You push so hard
to always be strong enough
is what makes you weak
15 And the Lord God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Why would God even put the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden? Did He want them to partake of it? Was the Fall necessary so that Adam and Eve could propagate children and give rise to each of us? But would that mean God’s plan of good required an act of evil first?!
I have heard all these questions about the story of creation, and I’ve even asked a few of them myself. But they are questions that have no answer in our scriptural accounts, and thus dwelling on them can only be an agitation and distress. The fact is, we really have very little information about what happened in that Garden, and it is entirely conceivable that we are missing 99% of the bigger story. There could very well have been much more drama between God, Satan, Adam, and Eve, but we were only given a very narrow window of it. Thus anyone that tries to extrapolate all the details from these small pieces is on a vain quest.
But I don’t believe that this narrow-slice view is an accident. When it comes to stories like these, there is a great strength in brevity. It makes them more universal. By stripping away any extraneous details we are left with a message that is applicable to each of us, no matter how different we are. Like Adam, each of us recognizes that there was forbidden fruit that we were warned against, that we were told would destroy us, that we obediently avoided for a time…but which we ultimately did partake of. And when we felt something break inside of us and weren’t sure where to go from there, this story pointed the way.
And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine.
And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head; also he armed him with a coat of mail.
And David girded his sword upon his armour, and he assayed to go; for he had not proved it. And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; for I have not proved them. And David put them off him.
And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in a shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine.
And David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine
When Goliath taunted the Israelite armies there was no one in the ranks willing to face him. Israel was in need of a heroic warrior but no one was answering the call. Now once upon a time that hero might have been King Saul himself, but Saul’s great warrior days were long passed. So someone new was needed to take the mantle, and it was into this vacancy that David entered.
And Saul armed David with his armour, and he put an helmet of brass upon his head
And David said unto Saul, I cannot go with these; And David put them off him
And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook
Saul was grateful to receive David into this heroic role, and tried to give him his own tools of the trade. But they were ill-fitting for David and he couldn’t make do with them. Saul was dressing up David to fight the giant in close-combat. Maybe that approach would have worked for Saul, but Saul wasn’t the one going to fight the giant. David was, and David worked better at range. David defended his flocks with sling and stone, not sword and shield.
This was David’s calling now and he needed to go about it is own way, with the strengths he had developed himself, with the skills God had bestowed on him.
There is a great temptation for mentors to hover over, to micromanage, and to make sure things are done the “right way.” But so long as the protégé never finds their own “right” way, they can never realize their full potential. Sooner or later everyone else must leave the room and leave the would-be hero alone with God. That is when one really learns what they are made of.
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.
For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order
It is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength
Line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little
I greatly appreciate the pragmatism in these verses. There is sincerely committing to improving ourselves one step at a time, and there is overextending ourselves with unrealistic promises.
When we start to feel the reality of God manifesting in us it is a very exciting experience, and we can easily get carried away with all the good things we intend to do. In a moment of rapture we might very well promise God everything. We will be His perfect, faithful child now, never to stray again. And in that moment we fully believe we can deliver on such a promise. To be fair, if we were to maintain that same state of rapture forever, we probably really could keep that promise, too!
But we don’t…and we don’t.
No, after each spiritual awakening there follows an awakening back to the old us. And it is that old us that needs to be changed. And that change is not accomplished by demanding perfection at once, but by line upon line. Yes, demand change of yourself, but also be practical about it!
I am sure Satan is pleased when I do not commit to improve myself and instead accept complacency. But I also believe that he is pleased when I do make promises, but they are ones I cannot keep.
So many times I have tried to commit myself to perfection–“I will never do this thing again”–and so many times I have failed. Then I have said to myself “okay, so apparently last time wasn’t the last time…but this one has to be! So this time I’ll just have to screw up more moral resolve than before. I just have to grit my teeth and draw up more spiritual energy than last time to make this the most excellent commitment I can, one that would carry through forever!”
But then…I have slipped again. And what did I think then? Well, clearly I had to somehow find another great well of spiritual resolve within me, one even greater than the “even greater” last one…or else I obviously wouldn’t have a chance of succeeding this time either.
Over and over this pattern continued until I was all dried up. I simply could not find any more “even greater” wells of spiritual resolve. I couldn’t keep outperforming myself endlessly. So I became disheartened. I didn’t believe myself and the promises I made. It seemed that the best pledge I could come up with was meaningless, and I began to believe that I simply couldn’t improve. Other people could, but I couldn’t. I was stuck.
And I remained stuck until I realized there was a better way. God interrupted my spiral to show me there was an “even greatest” well that I could be making use of. One that wouldn’t ever fail me.
Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Lean not unto thine own understanding
The weakness of God is stronger than men
Your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God
I have previously spoken of how I have sometimes been too hard on myself when I slip, and as I’ve considered that negative self-talk I have realized that it is a misguided attempt to control my behavior through fear. I am trying to force myself to be better via the tools of shame and embarrassment.
And this is me relying on my own strength, trying to control things according to my own power. In this effort I am utilizing the same forms of coercion that mankind has relied on through all of history to get what they want. Fear and shame are techniques that we continue to fall back on even though they are hugely ineffective. They are techniques that we use as a substitute for genuine power and confidence.
But as these verses suggest, there is a better way. There is another source of strength that each of us has access to, one that is greater than any mortal strength. So now the question is, how do we stop relying on our own power to improve ourselves, and utilize God’s instead?
Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
A foolish man built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it
Sooner or later, we all seem to have a moment in life where the house of cards we carefully built comes crashing down all at once. It could be because of our own folly, or because we put our trust in unworthy sources, or simply due to unforeseen storms. In any case, if we are built something unstable, then there is nothing to catch us as we fall, and so we drop until we hit rock bottom.
And often in these circumstances we don’t even think that there’s any problem until everything falls apart. So long as everything is still standing upright, we believe they always will.
Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
And the rain descended, and the floods came; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
The difference between being built upon the rock and being built upon the sand is whether we are built upon our own power, or upon that of a higher being. The simple truth is that we can do our absolute, genuine best….and that just isn’t good enough. That’s not a criticism of any person, it is a fact of being a part of the human race. The last thing we want is to be limited to our own best. Not when His best is an option instead.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Apparently Benjamin Franklin was referring to fire safety when he gave the above quote, but I find it is applicable to many situations, including that of self-improvement.
We have examined previously in this study how our moral resolve is like a muscle, with limited capacity, and a need to exercise and grow before it is strong. But it might be stronger than we realize, if we just started directing it more towards an ounce of prevention than towards a pound of cure.
In addiction recovery they teach that the best way to have a strong moral resolve is simply to not test it. The best way to overcome temptation is to be tempted as little as possible. Consider an alcoholic who goes to the bar with his friends for social reasons, but now must struggle the whole time to not get a drink. He will be quickly depleting his reserve of grit. Once every so often he might be able to pull off some moral heroics and keep himself sober, but most nights he will cave. Consider how much easier it is, then, for him to instead say “I’m just not going to the bar,” and never face its temptations to begin with. He is more sober by not testing his sobriety.
There is still some effort in that, of course. He must look his friends in the eye and say he can’t go when he used to go before, but it is an easier thing to do than see the beer and smell the beer, but not taste the beer.
In my own life I found that once I identified the unnecessary ways in which I was expending my moral fortitude, and circumvented those situations, that suddenly I had far more energy for actually making myself a better person. God works in miracles, it is true, but He expects us to work in prudence and reason.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength
For I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee
Yesterday I spoke of our moral resolve as a muscle, and the need to strengthen it without trying to overwhelm it. It is fine to acknowledge that we have limits and temper our efforts according to them.
But…we also need to pair this prudence with a faith in miracles. God has promised to give us strength beyond our own, the ability to stand against storms that we simply do not have the power to face ourselves. It is possible to both set realistic goals for one’s growth, and still leave the door open for divine intervention.
In my own path of addiction recovery, I took care to set manageable, attainable goals for myself. I did not try to muster up the strength for perfection, only to keep my commitments for each new day. And while in the process of taking these small steps by my own power, I found myself being swept forward by the grace of God to beyond what my own efforts could accomplish. My mind and heart healed in degrees that made no sense. I found a restoration of the soul that I had not even come close to earning.
So it can be with all practices of self-improvement. You do what you can do, and you let God do what He can do.
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
The father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.
Yesterday we discussed how each of us is weak in our understanding of some commandments, but strong in our understanding of others. One commandment is that we should have faith, which apparently was an area where the father in this passage was weak. His reaction to this failing, however, is a wonderful example for how each of us can face our own realizations of weakness. He acknowledges what strength he does have, what strength he does not have, and then ask for help between the two.
I give unto men weakness that they may be humble, and if they humble themselves, and have faith, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
In a non-shaming way, we need to acknowledge that our inability to see the meaning in certain commandments is a weakness. But having these weaknesses is no mistake, in fact our weaknesses are given to us intentionally. Strange as it may sound, we are designed to be somewhat broken.
As we learn from this verse, though, the reason for this design is because when we heal from our brokenness we heal back stronger than if we had always been whole. If all of us had a perfect understanding and commitment to the commandments right from the get-go, we probably would live more obedient lives, but we would not develop our reliance on God and His grace, which is of even greater value.