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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Know Thyself

The dictum “know thyself” has been attributed to Socrates. He held this as one of the two guiding principles of life. His statement alludes to a life of examination. But his statement misses one vital aspect of life. In his novel "Father Elijah: an Apocalypse", Michael D. O’Brien states “No man knows his own soul so well that he is invincible to the tactics of the enemy, no man.” Not only must we know our strengths and our gifts, but we especially must know our own weaknesses. In warfare, it is important to know the weakness of the enemy. That weak spot becomes the focal point of the attack, for it is there that the enemy can best be defeated. Likewise, if an attack can be launched at a point where the enemy least expects it, the likelihood of success is greater. This was an important aspect in the success of the “D” Day invasion at Normandy.

The devil is at warfare with the church. He knows our weaknesses, often better than we know them ourselves. He exploits these points of weakness in order to strike out against us and defeat us. These are the places where we are most vulnerable. They are the places where we are most likely to fail. He also knows the areas where we think we are invincible. In those areas he can also catch us off guard. When we think we are safe we can easily succumb to the danger of pride. This became a vulnerable point for many of the high profile church leaders who have fallen over the past few decades. They forgot to examine their weaknesses. The results were tragic for their ministries. Jesus told the disciples that they would all abandon him. Peter’s denial of Jesus a short while after his declaration that even if everyone else left, he, Peter, would never leave shows how little he knew himself. The statement “pride goes before a fall” is poignantly true.

Unfortunately, we are not invincible and we often fail. For this reason it is especially important for us to know the areas where we are most likely to succumb to temptations. By knowing them, we are less likely to be caught off guard when temptations do come our way. Knowledge of our weaknesses will provide a hedge of protection around us. Having that knowledge in front of us when the temptations come helps us to reject the temptation. If we then succumb to it, it is because it is an intentional act. We must also understand the areas in our lives where we can become prideful. This helps us to maintain a humble attitude.

In order to avoid the twin dangers of being caught up either in temptation or pride we must truly know ourselves. We have to examine the areas of our lives were we are most likely to fail. This isn’t always easy. We don’t like to admit that we are not perfect. But when we really look at ourselves, we are forced to admit that we are far from perfect. We must acknowledge that we are vulnerable to sin. We have to understand the grace of God at work in our lives to protect us. And this process begins with the clear understanding that we are truly sinners in need of a forgiving God. It starts with our taking a hard look at who we really are. And this begins by asking how well do I really know myself?

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