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Avoid the sand traps

Setting—and achieving—spiritual goals as you shelter in place

Got patience? I know you got milk. And toilet paper.

You will have patience by the time this is all over. Or you won’t, and will have wasted a perfectly good crisis, the word crisis being related to “opportunity” in the Chinese language (which is ironic enough under the circumstances). 

A 1944 French play titled No Exit deals with a crisis, but one sans opportunity. A crisis without opportunity is one with no hope of a good ending. God-rejectors have no hope of a good ending, and Sartre at least got that right.

To illustrate this, he put three strangers in the same cramped room for all eternity as their punishment for bad living they had done on earth. Becoming one another’s eternal tormentors would be more amusing for hell’s Grand Inquisitor than the conventional instruments of torture could ever afford. People have an endless capacity for this.

But Christians have an endless capacity for improving—as in “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Still, it is one of the oddities of observable Christianity that many do not have concrete goals in spiritual improvement. They have goals in other spheres—career goals, vacation goals, weight loss goals—which they pursue like von Moltke pursued the French from Belgium all the way to the outskirts of Paris. But formulating spiritual goals is considered taboo in certain Christian circles.

Why? Because somewhere along the line they have been convinced that making up their minds to attain some spiritual goal—like patience—is a kind of works, and that works are against grace. But I like the way professor John Frame put it to me once: God is not against working, He’s against earning.

If that clarifies it for you, as it does for me, let us put the old unproductive thinking behind us and “press on toward the goal,” as Paul did, who spoke in muscular terms of “fleeing” bad passions and “pursuing” good ones (2 Timothy 2:22), and who at the end of his life was able to claim that he had succeeded in these objectives: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (4:7).

This morning you will wake up into a bad Groundhog Day radio recitation of the same coronavirus news as yesterday. But your relationships with the people in your house don’t have to be a repeat of yesterday. And here is how you’re going to do it (I’m talking to myself now): You are going to be prepared in advance for the sand traps that tripped you up yesterday. Yes, you will do it! By prayer and God’s grace!

And these traps are a finite number, so this is doable. After all, it is not as if all 24 hours of the day have proved to be dangerous times for you. First of all, eight of them you slept away. And of the remaining 16, you did pretty well in keeping from the reprehensible lapses that you are now conscience-stricken by. Those falls, if you observe well, tend to occur in the same predictable spots every day. So be smart and target these places like a laser in your campaign to “be conformed to the image of Christ.”

What will you do when your father sneaks behind your back and puts a used piece of silverware in the silverware drawer rather than in the sink as you have often asked him to do? As I see it, you have only a few options: 

  1. Berate him.

  2. Speak respectfully to him about it again.

  3. Simply remove the soup-smeared spoon from the drawer without fanfare after he has left the kitchen.

Once you get sick and tired enough of the way sin makes you feel like you’ve got a bad hangover in the morning, you will pick option 2 or 3. You will discover to your surprise how good obedience feels—that instantaneous lightening and strengthening that accompanies a moment of putting the flesh to death.

Comments

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  • Andy Knudsen
    Posted: Tue, 04/07/2020 10:26 pm

    Thanks for the article! This time is a good opportunity to reflect on how God has blessed us and to grow in wisdom and discipline.

    I looked up the crisis and opportunity connection that was mentioned at the beginning of the article. According to Wikipedia, the connection between the Chinese words for crisis and opportunity is not quite as clear as commonly claimed, but it does not really matter for the purposes of this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_word_for_%22crisis%22.