My empty pot

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I had a pot, a pretty little pot.

I filled it with good soil, rich in minerals, fertilizer, and lots of organic nutrients.

I planted a seedling of my dream in that pot.

It took rooted and grew, a little.  Then withered.

‘Something must have been wrong with that plant.’ I thought.  ‘Can’t be the soil!’

I pulled out the plant and tried a different kind.  Same story.  It grew a while, this time larger.  But didn’t bear fruit before it, too, dried up and died.

Not to be discouraged, I researched on-line ‘Best plants to grow in a pot’.  There were all sorts of suggestions and stories of how so-in-so, who shared the same dream I held close to my heart, had found success with this kind of plant or that.  I selected the one with the most likes and tried that.  This time, it bore fruit!  It grew and grew and started to flower.  I was excited.

But then, something got to it.  And it too withered.  I was beginning to feel a bit discouraged.

Not one to give up easily, I prayed to God.  And tried again.  Following yet another suggestion.  I was not willing to abandon my dream. After all, if I try hard enough and use the best materials and practices, surely I can make it happen!

Each time I tried something new, the results were the same – a variation of my one-flower plant.  And then it died.

Successive plantings produced pitiful little plants.

And these shoots that seemed to take root ended up looking worse and worse.  I began to feel embarrassed that I had told anyone about my dream.  They would ask me from time to time about it.  And I would explain my latest attempt.  And they would listen with sympathy and interest and pat my back and encourage me to keep trying.  “You’re doing all the right things!  And your soil is so good,” they would exclaim.

Then one day, before I even got to plant the new seedling I had purchased, it died.  Yes! This different variety, this potential little wisp of a potential little flowering plant, actually withered and died in the car, on the way home. Even before I could transplant it into my good soil.

‘Father, what are you telling me?’  No, answer.

It seemed that the Father was closing this door.  If I’m honest, I can look back and see how He had begun to push the door to my dream shut, moving it on its hinges.  I had ignored that, persevering to the day, not wanting to abandon my dream.

But now I could see, that my pretty little pot with its good soil was not going to accept any plant I placed in it.  For reasons unknown to me, but totally in the sovereign and good will of my Father.

Once home, I threw the plant in the garbage.  And shifted my focus away from my pretty little pot. I turned to God’s Word and comforted myself.  It happened that the appointed reading for that day was in 2 Chronicles about King Jehosophat and his desperate situation.  His humble and transparent honesty encouraged me as he knelt and prayed. Here was a king in front of his people admitting his strong need for wisdom, direction, and help in the face of an approaching enemy:

2 Chron 20:12 “……We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

So, I took my pot and emptied out that fine, rich, organic soil.  And set it empty, on a shelf in the sunroom.  And I prayed:

“Father, here’s my pot.  Please fill it with what YOU want.  And if it be Your will to keep my pretty little pot empty, then blessed be Your name.  After all, You are the One who owns this pot. And I, as well, I belong to You.  In fact, right now, I yield both me and my pretty little pot to You.  Have your way, dear God. Amen!”

Amen.

The ‘if-only’ weed – Toxic to my soul

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John Owen is nailing me!  For someone whom I’ve never met and who died 335 years ago, it’s uncanny how well this man knows my heart.

His book on how to kill your sin, Mortification of Sin in Believers, is my current weekend reading before I open my Bible.

Look at what I read yesterday, paraphrased for me:

Do I lack strength and power?  Do I lack comfort and peace? (Owen then writes parenthetically that these 4 qualities are the only ‘lacks’ worth mentioning).  If so, then their lack has been brought on through NOT mortifying my sins. Giving in to any sin (what he calls ‘exercising’ or practicing that sin) precipitates the following:

  • My soul is weakened and deprived of strength and vigor
  • My soul is darkened and deprived of comfort and peace

So what does Owen recommend?

First, he explains how we strengthen the power of sin.  Whatever we set our affections on, whatever we cherish or love we THINK about. And what we invest our thoughts in grows in power to rule us.

Owen quite unnervingly calls those affections not set on God LUSTS.  (And he is not talking just about wrong sexual desires.)  We created beings were made by God to love Him first and foremost. And if we cannot say in all sincerity to God, “You alone are my portion, my treasure,” then whatever takes God’s rightful place as first in our hearts is a lust.  No surprise that feeding and investing my thoughts, fears, desires, and hopes in this cherished but dangerous affection has a deleterious effect on my soul.

Owen describes the condition of directing our beloved and best thoughts elsewhere as ‘a drinking up the spirit and all the vigor of one’s soul’.  The result?  A dark cloud barrier between me and God, blocking all the beams of love and favor from God to me, an adopted daughter.

When I read that yesterday, I realized that one of my pet sins, a ‘péché mignon’ as the French call it, is the ‘if-only’ game. This is where I imagine a better circumstance than the one I’m ‘stuck’ in.  This is sin. And yes, it displeases God, as does all sin.  In essence, when I wish for a different scenario than the one God has given me, I am declaring:  Where you have placed me, the boundary lines you have set for me, the details of my life are NOT good, Father!  If only they were other, I would be happier or more at peace or more content.

What presumption and what a slap in the face of the all-wise and all-good God.

This is sin! This is lust and John Owen says I need to be killing it every day.  That is, if I want the vigor and comfort that are mine by rights as an adopted child of God, whom Jesus rescued and transplanted through his life and death.

These lusts grow stronger the more I fantasize about them.  My thoughts do carry energy; they are fertilizer, ‘Miracle-Gro’ to whatever I direct them.

So what are we to do practically?  How do we kill lust?

Mike and I are going through a very difficult trial.  Like a lot of suffering, we don’t understand it and in this case, don’t know yet what to do.  In our God-centered moments we think and pray like King Jehosophat when he and his people faced the imminent attack of a horde of Edomites: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12

But more than I like to admit I invest time in feeding the ‘if-only’ lust.  So as I read John Owen yesterday the Holy Spirit showed me how readily I elevate ‘fixing this situation or eliminating this suffering’ to the number one place in my life, above God.  The desire for a life without this ‘whatever’ can dominate my prayers and thoughts.

‘But isn’t that natural?’ you might say.  Yes! but just because it is natural doesn’t make it less of a sin.  As believers, we are commanded to walk or live by the Spirit, not by the flesh.

I am finding that a good remedy for this wrong thinking is our Lord’s Prayer.  After all, when the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, He gave them this content and model.

So when I shift my thoughts UP to what really matters eternally – Praying for God to be honored and worshipped by everyone, for His will to be done everywhere and for His kingdom to come NOW those small, self-centered fantasies of peace and good I have indulged pale.  Next, as I pray through the Lord’s Prayer, I am retrained to ask for what I need this day – basic necessities, forgiveness, and protection.  Does God, my Father, NOT care about the suffering and trials He has sent and what we are to do?

Yes, He does! He commands me to trust Him and to hand them over.  He is using them for my ultimate good and will resolve them when and how He deems best.  For now, I am to get back to His priorities – Loving Him and my neighbors.

This is the weeding, the killing of sin that John Owen describes as a believer’s duty.  And not just duty, but the way to enjoy God’s favor, His strength, comfort and peace that He WANTS me to experience.

Thank you, Father, for inspiring and using these Puritans to instruct not just their contemporary flocks but generations of believers who have followed.

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