“LORD, I call to You; my rock, do not be deaf to me. If You remain silent to me, I will be like those going down to the pit. Listen to the sound of my pleading when I cry to You for help, when I lift my hands toward Your holy sanctuary” – Psalm 28:1-2
All through my journey with God, He must continually show me my utter sinfulness and desperate need before He is able to lead me on into realms of grace where I catch glimpses of His glory. There’s a reason He waited four days before coming to see His friends who were grieving the death of Lazarus. He was bringing them to the end of themselves.
There have been many times when He has taken me from the pit to the plateau, from a place of hopelessness and despairing to a spacious place to breathe and rest, and yet in the back of my mind, reminding me that we’re not going to stay there forever lest we forfeit a continual ascent.
It’s in the times of immense struggle and failure when I come to understand I’m being carefully and lovingly handled by my Lord in a very personal way. He is weakening me, lowering me, humbling me, leading me into or simply allowing circumstances that demand trust and reliance upon Himself. He chisels us down until we say, “Where else can I go? You’re the Only One with the words of eternal life. You’re the Only One who holds and is truth.”
Our Shepherd and Teacher takes us through experiences to show us He’s a good Father. He takes us through these times of agonizing self-revelation and down into death, the only basis upon which to actually know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings… He is always working in paradox. He brings success out of failure, beauty from ashes, good out of evil, life out of death. Through these trying experiences, the only things that truly crumble and fall away are the things in us which must go anyway…
These trials, these pains, these situations are used to bring out the very worst in us so we see that our walk with Him must be ‘not I, but Him.’ It is my reaction to the problems, the difficulties, the hurts, the wounds, the people, the offenses, the heartbreak, the circumstances, that cause failure. It’s because it’s I who must be dealt with until “I” decrease, and He increases; until I learn to live in my new life that He’s given me, instead of the impulses of the me who died with Him on calvary.
From experience, I remember what it is to rejoice in His grace. However, even years into this journey with Him, I more and more discover the true nature of the flesh. Even though I have experienced such great joy in grasping His grace and falling into it time and time again, there is still a part of me that has not quite grasped that my flesh is unchanged. At times I have handled His grace in a self-confident way where there’s very little self-distrust, or sense of weakness and dependence. The inevitable consequence of that has been a fall, or a succession of falls, that gradually drive home the point that I am absolutely incapable in my self, and need Him so desperately.
Our ‘self’ takes infinite forms on a spectrum of being proud and self-righteous to pitiful and self-loathing in a constant struggle with an exhausting hope for improvement. What will it take for us to understand that the whole spectrum itself is condemned beyond recovery? Our upward experience with God is in proportion to our downward experience in ceasing from self. We read in Romans that we’re to “reckon ourselves dead to sin.” It does not say we are to reckon ourselves weak or dying, but dead.
When I cry out to God and admit my weakness, I must admit that implies there is some strength to be found… there is some struggle happening. A man who is dead has no strength at all. He is not weak, he is dead, he is finished! I have no business trying to present my dead self as a ‘living’ sacrifice, holy and pleasing before God. It’s only Christ in me, my new self, that has any ability and capacity for that, because what is impossible with self is possible with God. I must choose to take my stance on the resurrection side of the cross and live over there. When I do that, I acknowledge the finished death of my old self and bask in the reality of my new life in Him: living in He who is our life. And then at last, in spite of everything else, I realize there is rest to be had over here.
“For we which live are always delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh” – 2 Corinthians 4:11