I’ve never actually spit. I think that people who spit look ridiculous while spitting. Still, the saying appropriately describes the roiling, cracking anger that filled me as I stood looking at Paul. He had just done something that I couldn’t believe. Not a “wow I can’t believe you just dishonored God’s name or committed some egregious sin that hurt alot of people which results in my righteous anger” type of something. More like the “wow I can’t believe that after living with me for 11 years you would still do/say that thing that frustrates me beyond comprehension” type of something.
Standing there I was the tea-pot about to boil over, the bomb about to go off, the dam about to burst.
I wanted to aim spiteful accusations wrapped in biting sarcasm at him. I wanted to use an expletive and shock him into listening. I wanted to burst into tears in order to make him feel ashamed. I wanted to throw something fragile at the nearest wall in order to demonstrate Just. How. Angry. I. Was. Then I wanted to stand defiantly silent, willing him to utter something that I could immediately rip into.
But there was a moment, after a little bit of seething animosity slipped from my mouth, when I heard, I swear I heard in my mind the question, “is this the right choice? Should you keep going down this path?”
I kind of wish that I hadn’t had that moment. I wanted to turn my anger in on that little voice and douse it with reasons why I had a right to be angry. Can you snarl at the Holy Spirit? Eesh. But there the question sat, and I had to answer it.
Now, this all sounds dramatic and Pentecostal when I write it out. But I truly believe that these kinds of moments are where the war for spiritual sanctification is often fought. When you hear that quiet but oddly persistent voice calling to you from the sidelines of your headlong race (or slow saunter in some cases) towards sin, what do you do? Do you throw excuses at it? Do you plug your ears and pretend you don’t hear? Do you reason with it and try to spiritualize the very action that God warns against? I have used all these tactics, successfully I might add, for countless occasions. I went on my rant, said that biting comment, told that lie, envied my friends, berated my children, complained about my circumstances, judged my fellow Christians, prided myself on some personal quality,… and the list goes on. Sanctification was stymied and becoming more like Jesus was, temporarily, forgotten for the pleasure of sin for the moment (or season).
Now, here is where I veer off the well-beaten path. You might expect me to lay out some fabulous plan for saying “no” to self and “yes” to God. Feeding the white dog, kicking the black dog in the nuts. Or something equally as compelling and heroic.
But I’ve found that when it comes right down to that moment, that awful moment, I am often unable to talk myself back from the edge of that sinful choice. Pep talks don’t work and strategies for calming my anger (count to 10 anyone?) and thinking happy thoughts are ignored.
What I really need is a little moment of honesty.
The concept of personal honesty has made an impact in my life and daily struggle against my sinful nature. I really first started thinking about it after reading this portion of The Ragamuffin Gospel. (I bet you can tell by now that I love this book :-)
We must know who we are. How difficult to be honest, to accept that I am unacceptable, to renounce self-justification, to give up the pretense that my prayers, spiritual insight, tithing and success in ministry have made me pleasing to God. No antecedent beauty enamors me in His “yes.” I am lovable only because He loves me. Once we accept the gospel of grace and seek to shed defense mechanisms and subterfuges, honesty becomes both more difficult and more important. Honesty involves the willingness to face the truth of who we are, regardless of how threatening or unpleasant our perceptions may be. It means hanging in there with ourselves and with God, learning our mind tricks by experiencing how they defeat us, recognizing our avoidances, acknowledging our lapses, learning completely that we cannot handle it ourselves. … Getting honest with ourselves does not make us unacceptable to God. It does not distance us from God, but draws us to Him – as nothing else can – and opens us anew to the flow of grace. While Jesus calls each of us to a more perfect life, we cannot achieve it on our own.To be alive is to be broke; to be broken is to stand in need of grace. It is only through grace that any of us could dare to hope that we could become more like Christ
So. When I am spitting mad, what does honesty say in that moment? For me, I end up saying, “God I am SO ANGRY! I am SO MAD. I want to hurt him! I want him to feel bad. I want him to apologize and see how much his actions wounded me. I want him to promise never to do it again!….But you and I both know that this is wrong. I should extend love and mercy (and perhaps, if necessary, gentle and loving confrontation sometime when I’m not so angry – 1 Pet 4:8). But, God, I just don’t want to. Give me the want to and until that time, help me keep my mouth shut.”
It’s not a very eloquent prayer. But it does sound alot like David’s cry to God in psalm 141:1-4.
“O LORD, I am calling to you. Please hurry! Listen when I cry to you for help! Accept my prayer as incense offered to you, and my upraised hands as an evening offering. Take control of what I say, O LORD, and guard my lips. Don’t let me drift toward evil or take part in acts of wickedness. Don’t let me share in the delicacies of those who do wrong.”
Acknowledging my anger (fear, worry, discontent, frustration, etc.) to God is not a sign of weakness nor is it a sign of spiritual immaturity. It’s not an indication that we have stopped becoming like Jesus. Rather, it’s an indication that we want to be more like him. God understands and expects weakness (Ps 103:13–14). In fact, even Jesus acknowledges a (sinless) type of human weakness when he cries out to God before (Matt 26:39) and during (Matt 27:36) his death. Can I do that? That my sinful actions themselves are wrong (not just weakness), is not up for debate. But I am not capable of eradicating those sins from my life without powerful, divine, and ezer-like aid. I must realize this and ask for help if I ever hope to overcome them. When I am all charged up, and my emotions are about to run amok, I feel at the mercy of my sinful desires. But instead of trying to dredge up some personal strength and mental fortitude, why don’t I immediately start talking to God and asking Him for strength and grace, and wisdom, and the ability to keep my mouth closed (probably the most difficult in the list : )? Why don’t I follow the command in Hebrews 4:15-16?
“This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”
I pray that God will help me live this way. Will do it with me? No more defenses and playing mind games with sin. Let’s just come clean about our desire to do whats wrong and ask our good and gracious savior for help.