“…in whatever our heart condemns us….God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God….” (I John 3:20-21)
(If too much transparency is not your cup of tea, you may want to skip this. My sharing it–something I would never have done in earlier years–is partly to deal with it and partly in the hope that someone else may be dealing with the same bete noir and find comfort from a fellow struggler. Misery loves company, they say. Let’s see if it does.)
It defies explanation.
I wake up far earlier than a retired preacher should have to. Today, there is nothing on my agenda except a few tasks I have assigned myself, and those can be done at any time. If I wished, I could have slept until noon.
If I could, rather. But after five hours of what must pass for sleep, I’m finished.
I wake up with a thousand things on my mind. This week is our oldest granddaughter’s birthday and I’ve not sent her anything. My seminary class has reports to be graded online (which is one of the things I plan to get to today). This house needs some repairs, projects that are beyond me, which means I should be making arrangements with a friend whose company does this. We are trying to make a decision about a new car, and giving my wife’s ’05 Camry to a family member. My work space is cluttered and needs clearing out. The Baptist Press cartoons have been drawn and colored but not captioned and must be emailed this morning. An out-of-state revival is coming up soon, and with the following weekend preaching in Atlanta, I do not like being gone from home that long. I need to be taking better care of my health. Is that thing on the back of my neck nothing or possibly skin cancer? Our granddaughter is recovering in New Hampshire from being hit by a car while on her bike, and decisions are being made there about her future. I wish certain family members knew the Lord and would take their children to church. My next birthday, I’ll be 73 years old. How did this happen so quickly? How much longer do I have to get things done?
And those are just for starters. You want the full list? I didn’t think so.
And how is your Monday going?
“Angst,” they say, is the Woody Allen variety of anxiety. Anxiety is a fancy name for worry. And that is just another manifestation of fear.
Why do I fear? And what?
I know why I should not fear. I believe those verses and hold them dear. And yet….
Some things do not respond to reason.
A friend who is claustrophobic and smarter than anyone else in the room knows all the reasons why his fear is irrational, and yet, there it remains. We talk about it and he laughs at it. But it refuses to give up an inch of its territory.
My anxiety or angst feels like self-recrimination, like I’m standing before the judge and I’m guilty, guilty, guilty. I wake up thinking what a dirty rotten scoundrel I am.
Okay, that part is accurate enough. I know full well what the apostle must have had in mind when, after celebrating the Lord’s giving Himself for sinners, he added, “of whom I am the worst.”
Paul wasn’t the worst and I’m not either. But you feel like you are.
I’ve not murdered anyone. Nothing in the indictment against me falls in the category of illegalities. I do not fear the FBI battering my door down and hauling me off to the clink.
My sin is a pagan heart.
I doubt and fear, I balk and drag my feet about the things of God. I see people who love God with every fiber in their being, from whom joy seems to ooze, and I admire them so much.
I’ve read my Bible through several times and believe it from cover to cover, and still have to make myself read it. I can sit at this computer and write essays on prayer that are picked up and reprinted around the globe, and still have to make myself pause to talk to the Lord and listen to Him.
Am I saved? From everything I know about the Word, about the Lord, and about myself, I am saved and redeemed, forgiven and blessed beyond compare.
That’s not what bothers me. Nothing in that early-morning list of harassments said anything about wondering whether I’m saved or not, whether God loves me or Jesus is in my life, or whether I’m going to Heaven when I depart from here. Some things I know and know that I know.
My new redeemed self is often a reluctant participant in the things of God. I believe and yet the voice of unbelief is ever present.
I sometimes take a little solace in the prayer of the fellow who said, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). And yet, that man was not a believer, not yet, anyway, and I call myself a lifelong follower of the beloved Savior. So why am I this way? You would think I would be past this kind of foolishness.
The passage in I John helps a little.
“We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.
Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things which are pleasing in His sight.” (I John 3:19-22)
1) Even the fact that my heart condemns me is no sign of anything. My heart is not my judge.
2) God is my Judge and knows all things. He knows that I am His, sees my name in His book in His own handwriting, and claims me as His own.
3) A condemning heart can nevertheless rob us of assurance and confidence in the things of God. We limp into the day as one injured in spiritual warfare.
4) A condemning heart can interfere with prayers of faith, can paralyze me from keeping the Lord’s commands, and from wanting to please Him. When my heart is burdened with self-recriminations, my thoughts are of me and not Him.
5) My task, therefore, is to ignore the condemnation which the “old man” within me keeps dredging up and sending my way at the most vulnerable time–the sleeping hours and immediately following. As a fully commissioned soldier in the army of the Savior, I am charged with resisting the enemy’s attacks, I am to scoff at his accusations, and to rejoice in the faithfulness of God and to go forth to do His work.
“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? (Romans 8:33)” The answer to that is the devil will, enemies will, and sometimes I do it to myself.
Paul must have known a little about self-recrimination. He says, perhaps as much to himself as to us: “God is the one who justifies” and “Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Romans 8:33-34).
They tell me that after the homegoing of Ruth Bell Graham, the family of the esteemed evangelist gathered around the bed where her empty body lay. They joined hands and they sang the great old hymn “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” The truth on which that hymn was based–found in Lamentations 3:23–more than any other fact in the universe, is what allows a believer to leave this world with his joy and hope intact. Not by works of righteousness he/she has done, but by His faithfulness to His own word, His own promises, His very self.
“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with Thee. Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not. As thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be….
“All I have needed Thy hand hast provided. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
Did this little self-autopsy help me get on with my day? I’m not sure. But there it is, two hours later. And, being the self-protective coward that I am, I may return later today and erase all this. But, such as it is, I send forth.
“Father, I frequently ask You to lead me as to what to write on this blog as well as on Facebook. And to keep me from sharing anything that would be hurtful to anyone, harmful to anything, or unpleasing to Thee. What I have shared here is nothing new to Thee. We have dealt with this bundle of anxieties for many years, haven’t we? Thank you for your infinite patience, your incredible mercy, your everlasting faithfulness.
“Now, help me to quit thinking about myself and get on with today. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”