Fighting sin is a battle that defines every Christian's journey on earth.
Sometimes we charge ahead bravely, fortified by our armor and supported by the companions besides us.
Sometimes we crawl naked and bruised from a great fall, in the dirt, and every drop of blood we shed is a reproach to ourselves.
But sometimes we're not so much bruised and bleeding as so weak we can't even stand--we wonder how we became so weak without realizing it before, why something that used to be so simple and forthright suddenly morphed into something so complex and frighteningly difficult. How did we get so weak, and how do we go on?
Looking through my old prayer/spiritual journal from 2012, I discovered one entry where I was struggling with this problem--it felt like I kept falling down whenever I tried to pick myself up, my legs were too weak to stand. Suddenly, I had become so weak in fighting sin. Spiritually I felt like a jellyfish on a dry road, too weak to move, let alone resist anything that tried to squash it or push it back.
I feel ashamed and horrified at myself, and know how difficult it'll be to change.
It makes me realize that I haven't been fighting sin with God's help of late. I've been weakly and halfheartedly struggling with it on my own, and that's why I give in so easily. I need to see the occasions of sin as what they are--every one a fight with Satan--no matter how small or unimportant it seems, and cry to God for help. Is it any wonder if I get discouraged, burnt out, or desensitized if I go on like this?
Sometimes these subtle attacks are worse than the outright wars; it's very obvious, at least, if it's a terrific struggle, something big and bad like fighting to control anger or swallow pride. The severity of it forces me to cry to God for help and then, even in the midst of the fierce war, know that I either end up winning or losing decisively.
But when it's a 'small' sin the strife is so mild in comparison that I end up not asking for God's help, thinking I can deal with it on my own. And then even if I lose, it doesn't seem a big thing--maybe the person you're sinning against doesn't even know or notice it; or it's not enough to visibly strain your relationship; or no one knows, it's just between you and your conscience.
But that's why I've been failing more and more of these challenges. That's why I've gradually become so weak that big and small sins alike become equally difficult, equally impossible to resist. I've fallen into the habit of relying on myself to overcome 'small sins', to settle little temptations with my own self-control and will-power instead of recognizing that I need God's help and going straight to ask Him for it.
Our self-control and our will-power are powerful forces if God uses them. But on their own--on our own, without Him--they became pathetic sticks we wave around under the delusion that they're swords. They can only bring us so far in our war against sin and then they'll crumble away into useless chips of bark in our hands, leaving us helpless and weak.
We can't do it on our own.
I have been constantly learning this lesson, the same lesson in different ways and different depths, all along my Christian life--whether as an unconverted seeker struggling to make peace with God, a young Christian full of aspirations I want to carry out for God, or simply the old fight of sanctification, struggling with the sin that dogs me.
I can't do it on my own.
I need His help, in the big things and the small, in the big sins and the small.
As a kid, I always thought Esau a less than bright person.
Whenever I read his birthright story in Genesis I felt sorry for him, granted; his heart-felt 'Bless me, even me also, O my father!' was truly pathetic--but mostly just exasperated.
Come on. Surely Esau was a bit dense to have chosen the bowl of lentils.
What was more, lentils hardly sounded appetizing. If it had been a chocolate-drizzled Earthquake of eight different flavors I might have understood Esau more...
So much for Genesis 27; I'm afraid I didn't learn much from that chapter as a kid, other than the comfortable thought that sometimes it doesn't pay to eat healthy (just kidding.)
It took me several years and a retelling of the old Birthright vs. Bowl of Lentils story, this time in Hebrews 12:16-17, through Search the Scriptures (yes, I'm still working through that in my devotions. It has proved immensely helpful, and the best part is that it doesn't need to end--every time you repeat you find new answers and new insights, due to your added experience and growth.)
The interesting thing was, Esau's choice was still a stupid one--the only difference was that it suddenly opened my eyes to the equally stupid choices that I myself made.
Esau's choice, I realized, was a symbolic choice of the flesh. Food satisfied his present fleshly appetite, gratified the sensual part of him, even though the obvious greater good would have been his birthright---the glory and fulfillment he was intended for.
And Esau, with his hungry belly and near-sighted, pathetic bad judgement, is really just a dumbed-down, simplified analogy of ourselves.
We were meant to be with God. We were meant to be gloriously holy like Him. We were meant for so much more than what we aim for now. Like Esau, we were meant for glory and fulfillment.
And we know--even if vaguely--that we could grasp something much, much better than what we're dreaming of and struggling to get now. We were made for more.
But that's just too far away for our short-sighted heart and short-sighted eyes, even if it's so beautiful it dazzles us. We focus instead on something that's not even half as beautiful, but which looks closer, and decide it's more attractive, because it seems so much easier to get, because it seems like it'll fulfill the I want driving our flesh now.
It's like pursuing one night stands instead of finding your true love.
It's like Esau, choosing the food his flesh wanted now over what he knew was much, much better.
The desires of the flesh are driving all of us in different ways, definitely in more than one way.
Esau's was food, the most basic sensual/fleshly desire.
Popularity, making sure there are only smiles and people eager to please us in our lives?
Possessions, things we can feel good over because we can call them 'mine'?
Pride, how we appear to others?
Or something else?
Just as this Bible story obviously isn't meant to tell us we need to stop eating (duhhhh), the desires of the flesh that we face today may be legitimately good things in themselves. It was not wrong for Esau to eat. His mistake was choosing that over something else worth much more. There is nothing wrong in choosing a rhinestone, but everyone's going to be gaping at you if you chose that over a diamond that you could have had instead.
Likewise for us.
Perhaps He calls you to stop worshiping the gifts He has given to you instead of Him.
Perhaps God calls you to wake up from the numbness you've carefully bubble-wrapped all your pet sins and idols with, not wanting to let them go, not able to overcome the desires of your flesh.
Let go of your bowl of lentils, friend. You'll be hungry again in a few hours, and then you'll be off looking for more again--a vicious cycle. Look up at the birthright you were intended to fulfill.
YOLO was the Thought of the Day on the classroom whiteboard.
Obviously someone had run out of inspiring and witty quotes (or just never had a Pinterest account...)
This overused and misused phrase has worked its way to becoming part of pop culture--which means that not only are you forced to hear/see it, you also see it in the mindsets and values of people (including yourself if you're not conscious of it.)
We start to value things not for their results, but for the pleasure they can give in the moment of doing/having them. Oh, I know I shouldn't eat it...but I'm just craving a sugar fix now. I really want that bag...though I have seven already. The adrenaline rush of the moment is what I'm going for. You see, it makes me feel so good...
The feel-good factor is what tips the balance, even if something legitimately serious is on the other side of the scale, be this other people's lives or your own. People use YOLO as an excuse to justify foolish or selfish decisions (actions, really; 'decision' implies rational and careful thought)--hence the ocean of sarcasm poking fun at YOLO.
I know I've written on YOLO before, but in a rather different vein--on youth, and what Ecclesiastes has to say about it--though both times I think you might be able to tell that I find YOLO one of the most annoyingly misused bad excuses ever (having to type it so many times in this post unsettles me.)
This time is different. This time, I was struck by the idea that there could be a truly good example of YOLO-ism, an instance in which the YOLO mentality was actually good and admirable.
And this best example, to me, of YOLO as it should be, is Queen Esther.
Esther was an ordinary girl gifted with extraordinary beauty.
(Most people would add, 'and courage'--but really, I prefer to see her as someone not much different from any one of us. After all, she initially was afraid, just as any one of us would have been.)
She was put into an unusual position--being Queen of the Persian Empire--for a more than unusual, an outstanding calling: preventing a genocide and in doing so preserving a legacy, not only of a people and culture today, but of God's Word and covenant.
She had to be brave, of course, to have accomplished that. She certainly was. She risked her security, her comfortable home and possessions, her power and status, and of course her life. She was perfectly aware of the consequences she risked--
--and she said, "If I die, I die!"
What makes Esther's YOLO so different from ours?
Esther's YOLO was different because she learned to see her life not as her one ticket to enjoy herself to the max, but as her one opportunity to attempt something worthwhile, even if it failed. As the Queen, she definitely knew how to enjoy life; she was fully aware of all the delight and pleasure life could give. After all, she had the Persian Empire at her disposal.
And that is precisely why she was so brave. As the Greeks on hubris, the higher the climb, the greater the fall. She was willing to risk all that--for something even more important.
The courage Esther showed is a very different courage from the YOLO courage that propels people to do silly things which invariably get photographed and end up as memes on the internet.
The modern YOLO implies we risk the privileges and blessings we already have in order to try and get ourselves more. In contrast, Esther risked hers in order to preserve those blessings for others.
We should risk our health, our bodies, our lives, only because something is even more important (and by something, and important, don't tell me you could seriously equate a 'sinfully delicious' dessert or an adrenaline rush. Much as I love desserts, I would rather be a long-lived vegan than a short-lived diabetic...)
This reminds me of a striking G.K Chesterton quote I saw on--no prizes for guessing--Pinterest.
We should say YOLO not because we value life and all it holds for us less--but precisely because we value it so much. The thought that we only live once should change the way we take risks, as well as what we take risks for.
This is a very clearly defined principle on the battlefield; it was also clearly defined for Esther in her decision.
The challenge is rather, how is it defined in your life?
What opportunities for 'good' YOLO-ism are there in our lives, which we are blind to or turn our eyes away from?
And even simpler, what are we risking for?
Let us die, not while skydiving, but in preventing a genocide.
We only live once, after all.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are