESV)

Oh, how sneaky Satan can be!

The last couple of weeks we have been reading through Matthew 6, the section of the sermon on the Mount when Jesus talks about hypocrisy in our acts of devotion.  Jesus warns us, not to stop doing acts of devotion like alms-giving, prayer, and fasting, but to be very careful that these acts are not done for the recognition and praise of man.  If you are performing for the applause of man, that that will be your sole reward.  However, if you are performing for the eyes of God, then your soul will be rewarded.

The problem is, this is a very tricky thing.  Satan, that “sneaky-sneaker” (a literal translation of “more crafty” in Genesis 3), likes to take the good things that God has given us and encourages us to abuse them.  You say you love the law, then Satan begins to make you a legalist, holding others to a standard that you could not even hope to attain.  You say you love the freedom that is given in Jesus Christ, then Satan tempts you to a lawlessness in which anything goes.  You say you love the traditional, long held beliefs of the Church, then Satan lures you into an inflexible orthodoxy that is all head and no heart.  Satan cannot offer you anything, he is not a creator; but he will always try to twist and pervert that which God has created so that we love the gift more than the giver.  You say you love the new contemporary movements within the Church, then Satan draws you into a shallow, vacuous, “experience” in which a lot of words are said but little is communicated.

I was thinking about this on my run this morning.  “Who am I running for?”  Well, I’m running for my family – I want to lose weight and stay healthy so that I can enjoy watching my kids (and, eventually, grandkids) grow and be successful; and enjoy a long life beside my loving wife.  But then vain-glory creeps in and I become obsessed with my weight and if I’m “looking better.”

I’m running for the goal of completing a marathon, and hopefully running several over the next few years.  I’ve wanted to do this since I was in High School, and I’m only now reaching the point where that seems possible.  But then, while running, I find I like to be noticed.  I see other runners and I pick up the pace a little.  I make subtle references  to my running(or in this article’s case, not so subtle), so that others will stop and say – “Good for him, he’s running.”

What a mess.

We do the same thing with our lives of devotion.  We like to say to people, “As I was spending time in prayer and devotion this morning…” as a way of demonstrating our excellent religious affections.  We put bumper stickers on our cars like (WWJD, and “God is my Co-Pilot) to make sure everyone knows that this is a Christian’s car.  We carry around Bibles stuffed with notes and highlighted through so that everyone knows we’re serious about our study – or we get new Bibles with all the footnotes and the genuine hand sewn leather cover so that others can see how you value God’s word.

Friends there is nothing wrong, in fact I encourage you, to pray and study God’s word every morning, to put as many bumper stickers on your car, to highlight, annotate, and study the Scriptures; against these things there are no laws.  But always keep your heart in check.  Make sure that your devotion is a time of sweet fellowship with the Lord; a time to hear His word for your life, and a time to offer thanksgiving and praise for His life.

Your life of devotion should be a lot like the time you spend with your spouse.  You share quiet moments together, working through the difficult times, encouraging each other and supporting one another, whispering words of love and adoration, developing a life-long relationship.  These are the moments shared between the two of you, never broadcast for others to see.  How inappropriate it would be for someone to say, “While I was whispering sweet nothings in my wife’s ear last night…”  But what the world does see are two people who are madly in love with each other, and who will be together until death does part them.

So it is with your devotion to God.  Let your acts of prayer, charity, and dedication be done in secret.  Let it be the quiet, intimate time with God that sustains you through the day.  Don’t broadcast it to the world.  Do this, and the world will see someone who lives in the love of God, and nothing, not even death, can separate us from that.

SDG

The Uninspired Life

In case you were wondering, its been a great week for me.  Yes there’s been the added stress and work after my wife’s surgery, but she’s recovering and doing well, and I’ve managed to not burn the house down – so I’d call that a success.

The Easter Service went well.  We had a full house in church. My sermon rocked.  I didn’t really have a lot to confess during that quiet time of reflection.  Success!

Work is going well.  I’ve got this whole “exegetical method” down pretty well — it only took me about 10 years to get it down.  I start with some Greek study, write out some preliminary thoughts, read through some commentaries, write out the sermon.  All in all, it is an enjoyable discipline of studying Scripture – another success.

I’ve started running again.  Now that I’ve written that, something will probably come up and keep me from running tonight, but I’ve been doing well, feeling stronger with every run, going a little further every night, maintaining a steady pace per mile, and even losing a bit of weight along the way.  Winning!

So after my run last night the little voice in my head started in with the praise, “Yup, its been a pretty good week, Big E, keep up the good work.”  Then here was the kicker, “You haven’t had to ask God for anything, way to go!”

Crap!

(I’m sorry if that offends, but its the only word that truly signifies the sudden shift from self-congratulatory hubris to a Spirit led conviction – I stand behind, not in, the word.)

It is an uninspired life that does not depend on the power of the Spirit of God for everything.

I am so weak that I begin to think I am strong.  I practice carefully to discipline myself so that I can stand on my own two feet, independent of anyone – especially God.  I consider it an accomplishment if I don’t have to ask God for anything to help me get through the week, the day, the hour.  I consider it a sign of strength if all my prayers are for those around me, but I’m just fine on my own.  Why would I need God to guide me in my sermon prep, I’ve got commentaries for that.  Why would I need God to help me teach and raise my kids, I’ve read books about that.  I am independent. I am strong.  I am the master of my own life.

I am full of it. (Refer here to the offending word above.)

What I need, I think, is a case of “Learned Helplessness.”  Usually this is considered a bad thing, where, faced with the overwhelming and uncontrollable flow of events, individuals feel helpless and unable to cope with life.

But for the Christian, learned helplessness is the starting point for saving Grace. Being helpless before the Lord is not weakness, rather it is finding true strength. I cannot save myself, I must trust in my Savior.  I cannot be the master of my destiny, I must trust in the One who is.  I cannot get my life together, I must trust in the One who holds my life in His hands.  I am weak, but in my weakness His strength is made perfect.

So where do I turn to learn weakness in the Spirit?  I’ve found the Puritans often help.

Here’s my prayer for the day (from The Valley of Vision):

O Thou Most High,
It becomes me to be low in thy presence.
I am nothing compared to thee;
I possess not the rank and power of angels,
but thou hast made me what I am,
and placed me where I am;
help me to acquiesce in thy sovereign pleasure.
I thank thee that in the embryo state of my endless being
I am capable by grace of improvement;
that I can bear thy image,
not by submissiveness, but by your design,
and can work with thee and advance thy cause and glory.
But, alas, the crown has fallen from my head:
I have sinned;
I am alien to thee;
my head is deceitful and wicked,
my mind an enemy to thy law.
Yet, in my lostness thou hast laid help on the Mighty One
and he comes between to put his hands on us both,
my Umpire, Daysman, Mediator,
whose blood is my peace,
whose righteousness is my strength,
whose condemnation is my freedom,
whose Spirit is my power,
whose heaven is my heritage.
Grant that I may feel more the strength of thy grace
in subduing the evil of my nature,
in loosing me from the present evil world,
in supporting me under the trials of life,
in enabling me to abide with thee in my valleys,
in exercising me to have a conscience void of offence
before thee and before men.
In all my affairs may I distinguish between duty and anxiety,
and may my character and not my circumstances chiefly engage me.

Humbly yours…