If you feel quite weak and ordinary-if you feel like a mess but have the Spirit-you have the right credentials. You are one of the ordinary people God uses to help others.
-Ed Welch, Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love
Katie couldn’t have picked a better time. It was a rare afternoon when nothing pressed. Still two hours until guests were due, so I took her call. And am I ever glad I did.
An hour later- when co-mingled glad and sad tears were dried and co-mingled sin and suffering were confessed-and this truth dawned bright as a Sanibel sunrise: Every single one of us, is needed and needy. Both.
An Ever-Changing Kaleidoscope
Our roles in the body of Christ are not fixed for life. The teacher one day can taught the next. The encourager, encouraged. The merciful, shown mercy. We are an ever-shifting, never static kaleidoscope of needy and needed, of wounded and mended, of strong and weak,
I was the needed when Katie called, but I’ve been the needy, too. For seasons and years and for minutes and days. When infertility’s ache bound me tight, gentle words of Christian sisters’ unwound me. When I sent my SOS text, “So sick. Can you please take the boys?”
Only God’s economy can the needy be at once needed and the needed be so needy. So we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. But a body is only as strong as its weakest member, shouts a broken pinky toe. So for the glory of God and the strength of the body, strong arms had best tend to the little toes.
God made us to be mutually dependent, strong and weak together. And ones who were strong sometimes are weak and the ones who were weak are sometimes strong. And we all, weak and strong, need God’s love. That the One who gives the need for love is the Giver of love, is what CS Lewis called, a strange grace.
“Eternal Security is a Community Project”
That is the provocative title of a sermon or two that John Piper preached on Hebrews 3:12-14. Wait before you panic. I give them eternal life and no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. Rest assured: God’s own are forever his own and eternally secure. That it is a community project does not undermine God’s preservation. It helps explain how.
The point of the sermons is that God ordains means. Diet and exercise for physical health, prayer and the Word for spiritual health, and believers around us who speak faith-sustaining words into our lives, as one of his means of not being hardened by sins deceitfulness.
Like blogging all day is better than reading to my boys or showing hospitality. That interrupting and being quick to speak is more loving than listening. That prefacing a comment with, I’m not complaining, truly negates the negativity. My friends keep me from being deceived.
In other words, the writer of Hebrews asserts that my being an active member of the Body of Christ, the fellowship of needy and needed, protects me against having a sinful, unbelieving heart.
This is how Christian love works. It is not mushy. Christian love is nitty-gritty, grace-truthing it together. So don’t separate yourself from the very people who could be the means of your life. Don’t cut yourself off from Christian friends. Don’t forsake the fellowship.
It’s Dangerous To Disconnect
A burden could be defined as anything, tests or temptations, that could deceive us into doubting God, and forsaking faith. It might be a tragedy that makes us doubt if God is really good. Or it might be a temptation to sin that makes us think sin will make us happier than obeying God. Both are burdens.
We support one another in sickness, and unemployment and loss of loved ones and heartache. We bear then burden of sin when we say hard things so hearts aren’t hardened by sin they don’t see or lies they might believe.
Leprosy is a highly treatable disease now, but it wasn’t always. It did its damage by destroying pain nerves, making the body “devastatingly vulnerable to injury.”
In vivid detail that only could come through his life as a third-world doctor, Paul Brand describes the debilitating effects of leprosy.
I found myself drawn to those who never came [to the hospital], the pitiful deformed people…they had clawed hands with missing fingers, ulcerated feet, paralyzed thumbs, and every conceivable kind of orthopedic defect.
Dr. Brand describes how the body’s inability to “hear” pain can cause terrible, permanent damage. This happens because leprosy erodes and finally destroys the body’s careful response to danger. When a healthy person is beginning to twist his ankle, he nearly always falls. Brand explains:
When your ankle begins to twist, the lateral ligaments of the ankle endure a terrific strain. Nerve cells detecting the strain order the body to take all the weight off the damaged leg immediately. The thigh and calf muscles become flaccid. If the undamaged leg is off the ground taking a step, you will now have no support and will lurch to the ground. Your body prefers falling to forcing the ankle to take weight in its twisted position. You get up feeling a fool, hoping no one was watching, but really you have just achieved a beautifully coordinated maneuver that saved you from a sprained ankle or worse. (In His Image, p. 35)
But when Brand watched a leprosy victim sprain his ankle, the man did not fall. He recalls,
He stepped on a loose stone, turned his ankle completely over so that the sole of his foot pointed inward, and walked on without a limp. He did not even glance at the foot he had just irreparably damaged by rupturing the left lateral ligament! He lacked the protection of pain. Afterward, without the support of the ligament he had ruptured, he turned his ankle again and again until eventually he had to have that leg amputated. (p. 36)
Brand describes shocking outcomes from the inability to feel pain: leprosy patients whose cigarettes would burn unnoticed down to the nub and brand matching scars into the skin between the two fingers. Others whose fingers were gnawed by rats while they slept.
These patients “lost touch” with their own fingers and hands. One even said to Brand, “You know, my hands are not really hands-they’re things, just like wooden attachments.”
Brand concludes, a physical body only possesses unity to the degree that it possesses pain. Pain serves a vital role in protecting and uniting the spiritual Body against sin’s deceit.
When Katie called and shared her burden and when I listened to her pain and echoed back God’s truth, we were united. Pain enlivened the body.
Our Deception Protection
When we, co-mingled and shifting needed and needy, are united in the truth and sharing the love of Christ (vv. 1-2), the devil doesn’t have a hook on which to hang his lies. Hunting the weak and stray is easier. A lion goes after a lone gazelle.
Christians must be vulnerable. When a sister shared her struggles with gluttony, how she ate half a pan of brownies at naptime- suddenly the floodgates were opened and true confessions flowed. Being vulnerable with our needs bonds us to the Body and emboldens other needy, hurting members to open festering wounds that desperately need air to heal.
Being vulnerable draws people to us, because the world is full of hurting, struggling people. People who are fighting hard battles against trial and temptation.
But we spend so much time hiding our neediness. We need to stop concealing. Ed Welch writes, “Being needy is our basic condition. There is no shame in it-it’s just they way it is.”
Isn’t it when we don’t feel needed that we’re prone to disconnect or let self-pity separate us? And isn’t it when we hide our our neediness that pride’s self-reliance can sever us? So share your need, and others will feel needed. And you strong ones, move towards needy ones. It’s a win-win.
Paul wasn’t ashamed of his need and asked for prayer often (1 Thess. 5:25, 1 Cor. 1:10-11, Eph. 6:19-20, Col. 4:3). Understanding this and practicing asking for help makes us better helpers. We are needy and needed. Both.
Two Ways to Embrace this Grace
The grace is that the one who creates the Needy is the One who fills the needy with good things. His Word and prayer are means. So to is the encouragement of the Body.
1. We are needy. We ask for help. We are vulnerable. We cry out to God, and then phone a friend. We know that another day or in another way we will be the needed, and this comfort will not be wasted. We seek humbly to be at ease with our neediness. And we don’t forsake fellowship.
2. We are needed. We move toward those in need. Whether the need is to be warned of dangers they don’t feel or reminded that God is still good, we go to them. We move toward and we pray. Strengthened and humbled by the Spirit, we bear with the weak and we bear their burdens.
As we get the knack of this needy-needed rhythm, writes Ed Welch, Jesus will be in it and over it. He was weak before we were; he was dependent on his Father and dependent even on mere human beings. He also came to serve rather than be served, and he did it side by side. As far as we are able, we do this with one another. (Side By Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love, p. 13)
On to Mordor, But Not Alone
Our family just finished reading The Fellowship of the Ring. Last week we watched the movie. It could be that I had Katie’s call and Ed Welch’s needed and needy and Lewis’ strange grace on my mind-or maybe it was just Tolkien’s brilliant writing.
Whatever the cause this dialogue choked me up.
One does not simply walk into Mordor, Boromir warns. Its black gates are guarded by more than just Orcs. There is an evil there that does not sleep…Not with 10,000 men could you do this. It is folly!
As the Council of Elrond’s argument reaches fever pitch, Frodo interrupts.
I will take the ring to Mordor. Though I do not know the way.
Gandalf walks toward Frodo, and places his arms on Frodo’s shoulders,
I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear.
Then Aragorn kneels,
If I can help you by life or death, I will. You have my sword
And elf and dwarf come forward too, to offer help,
You have my bow, Legolas says. And my axe, offers Gimli.
Even Boromir comes slowly,
If this is indeed the will of the council, then Gondor will see it done.
Finally, Sam bursts forth from behind the bushes and stands beside Frodo,
Heh! Mr. Frodo is not going anywhere without me!
That, friends, is real fellowship. We share and we bear each others’ burdens until sickness and sadness and sin are destroyed. The Ring was destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom. And God will destroy the destroyers of the earth, even the deceiver of the whole world.
Then we will conquer, needy and needed together.
He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thy sake. -Augustine
A Pleasant Inn
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why.
The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).
That’s it. Serious. But not too, I hope. It expresses my heart so well. Marriage is a gift, indeed. A faithful friend who can find? A source of joy, a blessed strength, a means of grace. Yes, yes, and yes.
The closest thing I have on earth to my faithful, loving immortal God is my flesh and blood husband, who knows me well and still loves me. It is a comfort and fun to have him near- to sample this new dish, and savor that gorgeous sunset and listen to me read, Please, just this one really good part?
Marriage is a gift from the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b). At its best, it is a cozy, refreshing inn along our path home.
Marriage is also a great test of character, a merciless revealer of sinful hearts. T.S. Eliot said that marriage is the greatest of tests, much more than a test of sweetness of temper, as people sometimes think; it is a test of the whole character and affects every action. Which is a big part of the gift.
It is my best chance to practice confessing sin and forgiving sin. It is, in a word, the gymnasium for my growth in godliness. Not that I don’t work out a bit at work and with friends and all alone, too.
But marriage is different. Gary and Betsy Ricucci nail it: One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached, it would have said, “Here’s to helping you discover what you’re really like!
Gentleness and patience, in particular, get the best workout in marriage. I don’t struggle at all being patient and gentle with myself, and rarely with my friends. These two can be formed only in the crucible of frustration.
And gentleness? Francis De Sales instructed women like me, we who may do the right thing with a violent diligence, not to lose any opportunity, however small it may be, for exercising gentleness of heart toward everyone.
(Alas, I’m falling down the serious slope. But I know who can pull us up.)
G.K. Chesterton wrote, Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline. And in “What’s Wrong with the World,” he wrote, I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.
Jim and I know this good fight of incompatibility. And still, One made suitable helpmates.
Moderate in the House of Mirth
In 1 Corinthians 7:29, Paul gives a surprising bit of advice for the lovestruck. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none. He’s laying down what Matthew Henry calls, a holy indifference toward the world and everything in it. Even husbands and wives.
In his commentary on this verse, Henry writes,
That is, they must not set their hearts too much on the comforts of the relation; they must be as though they had none. They know not how soon they shall have none…Those that are their comfort now may prove their greatest cross. And soon may the flower of all comforts be cut down…As to worldly enjoyments: that is, they should not take too great a complacency in any of their comforts. They must be moderate in their mirth, and sit loose to the enjoyments they most value. Here is not their rest, nor are these things their portion; and therefore their hearts should not be set on them, nor should they place their satisfaction in them.
But there’s more to the story. The creation itself, extending to the mystery of marriage, is communication from God. It is not an end. It is a pleasant inn, a bit of fun, and sometimes even fabulous. And when we’re there, we’d best give thanks and chase the pleasure up the beam.
Because, as Joe Rigney writes, Created glory mediates divine glory so that when we chase the pleasures up the beam to the source, we arrive a the joy of joys, the river of delights, the person of persons, the living God and Father of Jesus Christ (The Things of Earth, Chapter 3).
We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. -C. S. Lewis, Letters, 1/20/42
Why We Don’t Resolve
A quick survey of seven friends found one of seven was. Some of the six shrugged. One grimaced.
Why don’t we start the New Year with a resolution or two? Reasons tend to fall in one of two groups. Either for sloth of soul or for fear of failure many of us resist resolving.
Some of us opt out of New Year’s Resolutions because they’re so much work. We like comfort and quick and saying no to snacks after six and reading the Word before checking Facebook and proofreading each email before we click send- these take much sweat and effort and self-control.
And we don’t want to fight those good fights. We’ve got work to do and kids to feed and ministry. Maybe next year. We’re not ready. Not yet.
But it seems most who don’t resist resolutions because they know they’ll fall. Whether two months, or two days, or two hours in we know we’ll fail. It’s just a matter of time. Maybe we fear stumbling along the right road more than we fear drifting along the wrong. We let the perfect become the enemy of the good. We’re afraid of falling in the mud.
Somehow we seem to forget that perfect will only happen in heaven and glory won’t come fully until we behold his face. Our work now is to get in the race and fight the good (but imperfect) fight of faith. But we’re afraid to fall.
3 Reasons We Should
1. RESOLVE: To know God’s power in the fight.
C.S. Lewis knew of whence we speak, of what we fear, at the start of the new year.
I know all about the despair of overcoming chronic temptations. It is not serious, provided self-offended petulance, annoyance at breaking records, impatience etc. don’t get the upper hand. No amount of falls will really undo us if we keep on picking ourselves up each time. We shall of course be very muddy and tattered children by the time we reach home. But the bathrooms are all ready, the towels put out, and the clean clothes in the airing cupboard. The only fatal thing is to lose one’s temper and give it up. It is when we notice the dirt that God is most present in us: it is the very sign of his presence. (Letters, January 20, 1942)
So up and at ’em. Get in the fray. Resolve today. Because though a righteous man falls seven times, he gets up again (Proverbs 24:16a). But a coward watches clean from the couch. And cuddled in, clean and dry, he doesn’t much notice God’s power.
You find out the strength of the wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down, Lewis also said. We don’t know the strength of the evil until we try to fight it. Likewise, we don’t know the power of our God for us who believe until we face off, do battle, resolve.
2. RESOLVE: To avoid greater cost later.
Waiting may be costly. Strike while the iron’s hot and all that. Resolve now. We know the agony that comes when we wait too long. The sale’s over and we pay more.
Rory Vaden is a motivational speaker. It’s hard to argue his premise that success of any sort requires self-discipline. He quips,
Procrastination and indulgence are nothing more than creditors that charge you interest.
He’s right. We eat too much and we feel sick and gain weight. That’s costly. We spew angry words and lose friends. Very costly. We don’t proof our memos and take triple the time undoing the confusion. Big interest. We push snooze again and rush off to the tune of a $200 speeding ticket. Procrastination and indulgence are costly.
Ultimately, left unchecked, they cost us our souls. Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion (Hebrews 3:15). Or, as Sam Gamgee said, It’s the job that’s never started as takes longest to finish.
3. RESOLVE: To see Christ exalted.
The Apostle Paul was a resolver. He resolved, he made it his ambition, to preach where Christ had not been named (Romans 15:10), to know nothing but Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2), to minister in Rome (Acts 19:21), to name a few.
And Paul encouraged good, faith-filled, resolves among believers. Without faith it’s impossible to please God and whatever does not come from faith is sin. Resolves made, and-even worse-kept, without faith cannot be good and only tend to pride.
The proof text in support of making of good resolves is 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12,
To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tracking Paul’s train of thought here is vital for us to make good resolutions. We must:
1. Go after that good resolve by faith; relying on God to help us will and act.
2. Know God’s power is at work to pick us up and fulfill the good resolve.
3. Strive so that Jesus Christ gets the glory; get up and go on when muddied.
How then should we resolve?
By God’s grace, through faith in His power, and for His glory, John Piper answers. That, I think, is what Paul means in 2 Thessalonians 1:11, that God may make you worthy of his calling. That’s what Christian resolves are: we work out while Christ works what is pleasing to him in us (Philippians 2:12).
They’re not about worthy as in deserve or merit or earn, but worthy as in preferring His worth over other things. When we don’t settle for short-term pleasures in overeating and gossiping and grumbling we value God’s worth. That is what makes us worthy of his calling.
We see that meaning of worthy Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast in Matthew 22,
And he sent his servant to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.’…But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business…Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready but those invited were not worthy.’
That’s what this and other New Testament references* to our being worthy mean. We can never merit or deserve or earn Christ or his welcome to the kingdom. But God graciously allows gives us eyes to see him and his kingdom as infinitely valuable- as worthy.
So we resolve and walk worthy. We treasure knowing Him. We trust the mud en route to the feast is worth the effort. That is, I think, what Paul means by praying that God makes us “worthy of his calling.”
The Opposite of Resolved
The opposite of resolved is not a happy-go-lucky drift to holiness. We only drift one direction and it’s not toward heaven. Not to resolve is to be undecided and irresolute. It’s limping between two opinions. It’s thinking, I really should stop ____ (eating, talking, scrolling), but not yet.
Whenever we see something we should be doing that we’re not doing we should resolve to do it and whenever we see something we’re doing that we shouldn’t be doing, we should resolve not to. To walk worthy, to see God’s power, to exalt Jesus. We should resolve. So help us God.
How long will you go on limping between two opinions? If the Lord is God follow him, if Baal is God follow him, Elijah challenged the Israelites. It’s the same this January 1st. Don’t be afraid to commit. Don’t be irresolute. Don’t go on limping. Don’t waffle. Resolve. Act.
Why don’t we resolve today? Oh, sure, we will fall and get a little muddy. But we will rise.
And the towels will be out and our clean clothes airing.
o the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.
*The worth of the guests is their embrace of the worth of the feast. You can see it in walk worthy (Ephesians 4:1), and of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), and of the Lord (Colossians 1:10), and of God (1 Thessalonians 2:12), and of the kingdom (2 Thessalonians 1:5). In every case, this is what it means to be “worthy of the Lord.” John Piper explains, we find that our worthiness is not our deserving or meriting or earning, but rather our seeing and savoring something of infinite worth. worthiness is our preferring worth above all things.