Photo by Pavel Neznanov on Unsplash

Something keeps pulling on us

February 13, 2024

“There’s a war going on. It’s a civil war. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care where you live, there is a civil war going on in your life. And every time you set out to be good, there’s something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. It’s going on in your life.

Every time you set out to love, something keeps pulling on you, trying to get you to hate. Every time you set out to be kind and say nice things about people, something is pulling on you to be jealous and envious and to spread evil gossip about them. There’s a civil war going on. Every time you say that I’m not going to let this evil habit destroy me—something keeps pulling on ya’ saying keep on doing it…There are times that all of us know somehow that there is a Mr. Hyde and a Dr. Jekyll in us.”

-Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Unfulfilled Dreams

March 3, 1968 | Ebenezer Baptist Church | Atlanta, GA

Wars are literally raging around the world—Palestine, Sudan, Ukraine, and countless other countries—and yet here, in one of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s lesser-known sermons, he calls us to tend to the war raging inside each of us. This war, Dr. King says, transcends zip codes and accolades. It is a war that rages within each of us between good and evil, love and hate.

It’s unsettling to think about this profound assertion—that none of us are exempt from this internal war that rages daily, whether we admit to it or not. Perhaps that is among the reasons why the Bible tells us in Lamentations 3:22-23 (NKJV) that the Lord faithfully grants us new mercies each morning, not because we deserve them but because we need them. Verse 22 says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.” We are not consumed because of the Lord’s mercies—because He is constantly and consistently compassionate. While constantly and consistently might seem synonymous, we must take note of their nuances. Consistently implies repetition, while constantly implies continual action. Consistently means something that happens or is done regularly or repeatedly in the same way. Constantly means something that happens or is done all the time. The God of constant mercy, El Rachum, (רחום; rachum) consistently grants mercies (רחמיו; rachamav).

While this merciful God rescues and redeems us, we must be ever meticulous in mining the unseen—the emotions that swirl within us but don’t manifest in physical expressions; the words that percolate in our minds but don’t form as words in our mouth; the dark desires that dominate our will but don’t drive our ways. We must examine our hearts. In Mark 7:21-23 (AMP) Jesus says that our hearts contain the sources of war within us, “For from within, [that is] out the heart of men, come base and malevolent thoughts and schemes, acts of sexual immorality, thefts, murders, adulteries, acts of greed and covetousness, wickedness, deceit, unrestrained conduct, envy and jealousy, slander and profanity, arrogance and self-righteousness and foolishness (poor judgment). All these evil things [schemes and desires] come from within and defile and dishonor the man.”

Is your heart right?

If we are to seriously examine the wars raging inside of us, what would the headlines be? What’s the carnage like? What’s being destroyed, day by day?

It’s a question Dr. King asked to the congregation sitting before him that Sunday morning, just a month before his murder, and it’s a question we must ask ourselves, daily.

Is my heart right?

Is the wellspring of my life, right?

If we are to seriously examine the wars raging inside of us, what would the headlines be? What’s the carnage like? What’s being destroyed, day by day? Perhaps it is the patience or self-control we’ve worked hard with God to cultivate. Perhaps relationships near and dear to us are under attack because of our war-torn hearts. Perhaps peace feels like an impossible reality because we refuse to be honest with ourselves and with God about what we’re warring about within.

This sermon calls us to examine our nightmares rather than our dreams. It requires us to acutely examine what we must master within ourselves. The sin nature within us has a voracious appetite. As the Lord said to Cain in Genesis 4:7, “Don’t you know that as long as you do what is right, then I accept you? But if you do not do what is right, watch out, because sin is crouching at the door, ready to pounce on you! You must master it before it masters you.” As we know, Cain’s jealousy and anger led him to kill his younger brother Abel.

This scripture calls to me from a profoundly dynamic and sobering sermon Rev. Dr. Claudette A. Copeland preached at Community Baptist Church in New Haven, Conn., in April 2023. In good Pentecostal fashion, she asked us to turn to our neighbors and tell each other, “You must master this.

It is evident that our this, like the thorn in Paul’s side, is ambiguous, yet known to God and to us.

“Holes and hurts leave us vulnerable to messy failures or tutors us for mastery in God…You must master this…All of us are challenged with the mastery of things that we have covered over with religion…We’re often the ones overcompensating outwardly for something we have not mastered inwardly…Master this or you will become an untrustworthy preacher, an unsafe pastor, an untrustworthy friend, an unstable lover.”

There is so much poignant, brazen truth in Dr. Copeland’s searingly sage admonishment.

Will you war to master your this?

Min. Ryan Lindsay Arrendell is an Emmy-award winning journalist, preacher, writer, and entrepreneur. She believes in storytelling as a powerful tool for healing & change. Whether she’s in the pulpit, the streets, the classroom or on the stage, Ryan Lindsay leads with love to connect with those around her.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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