I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet.
Ps. 18: 37, 38
School is out and summer has arrived. . .partially. My role at school includes coaching multiple sports so I’ll go from practice to practice throughout the summer. While my roles and responsibilities differ from “day job” to sport, there is one job I ought never set aside. My first job is to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. If I were to do everything else well but fail here, I’d be foolish to assume I actually did well in everything else. There’s no pursuit more important that seeking Him. To do so will take all of you.
Recently I read Psalm 18 and two verses jumped off the page as they have never done before. Those two verses are quoted above. When I read the Psalmist’s description of his relentless pursuit of his enemies, it was as if the Holy Spirit said to me, “That relentless pursuit should characterize your war against your sinful passions.” While the Spirit’s voice wasn’t audible, His voice was certainly clear. No matter what I would like to say about my fiercest enemy, the truth is that my greatest enemy lies within. My pride and crafty ways are downright evil. Allowing them life and footholds is the cause of such great pain that you’d wonder why I let these deviant passions live. Because, such a spiritual war is hard.
The longer I follow Christ the more and more I see the real way we gain victory in our spiritual war. Ironically, it’s through the body, the physical. That’s why this war is so hard. For instance, I believe gluttony is a major problem for me. But, I’m not primarily referring to eating as I’m way, way lighter now than in my “prime” in high school. I do overeat, but I’m referring to the glutenous spirit, the spirit that continues to want long after satiation is attained.
How does one attack gluttony? Physically. You must fast. There are Christian traditions who incorporate fasting weekly as a reminder that real food of Christ is more important than our bread below. Or, maybe you are at a healthy weight, but there are types of foods you enjoy too much. You attack gluttony by not giving your body what it wants, but giving it what it needs.
Whether it is gluttony, pride, selfishness, or any other sin, the means of attack are by forcibly submitting the body to actions contrary to the heart’s evil passion. Consider the following quote:
Abba John the Dwarf said, “If a king wanted to take possession of his enemy’s city, he would begin by cutting off the water and the food and so his enemies, dying of hunger, would submit to him. It is the same with the passions of the flesh; if a man goes about fasting and hungry the enemies of his soul grow weak.” Sr. Benedicta Ward, “The Sayings of the Desert Fathers,” (Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1975), pp. 85-89
Christ’s followers ought to have such a siege mentality when it comes to rooting out sins in our lives. Let us not be mistaken. Christ’s followers must root out sin. Being complacent with the “I’m a sinner” mentality (therefore implying “I can’t help it, so oh well. . .) is, I believe, straight from the pit of hell. Without holiness, no man can see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Since that letter was written to Christians, let us think carefully that even to those who name Christ, Christ will not be seen by those who don’t passionately pursue holiness.
Maybe the actions to grow in holiness and destroy our internal enemy will be drastic. Maybe we are afraid of what earthly treasures we may have to abandon in order to ascend the mountain of holiness. Maybe. But, do we profit if we gain the world and lose our soul? No at all.
The Psalmist, then, gives us a strong image of what our pursuit of holiness ought to look like. Prayerfully, we seek the Lord’s wisdom in identifying our greatest weaknesses, our most pernicious enemies. Then, we, with the help of the Holy Spirit, wage all-out war against our internal enemies, not resting until our sins are conquered and uprooted, and holiness is attained.
May you and I not turn back from our mission for holiness until our enemies, whether gluttony, pride, rage, anger, a cruel tongue, etc,. are conquered. Like the Psalmist may we too crush our sins that they might not rise again.
*Image from public domain.