We're forever wanting when we're not worshiping. Have you noticed?
We were made for something more than this world can afford. It offers a lot--pleasure, applause, glamour, always some form of what we crave. But it delivers nothing worth having, nothing that lasts. Nothing that actually satisfies the craving of our hearts. Oh there's plenty that glitters, that holds promise of good things to come. Temptation always offers something we 'need'. It may be stuff. It may be pleasure. Or it may be just the satisfaction of having asserted ourselves regardless of how or with what effect! But sin always seems appealing. Funny how that is. The very thing that tantalizes us with life as we've always wanted it to be, delivers death: "The mind of sinful man is death." (Rom.8:5,6) Or as some more fluent than I have said:
“Imaginary evil is romantic and varied, full of charm;
imaginary good is tiresome and flat.
Real evil, however, is dreary, monotonous, barren.
Real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.”
-- Simone Weil, Notebooks
In the great war now so many ages underway, one of the permanent advantages of evil is its imaginary glamour, but one of the permanent advantages of good is that it is better in reality. Isn’t being better in reality what it means to be good? Strange that it is so easy to forget.
But forget we do, at least until we are standing in the wake of our sin. For example, earlier this week, I stepped out of my study first thing in the morning from quiet reflections on how we are made to reflect God's glory (Rev.21). I had jotted down beautiful things: "My tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long." (Ps.71) I had noted how Paul speaks of sharing of faith as making known 'every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ' (Philemon 6). I had read and paraphrased some wise Proverbs, "A fool only spouts off but doesn't listen to understand another." I had had a serene bit of quiet time.
We sat down to eat, my favorite man in the world and I, and within minutes every truth I'd read had gone out the window. Tension was mounting. Words of accusation were flying. And with my own tongue I was defending my righteousness, turning words into arrows and going for broke. The accusations were mine. I was sure I was right. I was desperate to be heard, as though my life depended on it.
And what was all this about? Surely something very significant? Yes, indeed. The laying of flooring in our entryway. The how, what, and when of this was suddenly worth destroying my mate over!
We are in the middle of renovating our entryway. The orange shag just had to go and the chaos to be calmed in this catch-all room. But at our house renovations are a relational nightmare. There are many complex reasons for this which we have endlessly analyzed. I will spare you the details. Being a man and a woman wired accordingly is surely a big part of it. Perhaps you know? He wants to 'get it done'. I want to draw out the process. He's practical; I'm dreaming of recreating Eden.
But there's more to it than that. It's my heart. Renovations waken in me a desire to 'have it all'. Contentment that has endured for years crumbles in the face of desire for more and better. I want things I do not have. I want things done that I can't do for myself. I want things done the way they 'should' be done. And worst of all, when pressed for details, I don't know what I want, but I'm sure it's out there--that perfect design for this imperfect space... And so begins the tempest.
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. James 4:1-3
Mine is an impossible standard, given our abilities and resources. Mine is an impossible quest--expecting to find happiness in a room makeover. And mine is an incorrigible sin nature, taking opportunity to raise its head and promise what it can't deliver.
It must die. Again. When desires drive me to a desperation that damages relationship, they are not desirable. They are deadly.
On that note, I've been reading an old, old book this week with the wonderfully archaic title: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. It was published by John Owen in 1656. Overcoming Sin and Temptation is the name of the current version. Ironically, I began this read with some doubt as to its relevance for me. I was feeling pretty 'on top' of sin. Pretty immune to temptation. [Note: So often it's other people, think:children, who bring our truly selfish natures to light. Mine are grown and all but gone...I can be selfish without seeing it.] Well, I had a load of reality coming. Not only are the words on the page convicting. But my opportunities to mortify my flesh have been pretty obvious this week too.
Owen urges that for the believer, sin is something that must be put to death on a daily basis. Consider his own words:
When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.
There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so while we live in this world.
Not to be daily employing the Spirit and new nature for the mortifying of sin is to neglect that excellent succor which God has given us against our greatest enemy.
He who finds not opposition from [sin], and who sets not himself in every particular to its mortification, is at peace with it, not dying to it.
There are two evils which certainly attend every unmortified professor [one who professes to be a Christian]— the first, in himself... Let him pretend what he will, he has slight thoughts of sin; at least, of sins of daily infirmity. The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart.
When a man has confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins,
that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness and being hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
--John Owen,Overcoming Sin and Temptation, 1656
Wow. And I'm only through the second chapter. I may not have thought this book was for me. but it surely speaks loud and clear to a very present need. I’ve started another blog page just to process and summarize what I’m reading. Check it out if you like at: http://dictationbydawn.wordpress.com
And say, if you care to join in, an informal bunch of blog-readers are reading a chapter a week and sharing thoughts in the "Comments" section at Challies.com on Thursdays. Feel free to join in!
But where was I? Yes, there are deadly desires to have what we sense is just beyond our reach. The sin nature and this new nature implanted in us who have believed in Christ, are forever (no, not forever) duking it out as we are being fitted for glory...All our days these two contend. It helps to realize what's going on. It helps to realize we are made for greater things than we now possess. They're ours; the ticket's been paid for but the possession is still ahead. (Rom.8:23,24) Our inheritance awaits...
I'll have more thoughts on this next time. But for now that renovation job needs to be finished--a gutted room restored to order and beauty to serve our mortal needs. The flooring was laid as I composed the above. The furnishings were moved back in between paragraphs. But the filling of shelves awaits my hands. And I'll hang a picture or two for pleasing effect...
But I'll not let my heart forge here a new Eden. This is merely an entryway to an earthly residence. My true home will be glorious--prepared for me by the Master of Make Overs--the One who has fashioned my heart and made it new. He is the only One this heart was made to worship, while I wait for all things to be restored and sin to be banished for good
I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession,(Cf. Matt.27:11) to keep the commandment (Cf. I Tim.1:5 , John 13:34 ) unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time--he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
I Tim. 6:13-17
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. Jude 1:24,25