“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
There is nothing like oral surgery to remind of the importance of small things. Years ago—twenty five to be exact—I opted for a temporary solution to a long-term problem in order to save money and expedite appointment and deployment for missionary service in East Africa. Despite occasional painful reminders that something was likely rotting in Denmark, I successfully ignored the sporadic discomfort until a year-and-a-half ago. Sitting at the dinner table of a restaurant in Northern Iraq I felt something give way. Upon closer examination in my hotel room, I discovered that the antiquated makeshift dental work had finally given up the ghost. A significant hole remained where dental cement had plugged it for two decades, and I knew that I would not escape with a temporary solution this go-round. I would like to say I dealt swiftly with the issue when I returned home, but the truth is I continued to prolong the inevitable. To make a long story short, complications of a broken tooth and deteriorating jaw became too much to bear, and I went under anesthesia and the knife yesterday for tooth extraction and bone graft, a radical solution to a painful problem that seemed so small all those years ago.
What we convince ourselves is of small consequence today and resolve to procrastinate, inevitably leads to larger consequences and greater pain. Disagreement grows into dissension; secret sin morphs into public disgrace. There is no such thing as a temporary solution for moral decay. The remedy for every sin is honest confession and radical repentance followed by relentless restitution. What small flaws have I pushed into a dark corner for another day? What relational fissures threaten to expand into full-blown canyons apart from intentional intervention? An old adage admonishes, “Why delay until tomorrow what can be done today.” The spiritual translation is, ”Address moral and relational warning signs today, or they will mandate life-altering measures tomorrow.”
Work summoned me to Colorado Springs this week, and recognizing it as home to the international headquarters of the Navigators, I brought along a special book from my personal library. To understand why I chose this particular book to re-read on this trip, some background is in order. In the 60’s and 70’s my mother was church librarian and worked as part-time clerk for the Bible Book Shoppe in Port Arthur, so I grew up with a love of books and enjoyed an inside-track for receiving book treasures on every birthday, Christmas, and other various and sundry occasions. The first book Mom gave me after I made public God’s call to ministry was the biography of Dawson Trotman by Betty Lee Skinner. Daws was an evangelist and founder of the Navigators in 1933. My mother evidently felt that he was a fitting model for her soon-to-be preacher son, and she chose well. Trotman had been instrumental in developing a discipleship movement that continues to this day, and the Word of God shaped his life and ministry. Dawson and his wife Lila are buried together on a rocky hillside of the property called Glen Eyrie that serves as conference center of the Navigators. Just before heading to the airport for my flight back home, I drove to Glen Eyrie and gained permission to hike up to Dawson Trotman’s grave. Winded and slightly overwhelmed by the environs, I made it to the marker where I read the simple inscription: “Dawson and Lila Trotman had a passion to know Christ and to make Him known—and to help generations of others do the same.” Before descending to retrieve my car and head to the airport, I paused to thank God for their example and investment in eternity, and prayed that the same may be true of my own calling.
“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 | NRSV
“I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord.” Philippians 3:8
If you would save others, you cannot save yourself. If you would bear much fruit, you must be buried in darkness and solitude. (Streams in the Desert)
No one ever sacrifices anything for Jesus. Whatever I relinquish on account of Christ is always an improvement; surrender lays the groundwork for growth. What we hold most dear threatens to ruin us; affection easily becomes idolatry. Self-preservation is anathema for disciples. Take a stab at self-crucifixion and you will see the Lord Jesus Christ high and lifted up instead of your own ego and ambition. It does not matter what people think or say about me; all that counts for eternity is that others see the beauty and glory of Christ that radiates from an abandoned heart.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29 :18
Waiting upon God is necessary in order to see Him, to have a vision of Him. The time element in vision is essential. Our hearts are like a sensitive photographer’s plate; and in order to have God revealed there, we must sit at His feet a long time. The troubled surface of a lake will not reflect an object. Our lives must be quiet and restful if we would see God. There is power in the sight of some things to affect one’s life. A quiet sunset will bring peace to a troubled heart. Thus the vision of God always transforms human life.
Jacob saw God at Jabbok’s ford, and became Israel. The vision of God transformed Gideon from a coward into a valiant soldier. The vision of Christ changed Thomas from a doubting follower into a loyal, devout disciple.
But men have had visions of God since Bible times. William Carey saw God, and left his shoemaker’s bench and went to India. David Livingstone saw God, and left all to follow Him through the jungles of dark Africa. Scores and hundreds have had visions of God, and are today in the uttermost parts of the earth working for the speedy evangelization of the heathen. (Streams in the Desert)
The vision we need most is a right view of ourselves. Do yourself a favor just now and withdraw from the rat race long enough to be ruthfully honest. Be brutally frank—you have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing games with memories. Ask, “Do I recall a previous moment when my heart leaned more toward Christ than it does right now?” If images and sensations come flooding back from an earlier time when you thrilled to Scripture and wanted nothing more than to bask in the presence of Christ and admonish others to do the same, do not balk but run back to that place. Refuse to pause at the altar of acceptability or convenience; race to brokenness. Fling yourself upon the memory and plead to God for dry bones to come back to life. This is His call and perfect will for your life—to abandon yourself to Christ in sweet communion and remain there, regardless of whatever distraction the enemy hurls at you.
“Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” Psalm 4:1
This is one of the grandest testimonies ever given by man to the moral government of God. It is not a man’s thanksgiving that he has been set free from suffering. It is a thanksgiving that he has been set free through suffering: “Thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress.” He declares the sorrows of life to have been themselves the source of life’s enlargement. (Streams in the Desert)
To be completely honest, most suffering I endure is self-inflicted.
“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” Psalm 51:3
The prevalence of sin is no excuse to play the victim; instead, it is a call to battle. Moral decay is not inevitable. Choices have a lingering effect; poor decisions harm, but good ones heal. I must deal ruthlessly with every thought that threatens control of Christ’s dominion.
“It is only when God has altered our disposition and we have entered into the experience of sanctification that the fight begins. The warfare is not against sin; we can never fight against sin: Jesus Christ deals with sin in Redemption. The conflict is along the line of turning our natural life into a spiritual life, and this is never done easily, nor does God intend it to be done easily. It is done only by a series of moral choices. God does not make us holy in the sense of character; He makes us holy in the sense of innocence, and we have to turn that innocence into holy character by a series of moral choices. These choices are continually in antagonism to the entrenchments of our natural life, the things which erect themselves as ramparts against the knowledge of God. We can either go back and make ourselves of no account in the Kingdom of God, or we can determinedly demolish these things and let Jesus bring another son to glory.” (O. Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)
“And he saw them toiling in rowing.” Mark 6:48
Straining, driving effort does not accomplish the work God gives man to do. Only God Himself, who always works without strain, and who never overworks, can do the work that He assigns to His children. When they restfully trust Him to do it, it will be well done and completely done. The way to let Him do His work through us is to partake of Christ so fully, by faith, that He more than fills our life.
A man who had learned this secret once said: “I came to Jesus and I drank, and I do not think that I shall ever be thirsty again. I have taken for my motto, ‘Not overwork, but overflow’; and already it has made all the difference in my life.”
There is no effort in overflow. It is quietly irresistible. It is the normal life of omnipotent and ceaseless accomplishment into which Christ invites us today and always. (Streams in the Desert)
Life is exceedingly simple these days—much more so than ever before. As a younger man I fretted over unrealized grand schemes and worried that my life might pass unnoticed. While attempting to convince myself that all I wanted was to make a difference for Christ, the clearer truth is I wanted to make a difference for myself. The most severe competition we encounter is internal. I fought to scale all manner of imagined hurdles, all the while heralding to others the beauty of a life free from ambition. I did not recognize the futility of striving.
The only disciple who accomplishes anything of eternal value is the one stripped bare of vain ambition. Desiring Christ is the only aspiration Scripture sanctions. Holy thirst. When I cease straining to advance myself, I am free to rest in God’s glory. What matters is the weight of God’s renown. The moment He becomes all to me, life takes on the lasting value I once worked so hard to achieve on my own. A vessel cannot be filled until it is empty.
“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.” Psalm 107:23-24
Let our prayer be that of an old Cornishman: “O Lord, send us out to sea—out in the deep water. Here we are so close to the rocks that the first bit of breeze with the devil, we are all knocked to pieces. Lord, send us out to sea—out in the deep water, where we shall have room enough to get a glorious victory.”__Mark Guy Pearse
Remember that we have no more faith at any time than we have in the hour of trial. All that will not bear to be tested is mere carnal confidence. Fair-weather faith is no faith.__C. H. Spurgeon (Streams in the Desert)
Discipleship is difficult because success or failure rests solely on my readiness and willingness to depend on the Father. There is no such thing as a self-reliant disciple. Reckless abandon to Sovereign God is no small thing; the way of the cross runs counter to common sense, and violates logic. That is what makes the Sermon on the Mount counter-cultural, to borrow a phrase from John R. W. Stott. While every reasonable voice urges to remain in the safe shallows, the wind of the Spirit blows into rough waters that threaten to dash us against shadowy crags apart from divine intervention. Faint hearts falter here. Brave hearts abandon independence and bow themselves daily, even hourly, to the mercies of God. Deep seas develop disciples.