Whatever It Takes

From our Worship & Associate Pastor, Marissa Brown:

It is a difficult life for a child when that child is forced to grow up without a loving father. This was the life of Robert Robinson. Robert’s dad passed away when he was 8 years old. And to make matters even worse, Robert’s maternal grandfather disapproved of his parents’ marriage and therefore disinherited him and his mother. As soon as he was old enough to get a job, Robert became the breadwinner of his mother and himself. Later on in his life, Robert came under the influence of the famous evangelist George Whitfield and became a follower of Jesus. When he was 22 years old, Robert wrote a hymn, those hymn’s lyrics are as follows:

“Come thou fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace,
Streams of mercy never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of thy redeeming love.

O to grace how great a debtor,
Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let thy goodness like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above.”

This may be instantly recognizable to you, or you may have never heard of this before. Whichever your initial reaction, I encourage you to read the lyrics again, slowly, and notice what stands out to your soul. For myself, whenever I hear this hymn or see these lyrics, the last few lines always catch my attention.

“Prone to wander, Lord I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love.
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it,
Seal it for thy courts above”.

Even if you don’t know the tune of this hymn, the lyrics are completely relatable. We all feel our proneness to wander from God. And we all want this awful proneness to decrease. So if we take the words of this hymn and put them into our own prayers – really wanting God to keep us from wandering away from Himself – what are we asking God for? What does losing our proneness to wander look like?

Throughout the Bible we find a consistent element present in the lives of people of God who also felt themselves wandering. And it all can be captured in the brief sentence that is Psalm 119:67; “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word”. 

What decreased the psalmist’s proneness to wander? Affliction.

If the writer of Psalm 119 collaborated with Robert Robinson on the lyrics of “Come Thou Fount”, a revised version of the last sentence may have been something like, “Here’s my heart, Lord, take and break it,
So I love thy courts above”.

God uses affliction as a gift of mercy to help His people from going astray.

This is a paradox. Affliction, typically, is an evil we experience in our bodies, circumstances, relationships, or spirituality. While the good we experience is often related to prosperity. Yet, we have a tendency to move toward God in affliction and wander from God in prosperity. The Bible is full of examples of this paradox, here, let’s examine two: 1) when good came through the evil of affliction, and 2) when evil came through the good of prosperity.

When Good Came Through Affliction

The apostle Paul was given great revelation and power by the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill his calling to plant and oversee many Gentile churches. He basically functioned as the global-historical church’s foremost theologian, pastor, and Bible teacher. This would be overwhelming for any human being. How did God keep Paul from becoming unfaithful? How did He help him from wandering? Paul tells us,

“The extraordinary level of the revelations I’ve received is no reason for anyone to exalt me. For this is why a thorn in my flesh was given to me, the Adversary’s messenger sent to harass me, keeping me from becoming arrogant”. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

What this “thorn” was specifically is not important. What is important is that we see that God used an affliction, a messenger of Satan, to keep Paul faithful and humble. We don’t have the same responsibility as Paul. But don’t think that this means that we need fewer afflictions. We are tempted to arrogance and unbelief in ways Paul wasn’t because of the things he saw and we haven’t. Just like Paul, we need God to do whatever it takes to keep us desperate for Him so we don’t wander.

When Evil Came Through Prosperity

David, a prominent figure of the Old Testament, knew by experience the truth of this. When he was afflicted with King Saul’s plots to kill him, he did not go astray from God. He kept close to God and remained faithful to him. But David also experienced the other side of the paradox. When David was the king of Israel, unrivaled and God gave him prosperity in every way, that was when we wandered from God and into bed with Bathsheba. (2 Samuel 11)

Why did David stay close to God in his affliction and wander from God in his prosperity? The answer is simple. David was desperate for God when Saul afflicted him. David even wrote glorious psalms of worship from that experience (such as Psalms 18, 54, and 57). But when David was not desperate for God, he was more vulnerable to the self-destructive depravity of his human nature.

The same is true for us. When are we most prayerful, worshipful and faithful? When we feel our desperation for God, like we can’t live without Him. And when we don’t feel that way, we are most vulnerable to our proneness to wander.

Afflictions themselves are not to be loved, but resisted. God is to be loved and trusted. He is the only One wise and strong enough to work for good what was meant for evil. Paul begged God for his thorn to be removed, and so did David. God simply had something better in store for Paul and David by letting the thorns remain, and giving His sufficient grace.

What was that better thing? Desperation for God.

Affliction makes us feel our true desperation for God, and we cry out to Him. That is why we see Paul boast more in his weaknesses than his strengths. He knew that when he was weak, he was strong – because when he was weak, God was his strength.

In all our proneness to wander from the God we love, we don’t need to ask our God for affliction. Instead, we must ask for the merciful gift of desperation. We don’t need to be afraid to ask Him to make us desperate for Him, because He is our Father who loves us and wants to give us good gifts. We can trust Him to do for us what we need most. Therefore, this can be our prayer:

Whatever it takes, Lord, decrease my proneness to wander from You by keeping me desperate for You.

1 Comment

Bev - February 12th, 2023 at 2:20pm