Monday, September 26, 2011

Nothing In My Hand I Bring...

Yesterday, as part of a ministry assignment I was participating in with some classmates from seminary, I attended a different local church here in Nairobi for Sunday morning corporate worship.

The lead pastor was concluding what appeared to be an exhortation to prayer as I walked in and took my seat before any of my other classmates had arrived, about quarter to nine. No sooner had I sat down than the pastor stepped down from the pulpit (which had no Bible in it) and began to passionately exhort the congregation:
Think of some good work that you've done and then take that to the Lord in prayer and demand that you deserve a blessing. You deserve a better position. You deserve a better job. You deserve a better home. You deserve a better spouse...
As I sat there and listened to this pastor's rant, I felt myself becoming choked up. This was clearly prosperity theology. But that's not what broke my heart the most. What moved me in that moment was the fact that I couldn't think of any good work I had done that I could possibly bring before the Lord. All I could think about was the loveless, sarcastic comment that I had made about a fellow brother in Christ the night before. All I could think about was how often my speech is careless and corrupting rather than that which gives grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29).

If I were to take anything before the Lord in that moment, it wouldn't be a good work. All I could possibly bring in that moment was a sinful deed, a deed which grieves the Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30).

I don't deserve a blessing. I don't deserve a better position. I don't deserve a better job. I don't deserve a better home. I don't deserve a spouse. I deserve the righteous condemnation of God because of the works I've done.

So what the pastor was saying to us was not good news. I'm not sure why the entire congregation was cheering when in my heart I was grieving. Perhaps if we had good works of our own to bring before God, we might deserve a blessing. But I didn't. And I know for a fact that no one else in that room did (Romans 3:10-18).

And yet, ironically, it was in that very same moment that the Holy Spirit quietly applied the true good news to my heart, lifting my burden and filling me with peace and joy:
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Ephesians 4:32
As God in Christ forgave you.

God forgave me. He took my sinful deeds from my hand and gave them to Jesus. At the cross, He punished Jesus mercilessly so that He could forgive me tenderheartedly. Having taken my sinful deeds from my hands and borne them in His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24), Jesus has left me with nothing in my hands. There's nothing left to condemn me.

So nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross I cling. Before the Lord in prayer, this is my only plea.

That's the good news that this particular pastor (and, even sadder, this cheering congregation) seemed to know absolutely nothing about.

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