Sanctification and the Problem of My Inner Jerk

I could be wrong, (and if I am, then clearly I lack sufficient self-awareness) but I think I appear to most people as a nice guy.

But appearances can be deceiving. Or at least only part of the story.

So here’s at least one grand revelation: I’m not always patient. And, more specifically, recently I have often felt impatient. I have felt irritable. Felt frustrated. Annoyed. Our last month of COVID lockdown has not done wonders for my character.

Thankfully, these feelings don’t always spill out through my words and actions. But sometimes they do. Usually in the direction of those closest to me. Often with my kids. I end up raising my voice or growling under it, not because they’ve done something wrong (though that does happen) but because I am simply that much more on edge. It says more about me than it says about them.

Or in other words, I’m not always a nice guy. At least in my thoughts and attitudes, there are definitely moments when I am a jerk. Or as I occasionally joke with my wife, “I’m an insensitive schmuck.”

Thankfully, Christianity is not about niceness. It’s not about being someone who is never again self-absorbed, unkind, or grumpy. Each of us will always struggle with personal shortcomings and character defects. Our personal sinfulness will never be in short supply.

Being a Christian, however, does involve what theologians call sanctification. If we are followers of Jesus indwelt by the Holy Spirit, then we ought to be on the path to, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:13, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. That is, we ought to be growing in the fruit of the Spirit, and our lives ought to demonstrate an increasing degree of Christlikeness.

Or as John, Jesus’ cousin, says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

I think part of the process of becoming more spiritually mature, more like Jesus, is becoming more self-aware. In other words, being aware that the way I just spoke or acted is not in sync with the character of Christ. There are believers who seem to lack this. But growing in our knowledge of God includes growing in the knowledge of ourselves. In what ways do I need to grow to be more like Jesus?

And it also means wanting my inner jerk to decrease and the character of Christ to increase in me. A Christian can never use the excuse, “Well, that’s just way I’ve always been.” Sorry. Jesus isn’t content to leave you the same as you were before coming to faith in him. But not only does he seek to transform our behaviour, but our desires, motivations, and character. And there is no end to this process in this lifetime. God continues wanting to knock the sin out of us.

It’s also about fessing up to our inner jerk when necessary. When we do this while praying, Christians call this confession. We need to do this often. And if our inner jerk finds its way into how we treat others, then we need to say sorry and ask for forgiveness. And family life gives us, thankfully, plenty of opportunities for this!

This is why prayers like the one below from The Book of Common Prayer are a good antidote for the inner jerk we all have inside of us:

Almighty God and Father, we confess to you, to one another, and to the whole company of heaven, that we have sinned, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us, forgive us our sins, and by the power of your Holy Spirit, raise us up to serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Now, I know there are evangelical Christians out there–good, lifelong Baptist folks–who would never use The Book of Common Prayer. Too formalized. Too stodgy. Yet I appreciate prayers like the one above if for no other reason it reminds me–because I am prone to forget and wander in more ways than one–that I am a sinner, that I do need God’s grace and forgiveness, and that he seeks to transform me into the image of his Son by the power of the Spirit. This is not incidental but primary. This is the Christian life.

Or to put it another way: God wants to rid me of my inner jerk, no matter how long it takes.

A Prayer for Those Afflicted with Mental Illness

Mental illness, depression, anxiety, and similar afflictions affect all of us. Either we suffer from them or someone we know does. Maybe both. Especially in these days of COVID and other forms of uncertainty and instability, there has been a significant rise of those struggling with mental health issues, including young children. My family is well-acquainted with this experience. I’m grateful that it’s possible to be more open about it now than in the past.

Here’s a prayer for people dealing with mental health issues from The Book of Common Prayer:

“Almighty God, whose Son took upon himself the afflictions of your people: Regard with your tender compassion those suffering from anxiety, depression, or mental illness; bear their sorrows and their cares; supply all their needs; help them to put their whole trust and confidence in you; and restore them to strength of mind and cheerfulness of spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

A Prayer for Quiet Confidence

Each morning I face the temptation to rush headlong into activity of one kind or another. Each morning it takes effort to still my thoughts rather than let them run rampant. Each morning I could easily fall prey to anxiety or expectations, instead of taking some much needed time to draw aside into God’s presence. And sometimes on days when I fail to make space for that “still, small voice,” my thoughts become scattered, my heart unfocused, my attention easily distracted. I can end up more easily irritated and impatient.

Today could have been one of those days. Not that taking time for quiet, prayer, and Scripture will inevitably guarantee not only a better day but a better me, but not taking that time certainly tilts the odds in the other direction.

The Book of Common Prayer (2019) has a section of occasional prayers. Below is one I read this morning. It includes allusions to two separate biblical passages. One is Isaiah 30:15:

For the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said: “You will be delivered by returning and resting; your strength will lie in quiet confidence. But you are not willing.”

The other is Psalm 46:10: Be still and know that I am God.

It seems like a fitting prayer to share in case any of you are anything like me. Here it is:

“O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we will be saved, in quietness and in confidence will be our strength: By the might of Your Spirit lift us, we pray, to Your presence, where we may be still and know that You are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

So, remember, whatever else this day holds, God is our strength, refuge, and salvation. Take a moment or two to be still and rest in him.

A Prayer for the Night

I’m sure I’ve shared this particular prayer from The Book of Common Prayer before, but it’s worth sharing again. I think it helps us give voice to our broken and yet beautiful humanity in the presence of God. It draws our attention to the available presence of Christ in all dimensions of life. It also reminds us, as our own day draws to a close, that there others, many others, in need of the peace and rest of God in various circumstances. I love how when I can’t generate my own spontaneous words of prayer that prayers such as these are available—that through them I can bring my heart, my life, to the throne of grace.

May the words of this prayer bless and comfort you.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.”

Christian author and Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren recently released a book on this very prayer called Prayer in the Night. While I haven’t read it, I’ve heard her talk about it on a couple of podcasts. She is quite well regarded as a writer.

God Forgives

God’s forgiveness means this: nothing we do can make him love us less or love us more. His forgiveness is not based on who we are but on who he is.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his faithful love toward those who fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him. For he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust.

Psalm 103:11-14

Here’s a prayer for the assurance of forgiveness from The Book of Common Prayer. As it happens, it’s a prayer God always answers.

“Grant to your faithful people, merciful Lord, pardon and peace; that we may be cleansed from all our sins, and serve you with a quiet mind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”