The Hardest Battle I Have to Fight

…is with myself.

I tend to be lazy, self-centered, thoughtless toward others, have a short attention span, forget the way others have blessed me, and not stick with projects. And, as a friend says, those are my good points.

I forgot vain, materialistic, and fearful. I also worry a lot.

Oh, great, some reader is thinking along about now. We get to endure all his soul-searching and wade through the results of the autopsy he has run on himself.

Nope. I’ll spare you.

Because, to tell the truth, I’m not at all unlike you. Whether you like that or not, it’s the unvarnished truth. You and I are two peas in a pod, twins of such similarities we might as well share the same DNA.

You too are self-centered in many areas, and childish in some ways, and with a tendency to give little thought to pleasing your Creator or for that matter, other people. You and I are sinners. And, just to set the record straight, I don’t mean respectable sinners but incorrigible, hard-core rebels of the first magnitude who need to be taken out to the woodshed and “whupped.”

When the Bible said, “There is none righteous, no, not one,”–it’s found in both the Old and New Testaments, so that ought to tell us something–it could just as well have inserted our names. (Romans 3:10)

When the Lord Jesus told us to deny ourselves in order to become His disciples (Matthew 16:24), He knew full well what He was asking. What He was NOT asking for was that we would deny our humanity, our identity, or our dignity–that is, how He made us, who we are, and what we are worth.

What He WAS calling for was that we turn our backs on our self-centered, destructive, people-using tendencies and misguided behaviors.

And that’s where our biggest battles come.

The old folks used to speak of an unholy trinity–the world, the flesh, and the devil. They had it figured about right. Each of these poses incredible obstacles and challenges for believers to deal with every day of our lives. And, I don’t know about you, but the middle one, the flesh, gives me the biggest headaches.

Every day of my life I have to pray about my thought process. (Psalm 19:14)

Every day of my life I have to pray protection upon my words. (Psalm 141:3)

Every day of my life I have to pray against my fears and worries. (Philippians 4:6)

Every morning, I have to make myself sit down with an open Bible and read it. You would think by now–I’ve been doing this for some sixty years–it would be second nature, but I still have to work at starting my day off with the Lord.

Every day, I fuss at myself for not praying longer and better and deeper. Then, I’ll run across something I’ve written on prayer which some blogster or editor has picked up and I will feel like the hypocrite I am.

Not every day, but frequently, someone will accuse me of something–not doing my job well enough, not caring for this one deeply enough, neglecting this or overdoing that–and the first thought that occurs is “I’ve been found out. They’ve learned what a bum I am.”

I read the above and think to myself, “Well, I’m not into pornography, not cheating on my wife, not doing anything unethical or illegal or overtly unChristian,” and pride starts to rear its ugly head.

I alternate between pride and self-disgust. Between over-confidence and doubt. Faith and fear. I vacillate between a smugness over having lots of education and revulsion over my sheer ignorance.

Sorry. I said I wasn’t going to do that. But, rather than deleting that little paragraph, I’m leaving it because someone else reading this has the same problem and needs to know he’s not alone.

Last year, Catholics who adore–worship is too strong a word, I hope–the saintly Mother Teresa were disappointed to discover in her journals the struggles she had with faith and the war she fought with her inner self. My own opinion is that believers from my side of the Christian community are all too familiar with the same battles, since we wage them too in one way or the other.

Recently, I jotted down a few thoughts on what it feels like to be 68 years old, my present level of decrepitude and senility. I was surprised to find I am not any more mature or godly than I am. I was most definitely not anticipating 40 years ago that at this point in my life, I would still feel like a 15 year old, understand my Bible like a 20 year old, preach like I did at 25, and rule my spirit like I did when I was 12.

As the wonderful Robert Frost said, I still have “miles to go before I sleep.”

Miles to go before I sleep.

Yesterday I sat across the table from two young pastors and we talked of Romans 8:26, specifically, the first part of the verse. “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.” I pointed out the best insight the Greek language has provided me in many a year: our English word “helps” in this verse is actually “synantilambanomai” in the Greek.

It’s a compound word, meaning several words or portions of words have been jammed together to form one big one. The prefix “syn” means “together, with,” “anti” is a prefix meaning “opposite to, in front of,” and “lambanomai” is a form of the verb “to lift.” Together, they tell us the believer is not alone in his struggles, that the Holy Spirit gets on the other end of his burdens and lifts together with him.

David understood. He said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4)

You and I walk through many a valley in this life–the shadow of death is only one we trod–but His presence with us makes all the difference.

I don’t know about you, but I frequently feel the way Moses did when he prayed, “Lord, if you’re not going with us, I’m not going.” (my paraphrase of Exodus 33:15)

You will appreciate, therefore, why a mainstay in my Christian life is and ever has been the line from Hebrews 13. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper. I will not be afraid.”

How does the line go? “The Lord loves me as I am, but loves me enough not to leave me there.”

Years ago, some of us used to wear a button that read: “PBPGIFWMY.”

When asked, we would point out that it means: “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.”

Sometimes we have to tell ourselves to be patient, also, since the process of our sanctification is taking so long.

Recently, a reader wrote a rather negative note about our cartoons on the Epistle to the Romans. I had to agree with her that most were hastily drawn, but told her I have a day job and cannot spend hours on each drawing. She took exception to the numerous drawings that mention how we are all sinners. After all, she’s no longer a sinner now that she is in the Lord.

I understand the point, I suppose, although she did not respond to my note. I wrote to her, “Are you telling me that after you came to the Lord, you no longer sin? Wow. That’s great. How did that happen?”

It might have sounded a little sarcastic to her, but I didn’t mean it that way. It’s a valid question for anyone claiming to be past that old struggle.

Those of us who still wrestle with the world, the flesh, and the devil on a daily basis would love to have done with this fight. The way I understand my Bible, however, the time to sit in the heavenly bleachers and root for others in the fight comes only after death. (See Hebrews 12:1)

Only at the end can we say, as Paul did, “I have fought the good fight.” (II Timothy 4:7) You get the impression he was hearing the final bell even as he wrote.

Until then, “We who are in this body do groan.” (II Corinthians 5:4)

5 thoughts on “The Hardest Battle I Have to Fight

  1. We are our own worst enemies. Our old nature makes this so. They that are in the flesh cannot please God. But praise God, because of Christ, we are no longer in the flesh, IE., dominated or enslaved to the flesh. We can walk by the Spirit, and not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.

  2. Thanks for that great reminder of the grace of our Lord. I thought of the Scripture in IJohn 1:8-2:1 which I believe is written to believers-“If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us…My little children, I am writing these things that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” The difference before we are believers, no conviction of sin-it is a life style. (Well maybe guilt) BUT after we are believers, there should be such conviction of any little sin. That to me is evidence of our salvation. I believe, the older I get, the more I realize I have such a long way to go. Thanks once again for your humility and openness. I just love your insight in these letters.

    Gail S. PS I just love those McKeevers at FBCK. They are such a blessing to the body!

  3. What a blessing this reading has been to me today, an eye-opener indeed.

  4. Bro. Joe,

    While I haven’t reached the milestone you have reached of 68 (I’m 12 years behind you!) I certainly could sign my name as the author or descriptee of all you wrote in this article. Thank God “He” isn’t through with us yet! Blessings Brother! You hit me where it hurts every time.

  5. Joe, you began “pinging” me in 1970, and it continues until this day!! Your posts are always most welcomed, heartfelt, appreciated, and needed. However, ever so often you write one that PINGS me right between the eyes, and this is one of those times!!! Man, oh, man, did it ever hit me! And I can identify with each sentence. Thanks for your continued steadfastness to the Lord and His work, for your loyalty to your readers, and for your ability to minister to others through the written word.

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