Here’s the C. S. Lewis quote from Sunday’s sermon on the Christian practice of confession. Confessing our sins to a trusted friend breaks the trajectory of self-centeredness, and restores to us a winsome humility. Self-centeredness ruins us all until and unless we own up to what we’ve done and what we’ve left undone.
Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible. — from Mere Christianity
One reason it is so easy to fall into complaining is the obvious fact that sometimes arrogant and self-absorbed people thrive. Self-centered people often find themselves rewarded for their actions and attitude.
How can this be? It isn’t right!
King David counsels:
Do not fret because of those who are evil
or be envious of those who do wrong;
for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away.
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. (Psalms 37:1–3)
David and his pastures! Doesn’t he see that evildoers thrive and God’s people suffer?
Doesn’t God see?!
Trust in the LORD and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
The counsel we get from David is not a direct answer to our question. He does not directly address our pain or frustration. His answer is intentionally indirect. Indirect and psychologically astute.
Trust and enjoy God.
Trust is a decision to be confident in God, followed by a thousand little decisions to cooperate with God despite our circumstances. It is a refocusing from our negative circumstances to the positive that God brings about. We intentionally remember the good that God does and is.
It is a way of paying attention to what we can control (our focus, our thoughts), and letting go of what we cannot control (evildoers, and the consequences of their actions).
We trust God because he is good. We trust God because that is something we can do — we can change our focus. It is a kind of spiritual discipline to notice and change what we think about.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Yesterday we looked at what it could mean to look to the Shepherd frequently during our day. Every time we have a pause in our day we can turn to God and ask “What’s next?” Have you tried it yet?
The Apostle Paul writes:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)
Paul is saying that world turns our mind away from God. We become familiar with what we concentrate on. We can learn what we study. We come to know those whom we spend time with. It makes sense then that turning our thoughts to God — allowing him to shape our thinking — makes God’s purposes for our lives ring true.
Those seeking God find God. Those fleeing God know him less and less.
“If we allow everything access to our mind, we are simply asking to be kept in a state of mental turmoil or bondage. For nothing enters the mind without having an effect for good or evil.” — Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p.111
Turning our minds to our Lord frequently helps us to see the goodness of God and his path for our days.
What’s your focus for today?
The Apostle Paul knew what it was like to go through the valley of the shadow of death. Paul experienced harassment, beatings, imprisonment, and shipwreck. His response:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. (2 Corinthians 4:8–12)
Why was there all this trouble in his life? He refused to stop following Jesus. Paul followed willingly wherever the Holy Spirit led him in the Roman Empire because he was convinced that God would see him through whatever God led him into.
New Testament scholar N. T. Wright notes:
In the present passage, Paul says he is persecuted but not abandoned; cast down but not destroyed. What he says here he says with the benefit of hindsight, but he has not forgotten that it did not feel like that when it was going on. When we read chapter 1 we discovered that at the time it really felt as though he was being crushed, abandoned and destroyed. How is this an encouragement for us when we go through persecution, temptation, suffering, bereavement, tragedy or sorrow? — (2 Corinthians For Everyone: Bible Study Guides)
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.
If today we are hard pressed, we will someday come to see we are not crushed.
If today we are perplexed, we will not despair.
If today we are persecuted, we know we are not abandoned.
If today we are struck down, take heart — we are not destroyed.
In Christ, we lack nothing.
David in Psalm 23 continues:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (Psalms 23:4)
I’m reading Tim Keller’s book, Preaching. In it he touches on some of the difficulties in reaching people in our culture. One of the difficulties is the resistance among some to the thought there is real evil. Keller writes:
You can quote Andrew Delbanco, a secular scholar at Columbia University, whose book The Death of Satan argues that “a gulf has opened up in our culture between the visibility of evil and the intellectual resources available for coping with it.” He argues that many secular people understandably attribute all human cruelty to psychological deprivation or social conditioning and, in so doing, trivialize the terrible wrongs people are capable of. — Timothy Keller, Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism
We cannot afford to trivialize evil. It hunts the vulnerable. It wants to rise within us.
In this psalm David is not afraid of evil even though evil is real. He is not afraid because the LORD is with him. This of course assumes that David is following this Shepherd, not fighting him nor trying to deceive him. Safety in the presence of evil comes from following the Shepherd, not from dabbling in duplicity.
So today remember Jesus’ words:
Peace be with you. (Luke 24:36)
Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one. (Matthew 5:37)
Pastor Mark loves his wife and grown children, the Word of God, and words. And coffee,