A bloody elbow was the result of a recent roller blade race in our driveway. A quick clean up and a band-aid and my son was back on his wheels. But later that night when bath time arrived and the band-aid had to come off, the stinging sensation returned. He grabbed at the dirty band-aid and asked, “Can’t we just stick it back on, Mama?”
Like a raw wound meeting air, heart exposure can be even more painful. I avoid it if I can. I am satisfied with the way things are. I’m content with a little bit of growth, a little more theological understanding, a little more maturity. And if my parenting seems to be working out okay, if my marriage is coasting along without conflict, the finances are not a total disaster and my health is fine and my church is good then I’m satisfied.
But God is not satisfied with that. I am willing to settle for much less than he is. He tells me to keep my heart with all diligence because all the other issues of my life flow out from it like rivers from an ocean. But He knows that I can’t keep a heart that I won’t examine. So he exposes my heart to me, making me look even though it is painful. Why? Because by grace he starts a good work in us and then continues on to complete it.
“Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thess. 5:23-24
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Phil. 1:6
We serve a loving, kind and dissatisfied Redeemer who will not turn from his work of grace even when we resist it. We continue to need his intervention whether we realize it or not. He sees under the surface, he sees behind the mask, he sees the secret heart. And he will not abandon the work of his hands. He will rescue us again and again from ourselves.
So we end up in situations we would rather not be in. Like when another Christian addresses the sin they see in us and we’re faced with the choice of hardening our hearts or letting the spiritual sight of others help us grow. We usually wriggle out of it by inwardly arguing how much more righteous we are than they, or we resist the instrument we think is less mature than we are, as unqualified to help us. Sadly, we reject one of the means of grace, the Body of Christ, to help us see our hearts because 1.) We fear offending (cause then someone might not like us) and 2.) We get offended easily. We find it difficult to be humble in either position.
But there is another way the Lord will make us face what is in our hearts: trials.
Often it is trials that rip off the band-aid before we have a chance to lunge for it. It is the unexpected, the unplanned, the new diagnosis, the financial mess, the prodigal child, the troubled marriage, or the chronic wait for something we have asked for but that God hasn’t granted to us yet.
This is when the nights get darkest. You discover just what a rebel you are. You learn just how deeply your pride runs and just how small your faith is. You realize how willing you are to step over the boundaries God has put in place for you in his Word. You spot roots of bitterness that you’d have sworn did not exist. You shake with fear of the future. You lament your ability to pray for more than five minutes. You get much more acquainted with the heart you’ve been told to keep but haven’t seen clearly. And you’re shocked and ashamed and laid low in your spirit.
And this is when you realize that what you’ve read, sung about and spoken for years is true: you really are nothing apart from Christ. You understand afresh that your “hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Because if your relationship with him depended for a millisecond on your own faithfulness, you’re sunk. He lived the perfect life that you will never live and then laid it down in sacrifice for you. So that now there is no condemnation.
This is where sufferings take us. None of us want to go there, but go we do. They take us low. To that place called “poor in spirit” that Jesus calls blessed. To the realization of our depravity. This is where we need to be. Weak. Repentant. Humbled in the dust like hurt little children with dirty faces and runny noses, looking up into Christ’s eyes for the truth that no, his love has not failed us and yes, his blood has covered that sin too. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”
so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Eph. 3:17-19
The face is lifted. The child is restored. The wound underneath the band-aid still stings but He’s helping you to bear it. You know your Father loves you, even at your worst. And He won’t leave you to bear these circumstances alone.
As long as we are on this fallen earth we will be susceptible to seductive voices of temptation. We’ll be vulnerable to lies of unbelief. We will lose some battles. And we will avoid the exposure that our hearts need, preferring instead to be satisfied with comfortable lives and superficial behavior changes, with no inward understanding of how depraved our nature is and how beautiful is the gospel that transforms us. So exposure is painful but necessary. May God give us grace to accept it as a gift.