“After conversion we need bruising so that reeds may know themselves to be reeds, and not oaks. Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy” (p. 5). (The Bruised Reed, Richard Sibbes, one of the most influential figures in the Puritan movement during the earlier years of the 17th century).
Early in reading this book, I came upon that passage. I thought, “Okay, I’m a reed, not an oak—and, yeah, a bruised one.” But I was moved to ponderthese words: “Even reeds need bruising, by reason of the remainder of pride in our nature, and to let us see that we live by mercy.”
By know you know well I have primary lateral sclerosis (and you’re probably weary of hearing about it!)—an incurable, degenerative neurological disease that has put me in a wheelchair, keeps everything below my waste from working right and leaves me increasingly weak all over.
Has the sovereign God—our Father in heaven—allowed this, at least partly, because pride in my nature must be rooted out? Is God humbling me? Is that what this is about?
Okay, I admit it: I find pride in my heart. I’m surprised. But pride must be there, because I’m humbled by my condition. I’m humbled at how I look. At what I can’t do. At what has to be done for me. I loathe the humbling process, when I suppose I should be welcoming it as a good thing from our Father.
But I don’t. I resist it. I pray for it to be gone. I don’t pray, “Your will be done.” Is that pride? Pride that I want to walk for myself, that I want to look as well as a 73-year-old can, that I want to do for myself and not have to be done for, that I want to care for my wife instead of her taking care of me?
Ah, what to do? Pray for healing and pray for contentment with God until it comes? I’ve tried that. And, honestly, I pray a lot more fervently for healing than contentment. I pray for healing as something I really want and contentment as something I should want.
Sibbes wrote another line that stands out …
“The heroic deeds of those great worthies do not comfort the church so much as their falls and bruises do” (p. 5).
He refers to David and Paul. “Great worthies”. I’m not so much comforted by David’s defeat of Goliath as I am his sin with Bathsheba. Not that I’m tempted to have sex with another man’s wife. But I’m comforted knowing “the man after God’s own heart” faced strong sexual temptations. And Paul. I’m not comforted by his too-much-for-words heavenly vision, but by his thorn in the flesh. God didn’t deliver him, but promised him the power of grace–“My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Sibbes explains “bruising” is necessary for two reasons . . .
One, I must “see that [I] live by mercy. I deserve no good thing I have. I’ve merited nothing. All is mercy, beginning with new life through the crucified and resurrected Christ. And his mercies are new every morning. I should look for them—and give thanks for them.
Two, “There must be a conformity to our head, Christ, who was ‘bruised for us’ (Isaiah 53:5) that we may know how much we are bound unto him” (p. 5).
I must be conformed to Christ. That’s God’s goal . . .
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified” (Romans 8:28-30).
“ . . . he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . ” “There must be conformity to our head, Christ . . . ”
So pride (which I thought I didn’t have) must be rooted out and replaced with humility—a humility (like Christ) by which I’m willing to take a lower place. I must be “bruised”. Why? “ . . . that we may know how much we are bound unto him.”
I may be confused about how to pray. Healing? Grace? Both?
But this I must know.
This “bruising”–this illness–doesn’t mean Christ abandoned me..
This “bruising” shows how tightly I’m bound to him.