This morning, for some reason, I woke with a stiff back. All day, I’ve wished I could replace the chair at my desk with the massage chair I pass in the airport. You know the kind. Maybe you’ve passed by them, at the airport or the mall, or merely seen one in a magazine. Maybe you’ve actually sat in one and know why, today, I am longing for a massage, or at least a massage chair.
It is a soothing thought, but this discussion takes me to another muscle, and another chair. Today, it has been the muscles in my back which are stiff. More often, I experience a different of stiffness. More and more, I am coming to recognize my stiff heart.
There are many outward manifestations of my sin. I am too quick to judge others. I am too quick to reject the judgments/guidance I receive from others. I am too quick to lash out in anger at those I love. I can be lazy with my time. I covet what others have and try to mask what I don’t have. I try to please others in an effort to win their affirmation (my drug of choice). What I have learned, and am learning to see more readily, is that those outward manifestations of sin are indicative of a sin beneath the sin. In all of these cases, the sin beneath the sin ultimately makes its way back to unbelief.
Don’t let me lose you here. When I say unbelief, I am referring to the practical areas of belief, or unbelief, which show up in day to day living. I absolutely believe that Jesus is God incarnate, that apart from him I am a desperate sinner separated from God, and that he lived to fulfill my righteousness and died to pardon my sin. I believe Jesus is not only the Savior, I believe he is my Savior. Yet in all of these sins I wrestle with, I am living out of practical unbelief that Jesus is enough for me. My heart muscle has grown stiff.
So, I need a massage, or at least a different kind of massage. My heart needs to have the gospel of Jesus Christ massaged in to the stiff, hardened places. This reality takes me to another truth I am learning to embrace. My heart is massaged by the gospel as I soak in the Word of God.
In John 15, Jesus beautifully speaks to the relationship the believer is meant to enjoy with him. He tells us to abide in him. To abide is to remain. But is seems to be more than merely staying put. It is not merely to remain bodily, in terms of proximity, but to remain in heart and soul. To abide is to truly “be with.”
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
I am learning that to soak in God’s Word is to abide in Christ. It is to remain in his Word, and in remaining, I grow to know Jesus more. As I know Jesus more, I love Jesus more. And as I know and love Jesus more, he is softening the hard places in my heart…those places of practical unbelief.
All of this takes me to a later passage in John’s gospel, when Jesus had an encounter with Thomas. Thomas had doubted the truth of Jesus’ Resurrection. As Jesus presented himself to Thomas, he lovingly encouraged him, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (John 20:27) Most modern translations give a sense of a one time belief, but the original has a more continuous sense. “Be not disbelieving, but be believing.”
Jesus was calling Thomas to a foundational belief of the heart, which would manifest in a life of practical belief. This life of believing, for Thomas, and for us, has to flow out of an encounter with the resurrected Christ.
Back to the massage chair. It would be nice today, but I need a different kind of massage chair, and I need it everyday. The massage chair I am referring to has very little to do with the actual chair. It is simply a place where I can sit in the morning, with my cup of coffee in hand, and soak in the Word of God. It is the chair, or in my case the couch, where the Lord is softening the stiff places in my heart, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Dear friend, I share my story because I suspect I am not the only one who struggles with practical unbelief. You and I don’t have to look wistfully in a magazine to imagine what a massage chair might feel like. We simply need to get out of bed and soak in the Word of God. I do, and so do you.