The following was written from 10:00 PM – 12:30 AM, last night
My wife Annie and I were playing Ticket to Ride (You should check it out; it’s amazing!) tonight when I remembered I was supposed to write something for TheoCult. Every other time I’ve written, I was ready for it. I was ready to write what I was feeling. I was excited to share what God was doing in me and different revelations He’s given me about Himself. Last time, I forgot, but that’s only because I forgot the date. I had something I was excited to share. This time, I got nothing.
I told Annie that, and she seemed confused. “I thought you had all kinds of stuff you wanted to write about.” “I thought I did,” was my reply. I started thinking about that. Why isn’t there anything pressing on my heart? Why don’t I feel like I have something to share? Why hasn’t God revealed something new about Himself with which I can encourage others? Gene from three or four years ago would have blamed it on God. I’ve learned much since then, and I know the problem isn’t on God’s end.
In his book With Christ in the School of Prayer, Andrew Murray talks about keeping the morning watch. He defines this as devoting at least the first half hour of every day to prayer and time with the Father. I’d “done devotions” and “had quiet times” before, but this time, I really felt God saying, “Come get to know me.” I followed God’s working in my heart for about a month. It was awesome (and I mean that in the word’s true definition). I learned about who God is; I was able to lead my wife and kids; I was able to speak into friends’ lives; I was able to share through this medium. It was great. But then it started to get hard to get out of bed. Seriously, that’s all it took. I got lazy. Things were going so well, what difference could one morning make? The next morning, I had an excuse not to get up since I’d already missed yesterday. And so it goes.
When I was in high school and trying out for the basketball team, my brother Jay told me, “When you’re playing sports, you have to play to win ALL THE TIME. It doesn’t matter if you’re up by 50 points, if you start playing not to lose instead of playing to win, you’ve lost.” Watchman Nee talks about this in Love Not the World. The natural tendency of things is worldly. Business, government, education; these things can be done in a godly manner with the goal of glorifying God in them. But it must be an active working toward that end. Without active leadership in a godly direction, these things turn worldly. I believe the same thing can be said for us. I started playing not to lose because things were going well. I stopped actively chasing after God and what He has for me. Is it any wonder I don’t have an encouragement for my brothers and sisters? Is it any wonder I feel empty? Is it any wonder I’ve started to identify with the preacher in Ecclesiastes?
Whenever I start to identify with Ecclesiastes, I know something is really wrong. Gene from three or four years ago would have blamed God. Gene from two years ago would have blamed himself and responded from shame, “I’m gonna do better! I’m gonna work harder and get up earlier and show God how hard I can work so He’ll bless me and be okay with me.” But, I’ve been there and done that. And here I am.
You know who can’t change my heart? Me. I hate that fact, but it’s true. And so Gene today claims Romans 7:21-8:2 (This chapter split makes no sense to me), “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
What’s interesting to me about my struggle with actively pursuing God is that I’m not the active party. My activity, even when I’m working super hard to fix myself, is self-defeating. Things actually get worse when I try to work harder. When it comes to my heart, all I can do is fall on my face and declare, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” That’s it. That’s the only thing I can do. When I try to work harder, I’m really hardening my heart to God’s transformative work. When I check all the boxes and follow all the rules, I’m trying to earn my way. But when I reach the end of myself and cry out “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”, He does. He delivers, He sets free, He changes hearts. The only way to play to win is to give God the ball and follow where He leads. There’s freedom, hope and victory in that. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”