But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. (Heb. 3:13)Notice that: 1) sin is deceitful, 2) this deceitfulness hardens people, 3) hardening can be prevented, 4) giving encouragement daily is a means of prevention, and 5) every individual is important. The important individual is the other person. “Self” died on the cross with the Lord Jesus Christ. Now it is His life living within and overflowing to others. This warning about hardness and unbelief continues through Hebrews 4:13, where the focus shifts to our hope in the Lord Jesus Christ's work for us. Notice verses 12 and 13:
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb. 4:12-13)Here the word of God resembles a surgeon's knife that is alive and at work. Notice what the tool is cutting on: the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Whose heart is it? It seems that God is getting rather personal with each of us. I am not exempt; none of us is. Some pretty ugly things get cut out of my heart. The question is, do I see this as good for me and for others? It is often uncomfortable and can be hard on one's reputation. In Psalm 51, King David, whose adultery and murder are recorded for all to see, clearly identifies his behavior as evil and calls on God to cleanse his heart. Notice that cleansing brings back the joy of salvation and enables him to lead sinners to God. Am I willing to deal with my own sin so clearly? Have I come to the point of welcoming the surgeon's knife? Is this not the kind of encouragement that Hebrews 3:13 is speaking of? As we speak to one another, God's word and how it applies to our lives and relationships, God's Spirit can apply it to my heart to cut out some wickedness unrecognized, excused, or even coddled by me.
The death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ are sufficient to carry a person to the Father's presence in glory. So there is nothing to fear in having my sin exposed, unless of course I wish to enjoy it further. Whether a person is in God's Kingdom or still in the kingdom of darkness, there is intense cultural pressure to keep the surgeon's knife away from the human heart. Books provide a natural opportunity to speak to issues of the heart, so at Oasis we have a large display of “good books” near the front door. These books are generally of two types: 1) biographies that show God faithfully at work in people's lives and 2) those that point the way out of sin and into God's righteousness.
We all need to see ever more clearly the faithfulness of God and the deceitfulness of our own sin. For believers, James 1:2-4 is one of the clearest examples. It states, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”
What does it say is God's way to the abundant life? Why do I (or you) hesitate to travel this path? Good testimonies can help work this verse deeper into our souls. Books that deal with sin clearly can help us deal with our resistance to His way to holiness. In conversations at Oasis, we often read aloud specific passages from good books to wet a person's appetite for the encouragement available. Sometimes it is an uncomfortable encouragement. Here are a few we recommend.
As she was dying of breast cancer, Isobel Kuhn wrote an encouraging autobiography called In The Arena. Here is her theme: “He [Hudson Taylor] said: ‘Difficulties afford a platform upon which He [God] can show Himself. Without them we could never know how tender, faithful, and almighty our God is.’ “I found it so too. From a bed of sickness I have had time quietly to review my life, and as I gazed, it seemed that my most valuable lessons have been learned on these platforms. How often I have failed Him, I do not like to think. But of His tenderness and faithfulness there was never an end. As you read, I pray that you may not focus attention on how dark the trial, but rather on the power of God that was manifested there and the emergence into light.”
In Green Leaf in Drought, Isobel Kuhn relates the story of a missionary family going through great trials. The theme is Jeremiah 17:7-8: “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Here is the passage from Isobel's book that has encouraged some to a higher vision of trials. “These ‘four anchors’ they found in Andrew Murray's formula for trial: 1) Say, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place and in that fact I will rest. 2) He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child. 3) Then He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends for me to learn. 4) In His good time He can bring me out again - how and when He knows. So let me say, ‘I am 1) here by God's appointment; 2) in His keeping; 3) under His training; 4) for His time.’”
In the booklet entitled, Five Vows for Spiritual Power, A. W. Tozer concludes with, “I wonder if you would be willing to pray this kind of prayer: ‘O God, glorify thyself at my expense. Send me the bill - anything, Lord. I set no price. I will not dicker or bargain. Glorify Thyself. I'll take the consequence.’ This kind of praying is simple, but it's deep and wonderful and powerful. I believe, if you can pray a prayer like that, it will be the ramp from which you can take off into higher heights and bluer skies in the things of the Spirit.”
In the simple booklet, The Key to Everything, Norman Grubb writes: “There isn't a single problem in humanity except our self-reactions, not one. The Devil is no trouble. He was dealt with 2,000 years ago. Your neighbor is not your trouble. Circumstances are not your trouble. The only trouble is your reaction.”
We also encourage those who know the Father to initiate conversations with other believers about God's word and faithfulness. Those who seem oblivious to their own sin but keenly aware of the sins of those around them, we seek to sensitize to the magnitude and deceitfulness of their own sin.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis begins his chapter entitled The Great Sin with these words: “Today I come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault that makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.” Reading this paragraph to a person often leads to conversation about the corruption of the human heart, the deceitfulness of sin, and the power of the gospel. (You will have to read Lewis' chapter to find out what this vice is.)
It is encouraging to watch God at work giving people here and there the vision that difficulties are friends sent from Him to refine us into the image of His Son. Some folks seem even excited about it at times and are eager to tell others what they have found. May God mold us all to welcome these friends with “pure joy," and let us encourage one another to this end.
If God has helped you put out this welcome mat, then you might appreciate a little book If by Amy Carmichael. If you apply it to yourself, it turns up the heat to help you notice little sins, the purging of which will greatly benefit those around you.