“Apart from me you can do nothing…”
(John 15:5 ESV)
Those of you who know me know I love books. My office is full of them. I have an annual book allowance that is always used. Not only to I love books, I love to read them – they are not just decorations in my office. I have found though, that if you read enough, eventually something is really going to hit home.
Such is the case with Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God. I had read Crazy Love and thought it a very good book. It challenged me in many ways, and I encouraged others to read it. Forgotten God, on the other hand, is really messing with me, and I’m only in the first chapter. I think it resonated with something that God’s Spirit had been telling me for a while now, and finally articulated what I’ve been struggling with.
Here’s the passage that really hit home:
For some reason, we don’t think we need the Holy Spirit. We don’t expect the Holy Spirit to act. Of if we do, our expectations are often misguided or self-serving. Given our talent-set, experience, and education, many of us are fairly capable of living rather successfully without any strength from the Holy Spirit… If you combine a charismatic speaker, a talented worship band, and some hip, creative events, people will attend your church. Yet this does not mean that the Holy Spirit of God is actively working and moving in the lives of the people who are coming… People are more likely to describe the quality of the music or the appeal of the sermon than the One who is the reason people gather for “church” in the first place. (Francis Chan, The Forgotten God, page 31)
I have to admit, this describes the tendency of my own heart. I have my Master’s of Divinity hanging on the wall to remind me of my academic training. I have years of experience in preaching and teaching. I am told that I am articulate and a good communicator. I have studied Scripture and know it well. Crafting a sermon and preparing worship are things that I enjoy and come easily to me. Why, then, should I need the Holy Spirit to guide me?
It’s not that I’m not praying. I pray for the church daily. I pray with and for members who are struggling with sickness, loss, and doubt. But am I praying for God’s Spirit to guide me, speak to me, speak through me, and move me as I prepare for Sunday? Sadly, I have to admit, no.
One of the frustrations I’ve had growing inside has been this feeling that I’m not connecting with you in my sermons, that I’m not bringing about the growth that we all need to experience. I take each absence on Sunday morning personally. I long to hear praise for my sermons. And now I see how this as evidence of my greater problem. I have relied on my strength and understanding to bring about change and growth (as if I had the power to make any of this happen). I have used the attendance and worship services to stroke my ego and bring me glory, even while proclaiming the glory of God. I have robed God of the glory due His name. And this is your pastor.
In God’s masterful and providential way, He has humbled me with His truth so that He may be exalted. I read this week in John MacArthur’s study on Genesis 11, “Mankind has always corrupted god’s gifts for his own pleasures.” In the story of the tower of Babel, “man’s underlying goal is again revealed, as he focuses on bringing glory to himself and his achievements. There is no mention here of God – whether seeking God’s will, bringing glory to His name, or even obeying His commands… This is the natural tendency of man: to elevate self to equality with God in an effort to avoid being accountable to the Creator.” Okay, I get it, that’s me.
This has been a tough week for me, having God’s Spirit lay bare the desire and corruption of my heart. Pride has once again raised its ugly head, and I am convicted of my proclivity to trust in my strength and my understanding. Isn’t the timing providential, our memory verse for the week is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Message received.
Still, I am thankful for God’s mercy. It is merciful that God has convicted me, that I have been restless and sorrowful, that I am struggling with this sin. Without God’s mercy, I would never be made aware of my sin, I would continue headlong in it, and I would lead myself and others further astray. Thank, you, Lord, for revealing my own heart to me, that I may confess my sin and be set on the path of righteousness.
Maybe you’ve found yourself right here with me. I know I’m not alone. We don’t wake up every morning and think, “I am really going to need the Spirit of God to guide me today.” No, our first thoughts are usually something like, “I really need a cup of coffee,” “I really need to get that check in the mail,” “I really need to get away from here.” What we really need is Jesus.
Jesus reminds us that we need him every moment of our lives. In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5 ESV). Accordingly, here is my prayer: Jesus, I need you. You are the true vine, and I have tried to cut myself off from you. I have tried relying on my own strength, my own wisdom, my own charm to bring about the fruit of the Christian life – and I am left empty and tired. Lord Jesus, I need you. I need more of you and less of me. I need your life living in me, your love strengthening mine, your truth to guide me. I need your Spirit to inspire me, to fill me, and to transform me. Your church needs your Spirit to give us life. Wean us, merciful savior, from our own self-reliance and independence, that we might cling to you alone and walk in the power of your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, Amen.