(6 minute read)
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell (Matthew 18:8-9)."
One of my favorite running routes in Dallas took me past the zoo. I loved how I could be in the heart of the city but still see elephants, zebras, and giraffes from a bridge overlooking a wide savannah.
The view made me think back to times in Africa, where on safari, I observed such animals from the safety of a vehicle. I remembered the time when our vehicle was mere feet away from a dangerous lion and the terrifying episode when we were rushed by an elephant.
One day I ran past the zoo and paused to watch a massive elephant lumbering in the grass. Then I ran around the bend and into the adjacent neighborhood. This route sometimes had sidewalks, sometimes not, so often I was just on the shoulder of the road, having to watch for debris. Normally this path is very safe. But on that day, I failed to see a small piece of metal fence jutting up from the grass. This almost invisible spike was connected to a larger section of fence that grass had covered.
All of a sudden, the top of my right foot caught on the metal piece. The weight of the fence was so heavy, and the inertia of my motion was so strong that my body immediately slammed to the ground face-down. It all happened in a microsecond.
Fortunately, my elbows extended to break some of my fall. My forehead, however, still made contact with the ground. The breath was immediately knocked from my lungs. It was one of those falls where you lie there for a moment and check your arms, legs, head, and shoulders in a kind of inventory, asking, am I OK? Is anything broken? I was bruised in several places, but thank God, that was the extent of my injuries.
Then I looked to the right of where my forehead hit. Six inches away, a large shard of broken glass stuck in the dirt. Had I landed only a half-foot away, I could have lost an eye or suffered a brain injury.
Some might say that the greatest threat to my life could be found in the fierce animals just beyond the road — the elephants, lions, or panthers.
The greatest danger was so small that I didn’t even see it coming.
That’s true of the sin in our lives. We are often in more danger due to a minor transgression than a huge moral failure. The small threat seems so harmless that it’s overlooked until it turns into something more.
Someone who is unfaithful in their marriage may be caught in a moment of great scandal. Infidelity, however, doesn’t happen in one major moment of failure. It starts with a thought that is allowed to ferment, which leads to an indiscretion that may be a little larger, which leads to a big fall.
The little things matter.
This is why the Apostle Peter taught, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
Jesus taught that if we ever find ourselves tripped up by giving in to temptation, the right response is not to abide it, ignore it, or rationalize it. The right response is to acknowledge it, ask for forgiveness, and cut it out immediately.
We can’t be lifted into God’s presence if some known sin is allowed to remain. We should expect none of our prayers to be answered in such a state.
George Müller once said, “We must have ‘white robes,’ else we cannot enter into the presence of God. Our own sins, which are compared to filthy garments, must be removed, and we must solely and simply trust in the merits and sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus, by the power of his atonement, be made clean from all our sins.”
Müller knew that God had cleansed him. He also knew how little sins could turn into bigger problems.
“My father, who educated his children on worldly principles, gave us much money, considering our age. The result was that it led my brother and me into many sins,” writes Müller. “Before I was ten years old I repeatedly took of the government money which was entrusted to my father...till one day...he detected my theft, by depositing a counted sum in the room where I was, and leaving me to myself for a while. I took some of the money and hid it under my foot in my shoe.”
His father caught him, but punishment did not change George’s tactics. He had gotten away with much more before. Why could he not continue? “Though I was punished on this and other occasions, yet I did not remember that anytime...it made no other impression upon me than to make me think how I might do the thing the next time more cleverly.”
Eventually, his stealing habits landed him in jail. “I now found myself, at the age of sixteen, an inmate of the same dwelling with thieves and murderers, and treated accordingly... On the second day I asked the keeper for a Bible, not to consider its blessed contents, but to pass away the time,” George relates.
For twenty-four days — from December 18 to January 12 — he was confined to the prison. His father obtained his release by paying the inn debt and his maintenance at the jail, also furnishing enough money for his son to return home.
Müller had finally seen the consequences of his sin. He knew he needed help, and he sought the Lord.
His path didn’t begin with a huge heist. It was the product of dozens and dozens of indiscretions, petty thefts, and deceit.
One of the greatest lessons I have learned about the life of prayer is that what I do when I’m not praying impacts the power of my prayers. An evening of filling my mind with impure thoughts leads to a scattered prayer time in the morning. A poor choice in how I spend my time affects my fruitfulness during the week.
When I fail to address sin, I deny the total dependence I have on God for everything.
What about you?
Is there something hidden that needs to come into the light?
Is there something you keep getting snagged on, something that could ultimately cause a great fall?
Ask God to help you cut it out. You can’t save yourself. You need the help of heaven.
Today, make a list of anything that could be causing you to lack in powerful, prevailing prayer. Then make a plan to remove those obstacles one by one from your life.
Pray that God would strengthen you as you make a change.
Watch how God uses that good choice to run faster and farther in the pursuit of His kingdom.
Prayer Principle #20: Little snags lessen prayer power.