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Step 1: Look honestly at yourself

January 16, 2024
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Daily Scripture

Psalm 19:12-14, Romans 7:15-19

Psalm 19
12 But can anyone know
    what they’ve accidentally done wrong?
    Clear me of any unknown sin
13         and save your servant from willful sins.
        Don’t let them rule me.
Then I’ll be completely blameless;
    I’ll be innocent of great wrongdoing.
14 Let the words of my mouth
    and the meditations of my heart
    be pleasing to you,
    Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Romans 7
15 I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate. 16 But if I’m doing the thing that I don’t want to do, I’m agreeing that the Law is right. 17 But now I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it’s sin that lives in me. 18 I know that good doesn’t live in me—that is, in my body. The desire to do good is inside of me, but I can’t do it. 19 I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do.

Daily Reflection & Prayer

From a transcript of Dr. King’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies” (Nov. 17, 1957): “In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self…. we begin to love our enemies and love those persons that hate us… by looking at ourselves.” *
From Dr. King’s book Strength to Love (1963): “First, we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” **

It’s easy to see an enemy’s flaws. But at the end of Psalm 19 the poet asked God to help him not just know what God wanted but put it into practice every day. Similarly, the apostle Paul told the Romans honestly that the line between good and evil cut through his own heart. And not just his: “He uses ‘I’ and ‘me’ in order to speak for the situation of all those under the power of sin.” *** Only as he put his trust in Jesus was God’s powerful grace able to free him from evil’s hold on his life.

  • “The meditations of my heart” sounds “spiritual.” But the Hebrew term meant more than burning some incense and thinking quietly. “It is implied that [the person meditating] intends to put [God’s teaching] into practice (cf. Deuteronomy 17:19; Joshua 1:8).” **** Have you ever said, “I’ve got to quit binge-watching that reality show” or “…eating so much ice cream” when you had no plans to quit? How does honestly facing your own flaws better equip you to forgive others?
  • When Paul said evil came from “sin that lives in me” (verse 17), he wasn’t ducking responsibility for his actions. It was a vivid way to describe a common human experience: the sense of an inner war, two principles of action battling for control. He did not end in despair. “Who will deliver me from this dead corpse? Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) When has Christ’s power acted in you, not wiping out the struggle, but helping you choose the right more often?
Prayer

Lord God, you are my rock and my redeemer. I want that to be, not just pious “church words,” but the governing reality of my life. Please strengthen me to be honest with myself and with you. Amen.

GPS Insights

Denise Mersmann

Denise Mersmann

Denise Mersmann serves as the Care Coordination Director for the churchwide Care Central department at Church of the Resurrection.

With the new year starting, this passage by Dr. King really hit home and spoke to me in a new and different way. “In order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self . . .”

For the first time since I was a kid, I didn’t start the new year with a list of resolutions or “better me” goals. Trust me, I know there are many things I need to focus on and a laundry list of ways I could be better. But as I was thinking of all the things that might need my attention, claiming these as my resolutions felt trite.

The things I was thinking of adding to my list were “task things”, not “heart things.” I was thinking of the type of actions that I would normally list–exercise, eat healthy, journal regularly, declutter and purge, send cards on time (yes, I just realized a stack of Christmas cards didn’t make it in the mail)–you know the stuff.

While any of these things would be great, and are definitely not bad goals, these actions don’t truly change me. They don’t refine me in ways that really matter. A thin, fit me that does unkind things is no better than current me being an icky person. Sending a sympathy card because I don’t want to take time to actually sit in the muck with someone as they grieve is a fail, even if the card gets there in a timely manner. And if I sit in my spotless clutter free house and ignore the needs of those who are unhoused or hungry, I am missing my purpose. If I look the other way when people are being persecuted or oppressed, I am no better than those doing the attacking.

You see, Dr. King’s call to “analyze self” doesn’t apply to just how to love my enemies, but how to more deeply love everyone. When I fail to examine my actions and my motives, it’s very easy to justify my less than desirable behaviors. When I don’t evaluate myself, it is much easier to excuse my failure to step up.

Taking a close, honest look at my “self” forces me to see where I have fallen short of my purpose, where I have not been the person God calls me to be, and when I have not loved people the way I should.

So even though they are coming a bit late, I find myself wanting to make some resolutions, to set some “better me” goals for 2024. This year, rather than making a list of tasks, I am going to focus on some hard introspection. This year, I am going to ask and answer the tough questions:

  • Do my actions reflect my beliefs?
  • Are my values clear to other people?
  • Have I done something today that makes the world better for someone else?
  • Where are places in my life where I can lean into rather than turn away from the needs of others?
  • Am I taking a stand for those who are being mistreated?
  • What privileges do I take for granted that I need to acknowledge are not available to everyone?

But it takes more than just analyzing my “self.” I have to look honestly at my answers, and face head on, where I am falling short. Then, I have to adjust my actions, declare and live into my values, consciously focus on the needs of others, step outside my comfort zone, and educate myself on the struggles that I have not experienced myself.

Most of all, I will continue to analyze and adjust, realizing that I am a work in progress. And I will give myself grace where I fail, celebrate where I succeed and hope that when I look back on my 2024 goals, I can see some improvement in my “self.”

© 2024 Resurrection: A United Methodist Church. All Rights Reserved.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Common English Bible ©2011. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References

* https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/loving-your-enemies-sermon-delivered-dexter-avenue-baptist-church
** Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love (King Legacy) (p. 44). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.
*** Michael J. Gorman, study note on Romans 7:13-26 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 287NT.
**** John W. Baigent, comment on “meditates” in F. F. Bruce, New International Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979, p. 557.