Last week, I finished a book, for the second time, called "Stepping Heavenward", by Elizabeth Prentiss. It is written in the form of a journal reaching across the life of a young woman from age 16 to about 40 in the mid- 1800's. It is fictional, but that doesn't really bother me, because the depth of life experience and wisdom in its pages can only come from the mind of an experienced and real author. I do not necessarily agree with some of the theology in the book (there is a strong undercurrent of belief that God sends all suffering and pain and loss for a reason and I do not believe that to be true. That is another topic of discussion, though!). Nevertheless, there are challenging and encouraging lessons about personal sanctification all through the book.
The fictional author of the journal is a passionate and opinionated girl who records her struggle to gain a true love of Christ and become a 'better Christian', but who finds herself continually battling with her own sinful actions and selfish motivations. One day she hears a good sermon and determines to pray more and be more kind. By the next day, she has broken all her noble resolutions and gotten caught up in some frivolous concern. One moment she justifies an outburst of anger and self-justification and, the next, hates herself for it. As the years pass, she experiences loss and hardships and daily life and learns to fly to Jesus as her only safe and peaceful haven of rest. In the midst of poverty and hard work, the loss of her firstborn child, and her struggles for patience and understanding with her husband and children, she finds that turning to Jesus with prayers of repentance and pleas for help yields a sure refuge. The end of the journal reveals her as a completely different person than the one who began it. Gone are the selfish outbursts and impatient words and judgmental thoughts. In their place is love that is "patient and kind and that believes all things".
Throughout the book, the constant battle she fights is to become more like Christ. Watching the immature struggles to keep her mind on prayer for a few moments to the more mature struggles with hidden motivations that rear their ugly heads, the reader is challenged and encouraged. God calls us to such heights of holiness! How easy it is to spin our wheels in our little mudholes of sin! If we find ourselves constantly confronting a recurring sinful action or thought or attitude, we are challenged to turn to Jesus, over and over and over. Repent and turn away. Trust Him to continue His work faithfully. How sad it would be if, twenty years from now, I am still the same selfish, petulant, foolish person I am now! How sad if even a month or a week from now, I have made no progress! But how can it happen? Certainly not by any number of noble resolutions on my part! We must be aware of our sins. Repent. Humble ourselves. Pray. Pray. Pray. Ask for His help. Acknowledge his holiness. Repent and pray. He will answer! It may not be in the way you think (in my experience, it never is!), but He will answer. You will be able to look back in a few months and see how He is working on you. If prayer is difficult, just think of your sin. In a few sentences, you can tell Him how holy He is, confess your inability to measure up, and ask for help. Do this every time you find a sinful attitude or thought, and you'll be surprised how much you can pray! If you do not find yourself struggling with a glaring sin, ask God to reveal it to you and then read or listen to something with Godly depth that will challenge you and give you greater knowledge and wisdom. You have a part to play, and unless you are convinced you have attained perfection, there are plenty of things I'm sure God would love to work on in you! (Living in condemnation is absolutely NOT what I am talking about here, just becoming a work of Grace that will point all who know you to the loving God who is doing an incredible work in You!)
In the days after finishing this book, I was motivated to be aware of my thoughts and attitudes and to review them daily. I quickly learned that I need to review them... hourly! Before lunch time the first day I had identified any number of sinful attitudes starting with practically the first thing out of my mouth that morning (spoken within minutes of my new resolution!). Feeling sorry for myself, impatience, and selfishness all manifested themselves within about an hour. How sinful I am! Rather than be discouraged, though, I must repent. Each time, I must whisper a prayer and ask God to help me. The Blood that saved my soul is more than adequate! It did not stop redeeming my lost and helpless self the day I got saved! My Savior is there still, as He was that day, patiently drawing me to Himself and urging me to stop striving, stop trying to do it on my own, and just surrender to Him.
It all sounds good in theory, but how hard it is do on a daily basis! I can write this and sound like I've found the secret, but I will most likely speak in a petulant tone or do a selfish deed before the hour is up. God, help me to listen to your call and to do my part faithfully!