Since Katie came back from college for the summer, one of the side benefits is that she has some decent reading material to lend me, and when I am too tired to be physically productive around our house, I can sit and read and hopefully learn something. The most recent that I have finished reading is Respectable Sins: Confronting the sins we tolerate, by Jerry Bridges.
A friend who knows I read this book had been wanting to read it, and she asked me what sins I found it bringing to light in myself. At which point I felt rather stupid, because I'd just read the book, probably too quickly, and I couldn't remember the specific points where I felt it applied to my own life. How unteachable is that! I think I can attribute it to the fact that some issues were distracting me, and I was reading it as much to give myself a mental break as to learn something.
So I looked back into the book, and rediscovered that list of sins that presently apply to me. The oddest one is anxiety, because until maybe the beginning of this year, I could honestly say I was hardly ever troubled by it. Yet I find myself fretting over things that I should be able to hand over to my ever-more-capable and sovereign Lord, and leave my worries to Him. It's logical, and I know it, and I pray for Him to take care of my trouble, and then I pick it up again and carry it. It's as if to say I don't trust Him to be able to do well enough without my pondering it. I think it comes from wanting to work out unworkable knots in my brain. This is a good picture, like the fable of the Gordian knot, an unworkable knot that was supposed to be a test of a man's qualifications to be the next ruler--the man was supposed to undo the strings of the knot. Everyone would try to untie the knot without success, until some man came along and sliced it with his sword and then he could take apart the little pieces of rope with ease. It was such a stunningly simple solution that a person's mind protests that it's not fair. Still, if he was not told it was against the rules, it was fair enough and he outsmarted the knotty problem.
It's similar to how we have it with our unworkable problems--and if we have access to the sword that slices through it, it is surely the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God; we also have access to the Person who best wields that Sword, though--if He actually needed it. Recently, our sponsored child in Uganda, Herbert, sent a letter that had one Bible verse in it, not knowing my recent tendency toward anxiety. His verse was 1 Peter 5:7, Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you. Imagine the goodness of God that He put that in the boy's mind to include that verse in his letter, and the comforting weight it carried when it arrived for me to read. It was a gentle and loving conviction, just as the Spirit supernaturally works.
The next sin (sequentially within the book) was discontentment. We were wanting to sell our house and get into a smaller one; it would be better for our finances and for the availability of time that is presently so devoted to maintaining the house and yard. We moved into this one for the sake of hospitality, and because it was near our previous church. Within a week of moving in, I discovered something about that church that eventually was the reason we left. For the last couple of years, we haven't hosted many guests, and our guest room had become a storage room full of clutter. So when I realized that the goal to sell had become a contentment issue, I started praying asking God to show me why we were staying here. I cleaned out the room and restored it toward the purpose of hospitality, removing clutter and putting beds back in, cleaning the sliding door down there and pressure-washing the patio. Already we have had one night where we hosted four girls Katie invited home from college; another night we hosted a fellow from Illinois who was headed toward Alaska to work in one of the fish-processing places up there. It has been a fun opportunity, and I am expecting that God is willing to fill the room frequently in times to come, or He might not have kept us here. In addition, the children in the neighborhood who had previously been incited to gang up against our Tim have changed their tune since the meanest two moved away, and since we got a basketball hoop. They now are coming around to play with Tim, and I'm hoping that instead of thinking of Christians in a bad light, they might come to realize we're not so bad after all, and we might have a forum in which to share Christ. So that contentment issue has turned around significantly just recently!
There were other issues too, such as lack of self-control (in parenting issues more than any other area, I think--I give up too readily when I'm challenged, most of all). There are other issues too, but perhaps they are to be brought to light on another day. This author wrote the book well, but I think I need to read it over and over again to get the most out of it--it will hit different areas depending on what I'm struggling with at the time.
The most convicting book of all, of course, is the Bible, and that's where we all should turn on a daily basis to let it do its refining work--that Sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Though the Spirit's conviction of sin in the light of Scripture may bring pain, it generally still comes as sweetly and gently as Herbert's letter did. The Spirit humbles; He never humiliates. When the Spirit is at work, He knows just how to draw that person in love, because he is His creation. When we bear the fruit of the Spirit, we are only reflecting what the Spirit shows us, and when He works, He works with the characteristics listed, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When we experience those things, we are experiencing His goodness, whether in His word, or in another person's work in our lives.
Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.