HARD AS STONE
SUSPICIOUS. STINGY. PETTY. UNFRIENDLY. UNKIND. ARGUMENTATIVE. JEALOUS. SELFISH. ANGRY. INSOLENT. DIFFICULT. BITTER. TOUGH. STUBBORN. UNFEELING. UNSYMPATHETIC. WICKED. RIGID. CRUEL. MERCILESS. OBSTINATE. HATEFUL.
I mentioned to a friend this morning that, even though I have lived the last twenty-five years as a steadily growing born-again Christian, my prior life of deep sin in a depraved world has left an imprint on my life that I don't seem to have overcome. The word that I used at the time was "hard". The old life of sin has left me hard. That's a very vague statement and certainly an imprecise word. What does it mean to be "hard" in one's life? What other words could be used in its place? I jotted down these, but this list would grow or deplete according to one's state of hardness. Where does it begin, and where does it end?
Even deep thinkers would laugh at me for asking such an unanswerable question. The depth of one's hardness first of all needs to be categorized....mental, physical, and spiritual are the three that I think of. Now, which one is most important? Another question for another day. The depth that I was referring to this morning was spiritual depth. I am living this life as a follower of Jesus Christ, Son of God Almighty. I am reading, learning, and praying over His Word almost every day. I love Him, worship Him, praise Him, thank Him, strive to please Him. Why then after all this time do I continually struggle to erase this list of words, and more, from my very being so often in my life?
The first answer that I expect to hear is that after all, I am just a human. I'm not God, or A god, who is perfect and makes no mistakes in life. This is true but such an inconclusive statement doesn't satisfy.
It's impossible to please God completely because He is completely righteous, and we can never be in a fallen world of sin is the second answer I know will come. True again. But what is it that makes one person, or in this case, one Christian, harder (harder-hearted) than another? Why do you and I react so differently in the same situations?
I once tried to answer a similar question using "temperament" as a scapegoat. I believe the temperament we were born with certainly factors in to our expressions and responses. But using temperament is an excuse, a way to shout out "it's not my fault". "I can't help it, I was born this way. God made me this way." I don't think it ever helps to blame God, do you? (I'm smiling here.)
Sonny Slopalong was born in a three room shack in the dregs of the Mississippi swamplands. It was a small town with nothing to show for itself except a set of railway tracks running through the south edge, on which Sonny and his family of 8 lived on the wrong side. His family had nothing, and nowhere to go. His father drank, came home to yell at the kids, slap his wife around, then satisfy his needs producing another mouth to feed on the nothingness of what was left over after he drank. Sonny grew up vowing that he would make something of himself, never be like his father, and hating everything and everyone in his world. While in his thirties he discovered the love of God the Father and accepted Christ as his Savior.
Sally Sweepitup knew a life of peace and calm contentment and grew up in a good home with loving parents, two siblings who loved each other deeply, a cat and two dogs. Her college educated Dad had a good job, and spent his extra hours helping the children with their homework and taking them on outings and family picnics. Mom worked part-time so that she was always available for her husband and children when they were home. IF bad things happened they were quickly and lovingly handled with care and attention. Sally never knew real hardship most of her life, received the Spirit of the Holy God early in her cushioned life, and grew old happy in a world of faith and love.
The context of these two lives, the reactions to life from these two people, in my mind, depends on two things. One: what each has experienced, and Two: how they choose to respond.
Experience. When Sonny meets Sally one day at his new small group from church he listens to the story of her life, growing up, being put through college by her financially stable family, marrying Doctor Liveitup, having two beautiful children, and living in the gated community on the edge of the city. Life is good for Sally. She is a good, kind, intelligent, loving woman of faith who gets along and loves everyone. When Sally hears Sonny's history she feels sadness for him but has no real understanding of it, and hopes that she can know Sonny and his family and become good friends with them.
Sonny's reaction to Sally's story is mixed. He thinks she is a lovely woman of faith and character. He admires her loving countenance and hopes that his wife will become good friends with her. Sonny's family and Sally's family come from two different worlds, and yet they have much in common because of the love and devotion they all have for a Living God in their lives. But the pangs of jealousy are strong when he contemplates the years of ease that Sally has experienced. Sonny sometimes thinks Sally is naive and shallow, and would be lost if she ever had to face a real problem in her life. Sometimes this makes Sonny angry, and it's difficult for him to contain his feelings of resentment and indignation toward her or even others.
At the church picnic Sally is in charge of making sure all the food is out and ready to be served. Sonny's job is to help set up the tables and chairs for dining. Four of the ladies on Sally's committee haven't shown up and it's almost time for the meal, so Sally gathers four volunteers from the crowd, and the party goes on without a hitch. Sally hopes that there's nothing wrong with the ladies who were originally scheduled to help, and makes a note to be sure to check in on them and wish them the best.
Sonny finds that he also has four missing from his crew, probably the husbands of the women that didn't show, and Sonny can't believe that he is going to have to do all this by himself. He is thinking that it never fails; if I get put in charge of something it never goes right. That's the story of my life! No one ever wants to help me, no one is as serious about serving the Lord as I am. If they knew what it was like to never have anything go right, maybe they would be a lot better off. They probably don't like me anyway because I came from the wrong side of the tracks. I've worked hard to get here, and they should appreciate me more. Next time I'll say no when they ask me to do something like this.
Sonny and Sally's reactions to a little snag in their daily lives are vastly different, even though they are both Christians and love to serve the Lord. Their different reactions stemmed from the memories they have of life in their world. One quickly and quietly takes care of the situation. One becomes more bitter and angry and miserable. Their reactions came from their experiences, but their reactions also came from their conscious choice.
So the word list becomes:
PATIENT, KIND, TRUSTING, UNSUSPICIOUS, FAITHFUL, LOVING, GENTLE, SELF-CONTROLLED, GOOD, JOYFUL, PEACE-LOVING, UNOFFENSIVE, FRIENDLY, GENEROUS, SYMPATHETIC, FORGIVING, MERCIFUL, EASY-GOING.
Paul told the Galatians, " Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forwarn you just as I have forwarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law......If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another." (5:19-26)
John said, "If someone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen." 1Jn 4:20
As with Joseph when his brothers left him for dead and ended up in a foreign land with nothing, we have a choice to praise God for giving us what we have, or cursing Him for what we don't have. Like the old saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!"
If I am lacking in any part of my Christian walk, I believe it is my obligation to Him to pray and seek forgiveness, then ask Him for the help that I need to overcome these obstacles. It is my choice. Do I want to change for Him, or not? Do I want to be like Him, or not?
I also believe that He's the One who put all this on my mind today, and that He is beginning a new work in me. Father, help me to obey You and to change to be more like Your Son. Amen.