"I have preached way too many sermons without a conclusion, and heard too many," says D. Clair Davis, chaplain and professor of history at Redeemer Seminary: "I'm positive that the lazy preacher's ending, 'Now may the Lord bless this to your hearts,' is nothing but trash. How should the Lord bless it, that's the ... gaping hole."
How! I was sitting down to write a column about something or other when I noticed a vague gnawing at my insides. It had been going on for some time, and I had been trying to ignore it-or to live with it.
Some things you have to live with. I have to live with the train screeching through my backyard day and night. It doesn't particularly bother me anymore, except sometimes the freight train in the wee hours of summer when my bedroom window is open. But in any case, I have to live with it.
I don't have to live with the gnawing of Satan's messengers in my gut. C.S. Lewis made that point more artfully in a story about a man who walked around with a lizard on his shoulder. The lizard's name was lust, and a heavenly being offered to kill it for the poor, afflicted man, but he was afraid it would hurt too much. And truth be told, he couldn't imagine his life without the lizard, preferring even unappeasable lust to no lust at all.
The reptile I was entertaining while settling in before the keyboard turned out to be (it took very little introspection to know) covetousness. I traced its onset to a single sentence in a letter received that day. In hindsight, I figure I was not bothering to wage war on it because of both self-protection and unbelief.
How self-protection? That's where human nature gets weird. God offers joy as a normal fruit, but we ourselves suppress it to coddle our debaucheries in moist, dark places in the soul. We feel safe by doing this: While we are thinking about our fears they cannot hurt us.
How unbelief? We don't believe it will do any good to resist. We don't believe that what God wants to give us is better than what we crave. We don't believe God can, or will, do anything about our bondage. So much of our salvation is "not yet" (we have been told) that we should not expect much now: Bear your fallen nature patiently, daily confess it, and prepare to confess it again tomorrow when you will inevitably fall into the same pit.
We want moral schools and smaller government and an end to abortion, and we all think about these matters some of the time. But where our minds drift to when alone in the car in five o'clock traffic, that is rubber-meets-the-road reality-and Jesus came to deal with it.
By deal with it, do you mean just forgive it? Or do you mean nuke it? There is the $64,000 question: How much personal sanctification is available in the blood of Christ in this lifetime? How much mastery? Where is the ceiling? What is the "already" part of salvation-a treading of water, with forensic forgiveness? Or is it being transformed from one degree to another, in a way that your husband or wife would notice the difference? In a way that you could sit at your computer and be free?
Is there a doctor in the house who can teach spiritual warfare? Is there anyone who believes it does any good? Chaplain Davis is concerned that preaching to a person week after week that he should put his trust in Christ, but then adding that he won't necessarily get much traction until Christ returns, will "send the wrong message, since we remember the last thing we heard." Unless the bugle sounds a distinct note, who will be roused for battle?
So, try this New Year's resolution: Find a friend who is believing Christ for all He's worth and seeing victories. Grab onto his coattails and say, "I can see that God is with you. May I walk with you a mile or two, brother? I am weary of failing and I want to run this race." No more lazy nostrums, no more empty cisterns, no more gaping holes.