Helping at my local church’s winter night shelter, I was shocked and depressed by the general mood of resignation exhibited by most guests, and by the attitudes of one guest in particular: A pretty gloomy outlook, he says he is living in hell and just wants to not wake up one morning. He really pulled us down, whatever conversation we tried to start, he would be determined that all endeavour in sport, music or dance, anything really, would only and certainly lead to our downfall. We asked him some questions about his past, but didn’t find out much about how he came to these fatalistic convictions. I failed, in that situation, to present him with a strong and loving picture of grace, felt that I got sucked into his general gloominess while we (the guests with the volunteers) were hunched over our delicious free three-course dinner with soup, a mains of mince (or quorn mince), vegetables and quinoa, and tiramisu for dessert, undeserved, that two volunteers had lovingly prepared for us. We were heading towards an evening of card and board games and an early night in a warm protected room on a clean mattress with sheets, towel, shower slot, toiletries and all basic creature comforts sorted.
While we’re in it, we don’t realise how ridiculous our negativity is, and how foolish our ungratefulness. We are called to cast our burdens onto the Lord and trust that He will care for us (Ps 55:22, Ps 34:9, Mt 6:25, Phil 4:6-7 amongst many others). I remember nearly losing my home about two years ago, when unemployment brought me to a point of not knowing how to pay the next month’s rent. I was oscillating between a mindset of ‘deserving better than this’ and ‘deserving death’. Particularly Matthew 6 I mediated on in these days – it was all too easy to discard as unctuous piety, and challenging to hold onto, to realise, to claim for myself. Yet grace is the most powerful force in the universe, chipping away at our self-righteousness, self-inflicted misery and stiff-necked intentional doom. Shining a light into a darkness that did not request any illumination.
It is like the Messiah coming into a world with a religious establishment that was quite content with using its form of godliness for their own ends. So unprepared for the unexpected and challenged in their ways were the religious leaders that they orchestrated a sham trial and shameful execution of the Creator’s incarnation on His very creation – unknowingly for His greater glory exhibited in weakness on His first coming, and for the salvation of all mankind (and yes, all means ALL). Defying, in fact discombobulating expectations is a hallmark of true divinity.
Hence, there is no reason to despair, we have no right to sulk. Yes the adversary accuses me and you. His accusations are usually mostly true (if exaggerated) when he again succeeded in tempting us with greed and selfishness, turning our focus inwards and onto our failures, turning our spin downward rather then heavenward. He wants to make us believe that this state of impurity and lack he lured us into is who we really are, permanently. But we have to realise that we are changing with every breath we take in. We just have to choose what Spirit we are aspiring (to). The famous “there is no health in us” from the Anglican common book of prayer’s general confession certainly rings true to what I often feel, yet as a claim and affirmation it is horribly off in at least two ways:
- It discards the work the Lord is doing in us: that He is cleaning His vineyard and tending to it, pruning, watering and fertilising. He created us with good and loving intentions, and He is achieving His good purpose with us. Claiming that we are totally depraved turns the Lord into a failure who has lost His cause against the adversary. A win for Satan! Here’s a good little article to read in this context. We are radically depraved, i.e. nothing good can come out of us in our natural fleshly state; but throwing ourselves as cleansed spiritual babies out with the bathwater is a kind of spiritual suicide, damaging more than our bathrooms’ plumbing and ceramics in the process!
- It manifests and thus cements our perceived depravity by spoken avowal, and sets us onto a downward spiral toward dying in our sins. We have to be careful with our words – see Prov 18:21, Ecc 5:1-7, Mt 12:36-37, and this Christian today article. The Hebrew word root דבר (d’var) means to speak; or as a noun bears meanings including ‘word’, ‘thing’, ‘affair’ or ‘matter’. What we speak (assert) becomes our reality. Positive thinkers are not deluded as some sober critical minds tend to think. Making positive statements and affirmations does not (necessarily) ignore the dire state of the world we’re in currently. It may be aimed at making a difference by not accepting the status quo, but aspiring to a better state. In this way, and only in this way, the law of attraction is effective: if we truly believe that our sins are forgiven and we no longer need to remain in darkness, the gratefulness will propel us into more holy lives.
Titus 2:11-12 says that the grace teaches us to live godly lives. The Greek is, as often, stronger: the word used, παιδεύω (paideuó, Strong’s 3811) means to train children, to chasten or correct. I do believe that ultimately no self-discipline, no worldly ambition, no ethics nor noble conviction can save us, but only this grace, this abounding love overcoming our darkness that can, and will eventually heal us. Our part is merely to fear God, which means being in awe of Him, because:
- We are forgiven by the blood of His son who was dispatched into the world and born in a manger
- We cannot earn salvation, but
- We can and must realise it (make it true, work it out) in our lives, which we can always perceive as an honour, never as a chore.
It may give some solace that we are executing His good plan and purpose by being just the way we are, failing, flailing, hopping, eventually soaring, meeting Him, when ready.
Happy 2017 – even though this is an incidental calendar reckoning. More importantly, it is the year 5777 (since, circumstantially, October 2016), and it is a Jubilee. Get ready for the unexpected.