Nisi Dominus Frusta (Without God, In Vain)

Walking to church on a recent Sunday morning, I entered and passed a fellow parishioner leaving the early service. I overheard him remark that every time he heard the sermon, he thought to himself he needed to improve the particular need or deficiency of which the pastor spoke. Now, I thought the statement quite innocent and sincere, and yet, my fellow parishioner, I believe, remained quite unaware of the implications of his statement.  

By one perspective my friend recognized both his deficiency and the upward possibility for improvement. In this he was quite correct in staking his claim to the awareness made plain by the pastor’s sermon. By another perspective, he perhaps had not yet realized the manner and person by which those needs could be fulfilled. The trap into which he so plainly stepped is made by every Christian, this writer included, thinking Christian growth is a result of a willed effort. Here, I will admit, is a bridge every Christian must cross.  

Expressed and implied in the Gospels is the idea our will is needed in the new life. “Take up my cross,” Jesus said. Action is needed to be a faithful follower. But there comes a time when our efforts are useless, a time when in becoming the servant God intends us to be, the very person He created and placed His image within, no willed effort suffices.  

Yet not my will, but yours be done. 

For every Christian must come to this moment—to give his life to Christ as Christ gave His life to the Cross, to become reliant on Christ instead of self, to trust in what he cannot see, to seek God’s guidance in all. The last act of a Christian’s self-will is to give his will to God. How else could he receive but to be void of will? 

Consider someone who habits dessert. For health reasons, a person may decide forgoing dessert is a good step to improve health. At first, willpower is needed. But as we know, a reasoning mind may say, “A little sugar will not hurt me every now and then. This one time, I will have some.” And suddenly, willpower no longer works. What is needed is to no longer want dessert, to love one’s health more than sumptuous cake. And how are we to become as He regards while our self-will hinders His effort? 

The daily practice of prayer and devotion provides us with example. It takes a certain amount of willpower to rise daily early in the morn, to quiet the mind, read one’s devotion and pray. But in the expressing of need, the desire to be fed for improvement’s sake, vacating one’s willpower is needed most. What is needed is to anchor oneself to God, for an anchored ship cannot veer far. 

There could be no riches but for need. God Himself is made rich by man’s necessity. By that He is rich to give; through that we are rich by receiving. George MacDonald 

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