Flowers That Glide: Writing, Dying, & Pride

Flowers butterfly

Have you had it where words won’t come? When your heart hurt so much that it bled, but none of that precious ink would drain through your hand? Could it be that God designed dying seasons with your writing life or pride in mind?

Working, and Writing, in Secret

I’m guilty. I act as if worth is found in public, as if a thing is only of value if I publish or post. My motives for sharing* are not always right.

When I live like this, my faith is weak. When I live for the praise of man, my soul shrinks. I’m deaf to my Lord’s words. “He who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Jesus repeats that again and again (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18) to underscore the warning he gave the disciples in verse one.

What was the warning?

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Do we do our righteous deeds “to be seen by them,” or do “we make it our aim to please Him“?

It’s not a question of if we do the thing—the praying or fasting or giving, or the writing and creative working. Instead it’s a question of why. The biblical way is not that we make names for ourselves, but that we make God’s name great. Our creativity is derivative, or imitative, of God’s. Lest we forget these two truths, God may send his dear workers winter.

Enter “The Flower.” It is a splendid, seven-stanza poem by the 17th-century, English poet George Herbert. It has been a means of grace this week.

‘The Flower’

How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.
Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greenness? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.
These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an hour;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amiss,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.
O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together;
But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?
And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.
These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

George Herbert has something to say to those in silent, dry seasons. He knows what it is to be dead to the world and to keep house unknown.

We are flowers in God’s garden that blossom and flourish, then wither and decline. Herbert has learned that whatever the season, God delights when we abide in Him. This is to glide.

And Now In Age I Bud Again

No matter our age, the poem pulsates in us who long to see our words and our work blossom and bear eternal fruit.

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my only light

Winter is past. Now in age, Herbert the wordsmith buds again. Writing and life and writing life return, refreshing like dew and and rain. George relishes versing.

So hope on, friends. Barren seasons and dry spells are not the end.

Far from it. Dying to self brings freedom and life. “Unless a grain of wheat dies,Jesus told Andrew and Philip, “it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.This death is as a seed “dies” when it is buried in the ground and germinates. Jesus would be crucified, buried, and burst forth—the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

But our hard, outer husk must be humbled down low before flower and fruit can appear. This might feel like the God’s frost, frown, and anger. But, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love (Lamentations 3:31-33). In fact, our dry spells and shrivel’d hearts sound an awful lot like Paul’s thorn.

The thorn was sent to keep Paul from becoming conceited (2 Corinthians 12:7). Our barren time under ground keeps us from swelling, from becoming conceited, and forfeiting Paradise by pride. The Lord does hate pride (Proverbs 6:17-19, 8:13, 16:5).

Because He loves us and wants us to bide in his garden, God acts to kill our pride.

A Flower That Glides

This is not to say all dry seasons are sent by God strictly to banish pride. But it is to say that peace and joy come when we learn to glide.

Which brings us back to that exquisite last stanza. Herbert’s eyes are wide open to God’s severe mercy and uncomfortable grace.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can find and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

Now he sees his barren season as, get this, a wonder of God’s love. Because in the winter, in the heart’s shriveled, hidden season, he learned meekness and humility. He learned this gift to come down to where we ought to be.

Now the radiant poet knows that he is not his own. Nor are we.

We are not past changing. But we can be flowers that glide.

For behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth,
    the time of singing has come.

Song of Songs 2:11-12a

*To post or not to post? These 10 questions from Kevin DeYoung’s “Think Before You Post” have helped me decide.

Slaves to Praise

For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. John 12:43

Hey, Mom, Gabe-Age-Eight hollers, a Yertle atop his big brother and Papa.

Take a picture of this. It would be really good on Facebook. People would really like to see it. 

Mom squirms. The apple has landed. Not too far. I smile at my happy stack of man-folk and wince.

Hey, Mom-hurry! I might fall off. Get your camera fast.

I go. Not so fast, cringing and grinning, both. And I take the picture. But I don’t post.

Hey, Mom- aren’t you gonna post it? I know what you could say, ya’ know- the caption? Call it, “Ride ‘Em Cowdad.” 

A Hard Saying

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?  John 5:44

Was that a throwaway line to his audience, to the unbelieving Jews Jesus had just said, refuse to come to me to have life? Was it just a stream-of-thought from the Son of Man, on his way to feed five thousand? No, never. Were any of our Lord’s words ever throw-away? Ever?

Here, and again in John 12:43, we have one of those hard sayings of Jesus. Those either/or, mutually exclusive, this-but-not-that type of deals. Either serve God or money. Either be a slave to sin or a slave to obedience. Either love the world or have the love of the Father.

Either believe in me or love man’s praise. Yup. He said that, too.

A text without a context is a pretext. The context of Jesus’ words was to unbelieving Jews. They’d just seen him do a big sign. He healed a paralytic on the Sabbath. And still with signs, and with and searching the Scriptures for eternal life they refused to come to Jesus to have life. 

But the bigger context, the bigger reason for these hard words of Jesus that John recorded is stated in John 20:31. These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name. That’s not they and we-here, now, you, me, praise-craving, infected souls-to whom Jesus spoke this hard saying. It’s not just for those Jews then. It’s for us now.

It’s for me. I believe, and yet, Help my unbelief. When good deeds to be seen, and liked, and praised by man I act as an unbeliever. I do not set my heart on things above but on earthly things. I choose the quick buzz. I choose the puny praise. I don’t delay gratification. At the moment I post, or pose, or seek man’s applause, I don’t believe God’s praise is worth more. I’m acting like a hypocritical Pharisee, a praise-craving junkie, seeking another fix. I act like a functional atheist.

And it’s not just Facebook. The itch for man’s praise has been around since the Fall. The essence of the fall, is choosing our glory, or pleasure over the pleasure that comes from perfect union and obedience to God’s good will. All have sinned and fall short of his glory. And in perfect contrast, Abraham, we, grow strong in our faith when we give glory to God.

A Morbid Concern

Are you with me? Do you feel the itch, the twitch, the need for man’s praise? Do you feel it on Facebook when the likes stop coming? At work when the boss doesn’t notice or your colleagues don’t care? At home when your spouse doesn’t praise and the kids don’t thank? Do you feel it?

Over half-century ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, preached a this sermon on John 5:44. We are, he said,

[A]nimated by this one desire to receive praise and glory from one another. To receive honor means to seek honor, to desire and live for honor. It is to have it as your life’s ambition. He lives to have man’s honor and to give it to others. It has everything to do with the state of our soul.  

This [praise-craving behavior] is never more evident than today. Our agencies of publicity, our media, have been multiplied more than ever before so this thing can be practiced and carried out. The whole of life today is carried out on this very basis. All the time, the money, to keep this going. It’s what John calls, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.

Look at all the trouble people take to meet important people, just to say they met. It’s in books and papers. They are all writing for one another. It’s driven by a desire for reputation. Self-praise is involved-self-advertising. 

I’m amazed how people can be so fond of looking at their own photographs, of having them plastered all over the place. Self-advertising, dropping a hint here and there, making things known. You see it in the gossip paragraphs. Receiving honor one from another. We have a morbid concern for the opinion of others. 

It makes belief impossible, this life than consists in giving honor one to another. It is so external. Is there anything more superficial than giving honor one of another? It is such an external attitude toward life. It cares nothing for the inner man of the heart. For that which is highly esteemed before men is abomination in the sight of God. 

How to Slay the Praise-Craving Dragon

How can we defeat the dragon? How do we fight our morbid love of man’s praise? We all, to one degree or another, want somebody to notice when we do something good. Praise just tastes so good. But it’s addictive and deadly to faith. We won’t be mastered. By God’s grace, we won’t be overcome.

In a 6-minute Ask Pastor John podcast, Piper takes on the question, How can I conquer the love of human praise? Here are three ways we can fight off the praise-craving dragon inside us.

1. Hate hypocrisy. Your own. 
Thus when you give to the needy sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Matthew 6:2

Slaves to man’s praise do good, but the good they do is only incidental to what they really want. Sure, this side of heaven, motives will be mixed. But ask yourself, What’s driving me first? When we do a praiseworthy thing-when we cook a meal or give flowers, sing on stage or write a check- all for good, servant purposes, mind you, but when we’re doing it to be seen– APPLAUSE PLEASE- we are hypocrites. And Jesus hated hypocrisy.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by hating your own hypocrisy. Do the thing because it praiseworthy, not because you’re praise-craving.

2. Don’t settle. Visualize the prize.
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them. For then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 6:1

“They have received their reward.” We lose something great and we gain something pitiful when we settle for man’s praise. We get man’s short-lived kudos and likes and applause. But the buzz is incredibly fleeting. Facebook is heroin to praise-craving souls. The buzz is fast and big and gone. We might gain 10, 50, or 100-like reward but beware. On or off Facebook, so many of us are insecure and needy of people’s praise in order to be happy and feel satisfied. Let’s not settle.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by remembering not to settle. Set your heart on things above. Don’t to trade God’s great reward for man’s puny praise.

3. Keep Secrets. From your left hand. 
But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

Seriously. Practice doing good deeds, giving gifts, in secret. Or at least in secret to all but right hand. Cultivate friendships with least of these people who can’t repay you. Who can’t say thanks, or repay in kind one day. Children and elders and people with disabilities might be just the type you need. God knows they need you and he is immensely pleased when we welcome and care for these. He sees.

Slay the praise-craving dragon by cultivating relationships with folks who won’t give you praise. Practice keeping your good deeds secret. Hide them. He sees.

*   *   *   *   *

I didn’t post Ride ‘Em Cowdad. I had an itch for a quick fix. But I didn’t post this time. I didn’t because I’m in rehab and fighting a faith-killing disease and slaying a dragon. 

And I want to love the praise of One more than the praise of man.

But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart,
by the Spirit, not by the letter.
His praise is not from man but from God. 

Romans 2:29

Facebook, Gracebook?

Why I Won’t Kiss Facebook Good-bye (But thought a lot about it.)

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?  
John 5:43

So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God. 
1 Corinthians 10:31 

I’m done. I deleted it. My Facebook account is goneThat was a month ago. I saw Lynn today and asked if she’d had second thoughts, if FOMO (“fear of missing out”) was getting to her. Never, she said. I was hooked and now I’m free

Addiction comes when a person engages in a pleasurable activity, but with continued action or use the activity becomes compulsive or harmful. You post a pic and look for likes. The number in the little red circle on the little blue square goes higher, higher, higher. Breathless, now you press it. The buzz of praise feels good. But it’s fleeting. More, more, more. So pose the kids and post again and push the little blue button for more.

Some of my friends don’t ever drink. They can’t safely have even a sip. Some say they can’t ever bring Cheetos home because they’d devour the whole bag alone. And I have friends who don’t ever go on Facebook. One look and temptation would have it’s way. Facebook is addictive for some.

Christians’ chief end is to glorify God. In our joy and in our love. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love. And if I have a thousand friends and three hundred followers but have not love, I am nothing.

And if your right eye causes you to sin, flee. Fly you fools, warned Gandalf. But if Facebook helps you to chief end-makes God look big and extends love’s hug-by all means, use the tool.

Use The Tools

3 Right Reasons To Use Social Media

We use tools help accomplish tasks. The right tool for the job, we say. Tools are a means to an end. Facebook is a tool. We’d best treat it as a means to these God’s good ends.

1. Give Grace
For the Christian, the purpose for any post or tweet or like or comment is to give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29). Our main motive for any comment- because God knows motives are mixed- must be to give others grace. So when a friend’s birthday notification shows up, give grace. Dig out an old photo and make her day. Or scrolling shows a friend’s died dad a year ago today. Send a card. Build each other up

2. Give Thanks
The right end, the will of God? In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Are your posts and comments an overflow of a thankful heart? Do your posts express entitlement and discontent or gratitude to God and friends? Do you thank God for the kind soul who drove your lost wallet home and paid your Girl-Scout cookies forward? Do you thank the one who write posts that encourage and instruct you in good? 

3. Give Glory
In all we meet, at all times we are to adorn the doctrine of God our Savior (Titus 2:10). That, by the way, takes manifold, glorious forms. Photos of funky fall fungi or brilliant spring tulips both point to God’s glory as Creator. So can status updates of cancer-cured or God’s-with-me-in-my-weakness. And just plain merry old posts, like when a kids says your do looks like a Chia Pet and your sap turns to amber candy. I share those. Because a merry heart is good medicine and laughter is God’s gift. 

Fly, You Fools

3 Reasons To Flee Facebook

Facebook’s temptations are many. We all stumble in many ways, and are tempted in different ways. Some fall to sloth’s drift-along ease and some to the pride’s self-adulation.  Others are prone to pride’s flip-side, to the self-pity and envy that come with comparing.

1. Undisciplined Drift
Distraction and entertainment and floating along are not Biblical virtues. They are marks of the godless. For people will be lovers of self…without self-control…swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. (2 Timothy 3:2a-4) Disable, delete, disconnect- because the disembodied can’t show love as well as real bodies. Deanna has four kids under ten. They need her now, and Facebook takes her downstream away from her kids. Deanna is not on Facebook.

2. Green With Envy
My friend Jess has told me how envy sneaks in whenever she joins the Facebook fray. The athletic kids, the bouquet-bringing husbands, all the witty words provoke Jess to envy. For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passion and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy…Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another (Titus 3:3). Jess is guarding her heart from envy’s bitter root. Jess is not on Facebook.

3. Slaves to Man’s Praise
For by what a man is overcome, but this he is enslaved (2 Peter 2:19b) That slavery bit- that’s why fast from it time to time and nearly kissed Facebook good-bye. Because I know my sinful, selfish, double-minded heart. I love to be liked. I like to be shared. I feed on comments and replies. I know this. So Abigail fasts from Facebook. And follows some Facebook rules.

Facebook Rules

I’ve learned that these self-imposed boundaries help me use social media as a grace-giving tool:

1. Not before the Bible. I won’t log into Facebook any day until I’ve spent time in the Word. First things must come first. Or I might drift.

2. Not in the bed. Fight both urges: To intimize technology and technologize intimacy. Enough said.

3. Not if I don’t know you. Following lives of friends we really see, gives us a place to start when we meet face to face. Following others on-line lives can show genuine care.

4. Not at work. Some can. I can’t. When I’m paid for my time, Facebook is shut.

5. Not for debate. Multiple friends- mostly men-have told me that divisive debates about politics and faith have ended their Facebook lives. It has not been a Gracebook. So I do not debate. 

My Facebook use must keep in step with these or comes the kiss of death. For me, it’s the slave to praise piece. I must constantly be on guard, and asking, Is this post, this tweet, this like meant to scratch my itch for man’s praise? Is that what’s driving me?

Jesus’ words to the Pharisees are a splash on my Facebook face: How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:43) And Paul’s words shock me, too: that the true Jew-the real believer- is the one who receives his praise not from men, but from God (Romans 2:29). And, Woe to you if all think well of you. 

I want God’s doxa– his praise- more than man’s. But I am sorely tempted here. It’s why I take time to read posts like this and reflect on them. Because I don’t want to be addicted to man’s praise. I want to give glory to God and give grace to others. I will not be mastered by Facebook.

Used, Not Mastered 

Bruce Hindmarsh is an author and professor at Regent University. He says God can be found on Facebook and in all other on-line technology. I agree. He says, We’ve got to live in the presence of God online and off…My world of email and texting and Facebook is not simply a secular world. God is there. Scripture and prayer and Christian fellowship, all the things that constitute the Christian life, are present in my digital world. God is there.

But Facebook is not for everyone. I close with a loose paraphrase of Paul’s words to the Roman Christians, 

One person believes he may comment and post on anything, while others only scroll or will not log on. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who has a strong Facebook presence, has it in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then whether we log-on or whether we delete our account, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14:2-4a, 6-8).

Nearly as many people are killed in car crashes as by drug overdoses. Danger inherent doesn’t mean we stop driving. It means we’re mindful when we get in a car. It means we buckle-up and don’t text and use turn signals and lights at night. For many, though, Facebook is more like drug than driving. Euphoria and rock-bottom at the touch of one little blue button. 

But we are the Lord’s. And by his power alone, we will not be mastered by anything, including Facebook (1 Corinthians 6:12). Social media will be one of many means to God’s good ends. 

We’ll use it to give grace and glory. Or if temptations rise high, we’ll delete the apps and fly. 

All to the glory of God.