Have you ever noticed that, during your devotions, as you're confessing your sins to God, your list never really seems to change much?
Or that the same old stuff usually crops up on the list, day after day, along with whatever new or irregular sins you may have recently committed?
Lately, I've become bothered by how my same list of sins never seems to get whittled down. Now, I'm not going to tell you what's on this list, although you regular readers can probably guess what some of them are! You might even be able to imagine how I can beat myself up over them day after day. Maybe you do the same thing.
I know God wants us to confess our sins. Sure, He already knows what they are, but our exercise of evaluating our behavior and benchmarking it against what we know does and doesn't please Him can be a spiritually beneficial regimen for our sanctification. Because God has forgiven us, forgives us, and will keep forgiving us, because He is ours, and we are His.
Yet I often forget that God also provides us the Holy Spirit to help us act in ways that honor Him. I frequently fail to allow the Holy Spirit to assist me in honoring God with my actions, attitudes, words, and desires. And, unless you haven't noticed, I have a tendency to be pessimistic, which is just as bad as being overly optimistic. Pessimists like me tend to dwell on our failures and inadequacies, while optimists tend to overlook their failures and inadequacies. I can hear 'em now, saying, "well, that's because optimists don't have many failures!" See what I mean?
I don't know about you, but I doubt I have a very accurate estimation of the power of God's grace. That it saves me from myself, I gratefully believe. That it sustains me during virtually every moment of my life, however, confounds me. Perhaps this is why, as I grow older and hopefully am maturing in my faith, I continue to hold the world and our culture in disdain for the insidious ways it can derail my focus on Christ.
Although technically, as Paul says, all things are permissible to people of faith, I am learning that very little of what we have available to us is actually beneficial. At least in doses and volumes that our culture says we need. So while some Christians would call me an acetic in terms of how I "enjoy" life, I prefer to consider myself selective in terms of avoiding those things I know can get me into trouble. I'm finding that joy in life can be found without popular culture telling me what it should look like.
Even the Apostle Paul, of all people, had a "thorn in his side" that he couldn't overcome, and many theologians suspect he was relating to a particularly vexing sin pattern in his life. So when we come to God to confess our sins, it's not in fear, but disappointment, leavened with His promise of forgiveness and restoration. How comforting, then, to know that God's grace is sufficient for us, because His power is made perfect in our weakness.
As I've been writing out this essay, the words of a song that we sometimes sing in church has been running through my mind. These lyrics actually come from a poem written by the English poet Anne Steele, who lived from 1716 to 1778.
See if you can catch how she resolves what would be a recurring conundrum as we struggle over chronic sin. As she points out, it can be a vicious cycle as we wander, Christ bids us to return, we desire to stay at His feet... and yet returning to the first verse, we understand that our wretched, wandering hearts have established this cyclical pattern that I've described above.
How mysterious is this grace, that Christ's perfect patience comes as a manifestation of His eternal love for us!
How Oft, Alas!
How oft, alas! this wretched heart
Has wandered from the Lord,
How oft my roving thoughts depart,
Forgetful of His Word.
Yet sovereign mercy calls, “Return”;
Dear Lord, and may I come?
My vile ingratitude I mourn;
O take the wanderer home.
And canst Thou, wilt Thou yet forgive,
And bid my crimes remove?
And shall a pardoned rebel live
To speak Thy wondrous love?
Almighty grace, thy healing power
How glorious, how divine!
That can to bliss and life restore
So vile a heart as mine.
Thy pardoning love, so free, so sweet,
Dear Savior, I adore;
O keep me at Thy sacred feet,
And let me rove no more.
- Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional, 1760