(Note: this was posted by Joshua, but it's still Ruth writing)
While we were in the States for our furlough, I noticed something at a church we attended several times. It was something that on the surface seemed customary, expected, fitting. But underneath, that something nagged at me and made me uncomfortable. It made me feel off-balance and weighed down. Every service ended with the minister praying that we would be convicted of our sin.
That sounds so right, something at which you can nod your head. We are sinners. We need God to show us our sin continually, or we would ignore it, continuing in the same sinful direction we’ve always gone. It is the theme for which we expect our pastors to pray and on which we expect them to preach. Here is God’s standard, God’s ideal. Have you arrived yet? If our preachers aren’t preaching on our sinfulness, they have clearly gone soft. They are people pleasers rather than God pleasers. We have become accustomed on Sundays to hearing the ways we aren’t living up to God’s expectations. We expect to have a mirror held before us that will show us our failings and what we can do better this week.
So why did something so right, expected, and customary leave me feeling so uncomfortable, burdened, off-balance? Now for a long time, I had dismissed and ignored any feeling of discomfort. I am a sinner and should feel uncomfortable. If I don’t feel uncomfortable, it is a sign that I am worldly. But then God told me that He didn’t want me just to do the right thing while my heart was longing for the wrong things. He wanted both my heart and my actions to be united in love for Him. He told me to stop ignoring and overriding my heart, but to start examining and understanding what it was communicating. So what made me feel so uncomfortable? I felt like I wasn’t making any progress. All I could see was my failings, and they burdened me. I would work hard on overcoming one sin, but before I even got a good start on overcoming it, it was Sunday again, with a new sin being held before me. The burden of constantly seeing my sin before me was weighing down my head, and leading me into the unbalanced posture of discouragement and shame.
Now, this was what I was feeling. How did my feelings compare with Scripture? The issue troubling me was the constant prayer for conviction of sin, so what does the Bible say about conviction of sin? Jesus, in John 16:7-11, speaks about the coming of the Spirit. He says that when the Spirit comes, he will convict us with regards to three things, and not only one. Sin is the first of the three mentioned, but Jesus does not stop there. He adds righteousness and judgment. For each of the three, Jesus adds a reason the Holy Spirit will convict us in that area. Regarding conviction of sin, Jesus says, because they don’t believe in me. Regarding righteousness, he says, because I go to the Father, and you won’t see me any longer. Regarding judgment, he says because the prince of this world stands condemned already. Now, when I read my Bible, I make notes in the margin, and often those notes are questions. My note for this passage begins, “What does this mean?” because I don’t understand this passage. But then I move on to comment that I rarely hear prayers for God to convict us with regards to righteousness and judgment. I add that we seem to be neglecting these two important works of the Spirit. Clearly, this passage indicates that there is an imbalance, but since the passage follows a logic I don’t really understand, I did not know what the imbalance was.
I continued to pray and meditate on this imbalance. God promises to give wisdom if we ask, so I kept these thoughts in mind. Well, one day, I was very discouraged about an area of living where I continually failed in my expectations. In fact, three times in a row, I had completely blown it. Each time I failed, I became more discouraged. Finally, I prayed in desperation something along these lines, “God you need to help me, I am completely failing, and if you don’t do something quick to help me, I am going to ruin any testimony or witness I might otherwise be able to share.” Then I held up the three pictures I had of my recent repeated failings as proof. Immediately, God brought to mind another picture. This one was of a time when I completely excelled in the same area. The three pictures which had my focus were convincing me that I would never get it right, and my discouragement was growing and my ability to overcome was fading. Yet when God held up his picture of my success, my discouragement drained away. Immediately, new strength filled me. My thoughts took a new turn, “Look, I can do this. I am even able to excel at this.” Is that conviction with regard to righteousness?
At the same time, God did the same thing in another area. I was completely frustrated with the children. They were gathering toys together and putting them under my bed! They had some game going on under my bed. However, what happens after the game? The toys stay there. I told the children, “I don’t want you taking all those toys under my bed, because you will just leave them there.” I was doing something, but a few minutes later, I noticed that the game was continuing. I was about to blow up at the children when my six year old asked me, “Mommy, I can’t find a bag. Can you help me find one?” I paused my frustration to answer her with a question of my own, “Why do you want a bag?” “You said you don’t want us to take the toys and leave them under your bed. I thought if I put them in a bag it would be easier to keep them together and take them out again afterwards.” I had thought they were completely ignoring me. God showed me that the children were understanding the purpose of my ruling and were acting according to my purpose. Jesus was often frustrated with the Jewish leaders, because they were more focused on the letter of the law than on the purpose of the law. I realized the children were actually honoring me with their game and let them play with their toys under my bed. They remembered to take the toys out from under my bed when they finished. Is that conviction with regards righteousness?
I am still meditating on the passage, but these experiences have shown me how helpful it is to see when we are doing well. Philippians 4:8 tells us, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” We know when we are riding a bike or driving a car that we tend to veer towards the things at which we are looking. Is the same true when we are looking towards sin continually? While we need to glance in the rearview mirror or over our shoulder at times, our focus needs to be the road in front of us which leads us to our goal. We need to pray that the Holy Spirit will convict us of more than sin. We need to pray that the Spirit will accomplish all three tasks in us.