Monday, July 02, 2007

The Take Away

At the end of most retreats, conferences, and large meals, a discussion always begins about what we will "take away" from the prior event.

"What did you get out of this week?"

"What are you taking back home with you?"

"Would you like a to-go box for your pasta?"

I had to answer this "take away" question in Madison last week as ONS wound down. My initial response: a Santa sack full of information. Ten days worth, to be exact. How one extracts a tangible, relevant "take away" from such an deluge exists beyond my imagination and ability.

Yet, as the information continues to settle in the aftermath, some of it settling in and some of it settling out, I have realized that I somehow managed to wrest Failure as my "take away" from a week of encouragement, victory, and propaganda.

"Humphries, quit being such a Debbie Downer!" you might think - or say if you are of a bolder persuasion.

Oh contraire, loved ones. Let me explain why I could take away nothing better.

During the last week at ONS, I failed. What's worse, I failed at something I am supposed to be good at it. Maybe even gifted in. I must abstain from revealing the details because of the lack of intimacy a blog provides. Suffice it to say I messed up in an area in which I did not think I should have.

This crushed me, as most attacks on my identity will do. The questions begin. Why did you blow that, Ben? Really, if you can't get that one thing done, what good are you?

And as is wont to do in a world spiritually at war, the questions do not stop but spiral. Are you sure this ministry thing is for a clown like you after all?

For the better part of two hours, I wandered around Best Western and Madison oscillating between wanting to dump my mind onto someone and wanting to be utterly alone.

Amidst my oscillation, I ran across 1 John 1:8-9: "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

I had hit the x-axis, and it had stopped me.

I have spent the better part of the past nine months choosing to fight battles I could not lose. I work a job that never requires anything but average effort. I blog on whatever I want and avoid what I do not. I even beat my roomates in tennis when I had no business doing so. Subconsciously, I had begun to think that I would never failed. Sure, I messed up from time to time, but I never did anything that bad. I never SINNED.

That afternoon, the Lord refused to allow this deceit to carry on any longer. He exposed my pride and my cowardice, ugly sins, not the kind we like to stand up and tell our friends about. I had begun to act as if I did not sin, as if I could stand self-reliant. In doing so, I deceived myself. What grace the Father provided in tearing that deceit away from me because I do not want to live in deceit. Though the truth may hurt like hell, I do not want to live in deceit.

Failure drives me to God like nothing else. My friends may show me Jesus. My pastor may exhort me to Him. The Bible may broaden my view of Him. But only failure drives me to the foot of the cross because I have nowhere else to go. This is the place where I MUST die to self because the efforts of my self have died.

Herein lies the explanation: God could have given me no greater take away than failure because it drove me to recognize my weakness and His sufficiency made perfect in that weakness. And there is nothing better than encountering God.

I need to remember this when I head to the campus of UNH next year, when the temptation to work ethic and pride trumps the necessity of prayer and humility, when the opportunity to claim credit for victories floods my psyche, when the desire to make myself look good muddies my responsibility to reflect glory to the Father. I believe this position of prayerful submission to the power of Christ is the best way to complete the duties of ministy.

And lest I need more motivation, I have learned that the Lord does not balk at teaching the same lessons twice.


Tasha said...

Well put! I had a very similar experience this week and it's funny how these will always bring us to our knees and put God's grace in front of us in a more profound way than if we were to just keep going on with life as normal.

Anonymous said...

Your words ring very true and close to what God has done for me lately. We shouldn't go to the cross because the efforts of our self have died, but rather because our efforts were never alive. It is both humbling and reassuring to know that I can't do anything at all. The moment I begin thinking that I've got my relationship with God under control because of how good I'm being is the exact moment I start to fall.

Kristen Greenholt said...

Ben, that gives me goosebumps. Thank you for having the courage to share that!

Jeff said...

well said Brooke. Calvin would call it total depravity (i know Ben will appreciate that).

To forget that we are completely and utterly unable to do anything to save ourselves or do anything good apart from God's grace is to doom ourselves to foolishness.

His Little Joy said...

Ah! And so it seems that you do have some reformed friends! Just to dovetail off of Brooke and Jeff, here's a quote by another reformed friend:
“to suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.” –John Owen
All that we have accomplished has been done for us (Isaiah 26:12). Amen.