I get the biggest chuckle when reading the Apostle Paul’s angst-driven soliloquy in Romans 7. This giant of the faith is anguishing over the fact that no matter how much he tries, or how sincere his desire, he just can’t seem to get it right, on his own … in his own power. Like me, he admits, 15 “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do.”
When we read Romans chapters 1-7, we see Paul building a case for the reality that we humans are basically a mess. The problem: we’re sinful and we’re selfish, we’re self-absorbed and self-preserving at all costs. We like to be our own kings running our own little kingdoms.
Then Paul reaches a crescendo at the end of chapter 7, and cries out, “I’m screwed!”
Of course he is a tad more eloquent: 24 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Over the years, I have encountered just about every type of person, in every imaginable situation in life. Some have been successful, and some even wildly so. Some have crashed and burned. Many are just muddling along.
But at some point the common element with just about everyone – successful or not – is Paul’s realization: “I need help. There’s got to be more to life than this.”
But they don’t know where to find the answer; they don’t have a clue where to find the power to change.
Here’s where 721 Ministries’ involvement often begins. They are looking for answers. They need help. Remember, successful or not, a thinking person will ultimately arrive at the stark realization, “There’s got to be more.”
They come seeking: “What’s the answer? Where is the answer?” I try to listen, and gently steer them away from the What and the Where, to the Who. I suggest Jesus as the Way. I offer his power to rescue, certainly not mine.
Now what will they do next? Will they embrace and engage, or will they shift and shrug and suppress? I watch it play out typically in three ways. Tell me if you see yourself in any of these:
You repress, suppress, and turn back to your inadequate coping mechanisms. You were hoping I had a technique to follow. A plan to work on that would bring positive results. “Give me a self-improvement list and I’ll do it!”
But this is not about self-improvement. It is about self-surrender.
There is no power in a list, a technique to do better, only in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Or, you embrace and jump in with both feet. But as you start to feel better, the slide begins. The warm and fuzzy of prayer and fellowship, at first so rich and fulfilling, is now fading away.
You got a taxi ride from God out of trouble, but the emotion has flattened out. Now you are feeling better, so you suppress the original hunger for “There’s got to be more,” and drift back to your C- life.
“And in the end, the instincts for survival, political sophistication, all the carefully crafted moves of neutrality and evasion – they all march you back into the darkness …”1
But once in a while, and at an ever-increasing frequency, we see a true embrace. We see eyes opening to Paul’s reality, “I’m screwed!” Successful or not, you see clearly that you are not the answer: you are the problem. And surrender follows.
This newfound clarity leads back to Paul’s question: 24 “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Now you are moving from seeking the What and the Where, to the Who, the Way, the Power.
19 “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” … 24 “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
And the answer wings in from a soulful place deep within, with a voice you instantly recognize:
25 “Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Thanks be. Oh, yes, thanks be.
For no one else has the power to rescue you, from you.
1. John Barr “Waylaid by Light”