February 15, 2012

Grace for the Future

I’m returning home from teaching a two-week intensive on expository preaching at Sahmyook University in South Korea. The class included men and women comprising five Doctor of Ministry students, 12 Master of Divinity students, 22 local pastors, and four guests. I taught and learned a lot. My experience led to some deep soul searching during the long flights home.
My self-reflection was precipitated first by thoughts of yet another new year awaiting the return of Christ. Then by Christ’s summons: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). After deep reflection I concluded that the real cause of burdens are pride, pretense, and lust for prestige.
About pride, A. W. Tozer wrote in The Pursuit of God: “The labor of self-love is a heavy one indeed. . . . As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to offer affront to your idol. . . . The heart’s fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind rest. . . . ‘They have placed someone else before you? They have whispered that you are pretty small stuff after all? And now you feel hurt because the world is saying about you the very things you have been saying about yourself? Only yesterday you were telling God that you were nothing, a mere worm of the dust. . . . Come on, humble yourself, and cease to care what men think.’ ”
2012 1505 page25By pretense, I don’t mean daily hypocrisy, but the deep human subterfuge, driven by sin, to hide our real inward poverty of spirit and truth. To this Ellen White wrote: “A new year has commenced. What has been the record of the past year in your Christian life? How stands your record in heaven? ?. . . Make a different life history the coming year from that of the past. Humble your souls before God. . . . Put away all pretense and affectation. Act your simple, natural self. Be truthful in every thought and word and deed, and ‘in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.’ Ever remember that the moral nature needs to be braced with constant watchfulness and prayer” (Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, pp. 521, 522). I’m so over pretending to be happy when I’m blue!
Prestige, the strident struggle for status, distinction, and reputation, will be hard to shake. It’s woven into the depths of my desires and the culture of our denomination, perhaps largely because of our persistence for education and professional attainment.
Tozer again wrote: “There is hardly a man or woman who dares to be just what he or she is without doctoring up the impression. The fear of being found out gnaws like rodents within their hearts. The man of culture is haunted by the fear that he will someday come upon a man more cultured than [he]. . . . The rich man sweats under the fear that his clothes or his car or his house will sometime be made to look cheap by comparison with those of another rich man. So-called ‘society’ runs by a motivation not higher than this. . . . The heart of the world is breaking under this load.”
The unnatural conditions of pride, pretense, and prestige make us weak and restless. No wonder the apostle Paul wailed, “What a wretched man I am!” (Rom. 7:24). And so are we all, especially when we are saved by grace through faith. Grace makes us painfully aware of our shortcomings. But thank God for Jesus who entreats us to “come . . . , and I will give you rest.” The rest He offers is the blessed relief called peace and joy as we accept ourselves for who we are and whose we are.
It will take a lot of courage to rid myself of these three plagues, but I am determined to walk confidently into the new year knowing that God’s grace is sufficient for me—and you.
Hyveth Williams is a professor of homiletics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. This article was published February 16, 2012.