The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Weak

Let’s say that a man makes a weekly habit of taking a walk in the woods on Sunday rather than attending church. One Sunday he sees an angry bear running toward him. He says, “God, if you will keep me safe from this bear, I promise that I will start going to church every Sunday.” As soon as the man finishes that quick prayer, the bear stops running, calms down, and slowly walks away in the other direction.

Now here’s the question: Do you think that man will honor the “deal” that he made with God? The answer is: There’s a pretty good chance that he will go to church that first Sunday, but if nothing else changes, he won’t keep up the attendance for long. Why not? It’s because it takes more than a quick moment of desperation to create a lasting turnaround in a person’s life.

As a pastor, I’ve seen many people who were going through difficult times make grandiose boasts about what all they were going to do for the Lord if He helped them out of their messes. But how many of those boasts actually came to pass, even after the Lord gave the help? Maybe there were two or three, but right now I can’t even remember there being that many.

I do remember one particular Sunday morning when I preached and gave an invitation. The pianist had barely begun playing the invitation music before a woman promptly made her way to the altar and knelt for prayer. When I went over and asked her why she had responded to the invitation, she told me that she wanted to dedicate herself more completely to Jesus. She was crying very real tears and her face was something of a mess from the running makeup. I knew that she was sincere. I also knew that she was a good Christian woman who had some areas of her life that could have been more submitted to Christ’s lordship. So, I prayed with her and asked the Lord to help her be even more devoted to Him. The emotion of the moment was almost palpable.

Imagine my surprise then when that woman didn’t even show up for the evening service that same Sunday night. As I looked around the sanctuary that night and didn’t see her, I was in virtual disbelief. That was the moment when I truly understood for the first time just how fickle and inconsistent we humans are when it comes to serving the Lord.

Jesus, of course, understands this far better than I ever will. On the night of His arrest, He took Peter, James, and John into the garden of Gethsemane with Him and said to them, “Stay here and watch with Me” (Matthew 26:37-38). Then He walked alone a little further into the heart of the garden and prayed, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). Following that prayer, He returned to where He had left Peter, James, and John at their watch post. And what did He find? Rather than keeping diligent watch, they had all drifted off to sleep (Matthew 26:40).

After rebuking the three (Matthew 26:41), Jesus summed up their problem by saying, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). And then, as even further evidence of just how weak the flesh is, Jesus returned by Himself into the heart of the garden, prayed again, came back to the three disciples, and found them asleep a second time (Matthew 26:42-43). Then, amazingly, the same sequence of events played out for a third time, with the three disciples sleeping through it as well (Matthew 26:44-45). That’s what you call failing at the assignment of “Stay here and watch with Me”!

Getting back to my opening illustration, I think those words “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” perfectly describe why that Christian woman didn’t come back for church that Sunday night. Her spirit was willing, but her flesh was weak. When she had devoted herself more fully to Jesus that morning, she had meant it. Unfortunately, however, that moment had soon passed and the rest of her life had come crashing back in upon her.

Okay, so what’s my purpose for this post? I’m trying to encourage us all to work at eliminating the spiritual fickleness from our lives and repent of the roller-coaster-ride devotion that comes so easily to us. Yes, your flesh is weak. So is mine. But we can’t keep using that excuse to consistently fail the Lord and not live up to the commitments we have made to Him. Oh, and here’s one last thought: We shouldn’t expect Him to keep sending angry bears our way to keep us committed, either.

This entry was posted in Backsliding, Change, Church Attendance, Commitment, Discipleship, Faithfulness, Obedience, Personal Holiness and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Spirit is Willing, But the Flesh is Weak

  1. SPTP2011 says:

    Great thoughts – I was just thinking and writing about Back-sliding and how we slip slide away

    Back Sliding Away

    Do you remember a song by Paul Simon called Slip Sliding Away? Here’s the chorus lines: God only knows – God makes his plan – The information’s unavailable – To the mortal man – We work our jobs – Collect our pay – Believe we’re gliding down the highway – When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away.

    We all believe God has a plan for our lives. He promises in Jeremiah 29: 11: For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

    But, sometimes, we feel like we are slip slidin away. Why?

    Hebrews 10: 32-35-39: Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised … we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

    We have been given Confidence and Perseverance and a Promise. God saved our lives through Jesus resurrection. He makes things right. God takes our “side” because we stand our ground in the face of suffering. When we are at the end of our rope, He pulls us UP. Yes, we can believe we will be gliding down the highway, the Love Highway; the gift of a Gracious God.

    Psalm 16: 1-2: I love God because he listened to me, listened as I begged for mercy. He listened so intently as I laid out my case before him. Death stared me in the face, hell was hard on my heels. Up against it, I didn’t know which way to turn; then I called out to God for help: “Please, God!” I cried out. “Save my life!” God is gracious—it is he who makes things right, our most compassionate God. God takes the side of the helpless; when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me

    Thank you Pastor McKinney – God is impressing these thoughts into me today

    • russellmckinney says:

      I don’t know the song as well as you do, but yes I’ve heard it. Like you, I’ve had the Lord use some secular song that I know to really drive home a spiritual truth. And isn’t it just like Jesus to take a common, everyday thing like a song and use it as a teaching lesson? When His class is in session, all of life really is subject matter.

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