Over the next few weeks, I’ll be preaching a series entitled “Patterns of Prayer.” If you’re interested, you can find our worship services on Vimeo, YouTube, or on our church FaceBook page. One of the main reasons I’m preaching a series on prayer is that I feel inadequate in my prayer life.
When comparing my prayer life to those of great Christians of the past: Martin Luther who prayed for 2-3 hours a day, Hudson Taylor who awoke at 4 am nearly every day to pray, or George Müller who cared for orphans literally by prayer, it feels as if I fall very short of what I should be.
Maybe you feel this way as well. Maybe you are tempted to look at the biblical heroes and lament your shortcomings. Noah built an ark and rescued man and animals, Moses led 2 million Hebrews out of Egypt, David slew a giant, Paul traveled the world preaching the gospel. If we succumb to the temptation to compare our Christian lives to the spiritual heroics of biblical characters, we recognize what we lack and how we fall short.
But is this the way we are to think? Should we compare ourselves to the biblical heroes of the past? What does the Bible teach us about self-perceptions and reality?
It is easy sometimes to view the Bible through a romantic lens. By romantic I mean the viewpoint of romanticism that elevates characters and events to some idealized perspective. While sometimes unintentional, we promote this interpretive strategy when we put the biblical characters on pedestals and make them our models. No doubt we can learn much from the faith and obedience of the characters in the Bible, but we must not romanticize our perspective of them.
They were human. They needed forgiveness and redemption. Noah got drunk, Abraham lied, Jacob deceived, Moses murdered, David committed adultery, Peter denied, Paul and Barnabas divided. I could go on, but you get the idea. Bible characters were sinful as well, and the viewpoint the Bible takes on its characters is instructive for us.
The realism of the Bible is that God does not excuse sin, but neither is he finished with us when He finds sin in us. and for this we should be thankful.Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, 31.
Here’s the reality. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Peter, Paul, Barnabas, and every other biblical character besides Jesus were sinners who needed grace and forgiveness. God used these men and women in spite of their faults because God is full of grace and mercy.
Take a look at the Bible. Look for the flaws and sins of the biblical heroes. It won’t take you long to find them. This is not to excuse or minimize sin. The cross is God’s statement about how he hates sin. But only Jesus has ever been perfect.
God is not waiting on you to be perfect before he uses you. This is good news. You and I are sinners and will continue to sin. We need the grace of God, but we can also be used greatly by God.
You’re going to fail. So am I. Paul told his Philippian readers to “walk worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27). But sometimes my steps, thoughts, words, and actions will not be very gospel worthy. Neither will yours.
The good news is that we have the gospel. If we walk in a state of humility where we confess our sins quickly, God will forgive us. The true test of Christian living is not perfection, but rather letting God bear his gospel fruit in our lives.
Here are some realistic expectations that I trust will encourage you:
- Anticipate your sinful nature. You and I will make mistakes, act unwisely, or sin. Even being redeemed, we remain imperfect. For example, this stress-laden pandemic has induced short tempers and anxious thoughts. While our behavior might be sinful, it does not have to be disqualifying.
- Remember the gospel. The Bible reveals that God is holy, we are sinful, and Christ came to redeem us from sin. The solution to our sinfulness is not better behavior, but rather a better Savior.
- Ask for forgiveness. Our response to our sinful behaviors should not be to minimize them, but to confront them. We confront them by confessing them to Christ. When we confess, God promises to forgive and cleanse.
- Walk in the Spirit. As we grow in our faith, we might overcome some sinful behaviors, but we will never reach perfection until heaven. Yet we can mature. We will mature and find strength in weakness and faith in fear by walking in the Spirit. Walking in the Spirit is obeying God’s Word, communing with him in prayer, and worshiping him in praise.
Don’t expect perfection of yourself (or others for that matter). Only Jesus is perfect. That’s why we have the gospel. But do seek the comfort offered through the real teachings of the Bible: God knows our sinful nature. He provided Jesus for our forgiveness. He promises to forgive and use us.
Hope you are encouraged by these biblical and realistic expectations.