We humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings. – Step 7
The American Poster Child who liked, of course, Apple Pie. His life began in hardship even though he was born in the United States. He didn’t have the benefit of wealthy parents. If he was going to make it in the world, it was going to be up to him. At an early age he got a paper route (back in the day when practically every household subscribed to a newspaper that would be delivered daily by kids on bicycles). When he was a little older he added a lawn mowing business to his portfolio. Nothing big – just a couple of houses each week. He was careful with his money, having a little fun now and then but mostly saving up for a car when he turned sixteen, which he did. He kept the paper route since it was an early morning job, kept the lawn mowing accounts which he could work into evenings or weekends, and managed to add a job at a restaurant into his schedule – all while attending high school. Having waited tables for a couple of years, he acquired some really good people skills and landed a job in sales. With all of his income streams flowing nicely, he was able to move out of his family’s home after high school into his own apartment. Over time his responsibilities increased as his good sales and job reviews shined brighter and brighter. He met a girl, fell in love, and got married. His career soared as he was moved into management where he worked his tail off to motivate his employees to greater and greater sales. As he saw his income rise, so did his situation. Over time he upgraded from an apartment to a starter home to eventually a large, fine home in the most desirable part of town. His cars followed suit, from practical economic cars to luxury automobiles that signaled his success wherever he drove. Everyone respected him. He and his wife maintained a lasting marriage while raising their kids. He was known as one who didn’t have any skeletons in his closet. He practiced his religion privately, but never doubted in the existence of God and tried to be good and ethical. Now an owner of his sales office which was running like a top without much supervision, he was encouraged to run for public office. He won a local election and thus began his career in politics, where he consistently referred to his own life as evidence that the American Dream can come true. His abundant wealth and excess, coupled with his squeaky-clean past made him a shoe-in for a bright future – who knows how high an office he might one day inhabit? He was surely blessed, and thanked God for his success.
One day one of the local officials asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to deserve eternal life?"
Jesus said, "Why are you calling me good? No one is good—only God. You know the commandments, don't you? No illicit sex, no killing, no stealing, no lying, honor your father and mother."
He said, "I've kept them all for as long as I can remember."
When Jesus heard that, he said, "Then there's only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor. You will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me."
This was the last thing the official expected to hear. He was very rich and became terribly sad. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let them go.
Seeing his reaction, Jesus said, "Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God's kingdom? I'd say it's easier to thread a camel through a needle's eye than get a rich person into God's kingdom."
"Then who has any chance at all?" the others asked.
"No chance at all," Jesus said, "if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it." – Luke 18:18-27 (The Message)
Why do we need to ask?
The Mega Pastor who loved Lemon Meringue Pie. She was born to two loving parents who provided well for her. She never wanted for a thing, was brought up in church where she learned the Bible from an early age. She had memorized a great number of scriptures and had a sharp mind. Coupled with good people skills she quickly became a young leader in the church. Her parents encouraged her to dream big – “You can become anything you want!” was their frequent cheer. Graduating from High School with honors and doing just as well in college, she never stopped developing her faith. She attended small groups and a church regularly, and, as before, moved quickly into leadership, using her gifts as a speaker and leader to group whatever group she led. Someone planted the seed in her mind one day: she should really use her knowledge and skills to be a pastor. Sensing that perhaps God was in it, she pursued it. Fast forward a decade: she grew her church to one of the largest in her denomination. The crowds that came to her worship services and Bible studies paralleled the books she published from her sermon series’. The speaking circuit where she shared her secrets of success were equally impressive – she became an expert in her field, with carefully, thoughtfully crafted words delivered from a head-to-toe presentation that personified perfection. With great attendance comes great compensation and so she found herself living in the best neighborhood in town, driving a luxurious car that communicated to everyone she passed that God was good and she was blessed.
Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?"
He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?"
He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
"Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live."
Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"
Jesus answered by telling a story. "There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
"A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man's condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I'll pay you on my way back.'
"What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?"
"The one who treated him kindly," the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, "Go and do the same." – Luke 10:25-37 (The Message)
Richard Rohr, in his book, Breathing Under Water, in addressing why we should ask God to remove our shortcomings instead of relying on our own introspection alone noted: “Don’t dare go after your faults yourselves or you will go after the wrong thing, or more commonly a clever substitute for the real thing” (54). These two stories from Jesus’ ministry illustrate our human capacity to become so enamored with ourselves that we cannot humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings because we are, in fact, not humble. Asking for help from God is itself a humbling activity if we are serious about it. Proverbs 9:10 commends to us: “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Many people approach faith out of being afraid of God, and related fears of judgment can curb some foolish behavior for some. But that rendering of fear doesn’t really capture what the writer is trying to communicate. Deep reverence is a better way to think of it, or being in awe of God. When we are in awe, when we find ourselves in such deep reverence, we are very naturally humbled. God is not interested in humiliating us to get us to bend the knee, nor is God interested in scaring the beeswax out of either, for that subverts the love relationship that God longs for with humanity. It turns out God does have a favorite pie – humble pie.
When we are humble in this way, the way we pray changes from wish list to relationship. Rohr notes: “We ask not to change God but to change ourselves. We pray to form a living relationship, not to get things done. Prayer is a symbiotic relationship with life and with God, a synergy which creates a result larger than the exchange itself. (That is why Jesus says all prayers are answered, which does not appear to be true according to the evidence!) God knows that we need to pray to keep the symbiotic relationship moving and growing. Prayer is not a way to try to control God, or even to get what we want. As Jesus says in Luke’s Gospel the answer to every prayer is one, the same, and the best: the Holy Spirit! (See 11:13.) God gives us power more than answers” (54).
When we allow God to do the work, we don’t find ourselves looking for a new addiction to fill the addiction (which is very common). Rohr understands it this way: “God’s totally positive and lasting way of removing our shortcomings is to fill up the hole with something much better, more luminous, and more satisfying. Then your old shortcomings are not driven away, or pushed underground, as much as they are exposed and starved for the false program for happiness that they are. Like used scaffolding, our sins fall away from us as unneeded and unhelpful because now a new and better building has been found. This is the wondrous discovery of our True Self, and the gradual deterioration of our false and constructed self” (57). This surely jibes with the Apostle Paul’s thoughts expressed to the church in Philippi: “Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It's wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life” (Phil. 4:6-7 MSG).
The good news is that we can learn to discipline our lives to incorporate space for this kind of healthy humility to develop. Jesus taught a parable about four types of soil, where only one type allowed the seed to sprout and grow. As we become adults we have the capacity to choose the soil we want to live in. Choosing to build in a healthy environment is our responsibility if we want to experience the full benefits of faith, which includes the removal of our shortcomings and our development into mature people who think beyond themselves unto the whole world. Further help comes from Jesus’ model for prayer, uttered in rote fashion by countless millions in recovery meetings all over the world. Here are three version of the same prayer found in Matthew 6:
Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (New Living Translation)
Our Father Who is in heaven, hallowed (kept holy) be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven (left, remitted, and let go of the debts, and have given up resentment against) our debtors. And lead (bring) us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. (Amplified Bible Classic Edition)
Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen. (KJV)
Note that the prayer begins with awe, then moves to inviting God’s Way into our lives and world before going further. The prayer assumes God’s provision as well as grace. The grace received assumes that we will be graceful in return. A commitment to trusting and following God leads to a final statement of awe – we are addressing the One who is the Kingdom, the Power, Forever.
A final story to annoy you and make you wonder why we may need God to help us both see and remove our shortcomings. From Peter Rollins in his phenomenal book How (Not) to Speak of God:
I remember seeing a sticker that said, ‘If Christianity was illegal, would there be enough evidence to convict you?’ That evening I had a dream that it was true and that I was summoned before a judge. The prosecution has quite a case against me. They begin by offering the judge dozens of photographs which show me attending church meetings, speaking at religious events and participating in various prayer and worship services. Next they offer up as evidence some of the religious books that I have been reading, followed by some of my religious CDs and trinkets. After this they step up the pace and reveal to the court many of the poems, pieces of prose and journal entries that I have written about faith. Then, in closing, the prosecution twist the bloody knife that they have skillfully used by offering my Bible to the judge. This is a well-worn book with scribbles, notes, drawings and underlining throughout – evidence, if it were needed, that I have read and re-read this sacred book.
Throughout the court case I have been sitting in fear and trembling, saturated by sweat. I know deep in my heart that, with the evidence against me, imprisonment or even death is a strong possibility. At various times throughout the proceedings I have been on the verge of standing up and denying Christ. But while this idea haunts my mind, I resist the temptation and remain focused.
Once the prosecution has finished presenting their case, the judge proceeds to ask if I have anything to add, but I remain silent and resolute, terrified that if I open my mouth, I might be weak enough to deny the charges made against me. I am then led away while the judge ponders my case.
After about an hour I am summoned back to the court-room in order to hear the verdict and receive word of my punishment. The judge enters the room, stands before me, looks deep into my eyes and states, ‘Of the charges that have been brought forward I find the accused not guilty.’
‘Not guilty.’ My heart freezes. Then, in a split second, my fear and terror are transformed into confusion and rage. Despite myself, I stand before the judge and demand that he tell me why I am innocent of the charges, in light of all the evidence.
‘What evidence?’ he replies in shock.
I start by pointing out the various poems and journal entries I have written, but he simply replies that they only show that I have a way with words.
I then refer to the services I have spoken at, the worship meetings I have participated in and the conferences I have attended.
But again he simply smiles and tells me that it is only evidence that I am a public speaker and a bit of an actor who pretends to be what he is not – nothing more. And then he says that such foolishness would never be enough to convict me.
The dream ends as he looks me in the eye and says, as if informing me of a great, long-forgotten secret: ‘The court is indifferent towards your Bible reading and church attendance; it has no concern for worship with words and a pen. Continue to develop your theology, and use it to paint pictures of love. We have no interest in such church-going artists who spend their time creating images of a better world. We exist for those who would lay down that brush, and their life, in a Christlike endeavour to create such a world’ (132).
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.
*This teaching summary is part of a series that dovetails the deep spiritual components of Twelve Steps and the rich insights of the time-tested Enneagram. Understanding your Enneagram Type can provide helpful insight into how you “do life”. There are several free tests that will surely narrow things down for you, but the Enneagram Test from the Enneagram Institute by far offers the best assessment and provides the richest feedback (look for the RHETI test). In addition, we will be drawing insight from two books as we follow Jesus through these steps. You can get Richard Rohr’s Breathing Under Water (and its companion journal) and Christopher Heuertz’ The Sacred Enneagram online and in digital formats. CrossWalk will have a limited supply of the books on hand. In addition, you may find songs for different types helpful in understanding what you’re working with, as well as the story behind the creation of the songs at the Sleeping At Last podcast (search for “Sleeping at Last” on your podcast app). Also, search for the “EnneApp” for your phone – a great on-the-go option for your mobile devices.