Friday, March 14, 2008

"One of Matt Talbot's practical strategies to avoid drink"

The Word Among Us
Thursday, May 19, 2005

Mark 9:41-50

Did Jesus mean we should literally cut off a hand or gouge out an eye to avoid sinning? Well, the New Testament records no instances of such mutilations by any of his first followers. Those who heard Jesus’ words apparently understood them as hyperbole, deliberate exaggerations Jesus used to convey his point. In fact, such a way of speaking was common to first-century Jews.

So what did Jesus mean? Simply that sin has the power to drag us down and that we should do everything we can to avoid it. It dulls us, and dishonors the life of God in us. What’s worse, it dilutes our ability to receive the power and fruits of the Holy Spirit in us, causing us to lose our “saltiness” (Mark 9:50).

Of course we know that if we should sin, we have only to turn, repent, and receive God’s forgiveness (Sirach 5:7). But repentance is what we do after we have sinned. What should we do beforehand so that we don’t sin in the first place? That’s the issue Jesus raised: our necessary, and practical, efforts to avoid sin. A good place to begin is knowing what causes us to fall, which means looking hard at ourselves every day. The better we know ourselves, the clearer we will be on the steps we need to take. Take, for example, Venerable Matt Talbot—an alcoholic who learned how to face his weaknesses practically. One of his strategies was to never carry money in his pocket as he walked to and from work. With no means to buy himself a drink, he “cut off” what had once been his lifeblood.

Each one of us can find such practical ways to combat sin. And if a practical strategy isn’t apparent, we have only to ask the Holy Spirit for guidance. God wants us to be free from slavery to sin. He wants us to keep salt in ourselves. And so he is committed to helping us find the right balance between relying solely on our own strength and waiting passively for some miraculous deliverance. He will give us his supernatural grace as we make a plan and strive to implement it.

“Holy Spirit, I want to break with sin in my life. Help me to find practical ways to cut off whatever causes me to offend you, so that I might be salt in your kingdom today.”

Sirach 5:1-8; Psalm 1:1-4,6