My own way.
I spent a great deal of my life pursuing — and pretty effectively attaining — my wants and desires. Unfortunately, inasmuch as I’m a depraved person (a fact that I can prove with ample evidence), my wants and desires were equally depraved. And eventually the constant diet of fulfilled sinful desire became wearying and soul-stultifying.
As I look back, I’ve learned two important lessons. One: every bad, painful, horrid thing that ever happened to me, I didn’t see coming. And two: every truly good thing that has occurred in my life happened despite me. So, what is instantly clear is that I am not in control. And on those occasions where it appeared that I had some influence over the outcome of things, I always messed them up. So, why would I want control? Why would I want things to work my way?
Early on in my Christian conversion I was taught a wonderful guiding principle: God is too holy not to that which brings Him the greatest glory and He loves us too much not to do that which is for our greatest good. In other words, He’s going to do things His way whether we like it or not. That’s what sovereign providence is all about.
So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own way.
My own fame.
In my early 20’s I decided to move to Los Angeles. That decision was driven by the need to be famous. It was no longer sufficient to have people in the Detroit area know me, I wanted a national stage. And rock music was the vehicle that would take me there. I had performed for two seasons and toured Great Britain with the Houston All-City Symphony. I had played intimate jazz and “big band” swing. I had played in garage bands, club bands, marching bands, pit bands, and shows bands. But, rock’n’roll was like the express elevator to worldwide recognition. It was hard work. It was emotionally draining. But, it paid big dividends. And that was just fine with me.
But, as Christianity took hold in my heart and mind, thoughts of my own personal advancement and fame became increasingly upsetting and revolting. “How,” I began to wonder, “can Christ truly be ‘all and in all’ if I am constantly making sure there’s adequate room for me?”
I cannot save anyone. My death will not result in anyone else’s redemption. I am quite utterly imperfect. I cannot heal sickness, solve crises, prevent catastrophes, or bring the dead to life. All in all, I am hardly a person to be admired or imitated because, when it comes to the really important matters, I can only point to the One who actually matters. So then, why should I be famous? He should have all the fame because He has all the power. And I need Him far more than He needs me.
So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own fame.
My own art.
At one point in my life, I reveled in the notion that I was the quintessential “tortured artist.” My thoughts, emotions, and feelings were significant enough that they needed to be shared with the world. I wrote songs, I wrote poems, I wrote stories, I wrote … well, I wrote about me. I basked in my unmitigated emotional depth and imaginary courage. As I was wont to say, “Hurt me; I’ll make it art.” If hubris had a cousin, I was it.
I have several folders and notebooks full of poems and scribblings. I took them out the other night and realized that it had been fully nine years since I’d written anything poetic. Self-expression seems vain … in every meaning of the word.
Now whatever gifts God may have given me with which to communicate thoughts and ideas, I prefer to convey those thoughts and ideas that exalt Him for His great kindness to me, and those which “minister grace to the hearer.” (Eph. 4:29)
So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own art.
My own cleverness.
Sometimes, cleverness is its own reward. People gravitate to clever people who can devise inventions, turn a pithy phrase, or appear to be a few steps ahead of the madding crowd. Cleverness is also akin to sarcasm — the ability to slice and dice others with a bit of witty repartee. For many years, my sharp tongue was the chief weapon in my arsenal of tools used to keep everyone at arm’s distance.
As I have aged, I have been cursed with the ability to remember all the verbally-bloodied victims I’ve left in my wake. And, successful in my attempt to keep people at a safe distance, I found myself alone. Cleverness is also its own worst enemy.
Christianity, by contrast, insists on putting the wellbeing of others ahead of our own. Christianity encourages us to keep a civil tongue and use kind words. Christianity is not about being clever, it’s about being a servant, about giving yourself away and investing in the fruitful outcome of others. That’s not done by wit. It’s done by humility. And no matter how clever I think my thoughts or words are, they are of absolutely no significance if they do not aid the Christian progress of the person who hears them.
So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own cleverness.
My own sinful passions.
As a human, I crave. I have deep, entrenched desires. There was a time when I thought my passion for the things of this world was noble. I was never more alive than when I was lunging headlong into my latest craving. I was “deep,” after all. I felt things more vividly and violently than most folk … or, at least that’s how I saw myself. It made me unique and worth all the attention I was getting.
Consider Psalm 37:4 for a moment. It says, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” That’s a dangerous statement unless the Lord changes the desires of your heart. And that’s what has happened to me. The more I have learned to delight myself in the Lord, the more He has become my primary desire. And, sure enough, the more of Himself He reveals to me, the more I am delighted. Now my passion is for Him; His glory, His word, His worship, and His people.
One of the most amazing things about genuine conversion is that God does not suppress our emotions — He redirects them. What was once self-love becomes brotherly love. What was once fleshly desire becomes Heavenly desire. What was once selfish passion becomes the desire to spread His word, to call sinners to repentance, and to help them see the One who is gracious, kind, patient, and altogether lovely.
So, from 2010 onward, I want no more of my own sinful passions.
What I deserve.
Through an act of amazing charity, I was recently given a set of drums. There was a time when I was defined by my ability to play drums and if I didn’t practice for at least three hours each day, I wasn’t alive. Playing drums was as natural as breathing. Although I used to own several drum kits, I haven’t owned any drums for fifteen years or more. When the kids were young and I was struggling financially, I had fallen behind on the house payments. I sold my last Pearl kit for exactly the amount it took to keep us in our house. Since then, I had been drum-less.
I told you that story to tell you this one. After I was given a beautiful set of Pearl drums — my favorite, by the way — I told a musician friend of mine about the remarkable circumstances that led to the gift. He said, “That’s great! You deserve them.” Those words hung in the air for a moment. Then I replied, “No, I don’t deserve them. And the last thing I want is what I deserve.”
You see, one essential element of a really advanced ego (trust me here, I’m an expert in this area) is the assumption that you deserve all the good things that come your way. And if something bad happens, it’s an aberration. That’s the sort of thinking that leads to questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
The Bible declares that there are no good people. There are only sinners; enemies of God; haters of everything that is holy; wicked, depraved people. The proper question then is, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” And that’s the essence of grace.
What I deserve, it turns out, is hell forever. What I deserve is God’s eternal wrath. What I deserve is to be separated from Him permanently and perpetually. Fire, brimstone, torment — that’s what I deserve.
But, what I’m promised is Heaven. Through no goodness on my part, as the result of no good works I’ve performed, but merely as a matter of God’s mercy, I will not receive what I deserve. I have received grace. I am receiving grace. I will receive grace.
So, from 2010 onward, the very, very last thing I ever want is what I deserve.
Now here’s the great irony of God’s genius. As much as I do not want my own way, my way is inexorably becoming conformed to His way. In other words, I do not feel in any way cheated or short-changed. I am fulfilled and happy. Just as I grew tired of “my way,” He changed my way to suit His way and I most joyfully now pursue the way I find most pleasing — His way.
As much as I am no longer interested in my own fame, I get great joy from seeing Him exalted. And though I could never have predicted it, GCA and Salvation By Grace have become widely known through the Internet. I receive wonderful letters and email from people who share their lives and testimonies with us. We hear from all corners of the globe and people tell us how their lives and faith have been enriched by listening and reading at our site. Honestly, it’s overwhelming and deeply gratifying. But this new-found recognition is not fame. It’s not a matter of ego. It’s God’s providential wisdom at work. He allowed me to bask in my own aggrandizement until I could smell ego a mile away. Once that smell was repugnant, He put me into His service. Then He let people know who we were and what we were about.
His ways are wonderful.
As much as I do not want my own art, God does not destroy the individuality of His people. He gifts His own with the abilities that are best suited to their place in His kingdom. I was given the gift to communicate. Being Irish, I’ve always thought of it as “the gift of gab.” When folk tell me that the Bible finally makes sense to them, or that I have helped them understand complex biblical concepts in a way that makes it simple and approachable, that’s just God turning my “art” to His glory. It’s no longer about self-expression. It’s about Heavenly-expression. Same ability, new purpose.
Cleverness, I suppose, falls into that same rubric. But, where I used to show off my own verbal and intellectual dexterity, my concern now is to show off God’s astounding wisdom and the limitless value of His word. It’s not about being clever; it’s about being clear, being precise, being a tool in the hands of a Master Craftsman.
As much as I do not want my own sinful passions, God has redirected my passion. He has not squelched it. Much as He used the temperament of Moses or the boldness of Peter, God has taken what was once debauched and turned it toward His holy purposes. Christianity has enlivened and enriched my passion, giving it a righteous purpose and restraining it from its unseemly past.
His grace is beyond comprehension.
And, as much as I do not want what I deserve, as Christ has been formed in my heart I want Him to receive everything that He deserves. He deserves a church that will recognize their status as His elect and beloved bride … and act like it. He deserves to have His word revered, respected, and rightly handled. He deserves to be glorified through the eternal ages because of His finished, complete, fully-effective atoning work and the full salvation of His chosen people. He deserves to sit at the Father’s right hand and be lifted up above all names and all creation. He deserves to be worshiped and adored. He deserves the very best that His Father can prepare and give Him. And, I want Him to have it all.
Let me close this bit of new year’s observation by driving home one more vital point:
This is nothing like me.
Left to myself, I would always want my way, my fame, my art, my cleverness, and every sinful passion my evil heart could inspire. And I would be fully convinced that I deserved every moment of pleasure and egocentric gratification. That’s exactly what I’m like.
This small treatise is evidence of how effectively and sovereignly God has overcome and overwhelmed a wretch like me. I get no glory from it; nor have I earned any. He gets all the glory because He has done all the work, invested all the effort, and is fully responsible for any and all good results.
I am astounded at His grace.
I am secured by His mercy.
I am cradled in His love.
I am thankful.
I am humbled.
And I want Him more than I want myself.
Happy New Year.