Friday, October 29, 2010

I spotted a typo while working on a chapter in a WIP, a work in progress, that’s what writers call a project that goes from rough draft to finished product. I had typed a portion of Psalm 132 where the writer tells about a prayer experience saying, “I lift up my voice to the Lord.” However when I revisited the chapter to edit and look for typos, I saw that I had written, “I lift up my vice to the Lord.”

The word “vice,” meaning an immoral habit, could actually fit in that sentence of the psalm. Our vices often wrong others and God remains the best place to take them.

The context of the original verse indicates that when our human will power grows weak, we become desperate to find strength in someone stronger than ourselves to get us on track again. When my vices send me down a dangerous path and God calls my attention to them, they are an ugly presentation to God, but he alone can turn the mangiest of sins into a healing process.

The process of lifting vices to the Lord is known as confession. Confession is one of the spiritual disciplines which can easily be overlooked. Why, because humans tend to justify naughty behavior. I find confession difficult. I find making excuses for behavior the easier road to travel because admitting sins involves humility.

Blatant sins are difficult to ignore in people we love and in our communities—murder, adultery, or theft. However, it’s the subtle sins in our everyday lives that we may tend to overlook. We may excuse ourselves for responding with out-of-control anger or claim a right to be snooty to another because they mistreated us. Alexander Pope says, “An excuse is worse and more terrible than a lie; for an excuse is a lie guarded.”

In “Overcoming Subtle Sins: the Key to Dynamic Discipleship,” Jim Dyet and Jim Russell say, “Like spots on the inside of car windows, subtle sins smudge the soul.” The Amy Foundation, in one of their writing lessons, lists about 50 subtle sins such as jealousy, lack of affection, laziness, anxiety, critical nature, self-righteousness, rudeness, gluttony, or immoral fantasies, to name a few. When a family member or friend has the courage and kindness to point out a subtle sin in your life, how do you respond? Do you see them as a messenger from God or do you hear their advice and view them as attacking you personally? (A rebuke can arrive in both ways).

Here’s an example of a bad habit and how a remark I made about it was taken in a God-honoring spirit. A friend and I were talking one day, when my friend said, “Don’t you just hate this hot weather?” One of my personal goals has been to eliminate the word “hate” from my vocabulary on the occasions when I’ve casually applied that word to a blessing.

Here’s a sample, “I just hate it when I get a pull in my stocking and I’m running late anyway.” Clothing, a car, a place to go -- all blessings. Why fuss because something went wrong with one of those luxuries. I could be barefoot in a third world country and placing my furniture on tables because the river threatens to flood and run through my home again.

Knowing my friend well, I mentioned my efforts to eliminate the word “hate” from my vocabulary when referring to blessings. With credit to Martha H’s malleable heart, she heard me out and agreed that she too often uses the word “hate” in connection with blessings. And she even thanked me for my “mini-sermon.” Who wouldn’t love a tenderhearted friend like her?

That’s just one example of “little” vices, subtle sins, which creep into our everyday lives. God’s forgiveness and grace covers a multitude of sins. And a multitude minus a few seems to be the norm for me.

From my typo, I was reminded to lift both my voice and vices to the Lord. And to also confess to friends, who can help me with accountability. “Hey, I’m working on not gossiping, can you help me watch our phone conversations to avoid that?”

“Heal my soul, for I have sinned against you” (Psalm 41:4), is an entreaty to God. “Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16) is the act of releasing a burden, committing to better behavior and of allowing fellow believers to help you toward a better way of living.

We are WIPs, works in progress, really rough drafts of what God can make of us. This week, lift your voice and vice to the Lord, who remains the Captain of mercy and help.

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