Written by Jill Redling, edited by Stephanie Smith
It’s good to be angry about bad things. It’s good to wrestle with God on behalf of his people. What started for me as a simple prayer a year ago, has turned out to be a spiritual transformation. I prayed that God would give me someone to admire. I prayed for the Lord to bring into my path a godly woman who I could learn from— not because I couldn’t receive good from the women I knew, not because I was expecting perfection— but because I wanted to know it was possible for a female in this culture to transcend what is passing away. The bondage of money-loving, social media addiction, the captivation with pretty things, and the shallow reasons for why we do the things we do (1 John 2:16). These are the characteristics of my unsaved friends and if we are supposed to be lights in the darkness, then surely there’s another way?
After six months of praying, the Lord answered my prayer through a song. I was listening to “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and the verse, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace,” struck me. This is where I want my whole life to stay.
Helen Lemmel wrote this song based on the words of Lilias Trotter. Lilias proved to be exactly who I was hoping to find. I watched her meditation, her conviction, her pursuit, her seeing the Lord in all things. She abandoned everything the world had to offer, to pursue Jesus and love others. A woman, 100 years ago, through writing, would be the answer to my prayer.
In her book, Parables of the Christ-Life, Lilias writes,
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. But our eyes are too dim at first to distinguish them in detail: with most of us it is only when… the Spirit’s incoming has cleared our vision, that the two lives, natural and spiritual, begin to stand out before us, no longer shading into each other, but in vivid contrast. …The carnal nature with its workings stands out as the hindrance in the way of the Divine… ”Lilias Trotter, Parables of the Christ-life
Here it was, exactly what I was thinking. I read it like a new believer. It was the light in the darkness. The discouragement I was feeling was a recognition that the vast majority of American Christianity stands in that shade between the natural flesh and the spirit. And my heart is heavy, because I believe that is what Jesus calls lukewarm.
“So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”Revelation 3:16-17
The dullness of lukewarm living creates a spiritual lethargy where ease and comfort is the end goal. There is no fight. This is why we’re so bored and disillusioned. We’ve become selfish and apathetic. We’ve grown sluggish in the shade of our flesh. We’ve forgotten our mission. We have replaced the gospel of suffering with the gospel of everything. We have rejected “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8), for the delusion that we can have Jesus and everything the world has to offer.
We compensate for our spiritual dullness with a constant pursuit of other things. Many, many other things. We reject the fountain of living water and hew out cisterns for ourselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:13). We have exchanged the truth for a lie (Romans 1:25). The lie is easy. The lie is pretty. Joanna Gaines capitalizes on a lifestyle of authentic, nostalgia that heralds to a simpler way. But everything in her line is mass produced. It isn’t authentic. It is fake. If you like the idea of a butter dish that “looks like the one my grandma would have had”, but reject the actual one your grandma had because it doesn’t look that certain way, then you’ve been duped. You don’t want what is real, you want the lie.
We’ve judged that which is fake to be valuable and that which is valuable to be disposable.
In the same way we curate our homes with the inauthentic, we’ve furnished our hearts with a replica of what we think Christianity “should” look like, instead of what it truly is. We have been deceived!
We need the light of truth to appraise the value of all that we’ve hoarded and chased after.
Paul writes in Philippians:
“This is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ”.Phil 1:9-10
We have a desperate need for this knowledge and discernment because our love for God seems to have plateaued, and in turn, we have perceived wrongly the value of everything else. Money gives us peace and security, stuff makes us happy, and “likes” affirm us. How did it get like this? We are sheep caught in the barbed wire of a fence, asking God to help us get free so we can keep going our own way. He’s not going to let us until we start asking for the right thing, until we get it.
Mary held her perfume in her hands, she assessed the value. It was a year’s salary or more. She looked at Jesus, and it was no hard decision; she poured the whole thing on his feet. She kissed him. Her love abounded. She discerned the value of Jesus rightly. Judas saw it as a waste.
Jon Bloom writes,
“To Mary, Jesus was the Pearl of Great Price, far more precious than money. To Judas, thirty pieces of silver was a fair price for the Pearl.”
Mary never saw her act of worship as loss, only gain. If we want to fight for a clearer vision of Christ’s worth, like Lilias and Mary had, it starts with a humble, contrite heart, and with desperation. Mary’s desperation led her to joyfully abandon every other path. Jesus also counsels us to exchange the worthless gold of the world, for his wisdom which has already been tested by fire and proved perfect, rock solid, trustworthy. He beckons us to forsake self-validation and embrace His righteousness that doesn’t just cover, but purifies. His truth causes deception to fall like scales from our eyes. He says, “Those I love, I rebuke and discipline. Therefore be earnest and repent” (Revelation 3:19).
Get back in the fight! The Spirit and the flesh wage war, but there are seasons, maybe even decades where the flesh wins and our humanity conforms to the winner of the fight. We can’t bear the fruit of the Spirit while the “old-man” controls our desires. God has ordained that His word be the sword that divides the natural and spiritual. It is an act of faith: it doesn’t make sense. The goal is less of me and more of Christ. But the more we approach God’s word, with eyes wide awake, we change.
We cannot win this battle against the flesh halfheartedly. We have to put war paint on.
Tie the napkin around your neck for the feast. Pull out the magnifying glass like a detective. Grab the shovel instead of the rake. It’s intentional, it requires effort. We can meditate day and night, we can be sensitive to the Spirit and reach out to that friend who needs it, or share the gospel where the harvest is plenty. We can embrace persecution and rejection with an immovable joy. We can live! We can really live!
Jesus calls you to join him in this radical, hard, losing life of faith! I pray we move out of the shade of our carnal nature, as Lilias Trotter put it, out of lukewarm living into the presence of God, where his glory is the light, the Lamb is the lamp and there’s no need for the sun.
Through death into life everlasting He passed, and we follow Him there; O'er us sin no more hath dominion— For more than conqu'rors we are! Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace. His Word shall not fail you—He promised; Believe Him, and all will be well: Then go to a world that is dying, His perfect salvation to tell! -Helen Lemmel