Growth vs. Comfort

Hello there, fellow contender for the faith that has been entrusted to us. What a privilege we have to know, and share, and live such magnificent truth from God’s precious Word. It is a joy and a privilege to be back with you here via the printed page, and I pray that my words will touch your heart.

When I began this column, I chose the following theme verses, which have always meant a lot to me:

1 Peter 5:5b–7
(5b) …All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
(6) Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, [so] that he may lift you up in due time [at just the right time].
(7) Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

In light of those verses, I chose the name On the Edgebased upon the slogan on an old NO FEAR t-shirt of mine that read: “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” OK, you’re groping for the connection between a t-shirt and God. Hang on. In my own mental world (sometimes a planet far, far away), I took “living on the edge” to mean “pushing the envelope” of my faith, that is, stretching the limits of my comfort zone in terms of trusting my heavenly Father.

And the “too much space” I would take up if I did not do this is like what John the Baptist said regarding his relationship with Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 – KJV). If I do not push the limits of my trust in God and the Lord Jesus, there will be too much space in my heart taken up by my self. That will show up in all my relationships as my “self-ishness” takes up too much space in other people’s lives also.Yuk!

Biblically speaking, it is the “self” that is constantly trying to encroach upon the space that Jesus wants to occupy in our hearts. The more I “die to self,” that is, choose to do things God’s way rather than my way, that is, humble myself under the mighty hand of God, the more “Christ in me” shows through to others, rather than the “I” in me.

Yikes—”I” is right in the middle of “p-r-I-d-e,” and the above verses in 1 Peter make it clear that humility is prerequisite to trusting God—you can’t have one without the other. There is a big difference, however, between “humility” and “humiliation,” at least in our current understanding of these terms, and in the past year I often struggled to distinguish and grasp that difference. “Webster’s” helped somewhat: Humility is “the state or quality of being humble, that is, brought low; expressing an attitude of deference or submission.” Humiliation is “something extremely destructive to one’s self-respect or dignity.”

Etymologically, “humiliation” is technically the state of being humbled, and is therefore a good thing, but it has acquired a negative meaning that connotes harm rather than benefit. In today’s English, even saying that someone was “humbled” can have a negative meaning. But if you look up the verb, “to humble,” you’ll find something like: “to destroy the power, independence, or prestige of something.” Hey, that could be either good or bad, depending upon what that “something” is. If it is self, great! Because when we are totally dependent upon God, we manifest His power, and we have prestige in His sight—He lifts us up in due time. True, that prestige may be in the form of rewards at the appearing of the Lord Jesus, but it will happen!

Interestingly and significantly, 1 Peter 5 immediately follows a section about suffering for Jesus Christ (4:12–19) that encourages us to embrace what Philippians 3:10 calls “…the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings….” Yes, I believe the thrust of those verses is suffering the insults and opposition that the evil god of this age throws against us, but I think that the fellowship of his sufferings also includes going through the pain of repentance, grieving our sin as Jesus himself grieved for it. Surely, to humble oneself “under God’s mighty hand” includes recognizing our sin, accounting for it, confessing it to our Father, and changing our behavior from the inside out by counting on Him to lift us up by the power of His holy spirit within us. And, in a very real sense, that is suffering.

My now – first – time – pregnant – and – due – to – become – a – mom – on – her – wedding – anniversary – September 25 daughter, Christine, recently shared some profound thoughts with me relative to a struggle in her own life (not morning sickness). She said that realizing how temporary this world is helps her choose thoughts, words, and actions that lead to spiritual growth rather than those that lead to her own comfort. As the song goes, we really are “just a-passin’ through” this dying world, and it is not our true home. Our true “treasures” really are laid up “somewhere beyond the blue,” that is, where the Lord Jesus will reward us when we meet him in the air. The more in touch with that truth we are, the more we will choose the narrow path that traces his steps.

A little more than a year ago, I stood at such a crossroad because I had failed to do what God says in the two verses following the theme verses for this column. Here they are:

1 Peter 5:8 and 9
(8) Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
(9) Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are going through the same kind of suffering.

I failed to be self-controlled and alert, and, as a result, the Enemy took a big bite out of me. Suffice it to say that I did not resist firmly enough, and I got beaten. As an athlete all my life who played basketball, baseball, and football in college, I know what it is to win and I know what it is to lose. When we lost a basketball game, maybe because I missed the last-second shot, I then had the choice to quit the team, sulk my way through the next game, or analyze why I missed and how I could do better the next time, and then work harder on the fundamentals involved.

I wish I had set that example of standing “firm in the faith” in the particular situation where I failed to do so, but I didn’t, and I can’t change that now. However, because I know that my “…brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings,” what I can do is set an example of “standing firm” by getting back up on my feet as per Proverbs 24:16a: “for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again…” Perhaps as I share some of my experience with you, you will identify with me and be built up and encouraged.

In order to get a fresh perspective about my life and get to whatever harmful “roots” in my heart I needed to pull up, I went to see a professional counselor last year. In our final session, we were talking about how, due to a configuration of circumstances and my own desire and ability, I had become a spiritual “guru” at age 25 and thereafter experienced basically nothing but success within the context of another Christian ministry, where I was a celebrity from the beginning.

Through the year we had talked about my not having experienced the normal cycle of success and failure that accompanies most men’s growth in their profession, and that I had never really “crashed and burned” like most people experience. Obviously my divorce in 1994 after 24 years of marriage was a huge crash, but it had been such a long time coming that it was not until later that I got in touch with the pain. I had not experienced much trauma in my life, and that was one reason why I did not always empathize and connect with people (my wife included) to the degree that I so desired.

The counselor talked about how in our youth we think of failure as something to be avoided at all costs, but that great good can come about if we respond to it properly. He said that it was now undeniable that I had experienced failure and, as my manner is, done so in a big way. Then he quoted some old author who had spoken of “the Sacrament of Failure.” I have since pondered that phrase, and I hope that what I now share with you about it will spark some spiritual insight for you and help you move closer to the Lord.

The counselor said that, to him, a “sacrament” was to willingly submit to God to the end that He can miraculously open a door in the heart in a transformational way. I wanted to see what the dictionary said, and the first definition was: “An oath of allegiance or obligation.” OK, in light of my failure, I have an allegiance to God and an obligation to get up and “go again.”

The next definition was, “a Christian rite that is believed to have been ordained by Jesus Christ and considered to be a means of divine grace or a sign of spiritual reality.” Obviously the “Sacrament of Failure” has not gotten as much billing in the Church as have those of Baptism, Marriage, and Burial, but that second definition seems to fit. Jesus did, both in his words recorded in the Gospels and in those of the Church Epistles that he gave to Paul, “ordain” the “rites” of accounting for, grieving about, confessing, and repenting from sin. And it is by the “means of divine grace” that the “spiritual reality” of his power sets us on our feet again.

So then, what is “failure?” Yo, Mr. Webster? “To fall short; to become absent or inadequate; to be unsuccessful; to disappoint the expectations or trust of; to miss performing an expected service of function.” That was a very painful sentence for me to type, because as I thought of my own failure, each of those definitions pierced my soul. Biblically, the word “sin” can be defined in just about those same ways when thought of as regarding my relation to God and to others.

When we look at the word “sacrament,” we see from its first four letters that it is related to both “sacred” and “sacrifice.” “Sacred” means “dedicated or set apart for service to or worship of God.” And a “sacrifice” is “the act of offering to God something precious” or “the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something or someone else.”

Any Bible verses coming to your mind right now? How about Psalm 51? David wrote it shortly after his sin with Bathsheba, and in verse 10 he petitioned God: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” Hey, that prayer is not copywrited. We can use it—BUT—if we do, we must be prepared for God to show us some “dirt” in our hearts. If we choose to face what He shows us, it should break our hearts, and we can then offer them to Him for His healing touch.

That is, when we see how we are hurting God, others, and ourselves, we should feel enough pain that we want to “take our hand out of the fire,” so to speak. Or, in other words, we are motivated to “reckon the old man dead” by “killing” whatever sinful behavior we have allowed. But we will not do so unless we trust that there is “resurrection life” on the other side of our “sacrifice” of self. Both God and Jesus have promised us that there most certainly is, so let’s take them at their Word.

It seems to me that “the Sacrament of Failure” is most clearly described by David in the following verse:

Psalm 51:17
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

In The Companion Bible, E. W. Bullinger says that the phrase, “The sacrifices” is the figure of speech called the Plural of Majesty, and thus should read, “The great sacrifice.” That is, what God wants most is not the right words or good deeds, but rather your heart, my heart, in whatever condition it is, presented to Him as all we have to give.

It may seem to you as if the condition of your heart is so messed up that your pitiful offering is like “the widow’s mite,” but what did Jesus say about that? “…I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43). Bullinger references Psalm 51:17 to this verse:

Isaiah 57:15
For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Too often in the past year, I have felt that I cannot minister to anyone else unless I “have it together” myself. Am I the Lone Ranger, or have you too ever felt that way? Taken to the extreme, that attitude would mean we would be going around in the crowd “in the air” saying, “OK, I’m ready to help you now. What can I do for you?” No, it is in the lifelong process of our maturing in Christ that we find out that the Lord will back us up and make up for our shortcomings when we simply keep our hearts presented to him and reach out to others.

The familiar words of the Lord Jesus to Paul also come to mind, when he was besieged by evil—”the messenger of Satan”—that tempted him to take the easy way out, and he cried out to the Lord to deliver him. The Lord’s comforting words were, “…My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness….” Those words prompted Paul to aggressively confront his weaknesses and enter into both internal and external challenges that were so big that he knew he could achieve them only via the grace, mercy, and power of the risen Christ. Let us do the same.

At one point during the year, my counselor told me something that I’ll never forget: “Be sure to take your broken heart with you when you go out to minister to people.” And in our final session, when I asked him how he’d assess my life after a year, he said, “I just want to bless the Sacrament of Failure for you, a blessing that you now have to take with you.” He said to let my “scar” remind me of what is now in my repertoire as a servant of the Lord. In response, I said, “I will pass on that blessing to others who have failed also.”

I want to close with two verses in 1 Peter 5 that follow verses 5b–9, which we have looked at so far.

1 Peter 5:10 and 11
(10) And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
(11) To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Yes, the restoration and strengthening in verse 10 is in regard to the future, when the Lord Jesus Christ appears to gather us together and make us whole, but it is also applicable to our walk of growth until then. Our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus are flanking us on this path of righteousness—ready, willing, and able to hold us up as we walk and to pick us up when we fall, if we will but reach for them. Their love and power will restore us, strengthen us, and enable us to stand firm in the faith, shining as lights in this dark world. Let’s walk with them—on the edge of faith.

Leave a Comment