Yesterday, I admitted to being Peter Pan, and I incriminated a whole bunch of other young men in the process. Peter Pan won’t grow up; he’d rather not take responsibility for things that grown-ups are supposed to do. Peter Pan lives in a fantasy world which substitutes for the real world and its real problems, its real imperfections, and its real responsibilities.
Now that I’ve laid out a ridiculously long laundry list of unmanly habits and ways of thinking, I’d like to examine what the root is behind this problem. Why is it so hard for us to grow up? Why do we stay so childish for so long?
Well, if you read the first post carefully, you may already have an idea where this is going to go. I made a number of comments to the effect that if we just do things that we’re comfortable with or good at, we don’t need to depend on God. I want to explore that a little more, because this is a dangerous tendency that is most pronounced in guys—because they are called as men to lead and to initiate—but affects everyone to some degree.
There’s a sentence in the Bible that I just haven’t been able to get out of my mind these last couple of weeks. It’s the second half of 2 Corinthians 2:16: “Who is sufficient for these things?” In context, of course, Paul is writing about the preaching of God’s word and its effect “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (v. 15). However, this question certainly applies to all forms of obedience. We cannot obey the Lord without his Spirit at work within us “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). We are not sufficient—or adequate, as some translations put it—to do what is right with motives that are pleasing to God. We are not adequate to display Christ in our actions, our attitudes, and our words.
Here’s what we are adequate for. You and I are totally adequate to sit on the couch for hours and watch TV. We are totally adequate to stay up until one in the morning surfing the Internet. We are totally adequate to lock ourselves away in our rooms and do homework. We are totally adequate not to tell our friends and family the good news of Jesus Christ. We are totally adequate to wimp out on asking out young women we like. We are totally adequate to confine ourselves to our circle of friends, people just like us, from our age group, around whom we’re comfortable. We are totally adequate to do all these things that are easy and natural.
What a tragedy of adequacy! We want to do only those things for which we are able to trust in our own strength. Take a look at what God says about this lifestyle:
Thus says the LORD:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.”
I have lived in that uninhabited salt land for years. Perhaps you have, too. You’re miserable, aren’t you? You haven’t seen any good come. Your life is parched; you are depressed and discouraged. Friends and movies and video games and sports can make you happy for a little while, but before long you are back in the desert. The Bible seems dead, boring, and dry; your prayers are limp and ineffective.
You have trusted in man. You have made flesh your strength. Often, we put our trust in other people—in the President or sports icons or parents or friends; they will always disappoint us. Yet a much more sinister form of trusting in man is when we trust in ourselves. That’s why we only do the things we’re adequate to do. You and I—we don’t want to do anything that would require us to trust in God. We’d rather do what we’re capable of doing on our own. It doesn’t take any faith whatsoever to watch TV or play video games or sports (if you’re athletic) or do homework (if you’re intelligent). It takes faith to actually step out and obey God.
Of course, if we were to obey God, we’d quickly realize that we can’t do it on our own strength, and then we’d have to cry out for help. That’s a blow to the ego. And you and I have invested far too much effort into polishing our pride and propping up our reputations; we certainly can’t get down on our knees, weeping, crying out for help from the God who is the only one who can help. “The arm of flesh will fail you; ye dare not trust your own.”
That’s why we’re Peter Pans. We are self-reliant. We are proud. We are arrogant. And we don’t want to have to act out of faith in God. We don’t want to depend on him.
Of course, this lifestyle doesn’t work. I know it doesn’t. But often, I’d rather be miserable and govern my own life—with God as a Tinkerbell perched on my shoulder—than recognize and submit to his Lordship and experience the joy he has to offer. More on that joy in the third and final post.