MY WORST ENEMY IS ME
There is an old familiar song that often pops up in my mind as I go about my daily activities. It does not matter what is going on in my life at the time or what mood I am in, it always provides me with a special meaning suitable for the occasion. It encourages me; it comforts me; and on this occasion, it inspired me to share a message with others. The song is, “What A Friend We Have In Jesus,” written by Joseph M. Scriven. The first verse of the song reads thusly:
What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear,
And what a privilege to carry, Everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit, Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry, Everything to God in prayer.
The first two lines of the song tell us that we have a friend whose name is Jesus. This friend is able and willing to relieve us of the problems that life sends our way. All we have to do is take our sins and griefs to Him in prayer. But instead, as the next two lines tell us, we refuse to exercise that privilege. Instead, we continue to do things our way. Therefore, we forfeit great peace and experience needless pain.
The problem described in this song is a common problem that exists among all human beings. Many times we know what to do to bring relief to our problems and conflicts but instead, something within us prevents us from taking action in that direction. We hear folks say, “Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there,” and we read in the Bible, “Cast all your cares on Him, for He cares for you”(1 Peter 5:7); but we simply never get around to doing it. Why is this so? Why are we so powerless against ourselves?
Why Am I My Own Worst Enemy?
Perhaps, reflecting on what we know about the conflict in literary characters can provide a clue to help us understand why we can be our own worst enemy. There are five sources of conflict identified in stories. They are: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Society, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Technology. Among the five sources, Man vs Self is the most difficult to resolve. Man does not mind fighting against those other sources, but he resists fighting against himself. Hence, there is a great deal of difficulty in solving internal problems. And furthermore, dramatic characters have what is called a tragic flaw — something, that if not solved, will ultimately lead to his downfall. The kind of interplay described here reminds me of what goes on in real life situations.
Spiritual growth poses a similar challenge to man. It is something he has to come to grips with internally. This is the last thing he wants to deal with. Most times he refuses to see that his attitude and /or behavior is his problem. He blames others and circumstances in his environment for the conflicts and turmoil in his life. Anyone who tries to help him see the real problem immediately becomes a villain, and he wages war against that person.
Throughout the history of man, there have been efforts made to understand this aspect of man; and there are a number of theories formed that attempt to explain why we are in the helpless condition that we are in. Some examples are:
- The Doctrine of Total Depravity. This is a theological doctrine derived from the Augustinian concept of original sin where it is believed that every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin as a result of their fallen nature. And, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, he is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.
- Dr. J. P. Moreland’s “empty self” syndrome. This theory says that man has a set of values, motives, habits of thought, feelings, and behaviors that pervert and eliminates the life of the mind and make maturation in the way of Christ extremely difficult. He gives seven traits that undermine intellectual growth and spiritual development.
- In the psychological dimension is the Freudian theory of human nature. This says: “The human is ‘nothing but’ a being driven by instinct or, more precisely, by the conflicting claims of id and superego finding an uneasy truce in the ego.”
- The Apostle Paul identified the problem as a struggle between the flesh and the spirit due to inherited sin — they are at odds with each other. Every time he tried to obey the law of the spirit, and in spite of the fact that he knew “in his flesh nothing good dwells”, something within in him caused him to do that which is sin (Rom. 7:14-25).
All of the explanations above suggest that man is truly experiencing an internal struggle and that it is impossible for him on his own to end that struggle. The Apostle Paul, however, did offer a solution. First, he recognized that he had a problem, and identified himself accordingly when he said: “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”(Rom. 7:24) He then answered what appears to have been a rhetorical question, by saying: “I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! (v.25).” He continues to explain that “…the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2).
Can I Get Help to Free Myself from Me?
What Paul is saying here is that the only way we will win this war against sin and evil is by choosing to submit ourselves to the leadership of the Holy Spirit whom God has given to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. After all, that is one of the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross — to free us from the consequences of sin. Even though God alone has the power to save us from sin, we must choose to follow Him. We must demonstrate our belief in Him by trusting and obeying Him. As one writer put it “…self-will, not ignorance, is what hinders us from perfect conformity to God’s will.” Therefore, let us shed some light here, to help us understand how to enter into the practice of submission.
First, we must remember that we are in a physical body, but we are spiritual beings. We have become accustomed to listening and responding to our human heart, but when we talk about taking things to God in prayer, we are talking about spiritual things; therefore, we need to see, hear, and seek spiritual understanding. Like Jesus said to Nicodemus, “…that which is flesh is flesh, and that which is spirit is spirit — you must be born again”(John 3:6-7). Now if we say we are born again, but cannot relate to the spiritual solutions, then the next thing we need to do is work on improving our relationship with God, which is an ongoing process. In other words, we need to be sure that we are actively seeking genuine closeness with God.
When we actively seek God, there are several things we benefit from that process. For example:
- You pay attention to your spiritual life. You remember that the whole aim of your search is to fill that “God-shaped” void in your life — nothing else will do.
- Seeking helps you keep an open mind. Seeking with a closed mind is not really seeking.
- You find out why you believe what you believe. This gives you solid grounds for holding on to what you believe in.
- When you seek, you can find. You find that the statement is true: “When you seek, you find”(Matt. 7:7-8).
In addition to understanding the benefits of seeking God, it is vital that we carry out daily, some practices that theologians and other spiritual leaders believe will help you become an active participant in a relationship with God. Some of these are:
- The Practice of Prayer. (This is a process whereby our souls enter into communion with God).
- The Practice of Acknowledging the Presence of God. (Make a habit of recognizing God in all circumstances and decisions.)
- The Practice of Immersing oneself in Scripture. (When we immerse ourselves deeply in the Christian story through reading and listening, memorizing and meditating, we become a part of the story).
- The Practice of Imitating Biblical Heroes of Faith. (These are role models for learning what it is like to inherit God’s promises through faith and patience) (Hebrews 6:12).
By keeping these practices in mind and doing them daily, you will be able to greater realize the feeling of peace, love, joy, and hope that the closeness of God is able to bring.
As we can see from this discussion, due to original sin, we have a serious internal conflict. We live in a sinful physical body, but we were created in God’s image as a spiritual being with a real longing to satisfy God. Although we inherited this state of being, God provided a way for us to be freed from this sinful physical body and to grow gradually into the spiritual being that He intended for us to be. He sent His Son, Jesus, to free us, because He knew we could not do it on our own — a sinful man cannot free himself from sin. All He requires is that we believe in Jesus Christ and obey His commandments (love God and your neighbor as yourself).
We are our own worst enemy because we ignore the help He has provided to enable us to grow. He created us with that “God-shaped void” that only He can satisfy, but we ignore it and go to great lengths to satisfy that void in other ways. He gave us some apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers for the purpose of building us all up until we come into the maturity — the fullness of His image (Eph.4:11-13), but we do not listen. He says just submit yourself to the teaching of the Holy Spirit that He made to dwell in us, but we do not listen or do not truly believe. Consequently, because we harden our hearts to the help He gives us, we are our own worst enemy.
What we must realize is that we have a choice. We can continue to walk in the flesh and set our minds on the things of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21) or we can walk in the spirit and set our minds on the things of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). When you compare the two, it is easy to see that the difference is life and death. If you choose to live and walk in His way (allowing yourself to develop a good relationship with Him), you will be able to join in with the songwriter and sing with new meaning: “What a friend we have in Jesus, What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”
 Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life, (Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1998): 57.
 Chan, Spiritual Theology, 150.
 James Emery White, A Search for the Spiritual: Exploring Real Christianity, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1998): 12-16.
 Walter Thomas Conner, Christian Doctrine, (Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman, 1937): 233.
 Chan, Spiritual Theology, 149.
 Ibid., 148.