Isaiah 44:20, “He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, [Is there] not a lie in my right hand?”
This has always been my favorite verse for teaching on idolatry of the heart, and the self-deception we all have.
The only hope for all of us is to cry out, often, to our merciful Saviour to spare us from ourselves. He will answer that prayer. But we have to be prepared to “live in the light” He gives us and to confront and actively put to death those parts of ourselves that live in rebellion against Him. He will show us where they are. We need to make them die.
One area that I have lived long enough to see multiple times is the area of strained relationships within a church or parachurch organization. We like to say that Satan targets churches (and para-churches) in order to destroy Christian unity. But so often we have no idea what Christian unity looks like and couldn’t build it if we tried. His Word tells us what it is, but we ignore His Word, to our detriment.
And our flesh gets in the way, oh so badly gets in the way. An older friend of mine once joked “Satan could sit in his bathtub drinking a mai tai and I would still have issues because my flesh is a greater enemy to me than he is.”
She was right about almost all of us, and very wise to say so!
An example I will give, building a composite from various situations I have seen, so not picking on any particular person or place, is the example of Christian forgiveness.
Let’s say that Person A and Person B, ministering together in a church, have reached such an impasse that they have to do a Paul and Barnabas act and split up. Maybe they both leave the original church and go on to two different ministries.
Person A forgives Person B from his heart and, after expressing that he will pray for him and his new ministry, goes on, with not a word to anyone else. Oh, his wife knows the details and a few close friends probably can figure them out because they have walked in on conversations inopportunely in the past. They have put the pieces together in their own minds as the months have gone by. But this person keeps his silence, regarding forgiveness of private things as a private matter.
Person B, on the other hand, also expresses forgiveness when with Person A. However, he keeps rehearsing his issues with Person A to anyone who will listen, as the months, and then years roll by.
In fact, he often couches his discussions with, “I forgave this person but he ripped my heart out and I can never get past that” sorts of remarks.
See what he is doing? He is:
A) making private matters of forgiveness public.
B) using the old saying “I can forgive but I can’t ever get over the hurt” (which is, technically, not Biblical forgiveness at all). There is a principle that the more you talk about something, the harder it is to get over that thing, so much of what we claim we cannot get past are things we will not get past. In fact, if we are totally honest about that saying, it enshrines our emotions as god, by saying that we are trapped forever by an emotional response we had to that person in the past. God says, very simply, we are to forgive others because He forgave us for a whole lot more than we need to forgive in others. That is at once the easiest thing to say and hardest thing to do, but He says we must do it.
C) painting himself as the righteous one in the scenario, by saying over and over again that he forgave things that occurred to him. Person A forgave, too (and actually exercised his forgiveness in a Biblical way) but, if we are not careful, we can start suspecting Person A of evil because we never heard his side of the story. The Bible says it is easy to side with the first person who talks to us about a situation (particularly if we never hear the other side).
D) being a drama queen. Using phrases like “ripped my heart out” or “hurt me so deeply I can never forget” gives us no idea of what Person B himself did in the scenario. He may have done even worse things, but he is not mentioning those.
We all want to be like King David’s son Absalom and gather a crowd of people around us when we are in conflict. We want people who will side with us. But when we feed our fleshly nature that way by making conflict a popularity contest, we cut off the possibility of hearing or knowing the other half of the story. And we guarantee that we remain blind and deluded.
God is so good that He will offer us chance after chance to get this right. If we have blown off one relationship this way, He will bring us other strained relationships, and then more after that, until we pass the test and treat these relationships Biblically.
You see, the thing is that usually the people involved in strained relationships within a church are truly Christians. They may get nasty with each other and accuse each other of not being truly saved, but usually they are.
They just would rather feed their flesh, feed on ashes. They would rather indulge their need to be right than follow the clear words of Scripture about what to do when relationships are strained.
May we stop doing that!