In reading John Piper's writing on this struggle, I am able to put things in a greater perspective; nothing is harder for me than to look at the weight of my sin on its own, the things that tempt me and pull me away from God, and to remember the truth in the light of that. It's a huge struggle for me and I am engaged in labor against it. But even in that, the difficulty is in remembering that I labor because I am cleansed of sin, not in order that I might be cleansed. Christ is all, in all, and in His sacrifice I am clean, not in anything I have ever done. And, so I work.
I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.--Romans 15:30-32
Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.--Colossians 4:12These passages are not directly related to what is on my heart, but they contain interesting language. Other translations of "strive" and "struggling" render that word as "labor," and I had memorized the verse from Colossians years ago as "laboring in prayer." I have realized that one of my biggest idols is comfort: I want to be able to go through my life happy, unperturbed, able to get the most out of my day and then to go home, relax and close out things without so much as a stumble or a concern. But such a day lacks one important thing: it lacks worship of the Almighty Creator God of the universe who made me in His image, for His purposes and glory, the very thing I was created to do as a part of my inward being. God did not make humans to lead comfortable, pleasant lives that end in death; He made us to live rich, fulfilling lives that are full of evidences of His grace and mercy, and often that takes forms of our struggles through difficulty and pain.
And so, I labor in prayer, now as much as I can. I used to pray that things would get better, that I would be able to get out from underneath this problem, and into that solution, but those prayers were fruitless and, as I dug deeper into the Word, not what was going to help me in understanding God or growing more deeply in Him. I'm a cancer patient going to the doctor asking for painkillers when he's offering life-giving (but painful) treatment. This is His loving discipline, His gentle working of my soul to transform me from selfish, idolatrous, wicked and angry, into a loving servant of God and of the people around me. The writer of Hebrews says it in chapter 12:
In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?And Paul says it in 1 Corinthians:
"My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives." It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?--Hebrews 12:4-7
But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.--1 Corinthians 11:32God is tying it in with His earlier lesson of discipline versus wrath, and using this to continue to teach me about Himself, that I may love Him more. Perhaps the biggest, most joy-producing realization of my labor in prayer today is that God is absolutely answering my prayers, and He is doing so in such a way that I am not heavy-burdened with guilt but rather lifted up out of sin and despair into His joy. He has done it through guided reading of the Bible, through the words of the men around me, and through circumstances in my life; and even now, through my prayer and writing these very words.
Friends, I know there are some of you that know me and don't know Christ. If you're someone that's close to me and reading this, and this is just not making sense to you, please, feel free to ask me about this. I am ready and desiring to, as Peter says in his first letter, "make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in [me]." I write this blog as a record of where I've been and where I'm going, and I pray that if you're someone like this, that you'll read it and consider the words I've written here. This isn't some kind of moralistic message, nor is it an empty promise of happiness. This is God, moving and speaking into my life, giving me a joy rooted in Himself that can never be shaken by earthly troubles nor be reproved by man or spirit. I am working, I am pressing in and working to see the Father, because this is the only work that is truly fruitful, and everything else I do in my career and family and the rest of my life is for the purpose of pointing to that.