Sunday, January 20, 2013

Running on Empty, Stalling on Full

"My heart is broken as I cry like so many times before
"But my eyes are dry before I leave the floor.
"Oh Lord, I try, but this time, Jesus, how can I be sure
"I will not lose my follow-though between the altar and the door."
-"The Altar and the Door," Casting Crowns


The lyrics of this song struck a chord with me the first time I heard them--they still do. Why? Because sometimes complacency seems like a chronic disease. It is easy to make resolutions, even promises after a moving hymn, in the midst of a convicting sermon, in the dead of night when there are no distractions to compete for my attention and love. But as soon as the prayer, the sermon, or the night are over life begins again, with all of its demands. That which seemed so clear last night is slowly obscured by the world and the flesh. The work of God, the constant battle against sin becomes less tangible, and we drop our guard. If Bunyan were to rewrite Pilgrim's Progress, is it possible that Christian would have seen the path to the Celestial City strewn with swords and shields that believers had cast aside, though they may have never intended to. I used to say that I struggled with complacency, but then I stopped to think. Isn't complacency, by it's very nature, the absence of struggle?


This post is inspired by several things: circumstances in my own life (some wonderful, some troubling), and my pastor's sermon this morning. Before service, we had gathered to pray and several people asked the Lord that we would come away from the message changed, that we would be spurred to action and not become gluttons of biblical information, who are content only to hear and discuss but never to do. This happened to be exactly what my pastor spoke about. Change, he said, is not something we can muster up, any more than we could "muster up" our salvation in the first place. It only comes about through God's power, and His power comes through the Word.

I find it interesting how God allows things to come together at just the right time. I have just finished attending The Master's College Truth and Life Conference. The topic? God's Word. It had also recently come up in a conversation with a friend that reading the Bible needed to be more of a priority. It is like those laser cut prisms you can often find at gift shops. An image is been etched into the center of the crystal block without marking the outside. The laser used to create what is beautiful and intricate won't leave its mark unless focused by a lens. The angle and wavelength of the laser must all be arranged perfectly. In the same way, there are no coincidences in God's timing. And several things in my life worked together to focus and amplify what I already knew to be true.

Where does my title come into all of this? Logically, neither of the expressions make sense. A car cannot run if its fuel tank is empty. Nor would you expect it to stall if the tank is full. But it happens nonetheless. Why do I, who live in a society where the Bible is always within arm's reach, feel at times like I'm running on empty, attempting to change and not finding the strength to do so? This life, especially in America can be so full of distractions. In addition to the bad, there is so much that is good and neutral to fill our time and hold our attention. I'd be hard-pressed to find someone whose schedule wasn't full. This is not a sinful thing, but dependency on God and sensitivity to Him are hard when life is easiest.

When things are going well, the illusion of self-sufficiency is strong. I stall spiritually when everything seems smooth externally, and I see no reason for change. Then, when trials come (sometimes it's not even trials--it could just be new, unfamiliar circumstances) why do I feel like I'm floundering? When my life seemed full, I let my tank run out, so that it was empty when I needed it most. It is during those times when I am full that I have the luxury to prepare for the empty times. Or rather, remind myself of what I too easily forget, that in Christ I am never truly empty at all.

In the midst of all these metaphors what am I trying to say? The Christian life has always been easier said than done. How do I know? I see it in myself far too often. But we need not be discouraged if only we draw on the power already given: "And take...the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God." (Ephesians 6:17). We can't let our swords fall by the wayside.