This blog is the third in my series entitled, “The Road to Joy,” in which I have examined the nature of true joy, which is a gift of the Holy Spirit; we’ve been looking at the practical steps we need to take to experience this true joy in our lives. These steps were outlined in the book The Applause of Heaven by Max Lucado, and they provide the perfect framework for what I call “awakening the joy within.” Each of these blogs will delve into one of these seven steps on this path to true joy.
In “First Steps on the Road to Joy (Part 1),” we looked at the first, fundamental step in this process, which is recognizing that we’re in need of a “reconstruction.” This reconstruction is not simply limited to our spiritual life, but also involves both our physical and emotional selves. If you haven’t read that blog, I urge you to pause here and take the few minutes you’ll need to read the blog, even if you don’t have time right now to do the self-examination that it recommends.
Repent of Our Self-Sufficiency
The second step, which I will address today, is to “Repent of Our Self-sufficiency.” Like Step 1, this is an action step, because repentance, by definition, contemplates change. For me, personally, taking this step was both painful and time-consuming: it took me the better part of 39 years to get to Step 1.
Step 2 in the popular and highly successful 12 Steps approach is a powerful admission: “[We] Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This is just a more familiar way of saying ‘repent of our self-sufficiency.’ Proverbs 3:5-6, one of my most valued scripture passages, says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight.”
For me, in 1981, this looked like a total impossibility. First of all, I wasn’t insane in my own view and, second, I knew that my fellow attendees in substance abuse meetings where they referenced a ‘higher power” were talking about God – and I was an avowed atheist. In fact, I would go to meetings and pronounce that I hated everyone there because I knew they were out not only to make me stop drinking alcohol, but they were telling me that I had to believe in something against which (or whom) I had advocated for the previous 20 years.
Obviously, I had no interest in repenting of my self-sufficiency, especially when that meant believing that God was going to restore me to “sanity.” But I also knew that if I wanted to be sober, I had to stick with it. Fortunately, one of my friends gave me perhaps the wisest advice I have ever received. She told me to believe in their God until I found my own.
For Christians this, too, presents what I will call a crisis of faith. As Proverbs instructs, we have to trust God completely (with all our hearts) and overcome the compulsion to look to our own – worldly – way of understanding Him and His ways. Then we have to acknowledge (some translations say “obey”) Him in ALL our ways. When we do that, He will make our paths straight or, in other words, restore us to sanity.
In Romans 12:2, the Apostle Paul instructs us: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. . . .” I like the version of this passage found in Eugene Petersen’s The Message: “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”
I hope by now, if you’ve read the preceding blogs, you’ll have a greater understanding of the change involved in this radical reconstruction and repenting of our self-sufficiency. Here are some further thoughts to ponder:
Most people view change as a negative experience, but what I’m talking about is totally positive.Renewing means that, in Christ, we become a new creation; our old self has gone. (2 Corinthians 5:17)This is exactly what it means to be born again. Paul tells us that all believers have died with Christ and no longer live for themselves. Our lives are no longer worldly, they are spiritual. (2 Corinthians 5:14-16)And Philippians 4:13 promises us that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Most of us – certainly I do – struggle with repentance of self-sufficiency every moment of our lives. Many years ago, I had a friend, who was also a Roman Catholic priest, who was fond of saying that he woke up every morning and turned his will and life over to God, but by the time his feet hit the floor he was taking it back again. That priest later became bishop of a large diocese. Some years later, with much sadness, I read in the newspaper that he had succumbed to the temptation of the flesh and engaged in an affair with a woman, leading to his dismissal from his office and public disgrace.
The point is that whatever our position in life and whatever our surface connections to religious communities or the trappings of success, without humility and an ongoing honest assessment of the state of our soul, we will falter. As human beings, we just can’t do it on our own. We all need help (and God joyfully and lovingly, without reservation, provides the very help we need).
As I said at the beginning of this blog, this is all about change; and, since it is human nature to view change as negative, we also struggle with seeing the positive results from this renewal we’re going through. So, once again, I recommend that you spend some time in prayer and contemplation, focusing on those areas of your life where you have not repented of your self-sufficiency. As I said earlier, it is a fundamental and essential step on the Road to Joy.