Imagine a deep, dark, dank cave. Imagine delving into it and finding it’s bottom, a place where there is no light or hope or life at all. Conjure up in your mind the effect there would be if suddenly there appeared a blinding glow, bright as the sun and brighter. As if by magic, renovations of this hollow place begin, filling it with art, music, all the signs of life. The walls cover themselves with portraits of loved ones, or sweeping landscapes captured perfectly in paint. From the ceiling grow resplendent crystal chandeliers that reflect and refract the glorious beams emitted by the source of light. Cozy furniture springs up all around with lush blankets draped over them. This is now a perfect environment for a comfortable dwelling, a place even a King would be glad to inhabit.
You notice the floor; rich carpeting spreads across it, softer than moonlight, more vibrant than wildflowers in spring. But that’s when you see the small trapdoor in the corner. You realize it must have been there all along, but you never noticed it before, you’ve been too enraptured by the lavish decorations. Crossing over to it, you sweep the dust away and pull the heavy, rusted iron ring. With a painful creak the hinges give way and the smallish door swings open. Beneath the trap door you discover another cavity, somehow deeper and darker than the first. The smell of rot assails you and you want nothing more than to close the door, carpet over it and forget it’s presence altogether.
This cave is my heart, and probably yours as well. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that “The heart is more deceitful than all else, And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” I am growing to understand this verse in new ways as God remodels the cavern within me. No matter how enamored I am at all the good things God is doing in and through me, there is inevitably a deeper, more sinister part of my heart that I keep hidden, trying to avoid the disease that exists there. But praise God that He is better at seeking than I am at hiding.
Practically, this looks like my own pride. As I serve God here in Austin, I consistently realize I’m trying to “power through” on my own strength. I’m trying to proudly display my own humility, as if that can even happen. Outwardly I do the work of a servant while inwardly my spirit whines and complains that I don’t want to be a servant. I secretly hope that if I force myself to pretend I am serving God from my heart, eventually I will gain recognition and be allowed to stop serving. But this is not a scriptural conclusion.
In fact, in Galatians 6, Paul tells the church that if they sow of the Spirit they will reap of the Spirit, and exhorts them not to grow weary of doing good. In Romans 5 he teaches that tribulations bring perseverance, which brings character, which brings hope, which doesn’t disappoint. My desire to serve should be coming from the Spirit and from fixing my gaze on the hope set before me.
If I desire to be seen as a servant and thus praised, but do not desire to be a servant and thus serve, I am sowing of the flesh and will reap corruption. And I have seen this! I have seen the bitterness, anger, jealousy, negativity and despair that “serving” as a means to gain honor brings. God remains good and faithful though, and with each wretched self-discovery, each additional abyss, He enters into my filth and scoops out the blight, scrubbing down my soul and filling me with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
Galations 3:3 “Are you so foolish, having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”