In stillness lies victory

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. -Exodus 14:14

Have you ever experienced the kind of moral failure that kept you up at night wondering how it came to this?

I believe it is quite possible to try with all your might to follow the Path you believe is right (maybe the path that will lead you home?), and yet to find after a time that you have no idea where you are and even less of an idea of where the path went.

What I mean is: a man can endeavor to live by principles he believes are unfailingly right and wake up one day seeing clearly that he is caught in behavior or patterns of behavior that are blatantly in conflict with those principles. I think when the man looks back, he will often see a small wrong turn–maybe caused by a flick of the head that distracted him enough that his feet veered ever so slightly on an angle. Geometricians know full well that any angle is enough. A one degree shift now may still leave you on the the path, but in eternity it will have moved you infinitely away from it. One degree is all it takes, one turn of the head.

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I recently counseled a friend who confessed an epic failure to me; the kind that can cause guilt that will rot the bones if left un-addressed. And the rotting had already begun. He was doubting his faith and did not believe that God could love him–or still love him, anyways. Perhaps his failure was too great.

We started by talking about grace and the great love of God–the importance of making that a reality in his life again. But during the course of our conversation, we also discussed getting back to some basic disciplines–fighting the war on all the little fronts. In a form, the idea is that constant vigilance is the only hope we have of staying on the path. Little victories will lead to ultimate success. But “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest and (moral?) poverty will come on you like a bandit and (character?) scarcity like an armed man” (Prov 24:33-34). Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep…

Yeah right.

As I later contemplated that strategy, I realized its fatal flaw. One degree is enough to sink us…even if it takes time. We won’t always be able to maintain the kind of willpower that will enable us to identify and correct that one degree. We can’t even live up to our own standards let alone God’s! And yet, I was not ready to fully abandon this notion of little victories–waging the war in all the small ways and believing in the big outcome.

That’s when the Good News of the Gospel knocked me over again. Little victories are not the wrong strategy; I had simply misidentified the victories.

Tim Keller frequently talks about the Good News of Jesus Christ in these terms: though we are all more sinful and flawed than we ever dare believe; we are more accepted and loved than we ever dare hope. And this love and acceptance has nothing to do with our ability to stay on the path or even how hard we try–not vigilence, not determination, not results–it’s not about us. “The Gospel is not that we give God a good record and then he owes us, but that God–through the costly sacrifice of Jesus Christ–gives us a perfect record, which we receive by faith, and then we live gladly for him (Tim Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian Church newlsletter, September 2009). God has covered our failures in blood that purifies with righteousness–His blood. The Cross of Christ was the staggering act of love that accomplished this.  You cannot earn it; you can only accept it. This is good news that changes everything–at least it should.

Truth is we don’t always live as if this news is true.  That’s when Moral failures come–not so much from a lack of will but from a lack of understanding of the Gospel and its implications. These failures show we don’t know how loved we are by the God who created us and that we haven’t fully worked out the implications of the Good News.  To reverse this, we need to begin to understand the “path” is not about doing right things for God but about putting ourselves in His presence so He can show us His great love–over and over and over again. We need to understand the Gospel of grace and let the implications of its truth permeate our souls.

I think little victories will get us there, but they are not victories of discipline or diligence–they are victories of stillness–little steps of praising God and reflecting on His unfailing love. They are comprised of moments set aside to be in his presence; where rather than fighting, we consider how God fought for us.  Only then will we begin to recognize that the battle is already won–that we win now by claiming God’s victory.  We must allow the Gospel to saturate our hearts so we can understand its deep implications for every aspect of our lives. Our stillness in God’s presence is the only hope we have to understand these truths: that He loved at the expense of His life, that through his defeat He won us back, that by His death we are restored to life.

If one degree off is enough to land us infinitely off path, there is no hope for us except in His love–except in His victory. When we begin the learn that, we will find our victory in stillness.

For the Christian, this means discipline does matter, but only the discipline of resting in the victory of our great God and spending all our days understanding the implications of His love–love that He would follow all the way to the depths of hell so that our angle of approach will always lead back to Him. Belief in any other discipline to attain victory will actually move us out of the stillness and away from the grace that saves.

For the non-Christian, I think it begs the question of what where else one finds an antidote to the rotting in our bones from the guilt of veering from the path of even our own moral compasses.

In stillness lies victory for it is the only place where we can hear the still small voice of the God. Be diligent in protecting moments of stillness where you can let this truth sink into your bones.

And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:

And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
1 Kings 19:11-12

To the victor go the spoils; rejoice that you are the spoils not the victor.

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We’ll get back to the topic of  “home” in the coming weeks.

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  1. Rob Cortegiano

    I like this one Steve. Just finished teaching the Protestant Reformation to my students. There is defintely some Reformed Calvinist in me. We used to sing “Power In The Blood” at mass when I was a Jesuit Novice.

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