Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Long Quote

I read Celebration of Disciplines by Richard Foster my sophomore year of college for a class I was taking.  I have to admit, it was good, but I did not really soak in the book.  I was also taking 2 math classes the same semester (read: 4 hours of math homework a night) and running 50 miles a week.  So I did the good ol' college "skim/read it while I am walking places, while I eat, while I check my email" etc.  Multi-tasking is not the best for absorption.

Anywho, I read part of the book again this past December.  And now, I am diving in to read the whole thing.  My amazing husband has amassed quite a few book about Spiritual Disciplines in our cozy little apartment.  So I am planning on reading a book by (gasp) Dallas Willard after this.  I am not sure I will make it through, but I will try.  Now I am rambling (what's new?)

I wanted to share this really long quote with you. It convicted me in December and it has been convicting me all week.  (If you get bored or distracted while reading, at least read the last two paragraphs, okay?)  Here we go:

"We are accustomed to thinking of sin as individual acts of disobedience to God.  This is true enough as far as it goes, but Scripture goes much further.* (*Footnote: Sin is such a complex matter that the Hebrew language has eight different words for it, and all eight are found in the Bible.)  In Romans the apostle Paul frequently refers to sin as a condition that plaques the human race (i.e., Rom. 3:9-18).  Sin as a condition works its way out through the "bodily members," that is, the ingrained habits of the body (Rom. 7:5ff).  And there is no slavery that can compare to the slavery of ingrained habits of sin.

Isaiah 57:20 says, "The wicked are like the tossing sea; for it cannot rest, and its waters toss up mire and dirt."  The sea does not need to do anything special to produce mire and dirt; that is the result of its natural motions.  This is also true of us when we are under the condition of sin.  The natural motions of our lives produce mire and dirt.  Sin is part of the internal structure of our lives.  No special effort is needed to produce it.  No wonder we feel trapped.

Our ordinary method of dealing with ingrained sin is to launch a frontal attack.  We rely on our willpower and determination.  Whatever may be the issue for us - anger, fear, bitterness, gluttony, pride, lust, substance abuse-we determine never to do it again; we pray against it, fight against it, set our will against it.  But the struggle is all in vain, and we find ourselves again morally bankrupt or, worse yet, so proud of our external righteousness that "whitened sepulchers" is a mild description of our condition.  In his excellent little book entitled Freedom from Sinful Thoughts Heini Arnold writes, "We...want to make it quite clear that we cannot free and purify our own heart by exerting our own 'will.' " (He cites this in the back of the book.)

In Colossians Paul lists some of the outward forms that people use to control sin: "touch not, taste not, handle not."  He then adds that these things "have indeed a show of wisdom in will worship" (Col. 2:20-23, KJV, [italics added]).  "Will worship" -what a telling phrase, and how descriptive of so much of our lives!  The moment we feel we can succeed and attain victory over sin by the strength of our will alone is the moment we are worshiping the will.  Isn't it ironic that Paul looks at our most strenuous efforts in the spiritual walk and calls them idolatry, "will worship"?"

Are you still with me?  You can go back and reread it if you would like (I personally like to read out-loud to myself but whatever flips your pancake).

Let's continue...
"Willpower will never succeed in dealing with the deeply ingrained habits of sin.  Emmet Fox writes, 'As soon as you resist mentally any desirable or unwanted circumstance, you thereby endow it with more power-power which it will use against you, and you will have depleted your own resources to that exact extent.' (He cites this in the back of the book).  Heini Arnold concludes, 'As long as we think we can save ourselves by our own will power, we will only make the evil in us stronger than ever.' (He cites this in the back of the book.)  This same truth has been experienced by all the great writers of the devotional life from St. Augustine to St. Francis, from John Calvin to John Welsey, from Teresa of Avila to Juliana of Norwich.

'Will worship' may produce an outward show of success for a time, but in the cracks and crevices of our lives our deep inner condition will eventually be revealed.  Jesus describes this condition when he speaks of the external righteousness of the Pharisees.  "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks...I tell you, on the day of judgement men will render account for every careless word they utter" (Matt. 12:34-36, [italics added]).  You see, by dint of will people can make a good showing for a time, but sooner or later there will come that unguarded moment when the 'careless word' will slip out to reveal the true condition of the heart.  If we are full of passion, it will be revealed; if we are full of bitterness, that also will be revealed.

It is not that we plan to be this way.  We have no intention of exploding with anger or of parading a sticky arrogance, but when we are with people, what we are comes out.  Though we may try with all of our might to hide these things, we are betrayed by our eyes, our tongue, our chin, our hands, our whole body language. Willpower has no defense against the careless word, the unguarded moment.  The will has the same deficiency as the law-it can deal only with the externals.  It is incapable of bringing about the necessary transformation of the inner spirit."

Only one more sentence to go ya'll: "When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received."

All quotes taken from Richard Foster's Celebration of Disciplines, pages 4-6

This leaves me with two questions: In the words of my college track coach, "How is your heart?"  and "Am I worshiping my own will in trying to do what only Jesus can do?"

And yes, in case you were wondering, I am listening to Christmas music while I write this.

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