Author Carl Sandburg once said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”
Whether he knew it or not, he was in many ways describing the Christian life. It’s our dual nature, as the apostle Paul described in Romans 7, that makes life so hard sometimes. You can hear the frustration in Paul’s words when he writes: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” And again, a few verses later: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (verses 15 & 19)
I don’t know if you can identify, but I sure can. It is a daily struggle to do the good that I intend to do, while it seems so very easy to gravitate to the bad that I don’t want to do. I can relate to Paul’s exasperated conclusion at the end of that chapter: “What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (verse 24)
The reality is, however, that it’s not just about living with good intentions. We all know the cliche that the road to Hades is paved with good intentions, that it doesn’t count if you mean well. Every day you and I have choices. Will we live according to the new nature, or the old? Will we soar with the eagles, or wallow in the mud with the hippos?
Certainly, the biggest decision that any of us make is to surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, and receive from Him redemption for our sinful lives. In doing so, we “put to death” the old nature which is corrupted, and live according to the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. Still, walking with Christ and living righteously is not just a one-time decision, as most of us have discovered. It’s a choice we have to continue to make every day, as long as we are wearing flesh. That’s why Paul said in Corinthians, “I die daily.”
Paul’s prescription a few chapters after his frustrated words in Romans 7 was about daily surrender and sacrifice. “I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. (12:1) No doubt Paul’s original readers in Rome must have chuckled when they first heard this read to them. Living sacrifices? Everybody knows that you have to kill a sacrifice; if you were to put a living animal on the altar as a sacrifice, it would get up and crawl off. But that was the point; we lay our lives down on the altar every day, submitting to Christ, offering Him our lives, feeding on His word, and being “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” He changes us, and transforms our nature along the way.
Part of that process of sanctification still comes down to the decisions we make, day by day and moment by moment, in the big things and the little things, as to whether we will succumb to the sinful fleshly nature or choose to live by God’s standards, by His grace. Those decisions determine everything: How we greet the day. How we direct our thoughts. How we talk to–or talk about–our co-workers. How we spend our spare change and how we spend our spare time. And on and on.
Every day–every moment of every day–you have the power to choose your environment: the clear blue sky or the local mud hole. It just depends on where you prefer to be. May each of us this week soar among the eagles, and avoid those smelly hippos. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.