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Half-muttered Prayers and Redeeming Grace

Two weeks ago my hands raced ahead of my thoughts, trying to prepare for vacation. The kids were going to camp and my husband and I, alone for the first time in seventeen years, had decided to take a trip. Plans were duly laid and tasks were soon assigned.

Then came a rash of irritations almost embarrassing to admit. Petty annoyances really; but suddenly they loomed as roadblocks on the path of my to-do list. Tempers flared and I was exasperated (with everyone else) until finally, somewhere between half-muttered prayers and redeeming grace, we got it all done. Suitcases (and their respective owners) stood sentry down the hall. Bills were paid, the refrigerator cleared, and the car was lastly fueled. Odd doodlings from old files were scheduled to serve as blog posts for most of the week—a kind of electronic hooky I could feel good about. Finally, we were ready.

And when at last vacation came, my attitude was different. With no house to clean or meals to cook, (even my old nemesis, Mt. Washmore, was at last subdued), Jeff and I passed the week in a laissez-faire sort of way. Life was good for a time, and as the sun set on the final days of our retreat, I found it rather easy to be good myself.

But the Monday morning alarm summoned my (grudging) soul to a trail of bills, appointments, and calls (not to mention the newly vested Mt. Washmore). Tempers flared and once again I (exasperated with myself this time) was caught between half-muttered prayers and redeeming grace. Suddenly being good was not so simple.

Last week it was easy to be good because nothing really tempted me from that delusion. It’s easy to be good when nothing comes to cross my will, but the fact is “… sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still…”[1] Like silt buried beneath a crystal pond, there hides in us every manner of sin and vice. When life is easy, sin is quite content to lie still and quiet—entirely undetected at the bottom of the heart. But let opportunity stir those waters and the sludge will soon rise to the top—sin will have its day of breaking forth. When the heart, in this condition, finds opportunity and meets circumstance, we can be assured—we have entered into temptation. Our contrivances against sin therefore, said John Owen, should “be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.”

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15, 18-19, 22-24)

For those of us who find ourselves in accord with the Apostle, Owen has left a legacy of rich counsel in his book, The Mortification of Sin. Consider the following words—

“Now nothing can prevent this but mortification; that withers the root and strikes at the head of sin every hour, so that whatever it aims at it is crossed in. There is not the best saint in the world but, if he should give over this duty, would fall into as many cursed sins as ever any did of his kind.[2]

“Be killing sin,” said Owen, “or sin will be killing you.”

[1] John Owen, vol. 6, The Works of John Owen., ed. William H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T Clark), 11.

[2] Ibid., 12.

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