Let the Light In
Sin is Subjectivity Part Two
Last week, I explained that sin is subjectivity. It's an Instagram filter between your mind and heart and the world around you. It manipulates and shapes your every perception, evaluation, and opinion. And the longer you spend having your worldview and experiences being manipulated by the perpetual darkness of sin, the more you begin to forget what the world looks like in the light. But if it is subjectivity, a literal veil that obscures our vision of the truth, then that means two things for the believer:
There is truth to be seen.
There is a means to see it.
I'm copying and pasting thse two paragraphs because, again, I REALLY CAN'T STRESS ENOUGH how much hope there is in these two statements, both for those of us who find ourselves in the darkness of sin and for our loved ones in relationship with us. The Spirit within us calls out to the truth, to the objectivity, to the light. Its greatest desire is to work with our contrite hearts to eradicate the darkness and step back into the light.
But what does that mean for us in gritty, concrete, practical terms? How do we begin to let the light in and make space for the Spirit of God to do its work in our souls in our everyday lives? Well, I'd like to suggest six ways to do just that. Some of them will be a little predictable, but there's a good reason for that. Others might surprise you.
Get yourself into God's creation. Let's start with a less than obvious one, since these are in no particular order anyway. The tail end of Genesis chapter one gives us a little glimpse into God's heart. Genesis 1:31 says, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." And while I don't think many of us often think of this when we read this passage, I believe that Philippians 4:8 can point us back to this early insight into God: "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things." Many of the attributes on this list sure sound like synonyms for "very good" to me. I've seen amazing things in God's creation in my life, things that I would absolutely describe as lovely, or admirable, definitely excellent and praiseworthy. But God's creation isn't just mental - it's tactile. His creation occupies space, and has dimension. It can be more than thought of, but seen, smelled, touched, heard, and tasted. It can even be cared for. We've spent most of our lives in a brick-and-mortar world, which is fast becoming a digital one, but in either case, we serve our souls to unplug from the artifices of man and to dig in to the productions of God on the Earth. It awakens, I believe, a too often neglected piece of our spirit. Often, one of the first steps both to overcoming sin and to rekindling kinship with God is just a shift in our daily context. Even for those of us who live in rural areas, this can be hard to find. We tend to drive by nature rather than reach out and appreciate with our hands its testimony to the Father. But if we do, we will find ourselves in His presence, communing with Him, and our contexts shifting because of it.
Pray regularly and HONESTLY. So here's the thing about prayer. Many of us in the modern church have quietly, maybe even unbeknownst to ourselves, developed a belief about prayer that is kind of ridiculous when examined at all. We believe that somehow we can craft prayer in such a way that God only receives the intended communication. When you're talking to another person, you have the privacy to formulate your thoughts in your head, lay them out nice and neat in an eloquent and thorough sentence structure, and then deliver them exactly as you intended the person you're speaking with to hear them. But Psalm 139 reminds us, "You have searched me, LORD, and you know me... You perceive my thoughts from afar." We can't really hide the processing of our thoughts from God. We especially can't keep from him the shameful, hidden parts that we feel like we need to polish up before we can be ready to talk again. He hears, sees, and knows it all. More importantly, God WANTS to hear that stuff. Philippians 4:6 tells us, "in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." Now, sometimes, it can be hard to put our finger on exactly what it is we want to ask for. We may not even be making a request, precisely. But that's okay. God has made provision for that, too: "...the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)" We have the most efficient translator imaginable - one person of the Godhead translating to another. We can't hide our sin from God. Even if we could, He doesn't want us to. Even if we want to share it, but don't know how, His Spirit translates for us. And the best part? There's a promise attached to the whole process. Uncomfortable as it may be to be forthcoming and honest with God about our pain and our sin, if we are, "...the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)"
Find yourself a guide. This life - chasing after the person of Jesus Christ - was never something we were meant to do alone. We need to be part of community, which I'll talk some more about in a minute. But I'm deeply convinced that our community has two important components, and we need both. The first is a guide. A mentor, shepherd - someone to disciple you. Titus and Timothy both had Paul, Mark had Peter. Finding a discipler of your own can be a socially awkward undertaking, but I assure you that most churches are filled with people of all ages, men and women of God, who would love nothing more than to help someone along in their journey with God however they can. If you're unsure of what to look for in a guide, 1 Timothy 3 is a good starting point. But whoever you choose, choose wisely. Trustworthiness, respectability, dependability, and compassion are all good attributes in a mentor. And whoever you choose, choose someone. Letting the light in is hard, and it feels foreign and threatening at first. Our hearts need someone who loves us and that we trust to prop us up through the hardest parts. Psalms 66:8-12 says, "Praise our God, all peoples... For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance." Notice David's repeated use of the words "us" and "our." Obedience is hard, even painful at times - but in the end it brings abundance, and we were meant and called to do it together.
Invest in a broader community. So this is basically part two of the above point. And I'm going to make a few potentially controversial suggestions about this broader community, so let me be clear that these suggestions are not necessarily Scriptural, not to be taken as firm or mandatory for success. They're just my best advice. We all clear on that? Great. With that in mind, here are my three tips to successful community:
Do something other than a Bible study (probably).
Be a little selective about who is part of your community.
Whatever you do, do it with people of your gender.
There's nothing wrong with studying the Bible. Absolutely nothing. In fact, it's going to be my next suggestion. But when you're in a community, you have the opportunity to bond over a shared interest. And that interest can be anything. God gave us so many wonderful things to experience in this life, and our shared interests give us a platform to knit ourselves together with others. Now, if you find yourself with a deep passion for the study of God's Word and are blessed to find some other people who share that passion - fantastic! Definitely lean into that. But for many of us, especially as we are just letting the light in again, cracking open God's word can be intimidating. Hopefully we're doing it, and on a regular basis, but our community can be a place where the Spirit of God influences us in other ways. Which is the reason why we should be selective about who gets to be part of this community. When we're just inching open the shades and stepping into the light anew, we want to be sure that we're surrounded by people who will encourage that process. Godly, compassionate people are the ticket in this community. And they should probably be people of your gender. Not only to protect those among us who are married, but just because it's good for men to spend time with men and for women to spend time with women. At the end of the day, there are just some commonalities among most men, and some among most women. They're easy jumping-off points for a lot of us, and they can help community to strengthen quickly and more or less easily.
Read the Bible. A lot. I'm not going to spend too much time on this one. It almost goes without saying, except that it does kind of need to be said. If for no other reason than we sometimes need to be reminded that one of the principal ways that God has chosen to communicate with his people is through His written Word. Not only that, but it's incredibly useful and effective at throwing off the darkness and ushering God's kids into the light. Hebrews 4 describes it as "alive 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. (Hebrews 4:12)" 2 Timothy 3 would add, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." And let's be clear: Repenting from our sin and submitting ourselves to God's will is definitely one of those good works Paul's talking about there.
Take good care of your body. Full disclosure - this is far and away the one on this list that I'm worst at, so I recognize there's a little hypocrisy in my even including it. But I have to, because I should be better at it, because it's crucial for coming out of the darkness and into the light. There are plenty of passages of Scripture that stress the necessity for taking care of your physical body, whether that means literal physical exercise, training in strength and skill, discipline of the body's desires, cravings, and needs, maintaining energy, or simply honoring your body and not sinning against it. For your own research, check out 1 Timothy 4, 1 Corinthians 6, 1 Corinthians 9, Romans 12, 2 Timothy 4, Psalm 144, Hebrews 6, and Hebrews 12. Caring for and disciplining the body is a spiritual act, and a demonstration of obedience and worship to God. Moreover, the reason it's absolutely critical to do when coming out of the darkness of sin is that it's often one of the first things we begin to neglect in ourselves when we enter the darkness. We stay up later and sleep later. We eat what's convenient, what satisfies and indulges our cravings and fills our emptiness. We concern ourselves with activities that don't demand much of us in terms of discipline because we demand so little discipline of ourselves. When our souls become numb and sedentary, our bodies follow suit. And, as I said before, a change of context can have dramatic effects on how well, how quickly, and how far we move into the light - and changing how we care for ourselves physically can offer a dramatic change of context.
I truly hope that reading this article has been helpful for you. Share it with someone you know if you think it might benefit them. We'd love to hear feedback of ways in which these practices have helped some of you, whether you're trying them for the first time or they've long been a discipline of your walk with God. I apologize if I've been a little long-winded - I'll work on it for future posts. Now, if you'll excuse me, I should probably go do some sit-ups. God bless you all, and thanks for reading!