The 81 year old pastor stood at the front of the room with a kindly smile on his face. He was a legend of sorts, standing there before a crowd of young preachers (and me, a green preacher’s wife), conveying to us some of the many things he’s learned through his years of serving God and the church. We hung on every word.
This man has lived out the things that he has preached about for more than sixty years, and has managed to do it with strength, humility, and kindness. He hasn’t lost his love for people or felt put-upon by the weight of his calling. He has served God with gladness, and is still serving Him to this day, never wavering in his message that God’s word is true, God’s ways are good, and God’s grace is real.
Watching him, I wondered how he has managed to keep his amazing attitude, how he hasn’t buckled under the pressure of being who he is, such a sought-after godly example. And then, he gave me a hint.
He told us about an experience in his younger days of pastoring, when a new and unusual temptation cropped up in his life. He told us that he didn’t take this temptation seriously enough, and truly thought that it wasn’t an issue. But one evening, he told us, God cracked open the door of my heart and let me look inside... And, it was as black as a thousand midnights. He realized in that moment that he was capable of any sin, even those that he thought he was above committing.
You could hear a pin drop in the room, as each of us admitted to ourselves, right then and there, that our hearts were just as wicked.
We get so sure of ourselves sometimes. We start believing that we could never be tempted to do this or that. We start feeling superior to those we see who are struggling. We look up one day and realize that we truly feel that we are too good to stumble or stray, and we rest in our own goodness. We take pride in following rules and consider certain sins as fodder for only more lowly Christians–those who haven’t attained our level of communion with Christ.
But, woe to those of us who ever decide that we are too good to fall. The truth is that inside each of us is the potential to do any manner of things that hurt everyone around us and grieve God. Lurking there, not so far underneath our cleaned up surface, is a keg of dynamite that can blow to smithereens everything in our lives that we hold dear. If we really stop to admit it to ourselves, we will see that even the holiest among us has a heart as black as a thousand midnights. When we start to believe that we are above ANY sin, we make ourselves dangerously vulnerable to temptation. After all, we don’t flee from that which we don’t feel is a danger to us. So, we pick up the sticks of TNT and we play with them without fear, forgetting that at any moment our deceitful heart could strike a match. We cannot afford to play with temptation as if we are immune to it. The Bible says to run away, fast and far.
When this dear pastor gave us these words of wisdom, wrapped up in his kind demeanor like a precious gift from Heaven, I began to understand how he has remained so humble, so honored to be a servant for Christ. It’s because he has chosen to remember that he is still a lowly sinner who has been shown mercy and grace by the Lord of Lords. The moment we forget that we are the very wretch that we sing about, we are already juggling the dynamite.
We must remember who we have the potential to be. And, we must remember that we didn’t climb out of the pit of depravity: Jesus dug us out. If it weren’t for Him, we would be there still, thinking that we’re having a grand old time. Our hearts will always try to lie to us. Unless we live on guard against our sinful tendencies, unless we refuse to decide that we are good enough to handle sin on our own, we will see our pride give way to failure.
And, the boom will be heard all around.
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. Proverbs 16:18
Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing,
but the flesh is weak. Matthew 26:41