“Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” (Psalm 12:1–2, ESV)
The Christian life is one in which the saved soul is united with Christ, and as such, the person is inserted into a loving community of Christ-like people who are committed to following in their Lord in gentleness, humility, generosity and wisdom. However, many Christians experience seasons in which their “faith family” is rather dysfunctional. Rather than exhibiting Christ, they manifest fleshly desires and long to be like the world. They lust after recognition and acclaim. They are obsessed with the mundane – entertainment, sports, gossip and toys. They forget their neighbor and horde things for themselves. Rather than being filled with the pure beauty of Christ, they are overflowing with worldliness. This situation does not necessarily manifest itself in some dramatic fashion. Sometimes, this takes the form of a community whose sins are actually rather subdued. But its disfunction is seen in hypocrisy.
This the Psalmist laments. David was well acquainted with a rapturous love for God. This love was attributed to the people of Israel at various points in their history. More frequently, these affections for the Lord were attributed by Israelites of themselves. They often saw themselves as properly loving God. Their religious and lawful devotion to God was evidence, to them, that they had a rapturous love for Yahweh. However, their affections for God were often only skin deep. David’s love being much deeper, is instantly contrasted with theirs. He cannot help but feel alone: when he longs to spend the night singing praises to God, they desire to sleep, or to sin in seclusion; when he desires to help the needy out of an overflowing love for the God who helped him, they desire to feast and close the door to outsiders; when he desires to go to the temple and offer proper sacrifices to the Lord, they withhold their choicest offerings for themselves. With their lips they praise Yahweh, but with the hearts they utter lies.
Such is often the feeling of Christians today. They feel great love and devotion for God, and this feeling leads to their feeling alone. When they long to share thoughts of the beauty of Christ, their friends only want to talk about the latest football game. When they desire to talk about theological issues that they are interested in, their brothers only want to talk about their hobbies. When they want to sing songs in community to the Lord, their community only wants to play games. When they want to ask for intercessory help for their besetting sins, their faith family seems to be wholly unaware of any need other than those that are financial and physical.
Those in this predicament are in a precarious situation because the enemy has them on his territory. When believers are lock-step and arm-in-arm, the enemy has less room to maneuver. But, the isolated believer is much more assailable. Without question, the first attack levied by the enemy is the secret sin of pride. Often making its way into the heart of the Christian without detection, pride beckons the believer to take comfort in his devotion to God. Satan invites him to dull some of his spiritual pain by focusing on his spiritual accomplishments. “Yes, your friends don’t seem to share your devotion to God, but at least you are devoted!”
This type of comparison, leads to resentment because this self-focus beckons the believer to analyze his own actions in order to determine what makes him more spiritual than his friends. Pride stands at the ready to immediately serve up delicacies of self-actualization and inherent worth. “The reason you are in the predicament,” says Satan, “is because you are more disciplined and more righteous. Your friends cannot help having no real devotion to God, because they are lesser than you. You understand what is important, and you have the desire to grow in the knowledge of these things. Your friends simply do not desire the higher things. They are like children and you are spiritually mature.”
The subtle trick here is to turn a focus on God (spiritual devotion) to a focus on oneself (pridefullness). The insidious thing about it is that you seem to be focused on the devotion – not yourself. But nothing could be further from the truth. The path to the incurvatus en se (the curvature into oneself) is one of degrees. Imitating a loving and gentle teacher (though he is nothing of the sort) the enemy slowly moves your eyes from God, to your devotion for God; then, from your devotion for God, to the means by which your devotion is manifest (like times of prayer); then from the means by which your devotion is manifest to the lack of these things in your friends. Finally, your eyes are set fully on your own spiritual accomplishments and you are left to wallow in stagnant self-righteousness until the Holy Spirit picks you up and washes you, or you decay into spiritual worthlessness.
The solution to this predicament is not to ignore the ignorance of your friends. First, of course, you must determine that there is a real disparity between you and them. That is, you must figure out if their lack of devotion and your devotion are both real. If this is the case, like the Psalmist, we do not ignore the difference with some post-modern platitude like, “We’re all on different paths” or something like that. Rather, we pray to God (silently) “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” When this is done while walking in the Spirit, two things occur.
The first is that a profound sadness comes upon your soul. You become acquainted with the feeling of Jesus when He looks upon Israel and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34) You have a deep longing to see your friends become so enraptured with the beauty of Jesus Christ that last night’s football game becomes (almost) insignificant. The essence of this longing is not one in which your desires are met (by being able to talk with them about God), but it is one in which their desires (even if they don’t know they have them) are met. It is a desire focused on them, not yourself.
The second thing that happens is that your soul becomes overwhelmed with humility and gratitude. You pray with the saint, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.” You see in your friends an image of yourself, before the Spirit took you by the hand and guided you, through many seasons of unwillingness, to the throne room of grace. This, ironically (if I can describe it that way) leads to a greater love and admiration for God. Rather than becoming despondent because you have no human friend to share in your spiritual devotion, you become joyful because you are made to acknowledge firsthand God’s guiding hand in your life. That is, when responded to properly, this situation of human loneliness brings you to a place of deeper divine fellowship, which is a relationship that is more meaningful than any human one.
These two Spirit-led responses lead the Christian to become one who gently, lovingly and with a smile on her face, leads those around her into a deeper devotion for Christ. She does not stand on the stage at church, looking down upon “lesser” Christians with a frown and pointed finger. Rather, she walks beside her brothers and sisters, eagerly anticipating their burdens so that she might bear them, because she is imitating her Love, who bore the world’s burdens on His back. Rather than dismissing their interests in worldly things as “immature” or “ungodly” she patiently, and with great interest, listens to all the things her friends are experiencing and enjoying. She recognizes that every good thing comes from the Father and these things include sports, entertainment and even fashion. Rather than seeking spiritual one-upmanship, she highlights the joy in her friends and glorifies God by rejoicing in their joy. She does not point out the weakness in her friends (though they are many) but she highlights their strengths. This godly attitude becomes a sweet-smelling aroma for those around her and people soon long to drink from the well she is drinking. The more people look at her, the less they see her and the more they see Christ dwelling in her. These loving actions that she displays become irresistible invitations by which the Holy Spirit woos her friends into deeper, more joyful, meaningful and even eschatological relations with the living God of gods and King of kings, who died for them.