Your Life is Needed

Have you ever caught yourself slouching – standing or sitting smaller than you actually are?  I do quite often now-a-days.  I’m occasionally alerted to my poor posture when I see a picture that somebody’s taken of me in a casual, unaware moment. When I force myself to straighten up I feel taller, lighter, stronger and more vibrant.

I’m guessing that right now you’re adjusting your posture.

What causes us to shrink as we get older, to not stand at our full stature?  Medical research says it’s deterioration caused by the unrelenting weight of life, as well as lack of exercise and nutrients.

The gravitational force that allows life to work on earth is the same force that, over time, makes work more difficult in this life.

Under the weight of the first great commission in Genesis to rule, subdue and bring to fruitfulness the things in our life and in this broken world, we can begin to shrink and draw-down.

There is a posture, a stance, an alignment to the life God has given us, the life we are to exhibit and offer to the world.

The solution to this slouching posture is not some sort of spiritual or emotional back brace, it’s simply to stand straight, to stand tall, to push against the forces of this world.  The mere act of straightening-up develops the needed muscle and encourages others to do the same.

Let’s not shrink back, become feeble or reduce our presence.

Scripture say, “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you… God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:6, 7

Your presence, your effect, your gifting, your very life is needed now more than ever.

God has given us the strength to stand tall, strong and vibrant: “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.”  Eph. 3:16 (NLT)

Standing, not slouching, with you,

Gary

Are you struggling with chronic sins?

My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.

I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.

I hated my uncontrollable anger, and I memorized over fifty verses about the angry man:

  • A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
  • A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
  • Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
  • But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

When I felt an outburst rising, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.

When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my temper. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t once lost my temper since his prayer. I hadn’t even had to fight it. My explosive temper had been defused.

It was a miracle.

Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.

Chronic sins

When we first become Christians, we think all our problems will disappear. Some do. And some don’t. We still find ourselves anxious, thin-skinned, lustful, self-focused, or critical.

Some temptations are daily companions while others are only occasional guests:

  • Some of us are anxious all the time (rare is the day we feel free of fear) while others of us experience worry once in a blue moon.
  • Some of us constantly tell stories about ourselves (often with embellishments that spotlight our greatness); others of us exaggerate our prowess only on leap-years.
  • Some of us fly off the handle at the slightest hint of an insult; others of us explode only on the fourth of July.

Each of us have chronic habits that are constant companions; we wear them like comfortable slippers. The Puritans called them “besetting sins” (taking “beset” from the King James translation of Hebrews 12:1, “The sin which so easily doth beset [or cling to] us”).

We know our chronic failures as well as we know our best friends. (Our best friends probably know them too.) We’ve worked relentlessly to rid ourselves of these unwelcome guests: we memorize scripture, tell ourselves to stop being anxious, ask friends to pray for us, and berate ourselves when we fall once again—for the third time this morning.

And sometimes God miraculously takes the problem away. Yippee! But most of the time, it doesn’t work that way. There has to be a reason.

Here’s what I think

God wants to be our daily companion. If he removed our chronic failures in the blink of an eye, we would go on our merry way without him. (Come on, we do it in other areas; God gives us a blueprint for our lives, we say, “Thank you very much,” and we start building without him.)

God wants to teach us a deeper lesson. More than perfect robots, he wants us as constant companions. So he doesn’t just remove our chronic failures with the snap of his holy fingers.

I taught each of my kids to ride a bike. Each one fell multiple times. They skinned their knees, bruised their elbows, and learned the meaning of fear. But each persisted, learned to face the fear, and each one learned to ride. Learning to ride a bike was a multi-dimensional lesson.

If I could teach my kids all over again—and if I also had the magical power to snap my unholy fingers to make them instant bike-riders—I would restrain my own power. Because my kids learned far more than how to ride a bike. They learned persistence, boldness, hope, and trust.

Learning to take a risk, in the long run, was far more important than learning to ride a bike.

Sometimes slow-cooked is better

God could snap his holy fingers and I’d instantly be free of those frustrating habits that irritate me (and others). But he hasn’t. (Ask my family.) He wants to heal me of something deeper.

What is the trigger that produces our habitual sins? We’re anxious because we “know” what we need and we’re pretty sure that God won’t get it right; we exaggerate stories about ourselves because we feel unappreciated and we want friends to value us; we explode in anger because we don’t like our circumstances, and we try to control them with blunt force.

Our anger anxiety, and self-serving stories are symptoms but not our deepest problem. If we really believed that God wants the best for us and that he’s making it happen, anxiety would disappear; if we believed God values us beyond the world and he’s orchestrating circumstances to bring about something glorious in us, our exaggerations and anger would evaporate.

More than the miracle of getting more sin out of our lives, we need the miracle of getting more of God into our lives. More than the miracle of God’s power, we need the miracle of God’s presence. From there, it’s always easier to push than to pull.

Of course, you can feel free to disagree with me. It won’t tick me off. And that’s a miracle.

Sam

P.S. God really did a miraculous healing in me when I was thirteen years of age, but I don’t claim to have reached Serenity Nirvana (as many who know me can attest). In other words, if you think I’m bad now, just think how much worse I’d be had God not intervened then.

I like hero movies. My grandsons love them. Hollywood adores them.

In the last decade, about sixty superhero movies have been released, roughly one every eight weeks: Spider-man, Iron Man, Batman, X-Men, Thor, etc. Not to mention their sequels. (Forget that I mentioned them.)

I probably love normal hero movies even more, the ordinary civilian with a boatload of ordinary problems, facing unbeatable odds. Their stories stir something in me, a desire to go down swinging or to throw myself on a grenade. I see myself sacrificing everything for a greater cause, living a life of significance, having a life that matters.

But I wonder, sometimes, if hero movies insidiously stir the wrong thing. I once asked a hugely successful pastor for the key to his success. He said he just wants to be like his hero Jesus, and then he quoted St. Augustine,

Pray as though everything depends on God. Work as though everything depends on you.

Three years later he was exhausted, disillusioned, frustrated, and embittered. He dropped out of all service, divorced his wife, and—the last I heard—he was installing Invisible Fencing. He was a Super-Saint Burnout.

He had said he wanted to be like his hero Jesus, but he later admitted he just wanted to be a hero himself.

Why burnout?

Burnout is so common these days that there is a test for it called the Maslach Burnout Inventory. It classifies burnout as “a multi-dimensional syndrome composed of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficiency.” The pervasive spread of burnout is no surprise given the current world of downsizing (oops, right-sizing), hyper-efficiency, dehumanization, and bad economy.

Burnout in the work-world is no surprise, but it plagues Christian ministries too. Why is that?

One of my favorite hero movies is Rocky. He’s a normal guy with job issues and girl-friend problems. And he’s a mediocre boxer with a chance for fame in a fight with the champ.

His girlfriend (A–dr-i-a-n) wonders why Rocky works so hard. He mumbles, “I’m just a nobody. It really don’t matter if I lose this fight. All I wanna do is go the distance. Then I’ll know I’m not a bum.”

There’s a little bit of Rocky in all of us, but it’s not the charming, aw-shucks, simple champ. There is a dark, sinister, grasping, rumble of panic inside all of us that wreaks devastation. We’re not just working for the general good of the world; we’re working for acclaim, to know we’re not bums.

The driving force

My dad used to quote an old preacher’s proverb: Don’t let the pulpit drive you to the Word, let the Word drive you to the pulpit. There are two ways to preach. We can let the pressure of identity (the pulpit) drive us frantically to performance, or we can let the force of God’s love (the Word) propel us to speak.

Two different people can spend ten hours on a sermon (or any job); both invest the identical time, both develop identical outlines, and both deliver identical sermons. Afterward, one is a bit tired but the other is shattered, drained, and totally spent. What’s the difference?

All work tires us out. That’s why we need sleep. That’s why Jesus needed sleep. But a hidden work beneath our work secretly torments us; we work hard to make art (that’s good) but we work even harder to make the artist; like Rocky, we mumble, “Then I’ll know I’m not a bum.”

Working to create something brings life. Working to be something burns us out. The feverish work beneath our work is an evil taskmaster shouting at our hearts, “Work harder you bum.”

Our superhero problem

The world is populated with narcissistic people who single-mindedly serve themselves. They should watch more hero movies. Hero movies inspire us to serve other people, to risk our lives to save the world.

But hero movies also covertly inspire us to risk our lives to save ourselves; we want that superhero greatness, to prove we’re somebody of worth. So, like those self-serving narcissists, our service is still about us. It’s just more surreptitious.

We are clandestine operatives working under cover of the capes of our heroic deeds, but the poor victim we fight for is our own identity. Our exhaustion, cynicism, and growing inefficiency are signs of wanting to bemessiahs and not just serve the messiah.

I’m realizing that much of my heroic intensity (such as it is) is simply a stealthy selfishness. Argh! Sin is primarily relational; it’s not wrong-doing so much as it is wrong-being. I’ve been choosing a being—my superhero identity—that doesn’t need God.

Jars of clay

If there ever was an Academy Award for super-hero saints, Paul is a shoe-in for an Oscar. If he wasn’t being beaten, stoned, or chased by wild beasts, he was being shipwrecked, imprisoned, or bit by snakes. And there’s always that thorn in the flesh that no one understands.

How did he survive those shipwrecks without making a shipwreck of his life; how did he burn like a beacon without burning out like the rest of us?

Time and again, Paul pointed to one greater than himself; Paul didn’t work to lift himself up but to lift up another. He said of himself (and us), “We hold this treasure in earthen vessels [that’s us!], so that the surpassing greatness of power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Cor. 4:7).

That’s what I need more than superhero greatness; I need confident superhero humility. “Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not”(Jeremiah 45:5 KJV).

Besides, if you saw me in my Spandex bodysuit, you’d think you were in a horror flick.

Sam