Failing is an inescapable reality to the Christian; failure is our constant companion and falling short a function of our daily lives. “Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” Jesus commanded (Matthew 5v48) and who among us could claim to even come close to obedience such as this?
Immediately, it is necessary to backtrack and say that success should also be part and parcel of the Christian life. We should be growing, maturing, being oh-so-slowly transformed into the image of Christ. It is good to look back over the years and see the areas we have had success in, the sins conquered, the increase in affections for God, the increase in love for his people, the increase in giving, the greater faith, love and hope we have and the trials and afflictions that have been overcome. Praise be to God, for the Holy Spirit is in the business of making us more holy.
This talk of failure is not meant to be discouraging or to conjure up abject pessimism. It is meant to highlight two important truths: the grace of God and the sinfulness of our hearts.
Having watched The New Adventures of Superman when I was younger than I have a lot of nostalgia tied up with the character. Some people find him boring but, you know, he flies and can punch through concrete and lasers come out his eyes, I still think that's pretty cool. And it came as no surprise to me when a link appeared on my Facebook feed to an article on the parallels between Superman and the Gospel. The last movie, Superman Returns, went the whole hog and played up the parallels big time by portraying Superman as a Messianic type figure including one scene where he floated above the city, arms spread out in crucifixion pose listening to the cries or “prayers” of the people,
Even in the latest film, then there was a lot of talk about “believing” in Superman with Russell Crowe even saying that he would be like a god to the people of earth. But despite drawing heavily on religious, specifically Christian, imagery and thought then both films, indeed, any positive comparison between Superman and Jesus misses the point of who Jesus is. Of course, the big difference is that Superman is fiction and Jesus is both historical reality (when he walked this earth) and eternal reality (glorified in Heaven). But laying that aside there is still much to discuss.
An hour from now I may lose my life wrestling with an escaped bear. I know, it sounds unlikely (I’d win for starters), but bear with me in my point. As human beings we experience the now and can remember (to some degree) the past but we are always blind to the future. After all, the future is very resistant to prediction. The twists and turns of our lives make complex patterns that we can never fully follow, predict or anticipate. For Christians, as we deal with the ups and downs of life, we face an added layer of struggle which is the battle between sight and faith.
We all know this fight well. Something bad happens and sight, that is our immediate experience of the event, says: “I can see no good in this.” while faith quotes Romans 8 v 28 and says: “ALL THINGS FOR GOOD!” Faith being unnatural to us, we will by default place greater store on sight. It is an interesting condition: being limited finite creatures unable to see how the future will pan out, we place greater trust in our own limitations than we do in God. Oh the folly of unbelief!
For what we are prone to forgetting is that faith is always the wisest option, it presents to us the most accurate picture of what is going on, it presents to us certainty while sight presents to us mere predictions of uncertainty.
In the book of Hebrews faith is described in the following way: ““Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith is a sure and certain thing! While sight is not so sure and most definitely not certain.
We have not known Thee as we ought,
Nor learned Thy wisdom, grace and power;
The things of earth have filled our thought,
And trifles of the passing hour.
Lord, give us light Thy truth to see,
And make us wise in knowing Thee.
We have not feared Thee as we ought,
Nor bowed beneath Thine awful eye,
Nor guarded deed and word and thought,
Remembering that God was nigh.
Lord, give us faith to know Thee near,
And grant the grace of holy fear.
We have not loved Thee as we ought,
Nor cared that we are loved by Thee;
Thy presence we have coldly sought,
And feebly longed Thy face to see.
Lord, give a pure and loving heart
To feel and know the love Thou art.
We have not served Thee as we ought,
Alas, the duties left undone,
The work with little fervor wrought,
The battles lost or scarcely won!
Lord, give the zeal, and give the might,
For Thee to toil, for Thee to fight.
When shall we know Thee as we ought,
And fear and love and serve aright?
When shall we, out of trial brought,
Be perfect in the land of light?
Lord, may we day by day prepare
To see Thy face and serve Thee there.
_ “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”
Romans 3 v 23
To be human is to be less than perfect but it also so much more than that, it is to be fundamentally and permanently broken, it is to be wretched, pitiful and blind, it is to by default love self more than others and to want to be god rather than with God. When the Fall happened our relationship with God was shattered as we reached to be gods and since then we are fundamentally sinful, our very nature is sinful:
“the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
Ephesians 2 v 3
_ “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Psalm 77 v 7 – 9
Psalm 77 is one of Asaph’s and as in all of his Psalms he’s brutally honest about his emotions and feelings. And if you’re reading this as a Christian then you’ve probably asked the same questions as Asaph. When trouble, sorrow, hardship, pain and suffering come your way and dark times come for your soul and the presence of God that seemed so close before is hidden from sight and all you thought certain is now unstable then you will ask along with Asaph: “Will God spurn me forever and never again be favourable? Has the steadfast love of God forever ceased? Have his promises come to an end? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in his anger shut up his compassion?”
Humanly speaking my church is a small affair: ten of us meeting in an upper room with finances at an all time low and with a large number of people thinking that’s we should pack it in and give up. And my own response to this situation has been on my mind of late. Until recently I coped with the smallness of my church by taking it stoically on the chin. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the situation and I wanted it to be different but as I couldn’t leave with a clear conscience then there was nothing else to be done but man up and take the hit. As such my church was one of the few things in life that regularly depressed me.
Recently though I realized that this stoic attitude of mine does not glorify God in the slightest. There are many people who do what they find hard to do, there are many people who stoically plod on and persevere in difficult situations, stoicism is not an uncommon human trait. And whilst it is often a good trait to have I was reading ‘I Am Not Ashamed’ by Martyn Lloyd-Jones and it occurred to me that there is a superior attitude to have, an attitude that does glorify God, an attitude that is cannot be obtained by any human doing but only through Jesus Christ. If Christianity is real and true, and it is, then it must offer something more than what can be achieved by mere humanity. That is to say, having Christ as my Saviour changes everything on such a profound level that there must be a better alternative to stoicism for stoicism has no hope, it perseveres but expects nothing, Christianity on the other hand offers hope, Christianity offers the ability to be more than a conquer.
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
2 Corinthians 4 v 17
Often when reading verses like the above it is easy to imagine that it cannot apply to our own lives. Our troubles rarely seem light and momentary, usually our troubles are burdens and afflictions that weigh on our hearts and prey on our minds. We take our trouble to God but seem to find no peace, deliverance, relief or answer. God seems absent and our troubles grow heavier. In fact, we see this very feeling earlier on in the Second Letter to the Corinthians when Paul writes:
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.”
2 Corinthians 1 v 8
“Because Your loving kindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You.”
Psalm 63 v 3
This is a pretty big deal. I'd even say that around 80% of my troubles in my walk with God stem from the fact that I am a functional unbeliever of the kindness of God. And it is a frustrating problem to have because it is decidedly illogical. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with how I came to realize that I don’t believe in the kindness of God.
Just under a month ago I was on New Word Alive (although it seems like several lifetimes ago for some reason) and I went to Tim Chester’s seminar called ‘You Can Change’. One of the interesting things he talked about was how our sin is always connected in with a specific area of unbelief about God. So for example if you’re the type of person to get really stressed it might be because you struggle to believe that God is really in control of all things. And as he said, it’s not that we don’t know the truth or in some sense ‘believe’ the truth but it’s that we act as though we don’t. The illustration he used was of going up to a Christian in a traffic jam who is losing his temper and asking him if he believed in the sovereignty of God over all things. That Christian would answer yes and yet by his actions would show that he really didn’t.
This article strays a lot more into the Ben Mildred view of things than the biblical view of things. Upon further reflection I may not agree with myself or entirely what I was getting at. Still, feel free to read it anyway.
It’s a funny old world; there was I thinking I was done with my ramblings on what it means to be a man when Mr Long Legged Cleggy Weggy (aka Nick Clegg) goes and embarrasses himself by announcing that he cries and has feelings. As one memorable comment on the internet said: “What a complete tit this Clegg man is.”
Now let me get this straight: I don’t have anything against men crying. Qualification: It has to fall under the following three categories: the death of a loved one, a heart broken by love, injustice or poverty or as a sinful man weeping before his Father God.
What I hate is when men cry for the wrong reasons: out of self pity, for little things of little importance or just because they’re, you know, really emotional people. The problem with Nick Clegg’s confession is that it makes him look weak and pathetic. Paradoxically enough there can be nothing more moving than a broken man crying. Indeed, there can be a lot of strength to a man’s tears.