Monday, April 22

Inspirational Desperation

Comer Cotrell once said, "The greatest inspiration is often born of desperation." But few of us want to get to that place. We want to be in control. We want to be comfortable. We want to have the freedom to choose what we want when we want it.

In our spiritual lives it seems that only two things will move us to change: inspiration or desperation. The Holy Spirit might inspire us to action through a Bible verse or sermon; a song lyric or friend's words; a picture of tragedy or great beauty. 

But as William S. Burroughs has said, "Desperation is the raw material of drastic change." When we've tried everything we can to change and nothing is working; when we've come to the end of our rope and we don't know where to turn; when we know there's something better but are powerless to get there...desperation will move us to change. If we think we can do it ourselves, we'll probably try. But when we know we can't, we may finally turn and truly seek the One who can.

Read: Matthew 5:3; Luke 15:17-21
5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

15:17 "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.' 20 So he got up and went to his father.

"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'"

You are probably familiar with the story Jesus told of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 and excerpted above. There are tremendous cultural dynamics at work there that we don't have space to discuss here. I want to focus on the younger son's desperation. He rejects his family, takes his inheritance, and lives life the way he wants until he has squandered everything. He is poor and far from home and ends up tending pigs. He is so desperate he is ready to eat their food.

In his desperation, he comes to his senses. He remembers how his father's hired hands had all the food they wanted and were well cared for and respected. And he formulates a plan: He'll go back, confess his wrong, and ask to be made a hired hand. From a twenty-first century perspective that seems reasonable. But in Jesus' day, the son's plan conveniently keeps him from having to face the older brother or have to truly deal with the effects of his actions. It gets him off the hook, but it allows him to save some face and protect his dignity.

When the young man gets close to home, his father runs to meet him. In that moment, the son drops his plan to be a hired hand. He confesses his sin and his unworthiness and leaves it at that. And his father forgives him and restores him. He welcomes him and celebrates his return.

To enter the kingdom of God, we need to be poor in spirit. This is not materially poor, but it is coming to the place where we recognize our spiritual bankruptcy. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot offer God anything. All we can do is, like the son, confess our sin and unworthiness. There will be no deal-making. 

And like the story's father, the heavenly Father welcomes us. Jesus said, "There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent." We don't make deals with God. We come as we are confessing our spiritual bankruptcy and our desperate need for a savior. And our Father meets us and loves us and forgives us in Jesus.

Desperation opens us to change. It moves us to seek with all our hearts. We come to that place where our spiritual lives depend on moving in a new direction - one we can't find on our own. One author likens us to cancer patients who travel to foreign countries trying to find new and radical treatments. We've tried them all. Nothing's worked. We are poor in spirit - completely bankrupt - and utterly in need of Jesus' love, guidance, and healing.

Reread Luke 15:11-32. As you read, consider in what ways you are like the younger son. Maybe you haven't rebelled to the extent he did, but are there ways your heart has run after your own desires. Ask God to show you where you are living like the younger son. If he brings anything to mind, confess it and see yourself being received and forgiven in the Father's loving embrace.

Perhaps you're in a place where you need inspiration, not desperation. Richard Foster has written, "Spiritual disciplines are the main way we offer ourselves to God as a living sacrifice. We are doing what we can do with our bodies, our minds, our hearts. God then takes this simple offering of ourselves and does with it what we cannot do, producing within us deeply ingrained habits of peace, love and joy in the Holy Spirit."

When we establish regular rhythms of spiritual disciplines, we create space for the Holy Spirit to inspire us and transform us. We create situations where we stop striving and choose to "be still and know that (he) is God" (Psalm 46:10). We acknowledge we cannot change ourselves and, by opening ourselves to God, express our absolute need for the Holy Spirit to change us.

What are things you can do this week to create space for the Holy Spirit to work in you? When we open ourselves up to Him, we invite the Spirit to change us and inspire us to pursue even more.

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