These Pesky Grapes of Wrath

I stumbled.
Turning, I looked in the
Bathroom and saw the
Evidence.

Shower curtain torn,
Laying on the floor
In a pool of vomit.
Not again!

Powerless.
Not my favorite word
To say the least.
Sounds like, failure.

Small.
Sweet.
Fermented.
Steeped in brokenness.

Killer of relationships
Thief of dreams.
The mortar of excuses,
Able to destroy.

Yet impossible to
Resist
No matter the cost.
Regardless of consequence.

I know where it leads,
Yet I have no human capacity
To resist
These pesky grapes of wrath.

©2019 Steven Barto

The Law of Humility

“…the requirement of humility will result in honor.”

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Proverbs 15:33 says, “The fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor.” In our journey through life, it is tempting to take pride in the positive changes we make in our lives. We want other people to recognize our accomplishments. But in God’s plan, honor is something we receive only as we learn to live in humility. It is not something we should seek on its own. Humility is the path to being honored by God and by others. The law of humility is not the easiest law to write about because we can’t point to a day in our own lives when we have finally reached the state of perfect humility—it’s an ongoing, lifelong process, much like recovery from drugs and alcohol. Moreover, because of the self-abasement that now colors our life, we can’t talk about how often we’re admired by others.

We can’t speak of a time when we were so unassuming and self-effacing that we were honored and celebrated by our peers and colleagues—that wouldn’t be very humble, would it? But it can be said that we’ve had some moments of great pride that led to painful disappointments. We have spent too much time wanting to to be honored by others here on Earth rather than seeking the ultimate honor that comes from the One who struck the match to ignite the sun.

If you are at all like the rest of us, you’ve had times in your life when you were overflowing with pride so that there was no room left for God.

Perhaps you came to recognize your own pride, and have spent valuable time trying to appear humble. When we are full of pride, we do things just to be seen; we act in ways that will be noticed by others, hoping that no one will sense the false humility underneath it all. A certain degree of honesty must be part of your “searching and fearless moral inventory.” The most important ingredient in 12-step programs is honesty. Often those who fail at working the Steps fail in the area of humility. Honesty and humility are two sides of the same coin. Without it, recovering addicts and alcoholics are left with a sense of emptiness, anger, disappointment, frustration, and confusion. Trust me when I say the devil loves seeing us suffer under the lash of our emotions. We don’t see our obvious lack of power. Simply put, we cannot drag ourselves out of the dark pit by sheer force of will.

ACCEPTING OUR POWERLESSNESS

It is only a matter of time before we finally must accept our complete powerlessness and begin to cultivate a humble attitude. It is so simple to turn it all around and find a life worth living—a life that includes infinitely more than we might think. Proverbs 29:23 tells us, “Pride brings a person low, but the lonely in spirit gain honor” (NIV). When we speak of humility, we’re not talking about humiliation. When we get puffed up and full of pride, and think we can do no wrong, those are often the times we are humiliated.

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Usually, we have a hand in such humiliation. When humiliated, we tend to seek paybacks. But humility is a choice. It is, in fact, what starts the process of spiritual maturity. Choosing humility and recognizing our powerlessness are what it takes to stop all of our self-defeating acts of futility. When we are able to truly humble ourselves before God, life starts to work out again.

The Apostle James describes a life without humility. He says that all our battles come from evil desires within us. We make ourselves miserable because we crave more than we have, and are envious of those who have more. We forget to want what we already have, instead seeking to get what we want. When proud and arrogant, we don’t see the need to ask God for anything. Moreover, our motives are so twisted that He is not likely to grant us our requests. We come to a fork in the road, where we decide whether we will lay down our lives for God or seek to keep up with the world.

When we humble ourselves before the Lord, all our doing and building and serving in order to look good before others becomes meaningless. It is much easier to humble ourselves from a place of powerlessness than from the pinnacle of pride and self-reliance. To move toward true humility, we must look inside ourselves and uncover our impure motives. We must also acknowledge that on our own we are nothing and He is everything. As we move toward true humility, we must set aside the false humility behind which we often hide. Humility simply means that we recognize God as the source of every good thing. Authentic humility leads us to the conclusion that if anything good is going to come from all the pain, filth, and struggle in our lives, it will come from God.

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One important benefit to humility is the opening of our eyes and hearts to see and celebrate the people around us. When we get outside of ourselves—a phrase I’ve heard often at 12-step meetings—we can humbly evaluate the impact of our behavior on others. This is the very crux of empathy. Because we care about other people, we want to do whatever we can not to repeat or perpetuate the things we’ve done in the past that were hurtful to them. When we’re truly humble, we care enough about other people that our own pain is no longer the focus of our existence. We do what we can to understand their pain, and what we might have done to contribute to it. We seek to help to alleviate it.  More than humble living, this is the life of an honorable person.

Humility allows us to celebrate our success and progress.  When we hit bottom and go ten days without giving in to our addiction, for example, or when we pick up a 30-day chip at a 12-step meeting, God brings honor to us through other people who have been where we are. He honors us through those who almost didn’t make it out alive, and through those who have never stopped building their character, deepening their peace of mind, and fulfilling their dreams by reaching out to help others.

GOD’S GRACE THROUGH JESUS CHRIST

It is God’s grace through Jesus Christ that allows the worst of the worst of us to find honor in Him and and through doing His work. When the Apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Thessalonians, he identified how living a humble life of serving others brings honor to God (and to us as well). In 1:12 Paul says, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ” (NIV).

God asks us to give up on our self-engineered crashes, admit that only He can restore us to sanity, and lay ourselves at His feet. That’s it! Recognize that you will never be strong enough or clever enough to defeat the challenges you face. But God can give you the strength, wisdom, insight, and  courage you need, if only you will humble yourself before Him and seek to know His will.

HUMILITY VERSUS PRIDE

Pride is your greatest enemy; humility is your greatest friend. How many recent sermons have you heard on humility? Probably not many. We hear surprisingly little from our church leaders about either of these subjects. Price and arrogance are conspicuous among the rich, the powerful, the famous — indeed celebrities of all sorts — and even some religious leaders. And it is also alive and well in ordinary people. Unfortunately, few of us realize how dangerous it is to our souls, and how greatly it hinders our intimacy with God and our love for others.

Humility is often seen as a weakness, and few of us know much about it or pursue it. C.S. Lewis called pride the great sin. The essential vice, the utmost evil, is pride. After all, it was through pride that Lucifer was cast down from heaven, becoming our chief adversary, the devil.

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Pride is an anti-God state of mind. Augustine and Aquinas both taught that pride was the root of all sin. Pride first appears in the Bible in Genesis 3, where we see the devil using pride as the means to tempt Adam and Eve. The serpent convinced Eve that God was lying in order to keep her from enjoying all the possibilities inherent in being God-like. The desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as God’s creatures lies at the heart of pride. Weakened by unbelief, enticed by pride, and ensnared by self-deception, she opted for autonomy and disobeyed God.

Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire —when it has conceived—gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death. (James 1:14-15)

Throughout the Bible, we see the outworking of pride and unbelief in the affairs of individuals, families, nations, churches, and entire cultures. The result is a suppression of the knowledge and wisdom of God. Spiritual darkness grows, and a psychological inversion occurs. In their mind, God becomes smaller and they become larger. Powerful in their own right. The very essence of their being shifts from God to themselves. They become the center of their own world, and God is pushed to the periphery. The result is familiar: People exalt themselves against God and over others. Pride begins to grow exponentially; arrogant or abusive behavior rears its ugly head. Every man for himself.

THE BIBLE ON PRIDE AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

James tells us, “Humble yourself before the Lord and He will exalt you” (4:10, ESV). Proverbs warns us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18, ESV). Pride leads to isolation, disillusionment, despair, and lack of breakthrough. Think about the so-called know-it-all. They tend to drive people away. A prideful person is not likely to ask for help because they are not willing to admit they need it. They choose to go it alone. Even when help is offered, a prideful person will reject input, and push the other person away. When this becomes habitual, they make others feel unwanted. This leads to isolation.

This can lead to disillusionment — a feeling of disappointment resulting from the discovery that something is not as good as one believed it to be. We lose faith. I’ve heard it said that disillusionment is sometimes the aim of a seminary professor. The instructor will argue, “I want to shatter my students’ romanticized notion of church life and replace it with one that is more realistic.” After all, much damage has been caused by unrealistic expectations of life in the church. Disillusionment, as you can imagine, can be quite overwhelming. We would much rather hold on to our dreams.

Jesus one day washed the feet of His disciples. He asked, “Do you understand what I am doing for you?” Of course, He knew the answer before He asked the question. Jesus warned Peter in advance that he would not understand what was about to take place. To our ears, Peter’s refusal to allow Jesus to wash his feet sounds admirable. Humble, even. Only moments ago His disciples had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest. But there is an edge to Jesus’ reply. Why does He rebuke Peter instead of praising him? You would think that He would have been happy to see that Peter recognized there was someone at the table who was greater than them all. Peter was not putting on airs. He was entirely sincere. But he was also arrogant.

Peter’s problem was not that he couldn’t see Jesus clearly. He couldn’t see himself. He was too humble to let himself be washed, but too proud to do the washing. He doesn’t wash his own feet. He won’t wash the other disciples’ feet. And despite his conviction that Jesus is greater, he doesn’t even offer to wash Jesus’ feet. Peter’s objection looks like humility. It sounds like devotion. It is really pride masquerading as false humility. Interestingly, pride attacks us not on our weak points, but on our strong ones. Remarkably, pride is just as willing to encourage self-deprecation as self-congratulation.

LACK OF BREAK-THROUGH

It should be clear that pride prevents growth. It leaves us stagnated. Pride naturally gives us a sense of accomplishment. We believe we have arrived. When that happens, we close ourselves off from learning, from listening, and from opening ourselves to new ways of thinking and doing. We tend to close ourselves off from break-throughs because we think we have it all figured out. Solution? Humble yourself, let the Lord lift you up to new heights never imagined. “Some never get started on their destiny because they cannot humble themselves to learn, grow, and change.” —Author Unknown.

THE MIND OF CHRIST

How do we gain the mind of Christ and humble ourselves?  To put on the mind of Christ, we need to make a firm decision to ponder, understand, and adopt Jesus’ way of thinking; His values and attitude must become ours. His strong emphasis on humility and meekness, and His exemplar for the same, must take hold of our thinking, our desires, our conduct. What did Jesus mean by humility? The Greek word tapeinos means having a right view of ourselves before God and others. Paul discusses this in Romans 12:3 when he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”

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Having a right view of God and ourselves has a profound effect on our relationship with others. As Paul says to the Romans, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly” (12:16). And as he said to the Philippians, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significantly than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (2:3-4). As we refuse to be preoccupied with ourselves and our own importance, and seek to love and serve others, it will reorient us from being self-centered to being others-centered—serving and caring for others just as Jesus did for us.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Truly, humility is our greatest friend. It increases our hunger for God’s Word, and opens our hearts to His Spirit. It leads to intimacy with God. It imparts the aroma of Christ to all whom we encounter. Developing the identity, attitude, and conduct of a humble servant does not happen overnight. It is rather like peeling an onion: you cut away one layer only to find another beneath it. As we forsake pride and seek to humble ourselves by daily deliberate choices in dependence on the Holy Spirit, humility takes root in our souls. I’ve learned that I can only be humble when I decrease and He increases.

The Law of Powerlessness

pow·er·less·ness –ˈpourləsnəs/ noun: lack of ability, influence, or power.

The first step of a 12-step program is to admit that you are powerless over your addiction, and consequently, your life has become unmanageable. For many, this is one of the hardest things to do. While it is important to believe in your ability to overcome your addiction, you first must admit that you have an addiction and you need help in order for things to change. Until you do so, drugs, alcohol and other addictions will continue to exert their power over you and control every aspect of your life. The power of admitting powerlessness is that it is the first step to taking back your life.

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We struggle with the concept of powerlessness because it feels so much like helplessness. But God often works through our weakness to bring healing to our lives. It may seem like a contradiction, but there is great strength to be found in recognizing that, within ourselves, we do not have power over an aspect of our lives. The idea that powerlessness will result in strength is the most difficult law to understand and embrace. It is paramount, however, that recovery begin with an understanding of powerlessness. Of note is the fact that powerlessness is vividly portrayed throughout the Bible. In the Book of Judges, for example, we see a pattern in the lives of the Israelites that is similar to the pattern of our own lives.

Our thinking goes something like this. We get so caught up in our own plans and schemes that we stop caring about other people, and we refuse to acknowledge that there is a real God, who deserves respect and obedience. Blinded to the needs of others and the commands of God, we become trapped in our deficient, defective, and devastating ways of trying to find peace and comfort in the midst of all of the problems we have caused for ourselves. Refusing to give up, we try harder and harder to make things work the way we want them to. As we do, we hurt our families and communities and move further away from God.

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Finally, we hit bottom, and there is no way to go but up. Our willingness to change is still weak, and the thought of giving up our addiction is just about the last thing we want to do, but the truth starts to seep into our pores and eventually saturates enough of our being that we begin to see and feel our powerlessness—which has been there all along, throughout our egotistical rants and maniacal attempts to regain control of our lives. As we awaken to our own powerlessness, we begin, for the first time, to allow God to provide us with His strength and to show us His love. As we see even the faintest hint of His strength, we begin to understand how ridiculously powerless we are—and always have been—and we start to allow God to work with us.

As we continue to rely on God’s strength, we begin the step-by-step march toward recovery, transformation, restoration, and victory. As long as we awaken each day to the reality that we are powerless to change ourselves, God will provide His strength as needed, and everything will come together for us.

Disobedience-

As we so often do, the Israelites brought tremendous trouble on themselves by thinking they had everything figured out and under control. Instead of being obedient to the ways of God, they did all sorts of evil and unwise things and fell into the hands of a marauding people called the Midianites. The Midianites either ate or destroyed the Israelites’ crops until God’s people were starving. In fact, the Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites made hiding places for themselves in the mountains, caves, and strongholds.

Though the precise details may differ, the Israelites were just like us. We seek comfort in gluttonous amounts of food, alcohol, pornography, adultery, drugs, possessions, and many other compulsions. Rather than connecting us with God and others, these pursuits eventually send us to the hills and caves to hide our shame—that is, if we’re fortunate enough to still possess a conscience. We sometimes spend years of disconnection, fighting for our lives; until, one day, in a state of powerlessness we do what the Israelites did: We cry out to God for help.

Does any of this sound familiar? “Oh Lord, help me and I will never go back to my old ways.” “God, if you will allow me to live, I promise I will live for you.” “God, if you really are God, please show up in my life and get me out of this mess I’ve created for myself.” “Oh God, this time I mean it. Help me now and I will serve you forever.” Interestingly, God would rather hear us say, “Lord, I repent of my wanton lifestyle. I admit I am powerless over [insert addiction], and can do nothing without you. Whether you get me out of this mess or not, I choose to serve you.”

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God heard the Israelites and responded, just as He responds to us when we finally realize that we have no power. This is precisely where I failed. I seemed incapable of admitting that I was powerless. I simply did not want to see myself as weak or helpless. We read in Judges 6 that Gideon, who was sent by God to strike down the Midianites, is the weakest of the weak, from the weakest clan in Manasseh. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). Did you get that? Up to this point, Gideon had done nothing but be afraid and whiny, yet God called him a hero. God knew what Gideon was going to do, and He addressed him according to what He saw Gideon becoming in the future.

So how often have you gotten in trouble because you felt weak and alcohol, sex, cocaine, opiates, or other addictions made you feel strong—or maybe less weak? You probably thought you were not blessed but cursed by God. When our physical, mental, or emotional handicaps have seemed to disqualify us from making a difference, in the pain of that rejection we have sought comfort from things that could not cure us or even help us. But if we would have read, understood, and believed God’s Word, we would have known that we were perfectly situated for God to do great things through us. People would know that, because of our blatant weakness, it was the power of God and not our own power that produced the result.

Right now, if you are feeling as if there is no hope for your broken life, you’re wrong. You are missing God’s invitation. Maybe you’ve committed a heinous act, and your actions have shown that you are powerless over the urges that lead you to that darkest of places. God is calling upon you to admit your powerlessness and allow Him to give you the strength to confess what you’ve done, pay the legal penalty for the offense, and make restitution for the pain you have caused. Yes, you—a child molester, a wife beater, an arsonist, a drug dealer, a prostitute, an embezzler, or a murderer—are nonetheless a creation of an all-powerful God. When you are willing to admit to Him that you are powerless and are willing to make things right in His way, He will give you the strength to do it. Just as He did with Gideon.

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Back to Gideon. The weakest man from the weakest family in the weakest clan in Israel was now put in charge of the weakest imaginable fighting force and told to go into battle—but to do it God’s way. The battle wasn’t pretty, but with jars and ram’s horns and swords and shouts, 300 men, led by an unlikely hero, defeated 135,000 enemy troops. Here’s the point: Gideon was able to admit he was powerless. He knew that without the strength of God, he was still the same powerless, fearful, least-of-the-least man who had cowered in the bottom of a wine press. In the areas of our greatest weakness, God’s strength has allowed us to do the impossible.

Where are you when it comes to the law of powerlessness? Do you still feel as if you have some power left to try a little harder and do a little better and fix yourself? I wanted to be able to fix myself. I guess I thought mom, dad, my brothers and sister, my sons, and the girl in my life would determine I was finally “okay” if I had the personal power to deny my craving for drugs and alcohol. Just stop. I hope you are not holding such an opinion about yourself and your situation. You must come to the end of your rope and turn to God. He has not forgotten you. He has never left you. He has actually been waiting for you to decide to do what He will not force you to do. Remember, we’ve been given free will. He has been waiting for you to call upon Him, admit your powerlessness, and ask for His strength to empower your life.

The law of powerlessness says that if you truly understand and acknowledge that you are powerless, you are about to be provided with all the power you need. If you will simply do the next right thing, one day at a time, a time will come when you will feel as if you are soaring high on eagles’ wings. Don’t miss the remarkable recovery and restoration God has designed for you. If you feel too weak to move forward, admit your weakness to God. Remember what we’re told in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness” (The Message).

If you are feeling weaker than you have ever felt, you are right where God does His very best work. If you will continue to allow Him to, He will do His best work in you, through you, and with you. Don’t give up or give in. Great changes are about to happen in your life and in the lives of those around you. I have been as good as dead in my sin and addiction, truly unable to help myself, pridefully convinced I could pull myself out of a tailspin that was sure to end in a complete crash-and-burn. I was embroiled in active addiction, in bondage to pornography, and committed to protecting my secrets at any cost. But God stayed with me. He continued to reach out through others. Conviction of the Holy Spirit laid bare my sinful conduct. I was completely powerless, but couldn’t bring myself to admit it.

If God can turn my weakness into strength, He can turn your weakness into strength as well. Admitting that we’re powerless is not a decision in the same way that surrendering would be. It is simply a realization of our limitations as human beings. If you’re finally ready to admit your own powerlessness, take a few minutes to memorize the truth in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (NASB). Then get on your knees and admit to God that without Him you cannot break the bondage of addiction. The dichotomy is that there is power in being able to accept your powerlessness.

God bless.

 

Moving Forward

There are few things as difficult as being asked to move out of your mother’s house following a relapse. I faced that hardship today. I moved in with mom and dad in 2008 following a period of drinking and getting high. I was about to be homeless. I had resigned from a position as a paralegal in Philadelphia, and was working as a house painter and carpenter’s helper in Bethlehem, PA. I met someone who smoked marijuana on a daily basis, and gave in to his suggestion that I needed to “relax a little.” He handed me a pot pipe. From that day on, I smoked weed every day. Morning, noon and night. Didn’t take much at all to get me to pick up where I left off years ago when I quit drugs and alcohol and started attending AA meetings.

My weed smoking habit grew to more than a quarter ounce a day. I stayed away from alcohol for nearly five years, but was constantly getting high. I found I could not function without marijuana. I was unable to fall asleep, and was plagued by panic attacks. On one occasion, I fell victim to severe anxiety while shopping for groceries. I had to leave a cart full of groceries and run out of the store. I could not predict when these attacks would happen, and was at a loss to explain them. But marijuana seemed to stop the anxiety. It was also beneficial for my back pain and muscle spasms. I joked that pot was my natural muscle relaxer. What I didn’t realize was that I was self-medicating. That I had an undiagnosed underlying mental illness. I was tormented, and yet had no idea what was bothering me.

I continued to “try” sobriety a number of times over the years. I truly believe I was troubled in my spirit by my behavior and my lack of conscious contact with God. I often would make the comment to myself that I had a problem with drugs and alcohol. Although I had this fleeting thought, I lacked the power and the commitment to do anything about it. I am sure I felt somewhat hopeless. If only I could have reached out to God at that time. Something kept me powerless. These periods of temporary sobriety would last a few months to a few years, only to slip through my fingers.

This continued on and off for quite some time. I eventually stopped getting drunk and high, but I began abusing opiates and anti-anxiety pills. This happened despite my attending church and claiming to be delivered from addiction by Jesus Christ. I started teaching weekly Bible lessons at a local county prison, testifying that I was in recovery. I gave lessons on fear and love and living in the Spirit. At times, I was aware that I was living as a hypocrite. I kept praying to God to keep me out of trouble. I tried bargaining with the Lord. “God, just let me get through this day and I promise I will never abuse pills again.” I wanted to quit on my own terms. Striking a bargain with God is one thing that never works.

So I am at a point where I am moving forward. I finally feel a sense of hope regarding my future. My relationship with God has been strengthened by my becoming humble and honest. It’s obvious to me that I cannot resist the temptation to use drugs when left to my own devices. I am powerless. I am prone to live in the flesh, feeding my sin nature. The Big Book tells us that no human power could relieve us of our alcoholism. It goes on to say, “But there is one who has all power. That one is God. May you find him now.” It feels so good to be able to return to the spiritual path I walked years ago, before giving in to my self will run riot. It is time I stop living in fear, trying to escape from life by anesthetizing myself, and running from responsibility. No matter what has happened to me in the past that might have lead to abusing drugs and alcohol, I realize I am responsible for my own recovery. I cannot try managing my cravings on my own. It doesn’t work.

Thanks to my higher power, Jesus Christ, my impulse to use drugs or get drunk is suppressed. Recognizing that I need a power greater than myself is at the root of my being able to change and to resist impulsive behavior. I have been given yet another chance to live. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to move forward.