Thursday, May 25, 2017

Quote of the Day (33)

The English Language & Usage website is a useful tool for readers who come across words and phrases they don’t understand and can’t find an answer elsewhere. Other users generally supply the answers they are seeking.

“So, what does it mean to come to the end of yourself? Is it related to getting to the point where you are powerless? Or maybe to the fact that you are sick of yourself? Am I even close?”

Now, if you’ve ever circulated among Christians at all, you’ve almost surely encountered the expression, but it’s my sneaking suspicion you won’t come across it elsewhere and that if you do, it’s probably crept in quietly to secular thinking from Christian theology.

Take Up His Cross

This is precisely what the first responder to the question points out, and a Google search quickly demonstrates the truth of it.

Christians are constantly coming to an end of ourselves. We can’t help it. The demand to do so consciously and voluntarily is right at the doorway to discipleship. Christ himself made it:
“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
But self-denial involves more than simply putting the Lord in the driver’s seat of our lives and chucking our own needs and desires in the trunk. It also involves ceasing to turn first to self for solutions to genuine needs.

Ah, if only we would all do it consciously and willingly. But that is not my lived experience and it’s probably not yours. We acknowledge the provision of the Lord Jesus in some areas and retain our autonomy in others. So living the Christian life becomes a process of learning and re-learning the vacuity of a self-reliant spirit.

The Widow of Zarephath

David Gooding finds this theme in the Old Testament story of the widow of Zarephath. The prophet Elijah comes to her in the middle of a famine asking for bread and water. The woman replies:
“As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.”
Elijah tells her, “First make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”

That’s a little rough, isn’t it. It’s a handful of flour, after all. How much will be left for the widow and her son if she makes a cake for the prophet first?

The Reality of Her Situation

Gooding writes about the woman’s state of mind:
“What made her trust him in the first place? The answer is simple: it was the realization of her extreme poverty and fatal lack of resources. If she refused to trust him, she would keep her last handful of meal for herself and her son; they would eat it, and within a few days be dead. If she gave her last handful to Elijah and he turned out to be a fraud, what would it matter? She would die a few hours sooner, that’s all. If she trusted him and he turned out to be true, she and her son were saved. Actually her extreme poverty made it easy for her to see the reality of the situation. Had she still had half a barrelful when she met Elijah, she might have been tempted to refuse to risk trusting him, in vain hope that her half barrelful might somehow see her through to the end of the famine.”
— Gooding, According to Luke (1987)
So she came to an end of herself and trusted Elijah and by extension Elijah’s God. But I find Gooding’s assessment insightful: the woman saw the reality of her situation.

A Plethora of False Cures

That’s not always easy. Correctly diagnosing my own need is difficult to do when I live in a society that is sufficiently prosperous to offer me a plethora of easy solutions. So we look to ourselves to solve the obvious problem before us. The answer to my temporary shortage of funds is the omnipresent Visa card. It is, after all, sitting right there in my wallet. It even has my name on it. Likewise, the cure for my spiritual malaise is a call to a sibling, and the solution to my lack of a subject for Sunday’s message is to run to my library and start paraphrasing.

Now of course there is nothing intrinsically evil about Visa cards, libraries and calls to family, and it is surely not the case that the Lord never meets our needs through perfectly normal and natural means, or via the first practical solution that may occur to us. In fact, most of our needs are regularly met that way.

But if we are not in the habit of acknowledging our complete and ongoing dependence on the Lord to both ourselves and to him, it is unlikely we will recognize his providential care as it occurs, or that we will take our cares to him first. Do we give him thanks for access to a few extra bucks, praise him for the encouragement we get from a brother or sister, and see him between the lines of our commentaries? Probably not always. It should not surprise us, then, if the Lord occasionally allows times of famine to bring us to the place in our thinking where we should really always be.

Fatal Lack of Resources

The fact is, outside of Christ all men, rich and poor, exist in a perpetual and generally unrecognized state of extreme spiritual poverty and fatal lack of resources. And even in Christ, we need always to keep in mind that the spiritual resources we require for our daily walk with him remain ever and always his. We cannot access them in an independent spirit.

What do you think? Will that half barrelful of meal get you through to the end of the famine?

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