“We can forget: God may not affirm our desires, but He will firmly nail those desires to the cross and affirm the rising of Christ through those desires. And the beauty of Christianity is—what dies will rise. When you’re called to a cross, God is always calling us to our greatest good—and to greater abundance.”
~Ann Voskamp, The Way of Abundance
We can forget God, but He will not forget us.
When the gracious God of love calls us to himself His plans are unlike anything we can imagine and as we begin to make our way further up and further in toward this glorious king, it becomes clear: this is not an easy road.
Over the years I have prayed what John the Baptist said about his own relationship to Jesus in John 3: He must increase, I must decrease.
We are all too excited when God answers the prayers like please let me child make the team or please let my husband get that promotion, but a prayer like this one is of the dangerous variety.
A faithful God will answer this cry and the answer to this prayer is hard on our flesh. Actually it is the death of said flesh. For John the Baptist, there was imprisonment and beheading at the request of a conniving mother and dancing daughter.
Our faithful God answers prayer and in this one I have found what I ask for may not be what I want, or more pointedly, definitely not what my flesh wants.
JP finished his two part sermon on Ephesians 4:17-24 and here Paul once again honestly calls us to a new life, something far different than the way we are accustomed to living. A cursory reading exempts me (I think) from the wicked sounding behavior: darkened understanding, alienated heart, callous, sensual, greedy.
But with this prayer I have begun to pray and the patient, gentle revealing from the precious Holy Spirit, it suddenly strikes me as an adequate description of a woman excusing herself in many ways subtle and not-so-subtle.
The heart holds desperately to these—as JP called them—“flesh habits.”
In a world that abundantly and freely feeds these flesh habits, they are prone to grow and loom large in life day in and day out. When left to themselves, they are comforting, delightful, enjoyable.
We befriend them and invite them into our homes, even brag about them. They are like the big, cushy pillow easing us into a drowsy, dreamy sleep.
In much the same way that delightful dreams can turn in an instant to horrific and scary dreams, once the flesh habits are recognized for what they are, their presence can be far less than comforting. It is a growing understanding that danger lurks here.
A mom at the end of a long day needs a break and decides its ok to cling to pleasures that will not feed the spirit. When I hold my phone for more hours than a child or use my real face time with a glowing screen rather than with a glowing and growing 7-year-old, that is darkened understanding without a doubt.
Clinging fast to time for me, “my time,” morphs into an alienated existence. It is easier to live alone and avoid the messiness of real relationship.
The callouses have come from holding so hard and fast to things I think I deserve. I am my own woman and these decisions, these earthly pleasures have developed into a heart callous of sorts.
I have chosen the sensual and impure to entertain to try and make me feel better about—shocker—me.
The uncanny thing about that fat, flesh habit of greed? Of course, it is never enough. And apply it wherever, however you like. Whatever it is—clothes, food, homes, cars, money, attention, vanity, affection, it is absolutely, positively, never enough.
So there I am in the ugly part of the passage thinking of G.K. Chesterton’s quote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
It is far easier to leave behind the Christian ideal than the deceitful desires of the former self. Those flesh habits, I am familiar with.
Yet the harm and destruction that comes from bringing them along is far worse and as verse 20 vehemently exclaims: “But that is not the way you learned Christ!”
What have I learned Christ? That the only true victory comes like the one He won on my behalf—death to self.
It is the ongoing call to die.
The right way is rarely the easy way and often doesn’t look victorious.
“The cross doesn’t look like it’s winning. More like it’s losing, pouring out, being given—to those who don’t love at all. It conquers everything, but it looks more broken than anything. Jesus’ cross proves it: Love may not seem self-fulfilling, but in actual fact, deepest love looks deeply broken. His cross nailed it down: Love wins when it looks broken. Broken and given and poured out,” Ann Voskamp wrote in The Way of Abundance.
This resonates. What the world likes to feed—the flesh habits—will lead to ruin, spiritual death, but the renewal of the mind will mean death to the flesh habits, death to the flesh. But, like Christ, resurrection follows.
Darkened understanding becomes an enlightened mind.
The alienated heart is welcomed in.
His calloused hands carry a cross, call me in and heal those of my own.
His death, on my behalf, gives me all the love I could ever need.
Greed is swallowed up in that lavish love.
That is why, this day, every day, requires renewal of the mind and I will hold fast trusting that I will be transformed and not conformed.