The above quote gets us halfway to the truth of the matter, but it doesn’t really identify the problem. So, more specifically, the source of a great deal of our pain and sorrow in life is this: ourselves. My sinful nature has turned my free will into an 800-pound gorilla that stands in the way of all the good I want to accomplish with my life. I have these towering dreams of love and purity, nobility and philanthropy. In my better moments, when I am in the Spirit, I see with crystal-clear vision and think of writing a hundred helpful books, leading lost souls to Christ, blessing humanity with all my strength and praising the Savior forever with a heart that bursts with joy and gratitude. But the next day I find myself again in the doldrums of a reality degraded by sin and suffering. My goals are thwarted by a lack of energy, discipline and proper conviction.
Mind you, my life is much better than it was before I trusted Christ to save me, and none of these things are catastrophic. I have no doubt that God is doing His work through all of it, but my time on the mountaintops of life make me wish I could take a great flame thrower to my own sin. But it lives on, tripping me up every day. It doesn’t make sense to me.
I read a description about a place in Africa where a primitive tribe of people subsists largely from their harvesting of wild baboons. They capture the unfortunate animals by drilling shallow holes in tree trunks and depositing discs of tin or aluminum in the holes. A baboon is attracted when it sees one of the discs sparkling from a distance. It approaches the tree and reaches into the hole to grab the glittering object. But alas, once its fist has closed over the disc, it is too large to fit back through the hole, and the poor creature is stuck.
Now, all the baboon has to do is to let go of the disc, withdraw its hand and get away. But it has been enchanted by the sparkling disc and has made up its mind to possess it. So it continues trying in vain to pull its fist out of the tree. Meanwhile, the villagers descend on it to collect their dinner.
The baboon is me! Only it’s worse than that because I know the allure of sin and its futility as well. But my knowledge is ineffective in restraining its influence in my life. I cry along with the Apostle Paul: “What a wretched man I am!” I go into prayer again and again cursing my burden and asking God to help me to work it out. As this scene plays itself out repeatedly, I go through continual cycles of spiritual deflation and renewal, and I find that God is giving me more responsibility to carry my own quest for spiritual nourishment through prayer, fasting, reading the Word, reaching out to others and, most of all, making the transition from being a spiritual consumer to being a spiritual distributor.
This is the challenge of the American believer. I suppose many people grasp the concept of a universal call to ministry readily enough. But as for me, I used to go the way of the lax American Christian, who goes to church like a baby bird with its mouth stretched open to comic proportions, waiting to be spoon-fed from the platform. Little did I know that I could be eating much larger meals if I just started passing plates to other people instead of trudging into church week after week with my mouth open. Jesus told his disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34). He wasn’t making a snide comment about their fixation on physical nourishment. He was trying to turn them on to a superfood that could energize them through their spirits. The principle of gaining as a result of giving (a fully paradoxical arrangement) is scriptural (2 Co. 9:10) and follows the same looking-glass juxtaposition we see throughout the spiritual realm. God wants to show all of His children a better way of life—through being a giver, not just a consumer.