I find that I often have the same difficulty Paul experienced when he writes in Romans 7 that the good he wants to do he doesn’t do and the bad that he doesn’t want to do is what he often does.
He goes on to say that it is the sin within him that is causing this problem. This is not to say as the comedian Flip Wilson once remarked, “the Devil made me do it.” No, Paul has something more serious in mind. It’s Paul’s own willingness to sin that is the problem. It’s his own ego, his territory that is getting in the way. Once you have set the boundaries on your particular territory you have created a playground for sinful behavior, selfish behavior that may evidence itself in anger, jealousy, pride and worry.
Paul is writing that the only way out of this dilemma is through Christ and the formation of Christ within us. See Galatians 4:19.
Paul even comments at the end of chapter 7, ‘but in the sinful nature I am a slave to the law of sin.’ Or as the Message paraphrase has it, ‘ but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.’ (Vs. 25)
What I prefer to say is that all territory belongs to Christ. I have no King but Christ. I cannot let me ego dictate to me what is right and wrong. All I want is Christ in me and then I can do what Christ would do in my body.
Now last night is an example. I was getting ready for dinner with my wife and noticed there were no forks in the drawer where day by day I would normally find forks. So I mentioned it and my wife said that all the silverware happened to be in the dishwasher. The understanding I got from that, after 45 years of marriage, was that it might be a good think if I, for once, took care of that little issue. Yeah, I got annoyed, thinking that maybe she could have asked me nicely to unload the dishwasher. See, I have my territorial issues. Don’t make inferences about my ineptness when it comes to helping out around the house.
So there I was, wanting to do good but not able. The good, in this case, was just having a nice attitude about the whole thing. Now I could say that some ugly demon was living his life in me but no, that’s not the case. I am my worst demon sometimes. Another word perhaps is ‘selfish’. So I have to enlarge my territory by making it all belong to Christ and then nothing can take me from God’s love not even subtle inferences about my responsibilities.
Sometimes writing a blog can sound a bit too pious like I somehow know the answers on the journey of faith. But it’s not like that. Some days I struggle mightily to be an apprentice to Jesus. For example I give you exhibit A, a recent time in my life that I journaled about.
Sometimes I get tired of being a student of Jesus as an academic exercise in goodness. Sometimes I just don’t want to be loving, or have any more patience. Sometimes I am just annoyed by pretty much everything and everyone. Too many demands and expectations. Too many extra miles to walk in someone else’s shoes. There are periods I would just like to be left alone. Sometimes I just want to be selfish. Not in some licentious way but just quietly minding my own business and saying ‘go away world’.
I wonder if the disciples ever felt like that. Tired of the Samaritans, feeding the thousands of people, storm tossed nights on their fishing boats, everyone pulling at them. I also wonder if maybe Jesus got tired of the whole thing, being fully human and all. I recall him saying that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. If he meant spirit with a small s then I am not sure my own spirit is really all that willing. Paul certainly expresses his own struggles in Romans 7 where he writes that the good he wants to do he doesn’t do and the bad stuff he doesn’t want to do he ends up doing. Maybe Paul got caught up being tired too. Maybe he found himself cranky with those around him pulling on him at every twist and turn in his journey. He does ask rhetorically who is going to save him from the mess and concludes that only Jesus can. I wonder what that exactly means. Cause when I am tired I do not find the strength in myself to even try to be and do good. Prayer doesn’t come easy in these times.
As a retired pastor this may surprise some of you. That’s ok. I’m not feeling all that strong to put on a good face right now. So what to do? You might think I have some spiritual answer at this moment but you’d be wrong. I am just here and all I can do is trust that God in his grace is holding on to me. I have no 5 principles for combatting spiritual fatigue. No ten commandments for being more holy. I just am. At this moment I am waiting on God for whatever comes next. I haven’t lost my faith. I have lost the zeal. So in this experience of being a student of Jesus I think I will just audit the course for a while.