A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. (Title of Psalm 51)
My last post generated a few responses. I appreciate the encouragement to keep writing.
The most notable response (to me anyway) began, “not sure how to practice this more…” I thought it was an excellent observation, because honestly, that’s where I am most of the time.
Seeing the problem is the easy part
It’s relatively easy to see problems. We look at things and instinctively know they are not perfect. Call it cynicism, skepticism, complaining, or whatever you want.
The problem with that is that usually, we see the problems when we aren’t looking at ourselves. I’ve been in countless small groups, Sunday school classes, church services where, when the conversation turns toward personal application, the room goes strangely silent.
Those of us who have been in and around churches for any length of time know the situation. The leader says something like, “Jesus is talking about infidelity here… And I know that many of us have a problem with lust here.” Suddenly you can hear a pin drop. Everyone clams up.
Suddenly we who so easily see faults in everything around us are unwilling to engage. We’ve shut down.
Where did we learn that we ought to be perfect?
The gospel says, “Be honest about yourself — it’s the only way to change.” This idea is not natural. Naturally, we know that impropriety brings punishment. And so we clam up, and hide the things we think might bring judgment. We think that God is calling us to appear perfect, when what he really wants from us is brutal honesty.
Here’s a question to consider. Many of us know the story of David and Bathsheba, and how David was brought to justice after his affair with her. But where does one get the courage to write a chapter of the Bible, and begin it by describing one’s own infidelity for all to hear? This is the kind of courage that the gospel makes possible, and it’s what we need if we are going to truly change.
King David, in his personal saga of isolation, sin, and repentance, had undergone a paradigm shift in his attitude toward himself, and that’s what enabled him to write Psalm 51. Unless our attitudes toward ourselves change, we will never be able to change our behaviors. Primarily, I think the natural attitude that needs to change has to do with the role of community.
Most of us see spirituality as an intensely personal pursuit. We see it as an arena where we have the ability to relate to God and reform ourselves, but we don’t really see other people playing an essential role in that process. I believe that, while, theoretically, yes, it may be possible to experience radical personal change through prayer and personal devotion to Scripture, most of the great fruit of the Spirit’s work is practically unobservable unless we give ourselves to a community of other people that will help us apply what we know to be true. Usually, until we make ourselves part of a transformational community, everything remains theoretical.
And that is against the ethos of the gospel. Remember — this is an utterly life-changing way to live, not simply a better way to think and talk.
This is the hard work of becoming a Christian. It is finding a small group of people with whom we can share our struggles and desires, and who can help us change and become the people we were created to be.
I don’t believe extensive passages about the “body” would be in Scripture (Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12) if our Chrsitianity were meant to be a completely personal pursuit. Even the “fruits of the Spirit” passage is a list of things that are nearly impossible to recognize outside of a community (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness…).
A few points of application
- We must change our attitudes toward ourselves. This is the first and perhaps the most difficult step. But once we open up to the idea that we need to change, the rest of the steps are then possible.
- We have to find people that will help us to change our attitudes. This is a pursuit that, I believe, is just as important as prayer and devotion to God’s Word. If we go though life saying, “I just don’t connect very well with other people,” then we’ll never find the courage to change. It’s up to us to find the few people with whom we can connect.
- We have to be the kind of people that will help others change their attitudes. If we aren’t devoted to God’s people, then we aren’t really devoted to God’s Word, which tells us to devote ourselves to each other. We have to be honest about ourselves, but we also have to be the type of people who will listen when others are honest, and accept and love them for it.