My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Please forgive me if this turns into a sermonette, but it’s something I’ve had on my mind.
A long time back, before my accidental spring/summer break from this blog, I wrote about being convicted by a couple of songs I’d heard consecutively on my MP3 player. In combination, God used the two tunes to show me that I wasn’t living my life quite as well as He desired me to, mostly because I was often being selfish and doing what I wanted instead of what He wanted. It’s a moment I think about still, and it causes me to re-examine my actions periodically.
But something happened after I wrote that — I got responses about it (not replies here, but elsewhere) from people I knew. And the gist of most of them was, “don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re not supposed to be perfect, just relax in God’s love.”
Which isn’t bad advice, per se. But to me, it did seem to miss a key point.
The point it missed was that I wasn’t being hard on myself by recognizing what God was saying, any more than God was being hard on me by saying it. I was simply convicted of my sin in that area.
I hope I’m not going into “crotchety old man, you-darn-kids-get-off-my-lawn” mode here, but when I was a new Christian in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I and the other Christians I knew talked a lot about being convicted. We believed that the Holy Spirit, one-third of the triune God, lived inside us and would point out to us when we were doing things that He didn’t approve of. Our job at that point was to repent of the sin He’d revealed to us and stop doing those things, as He gave us the ability. This is what we found in Scripture, and how we did our best to live. And it was a good thing. (I almost typed “and we liked it!” before that picture of Dana Carvey popped into my head and I caught myself, ha ha.)
Why did we think it was a good thing? Because we loved God, and when you love someone, you don’t want to do things they dislike. For instance, my wife hates listening to cusswords. Now I’m not in the habit of cussing (I never really learned how as a youngster), so it’s not tough for me to refrain from words that would get bleeped on broadcast TV. But I make ESPECIALLY sure to refrain when Nina is present — I concern myself with it more than I do around any other adult. Why? Because I love her, and since I love her I don’t want to displease her.
Likewise, I love God, and I don’t want to sin, because sin is displeasing to Him. So, if I’m doing something He doesn’t like, I want to know about it. If I’m living in a way that is contrary to His desires, I want to be corrected so I can make it right and not live that way anymore. And if He feels the need to tell me I’m off the mark here or there, however he chooses to do it (dream, vision, Scripture, other believers, songs on my MP3 player, whatever), I want to hear that and obey to the extent I’m able.
Furthermore, I know He’s not telling me because He wants to pound me; He’s telling me because He loves me, and knows that His way is the best way for me to live. He’s not out to ruin my life with guilt, He gave and gives me life and the opportunity to repent and grow. It’s a good thing.
It took me a long time to realize that not everybody sees it that way. And nowadays, it seems like nobody talks much about conviction. It seems to get associated with and shame and condemnation as things we should avoid if we’re going to live in the grace of God. It’s taken on the legal definition of the word — to be found guilty of a criminal offense, and thus worthy of being fined or jailed.
I don’t know how that happened, because that view of conviction is light-years removed from what me and my fellows believed way back when.
Being convicted by the Holy Spirit isn’t denying the grace of God — it’s accepting it, recognizing that instead of letting me stew in my sin, He’s pointing the way to a more abundant life in Him. It doesn’t block forgiveness, it presumes that it will be available from Him as I repent. It doesn’t bury me under unlivable do’s and don’ts, but comes with the Holy Spirit’s inward power to do what He desires. It doesn’t bind me up in chains, it points out where the chains are so I can break free with His help.
I’ll be honest — this may be the Holy Spirit, or it may just be my personality, I dunno — but I don’t understand why anyone would want to not become better at what they’re doing. I run into this a lot, and maybe you do too: people who are content to just keep doing the same things the same ways they always have, never making an effort or showing an interest in doing them any better than they already are (even when the way they’re doing things is clearly inadequate). The phrase “but that’s the way we’ve always done it!” comes to mind here.
Again, it may just be how I’m wired, but I’ve always wanted to excel at whatever I’m doing or being. Often I fail, and on occasion fail spectacularly, leaving Ray-shaped craters in the ground. Sometimes I succeed. Still, I “press on,” trying whatever I can to be a more loving husband, a more nurturing dad, a harder worker at my job, and a more devoted follower of Jesus. Still, I think about what I can do better. Still — though it may take a few days to get my attitude right — I’m glad when God tells me, “hey, you need to fix this” — not because I like guilt or there’s even any guilt to like, but because I want to do what He wants me to.
I recognize that one has to be careful, and not accept every piece of advice or whim of the mind as being God’s voice. That’s why we check what we hear and think against the Scriptures, and against our own consciences, to see if it holds up. I’ve been given plenty of tips from people who thought they were bringing me a word from the throne of God, but were in fact trying (unintentionally, of course) to conform me to their own will rather than His. It happens. But rejecting the possibility of God’s conviction simply because it gets counterfeited by humans is as absurd as refusing to use paper money because it gets counterfeited by humans. When the Holy Spirit prints it, it’s legal tender and good for all debts public and private. Just ’cause fakes exist doesn’t mean to toss the real.
I want to know what He desires, and to do it if I can. So I’m thankful when He points it out, however He points it out. It’s a good thing.