Some few Sundays ago I spoke to you about the subject “How to Face Difficulties” and at that time I reminded you and myself that the time would surely come when each of us would face trials, troubles and sorrows and that unless we had power outside of ourselves that we were running a grave risk of being overcome and having our lives wrecked and ruined. I reminded you that we cannot become prepared for such crisis in a few moments or even in a few days, that this growing into a great strong Christian Life is a process which must go on and on.
This evening I would like, if I may, to come to you and try and show you, more specifically than I did then, some of the steps which each one of us must take if we expect to be growing Christians and if we are to become better people. I hope you will be praying that God will enable me to be helpful.
In the first place there must be a desire to be better and an ambition to be a more powerful Christian. Here, I think, is when so many of us fail miserably. We want to be Christians. We want to belong to a Church, we want to be good, but not too good. You have perhaps heard of the little girl who prayed “God make me good, but not too good, just good enough so that I will not have to be punished.” This, I am afraid, is the view point of far too many of us. We want to be just good enough not to be punished, but not too good. You often year people put it in some such language as this. “If I can just get to Heaven even if I just barely get in the gate, that is all I want.” But the point is we should not be satisfied with any such conception of life.
Rather we should want to be great souls who can face life with a strength which will enable us to meet all of the temptations and trials of life and to so meet them that we will be an inspiration and help to other people.
But most of us do not have that desire. How then can we come to desire to be better people? Sometimes this desire is awakened by our consciousness of a need for something we do not have. Sometimes we find that we are adjustments to make in our lives. It may be to circumstances and conditions and we need a power we do not have. It may be that we find ourselves thrown with a new set of people that we must make friends with them and learn to live with them. Some of you are college students and some of you will be in the fall and you have found or will find that in learning to live in a dormitory among a large group of people is an adjustment which often drives us without ourselves to find a power we do not have.
Sometimes we move into a new neighborhood and find that the move has upset much of our peace of mind and our way of life and we need a power to assist us in adjusting to this new way of living.
Sometimes we find that we have personalities which are not attractive and which are always upsetting people instead of attracting them and we need a power outside of our own to give us a sweetness and fullness which will make us useful.
Sometimes we face a temptation which is constantly overwhelming us. We cannot seem to rise above it. There is a power then which we have been struggling against for months and perhaps years. Yet we are defeated time and time again. Finally we come face to face with the fact that unless we can defeat that sin and rise above it that it means the wrecking of our lives and the ruination of our future, and so out of the dire need for help, we realize we must turn to God and so there is born a desire for a closer walk with Him.
Sometimes our failures in an undertaking which is very important to us drives us to a sense of our need of the advice and counsel and power of God.
Often times there comes to us a sorrow that seems to blight all the joy in our lives and turn our day into night and we know that we cannot, either for our own sake or for the sake of those with whom we have to live continue to carry the weight and burden of such a sorrow and so we come to desire a closer walk with God which will result in a peace in our lives. Sometimes it is sheer need which brings us a desire for a closer walk with God.
Sometimes it is that we are exposed to the vital spark of Christianity in some movement which shows such force and power that we realize the reality of the presence of God and that, we too, can have it in our lives. Some of us would do well at times to go into one of the great city rescue missions and see there all the men and women too, who come there; human beings with their lives ruined upon the rocks of temptations to drink, drugs, or even immorality and see the great power of the Gospel of the crucified Christ changing these lives, and then we can see what it would do for us if we would only have it and there may be born within us a desire for such a change.
Sometimes our coming into contact with a personality which is empowered by a great sense of the presence of Christ will awaken in our lives a desire to walk close to Him also.
Mr. McPheeters talking the other day about a minister in New York he knew and said, “He has something in his life that makes you want it too.”
At times I hear a man preaching and I sense a guilt, dynamic power which makes people not only listen but which turns them from sin to Christ and how I desire that same thing in my life.
Sometimes we see people as they face their sorrows and troubles. They have a stability and power which we recognize as coming from God and we want it also. Yes, there must be something which will awaken a desire in our hearts a yearning for a closer walk with Christ. But a desire, as necessary as it may be, is not all that is necessary. There must be an honesty in our lives which shall be fair, at least, to ourselves the thing in our life which may be keeping us from having that close walk with Christ that produces a great power. The trouble with many of us is that we do not desire it and when we come to desire it, we do not have it because we are not honest with ourselves.
We blame our failures on our associates. How many times have we heard people say that they could not live as they should because of the people with whom they had to work or those with whom they had to associate? It is so easy to blame our failures on others. Again many times we say it is impossible because of circumstances. We have to work so hard we have so many handicaps. It is just such that it is impossible because of our circumstances or environment.
I would, I think, be among the last people to say that associates and circumstances and environment do not affect our lives and the way we live. But I know too, that many of us need to be perfectly honest with ourselves and admit that we are at fault. That our failures are due to a large extent because we are not what we should be.
When people tell me of their physical handicaps my mind often goes back to Travis Cox in Memphis. Travis could hardly walk even on crutches. He got around in a wheelchair which he propelled by the use of his hands, which were deformed also. It took him about 20 minutes to get up the back steps of the sanctuary and about 15 to get down, but there he sat almost every Sunday morning, rain or shine, hot or cold. I realized then that many people who blame their not going to church on some physical handicap should look at Travis. I know that some people do have physical difficulties which prevent their coming, but I know too that with many they simply use it as an excuse and that they do not want to do.
What we need to do is to pour our hearts out to God and tell Him what He already knows, but what He knows we must learn and admit and confess that the trouble is really with us. Our hearts are not in love with Him as they should be. That we have hidden secret sins which need to be laid face before Him. Yes, the next step is to face our lives and confess our failures to God. It may be we will have to confess some of them to others.
Then there must come a decision. There are far too many who have no desire to be really good and who are perfectly honest with ourselves and admit that we are not what we should be. But others, and a great many more of us who desire to be better than we are, and who honestly want to attain unto a higher Christian life, but we simply ease our conscience by saying we desire it and find virtue in our desire. When what we really need to do is to decide to make a definite decision. Far too many of us keep saying, I am going to but never set a date and so never do.
We must decide that we are going to come to God and confess these things which are in our hearts that are keeping us from being and doing what we should. Quit our excuse making and come to God and say Lord, here is my trouble, I am jealous. I have hatred in my heart, I am unwilling to forgive. I have resentment and fear. Lord, I am mean at heart and I come now and tell you I have made a decision that I am willing or you to take these things out of my heart and remove them from me. I am unwilling now to simply polish off a little of my meanness here and there. I am no longer willing to dust off some of my meanness, but I have decided to be all out for you.
This decision must be definite, as definite as when you decided to ask your wife to marry you or when you told your husband you would become his wife. As definite as when you laid aside your civilian clothes and put on the uniform. As definite as when you signed that contract. That decision must be sincere and honest. Sometimes it is most helpful to make that decision made known publically. That is why it is a good thing on occasions to have people come forward and make a commitment of their lives. Then it is done and it is sealed openly. At any rate one will never come to be a big fine Christian by desiring to do so alone, but there must be a definite decision on their part to do so.
Then there must be the recognition of the fact that we cannot do it of ourselves, we must realize that it must be done of God. No man can put jealousy out of his heart, no man can cleanse himself or selfishness, we may succeed to a small degree in hiding it, but it will still be there. We must come to God and trust Him to cleanse us. We are going out in life to face the same associates. The same circumstances, the same environment. We will have the same temptations. They will not be changed. The change must be within us. This means there must be a miracle worked of God. We can trust God to do this, we cannot do it ourselves. He is all powerful and fully able.