A few Sunday’s ago, as with all, I was once again like a child as I took my seat in the sanctuary of the church. It had been a challenging week. I looked forward to the sermon by Pastor Chris Sicks, our pastor of Mercy at Alexandria Presbyterian Church.
One of the highlights of the sermon was the theme of how putting confidence in our own strength rather than in Christ renders us with the least potential gain. Instead, mortal confidence was the opposite of faith, it placed dependence upon the substance of that which keeps us apart from the One that we need the most. “Our confidence needs to be in Christ, not in ourselves. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.”
True, I thought. True about me and specifically about the whole idea of confidence, strength and especially control. Since childhood I have been familiar with the culture of “goals, dream mapping, destiny shaping, aiming your will, shaping reputation, defining borders, drawing upon conceptual ideology, thought control, positive redefining, mind mapping; time sculpting: have you had enough?? It is not art. It is all false confidence, all ways to cling to a self that is desperately afraid of losing ground, losing face and being revealed as pride, the opposite of love, the opposite of the Eternal.
It is like sand that is always sinking. No wonder it feels such a need to replenish and refill. At its core is a like a sinkhole.
But we have also been given the seed of Spirit, implanted in us at Birth, waiting to hear God’s Call. “Wake, I will come for you and lead you Home.” He put His Breathe in each of us.
“Our confidence needs to be in Christ, not in ourselves. He does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. You see. Faith is not in strength. Faith is weakness holding onto strength.”
Though this is not a new message my heart, the one that He gave to me needs to hear it again and again.
Pastor Chris Sicks explained that we needed to really grasp how weak we really are. I keep thinking that I know how weak I am. I know how weak I am, but then I catch myself trying to muster up the strength to “do something or face something difficult”. So I don’t, I am fooling myself and actually still trying to control situations by doing just what he is about to talk about in the sermon. This he explained is the opposite of how we are to act when we face difficulty or conquer the “enemy situations” of our lives.
I had just spent the week in prayer and surrender. I thought that I had put my faith in God. I remembered again that we grow in Grace by degrees. Rather, be growing in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2Peter 3:18).
I like this excerpt from chapter ten of The Transformed Soul by Dr. W. E. Eckstrand” in it author Jerry Bridges says on The Discipline of Grace-
Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5) – In theory we believe that, but in practice we tend to live as if we can do some things – each of us has areas of our lives where we feel fairly confident, and we don’t sense the need of the Holy Spirit’s aid. But that is contrary to what Scripture teaches – we cannot do anything “spiritually good” apart from the working of God’s Spirit within us. If we are going to make any progress in becoming “more Christlike,” we will have to learn to rely on the Holy Spirit rather than on our own virtues and abilities.
How do we grow in a conscious sense of dependence on Christ? Through the discipline of “prayer” – prayer is the tangible expression of our dependence on God. Think about that. Obviously, if our prayer life is meager, in effect we are saying that we can handle most of our spiritual life. One of the chief characteristics of our flesh is having an attitude of “independence toward God.” Undoubtedly, one of the reasons God allows us to fall to temptation so often, is to teach us exper-ientially that we really are “dependent on Him” to enable us to grow in holiness. So if we want to become holy we must pursue, not a spirit of independence, but a “spirit of dependence” – and the best means God has given us for doing this is the discipline of “prayer.” (127-143)
Continuing with the Sermon, Pastor Sicks spoke about David and Goliath from 1 Samuel 17:39-53. There are many commentaries on this famous scripture. That day, I listened to a “new” David. I heard of a son who was the youngest, weak, fallible and with a life of sin. David was offered armor for slaying Goliath by his father, King Saul and refused it. The sermon did not rest there but my heart did.
In retrospect, I see that the armor that David refused for he had not “tested them” was an amazing moment. The real test was the moment that the armor was given to David by his father. He was able to define who his real father was. Was he going to wear the armor of his father the king or His Father, King Jesus Christ, The Lord? He chose to wear the Armor of God. That is why he won. For me, this moment of testing is David’s first victory, the battleground is the second. I pray that as I live out this week, I will see the moments when I have the choice to put on the Armor of God. I pray that I recognize that the Armor of God is Faith.
Our Pastor continued, it is faith that fights out battles and has the power to overcome the circumstances of our lives that seem insurmountable. Faith, he said is the source of Courage. This meant much to me since many members of the church are military and ex-military, some war-heroes. Even on this day, a number are facing near-fatal illnesses with extraordinary courage and witnessing their faith during these times has strengthened and deepened my own. I find that my “neighbor’s mile had become my own”. I just don’t walk alone anymore. When you witness courage, which is really witnessing the Love of Christ, it alters your own heart.
He explained that we keep trying to be the power and the hero of our own lives by seizing control that we don’t have. (Only our ego/pride speaks to us in a way that confidently lures us into believing that this is the truth. )
Self-reliance is the opposite of faith. It is the opposite of strength, it is like fake strength, a part of our minds pretending to be strong holding onto control so that fears are allowed to stay hidden. This way, Pride is the master that is obeyed. It is a substitute for God, a false idol.
The sermon continued as the theme expanded with Hero analogies. Now our Pastor was moving on to another part of the lesson. One of the delightful things about Pastor Sicks’s sermons is his ability to engage humor when the topic gets tough. He said “Do you all want to be Batman? Or maybe Robin? Did you all think that you were Luke Skywalker, the hero captain of the Ship? Or maybe you thought that you were a Princess Leia?” He had our attention. I could feel a lot of us nodding in remembrance. I felt myself in a gown with braids around my head.
Then he said, “Yes, but the truth is, we are really all Ewoks.”
Laughter. Ok. I am an Ewok. Yes. I like this. Then He said. “Actually, when the ‘Big Launch’ happened not only were you probably not the pilot or the co-pilot but we might have been way back in the audience.”
Ok. I thought- I am the niece of a cousin of an Ewok with a backseat in the balcony at the Launch and the only way that I can see anything is with a Powerful Lens. That means I need God from wherever I am seated- I don’t want to miss the event- Him, Now, Life, His Love, His Protection, His Spirit, The Power of His Kingdom.
It was a great moment of recognition as we all got the point. He continued by explaining that the Disney version of a man deciding to conquer a goal by generating courage from “inside” of himself was a false notion.
We cannot conquer a goal or a challenge by generating courage from some point on the “inside” of ourselves. That is a false notion. It is the superhero mentality.
We all were taught to be heroes in a culture that told us that we had to pull it out of someplace in us, like a superhero with superpowers. This is our fantasy but it isn’t real. We are mortal, fallible, without superpowers, living in a world quite real, evidenced by our own experiences.
My heart spun and I wanted to send a message to my sons that grew up with Star Wars figures clutched in their hands. “Let Go!” You are loved by an Almighty Father! That message got through to me! I did not know it but I was about to go through a few week when I would have to give full control to Christ. I was ready. It was a beautiful, glorious experience. I put all confidence in Him. Every time a detail came up, I relaxed and affirmed that my complete confidence was in God. My Faith was in His Strength; I had none of my own, I was weakness holding onto the precious Beloved One that I kept my gaze upon, and returned by gaze to. I beheld the Love of Christ. His armor was with me, surrounded me and before me protecting me. This was the message that I took with me. Thank you Pastor Chris!
“You see. Faith is not in strength. Faith is weakness holding onto strength.”
“Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our confidence is in Him. We surrender to Him. When we encounter life, we ask, ‘how does this point me to Him?”
© 2018 Linda Willows
Pastor Chris Sicks is the author of “Tangible”, Making God Known Through Deeds of Mercy and Words of Truth” and Pastor of Mercy at The Alexandria Presbyterian Church, Alexandria, VA USA
Photo: Rachel Nielson