“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” - Psalm 23:4(a) NIV
The last couple of months or so have been ones of subtle internal upheaval…..some unexpected revelations, some confirmations to move forward in other areas, and a whole lot of waiting and watching and wondering what’s coming on the horizon. Nothing has rocked me, yet there’s an aura of suspense that seems to be circling, adding to this gentle upheaval. As always, I observe what’s going on within me while in the process: my responses to the people in my orbit and what God may be saying to me through them, my responses to the books I’m reading, my responses to ideas that are forming. In these things, what stands starkly glaring is the darkness still in my heart. And moving forward, the threat of that darkness overtaking the light looms and I imagine all the potential damage. It pauses me, freezes me.
I have the undeniable sense that the Lord is desiring my obedience and trust in new ventures, new magnitudes, without my really knowing what any of this will entail. But in this time of reflection, I’ve become profoundly aware of how unqualified I am for what may be lying ahead. Not so much unqualified in external credentials, but in my heart attitude, in the darkness still present in me, the remnants of a sin nature that while defeated, I will carry with me until I leave this world. I’ve become even more aware how “self-absorbed” is my default mode; in how my thinking becomes insular the moment stress enters into the picture or my very good plans are interrupted and I can think only of how this change will affect myself and my family. The Holy Spirit indeed transforms our character, on His time table, in His ways, and yet it feels so long, and some things remain in us for reasons we often do not understand. I have a heart for many things and many people. But most of all, I have a heart for me.
I spent a week a few years ago sitting under Larry Crabb for teaching and training, and one thing he impressed upon me, when speaking of our bad motives and how they interfere with our progress, is that there will always be a bad motive somewhere within us because we are fallen in nature. If we are waiting for the moment when there is nothing impure, nothing of selfish ambition in our longings, that moment is apt not to come. I used to spend much time seeing all the ugly in my intentions and not moving forward at all then because of the fear that these things would be my driving forces. This seemed necessary for me after a string of self-bent decisions made which all were quite bluntly for my own purposes (and none provided the kickback I assumed, by the way). Because of not wanting this to happen again – a very important thing to address, for sure – I stalled. The Self and her demands were too big of a threat, and so in terror, I did nothing. I’m several years removed from this now, living in greater depths of maturity, and yet that Self in all of her plastic glory is still there, still wanting to call the shots. Still threatening to hijack good plans for her own sake.
The art of managing our motives then becomes learning how not to let the bad motive be in charge – it is not to take the presence of a bad motive as a sign that you are not going to be used for anything Kingdom-worthy because of your humanness. While you may not be able to entirely eliminate your bad motive(s), with deep self-awareness and complete dependence in allowing God to manage whatever the inner problem is, you can still move forward if you sense that you are meant to. Flee from temptation, indeed. There will be times you must flee, when an abrupt 180 is in order, because you are clearly being overpowered by the temptation to concede control to your bad motive. But if you’re waiting to be perfected before moving forward, you’ll never go anywhere. There will not be a time when sin isn’t crouching at your door (Gen 4:7), when the Enemy isn’t prowling like a lion (1 Peter 5:8). Perhaps the key to self-awareness is knowing that at any given moment you may not be self-aware.
What to do with all of this ugliness? I see it so clearly, the temptation to use people, the temptation to take advantage of situations so that I will primarily benefit, the temptation to twist a beautiful moment of service or splendor into a distorted self-glorifying memory. Will this never stop? The evidence is plain, clear, and indefensible. But Jesus tells me His grace is enough for me. His power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
The dark things revealed in us serve as a reminder that we are still in-process, still capable of being deceived. These reminders come to us as grace. It is painful and stunting to realize them, but it is in the knowing, deeply aware and saddened by their presence, that causes us to cling to the Lord as we move forward, certain that without Him, we are capable of great harm. In this we find humility, but we also find awe and hope: awe in soaking in the blessed reality that even as we are, He still longs to use us in His plans of restoration; hope in knowing that the day of our completion will come. We won’t be left in our sinfulness forever. As we stay near He recalibrates our focus and direction when our thoughts lead us off track, when we start thinking the goal is about the ministry we are pursuing or the relationship we are building or any of the other myriad good, godly things we are pouring ourselves into with holy intentions…….and that tend to grow askew as they take on meanings for us they weren’t meant to. The ultimate aim is always godly character; it is always preparation for eternity; it is always in making disciples; it is always for the Day we will come before Him. Always. All things. We stop several levels short when it becomes about the ministry itself, the relationship itself, the church itself…
So I’ve been wondering, and wailing, and waiting, and wishing, and weeping……when will the change come, the change in my heart and mind that seeks first the Kingdom, that desires His will above my own, that naturally longs to serve my neighbor…..that pays no attention to myself, one way or the other. People who are wired with deep introspective tendencies bear this burden in a unique way. The introspection can be a tremendous gift to others because we hold an insight into the inner workings and often can put words to things that others feel and sense but can’t quite find the way to express. I’ve been told this over and over in my life and have no doubt that is part of what God created me to do for others. It is indeed a gift. The dark side, though, is our tremendous bend towards the Self. I am envious to the nth degree of people with a servant’s heart. I don’t have it. I want it, but it is far from natural for me. Regardless, He tells me His grace is enough. Mark Batterson says to “Go after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention”. Maybe the dream then is as simple as not being selfish.
Psalm 23 tells us of the Lord’s shepherding of His people and what this looks like for us if only we can be still enough to notice. It gives us the assurance that evil is nothing to fear if we are close to Him…….including our own evil. For He is with us.