That Niggling Bit

“‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.’”
–Jesus in Luke 16:10

I wish you could meet Hannah, our 5 year-old female Golden Retriever. Not that I’m biased or anything, but she’s got to be the sweetest dog around: she was bred not to bark (seriously), she loves children, she’ll sidle alongside you, sit quietly, warm your heart with her big brown eyes, and then put a paw on your lap. She’s perennially happy, but not manic about it. She’s peaceful, friendly, compliant, and wears well over time. A great psyche, she has.

But. But there’s this one little area that’s problematic. For the most part, Hannah is very obedient and responsive—even to inflections in my tone of voice. However, when she’s off the leash, lounging in the front yard, if she sees a rabbit or another dog across the street, all the calling and commanding cannot keep her on our property; she’ll race headlong across the street, deaf to our commands, defiant, stubborn, and willful. We worry that one of these days, a car will come along and that will be the end of our dear Hannah. It’s that one little thing in her character, that niggling bit that 99% of the time doesn’t appear and doesn’t create a problem. It’s that 1% that worries me.

I got to thinking: can’t we law-abiding, church-going, well-meaning, polite and friendly folk be somewhat the same, sometimes? Aren’t we for the most part like Hannah’s 99%--compliant, responsible, trustworthy, honest, even lovable? But. But there’s this niggling bit, this teensy problem buried deep down somewhere in our psyches. The apostle Paul calls it the flesh, defined by some as the “self” spelled backwards, sort of. It’s the persistent remnant of self as god, one’s will still on the throne of one’s life. It’s the bit that given enough leash (or removed from the leash entirely), will dart impulsively after that attractive, alluring something or someone, deaf to the cries of the Master. I suspect that the goal of Christian growth is to convert even this 1%, this deep-down resistance to the Master’s guidance. The challenge is how: how does the goodness of God seep into this little stronghold—and what, if anything, can we do to cooperate with this problem? (Surely a subject worthy of the pastor whose title calls for strategizing the spiritual formation of God’s people, eh?)

I suppose the process begins by identifying the niggling bit and calling it out. What’s your niggling bit? Be honest now!

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