Covered with Shameby Ed de la Cour on July 14, 2014
Sometimes we are jarred and shaken up by an event. The event can be large or small, but somehow it touches us deeply and we are forever changed. Last week Marian and I learned that another young adult, this time a young and newly married man of 27, has taken his own life, leaving behind his wife, his parents, and his friends. We are shocked and deeply saddened. It’s amazing how many people have died at age 27: Brian Jones, Jimmy Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, and Amy Winehouse, among others. But this young man wasn’t a musician. He was just a man who despaired of living and now he faces a hopeless eternity.
We are seeing the tip of a very large iceberg of death in our community. Let me remind you: the enemy of your soul is the devil. The devil is real and he is gifted at his destructive work. The Bible says the devil is a prowling and roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. Jesus called him a thief. He says the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. Our only sure defense is to be grounded in a relationship with Jesus. Jesus said He has come that we might have life and have it fully. The way to defend against the devil is to “resist him, standing firm in the faith,” according to 1 Peter 5: 9. If we do not have that personal and saving faith in Jesus, we really are all alone and unprotected.
We can easily get the impression, even if we are Christians, that we are pretty much on our own in this fight. We can think, if there is to be any spiritual resistance, any strength of spirit in my life, I must stand firm by myself, alone. Frankly, living your life by yourself is a really good way of becoming a casualty in this spiritual war. There are very good reasons why the church, the Body of Christ, is necessary. In the church we are grounded with sound teaching and we learn the right way to practice our faith in fellowship with other like-minded sisters and brothers. When the enemy comes prowling, we are then surrounded by godly people and are protected by the Holy Spirit. That young man who died knew no such protection, and apparently had no such saving relationship with God.
I’ve been reading the book of Daniel this week. As I reached chapter 9, I suddenly saw that Daniel did not receive a revelation from God as if by magic. He was a student of scripture and in his study, he became aware of a spiritual truth. His reading of Scripture prompted him to act. He didn’t just read for distance and quantity, but he read to allow God to have opportunity to confront him in his heart. The Bible says Daniel came to an understanding. He perceived and his mind was opened to understand the purposes of God.
Hearing of that young man’s death in conjunction with reading this chapter also caused a small awareness to grow in my heart, and it’s one I’d like to test. Let’s try something together this morning, just a small experiment. Please pinch your arm. Give it a good squeeze! Did you feel anything at all? If you did, that’s good! The sense of pain means you’re alive. The ability to sense pain and to feel discomfort is a gift from God, even though sometimes it might not seem to be. I have come to believe, due to the great amount of excessive stimulation we experience every day that we have become largely insensate to the presence of the Holy Spirit. We have lost our sense of feeling. We have become spiritually insensitive. We are even cold of heart due to sensory overload.
Sensory overload was first identified some years ago when a famine in Ethiopia made the news. People all over the world were gripped by the human drama and loss of life. People gave lots of money to help. The next news story of human tragedy was less well received, and that’s when people noticed the result of too much stimulation. As Christians, we may be suffering from a lack of ability to respond spiritually to all the serious stuff that is happening around us.
I realize Daniel was not the only one reading his Bible, but he may well have been the only one who arrived at a conclusion that led him to act on what he came to know. The revelation God gave him prompted a response and he set his face to seek God. What we see in verses 1 – 19 is a determined prayer. This is not the kind of “bless me” praying that so often characterize the way we pray. We know Daniel was serious because while he began by acknowledging God for whom He is, Daniel moved quickly into confession. His confession was deep, it was broken-hearted, and it was long. In fact, the whole prayer is one long prayer of repentance.
When you pray, how do you acknowledge God? Do you quickly move into your list of requests, or do you take time to consider to whom you are speaking? Daniel sensed repentance was on his heart, so he began by acknowledging God as a covenant-keeping and loving God. He reminded God that God keeps His covenant and that God loves with a steadfast love because Daniel’s prayer is rooted in that covenant and in a desperate need for that steadfast love to be exercised. We would do well to consider the covenant keeping nature of God when we seek Him.
Daniel then plowed right into the depths of repentance. He wasted no time. Daniel got to the meat of the situation right away and he didn’t mince words. He said, “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from Your commandments and rules.” How hard is it for me just to agree with another person or with God and accept that I am in the wrong. The level of honesty here is breathtaking. He repeated himself five times just to make sure he left himself no wriggle room, no way out, and no safety net. Daniel didn’t assign blame; rather, he accepted blame. He took responsibility. This is a situation unheard of in our culture today. When we hear politicians accept responsibility, their words are frequently couched in terms that release them from any real culpability or consequences. Not so here. In Daniel’s prayer, there is no “What difference does it make?”
Many of us were raised in a culture of shame. When we came to faith in Jesus, we were released from the crippling effects of shame. We were freed to live thereafter in the grace of God. That’s why verse 7 stood out to me in sharp relief from the normal understanding we have of the approval of God in our lives. Daniel prayed, “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame.” I remember being made to feel shame as a child, and I hated it. When I came to faith in Jesus, I was taught that Jesus removed my shame and my guilt and that as a result Jesus gave me a sense of God’s approval. Jesus showed me the welcome and the acceptance of God. That was good news for me.
It seems no matter how often grace is preached there is still a strong sense of shame remaining in our lives. That vestigial shame is a holdover from the dominion of the flesh, from the old condemning days of our youth. We feel a return to condemnation whenever we sin. Whenever we think we have failed God once again, there is shame. We struggle with unworthiness. We almost want to be rejected. But God won’t ever let us go. Still, here is Daniel acknowledging that he and his people are covered with shame and that they are living and moving about in open shame.
I had to sit with that thought for a few minutes and think about what that means for you and me. “Open shame…” “covered with shame” – those ideas mean there is no place for my flesh to hide. I cannot whitewash certain areas in my life and make them seem OK. There is no escape clause I can use to get out from under the truth. There are no clever euphemisms and no successful attempts to be made whereby I can undo the truth about my life. Those phrases mean I am caught in the grip of God’s truth and I do not like it.
I don’t like it because shame feels awful. We don’t come to church in order to be made to feel awful, do we? But if Daniel was right and if I have rebelled, if I have done wrong, if I have acted wickedly and if I have sinned against God, should I not feel something? Unless I am suffering from sensory overload, shouldn’t I feel awful? Should I not experience shame? And is that a bad thing? Is shame an experience that God wants us never to know? Many Christians dread the word and they refuse to consider that shame has a place in the life of the Christian. They say grace is our only watchword and shame should be forever ostracized from our life experience.
I believe God would have us understand shame in a scripturally consistent manner. In 2 Corinthians 7: 10 – 12 we are taught there is a difference between godly grief and worldly grief. <.v.> Godly grief leads to repentance. Godly shame leads to that same repentance, and that is Daniel’s destination in his prayer. He doesn’t see shame as something designed to destroy him, which is the way many of us understand shame. Godly shame brings conviction of sin and conviction leads to repentance. Conviction means you know you have done wrong. That knowledge holds Daniel’s attention in Daniel 9: 5 – 8.
Daniel didn’t just feel shame and walk away with his tail between his legs, and he didn’t roll over and go back to sleep. He pleaded with God to turn aside His wrath, to open His eyes to their situation, to forgive, and even to restore them. This is exactly what the New Testament teaches: repentance leads to forgiveness and restoration.
When we think of shame, we think of being degraded. We think of being abandoned by God and man, of being left on the side of the road, and of being made to feel less than. That’s worldly shame and worldly shame only brings condemnation. Condemnation often ends in despair and even in death, as we have seen. In the same way, there is a godly grief and a godly sorrow and a godly shame – and those appear to be synonymous.
Shame is not in itself evil, but it is a reasonable response to being made conscious of spiritual failure. When I become aware that I have done wrong, I do feel awful. I do feel shame and I do feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Often, it is that conviction that makes me realize “something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and I need to take a spiritual inventory right away to determine what I have done. Biblical shame, Biblical sorrow, is always redemptive. If I postpone that needed confession, if I do not perceive how serious my situation really is, then feeling shame is not a bad thing, nor is it counter-productive. I need to see my walk with God is in need of repair. Daniel saw that need clearly and in Daniel 9, he did something about it.
How might the church in Ephesus have felt when they read the word of Jesus to them inRevelation 2? Suddenly they realize every church in the whole region is reading those same words and seeing their dirty spiritual laundry displayed for all to see! Do we for a second believe that Jesus spoke those words to drive them into the ground, to cause them to be humiliated, or to cause them to wallow in self-condemnation?
Jesus spoke truth to their ears. He told them to repent. He said, “Do the things you did at first.” Return to your first love. Take whatever steps are necessary, do whatever you need to do, but make your love for Jesus your first love once again.
We take those steps to restore our marriages. Marian and I found our love for each other kindled afresh on our vacation this year. How wonderful that has been! First love happens when you take time to be with the one you love. If you don’t take time to be alone with Jesus, you will not find it possible to restore that first love. You need to take the time and it needs to be a priority in your life. If you decline His invitation, then you may well experience conviction and even shame in your walk with God.
The same compassionate God who designed shame also designed conviction. And just like conviction, shame is designed by God to point us to Jesus, not to despair. Our God is a God of hope. He has created many doors and avenues by which that hope is given. Some need only a touch of His hand to draw them into His circle of fellowship. Others of us require conviction, the blue lights of God’s police interceptor pulling up behind us. And others need to know shame.
Israel had flaunted the laws of God and turned aside from all His statutes. They felt the touch of His hand before, but they remained unchanged. They may have pinched themselves, but I’m not sure they were capable of feeling. They had been convicted before, but they remained the same. On this day as Daniel prayed, he and his people needed to experience the pain of shame. Representing them and us, Daniel felt he was covered with shame. He saw that shame and was horrified. It was the horror that brought him to his knees in repentance. Whatever it takes for God to draw you to Jesus is exactly what God will employ.
Edmund C. de la Cour, Jr.
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