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The Spiritual Man, book by H. H. Pope Shenouda III

23- Does not depend On his human hand

 

As some exaggerated the importance of grace till they neglected the side of struggle and work, so did some by exaggerating the importance of work and struggle, till they neglected the importance of GOD’S hand in their life! They depended in their spirituality on their human hand.

As for the spiritual man, he believes deep within him that it is dangerous to depend on his human hand. He tries his best but he does not depend on his effort, rather on God’s work in it. And as the Psalmist said:

“Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain who build it;

unless the LORD guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps 127:1).

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It is true that every work done by man alone, without God sharing in it, will definitely end up to vainglory and self conceit. As for the work in which you feel that God is the one who worked in you, and it was His grace that gave you strength to complete it, and you were just a tool in his Divine hands..., that work would be for the glory of God, praising and thanking Him.

The self disappears in that Divine work and God alone appears...

Therefore you must have God in your work, because He says: “Without Me you can do nothing”. Beware of working alone, without God!. Otherwise you’ll relate success to your own determination, the strength of your will, your intelligence and ability, your righteousness, godliness, your strong resistance to sin and your success in your exercises. And so you’ll become centered around yourself and God will disappear!!

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There is no doubt that there are certain tasks done completely by God, without any interference of the human factor in it. We’ll give some examples for that:

+ Miracles of raising the dead:

St-Takla.org         Image: The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, Ethiopian icon from our journey to Ethiopia, 2008 صورة: ذبح إسحق عن طريق أبيه إبراهيم، أيقونة حبشية، من رحلتنا لإثيوبيا عام 2008

St-Takla.org Image: The sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, Ethiopian icon from our journey to Ethiopia, 2008 - Photograph by Michael Ghaly for St-Takla.org, April-June 2008

صورة في موقع الأنبا تكلا: ذبح إسحق عن طريق أبيه إبراهيم، أيقونة حبشية، من رحلتنا لإثيوبيا عام 2008 - تصوير مايكل غالي لـ: موقع الأنبا تكلا، إبريل - يونيو 2008

It is obvious that the dead person did not raise himself but the Lord raised him without the interference of human strength. You too were dead because of the sin and Christ raised you. Another example is incurable diseases, which were symbols of sin, such as the leper, the one with a withered hand, the paralytic, the maimed and the blind. God healed all of them without their human hand.

Therefore the spiritual man says:

“Consider me, Lord, like this one who is dead and is unable to raise himself, and like the leper who is unable to purify himself”.

You, Lord, can raise the dead and heal the leper.

You, Lord, have worked with many, who were helpless and incapable of saving themselves, and you saved them. Like our father Isaac.. The wood was placed on the altar, the fire was ready and the knife was raised above him. But you, Lord, interfered in the most crucial moment and saved Isaac.

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The spiritual man also remembers the examples of the barren who could not bring forth children through her own effort, but through the Grace of God she’ll have more than all” (Is 54). And he says to the Lord:

“You opened her closed womb and said to her gently, “Sing, O barren, you who have not borne!. For you shall expand to the right and to the left, and your descendants will inherit the nations, and make the desolate cities inhabited. For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you” (Is 54).

Yes, may be your soul is barren and never gave birth to one virtue on her own, but through the Holy Spirit, she’ll have many children and God will bless her children in her.

But without the Spirit of God, she’ll never give birth or produce fruit. Because: “Children are a heritage from the Lord”, as the Holy Bible said. He only is able to open the womb of the barren, as He did with Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hanna and Elizabeth.

Consider yourself like: The dead who cannot rise on his own, the leper who needs the Lord to purify him, the barren who, on her own, would not give birth, but the Lord is the One to open her womb. Call the Lord then from all your heart.

Consider Samson when he depended on his own strength and when he depended on the Lord...

What was the end of his mighty human power that was able to remove the city’s gate, kill the lion and terrify people? It ended by destruction as the enemy caught Samson, put out his eyes and bound him with bronze fetters and he became a grinder in the prison, like an animal. But finally, when he said: “O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!” (Judg 16:28). Then God gave him the strength and the ones he killed this time were more than the ones he killed all through his life; because the hand of the Lord worked with him.

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Ask then for God’s interference in your life. But that does not mean to sleep and get lazy, then ask the Lord. But you have to struggle with all your might, and not to depend only on this might because without the Lord you can do nothing...

Work, but do not work on your own, as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. Do not depend on your human hand, your strength, intelligence and godliness. You must know that without God you cannot succeed. And if you did, your success will be a failure because it will turn into food for the self and for vainglory.

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+ I like the phrase that St Paul the Apostle said when, through him, God healed the lame man at the gate of the temple. So the people were filled with wonder and ran to Peter and John amazed. Then Peter said to them:

“Why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus” (Acts 3:12).

+ Peter said these words because he already tried the human hand before and he profited nothing, at least at two important incidents:

The first was while fishing: After toiling all night with all his craftiness, experience and ability in fishing and the result was what he said to the Lord:

“Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing”.

But when the Lord entered his ship and guided him to where to let down his nets into the deep, according to His wish, they caught a great number of fish so that their net was breaking.

The second experience for Peter was the incident when he denied the Lord. He depended on himself much and on his love for the Lord and on his determination. So he said to the Lord: “Even if all are made to stumble because of you, I will never be made to stumble . Even if I have to die with you, I will not deny you”...

But Peter who depended on himself, denied Christ before a servant girl...

His good intention and his will did not benefit him, not even his love, determination and enthusiasm that made him cut off the ear of the slave...

Would that he turned his determination into prayer. Would that he said: “Lord, give me strength because I am weak, so I would not deny you. Strength by which I can withstand if I am riddled by the devil”...

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Many struggle on their own. They toil, think, prepare and plan for their spiritual life, without caring about bringing God in with them.

I’ll give you examples by which God wanted to prove the failure of the self with all its gifts and strength.

Samson whose eyes were put out is an example of the failure of the human hand in its strength. Solomon who burned incense to foreign Gods is an example of the failure of the human hand in its wisdom. David who committed adultery and killed is an example of the failure of the human hand, in spite of the many gifts. Peter the Apostle when he denied the Lord Jesus Christ is an example of the failure of the human hand despite of his enthusiasm, zeal and loyalty. Peter who spent all night and caught nothing is an example of the failure of the human hand in spite of his experience and craftiness.

Therefore, if you experienced the failure of the human hand in all its strength, wisdom, gifts, enthusiasm and zeal, craftiness and experience. If you experienced that, do not live separate from God or struggle without His support.

Bring God in with you in the small and the great.

Many ask God only in great matters. As for the small ones, they trust their own strength, so they fail and fall .

That is why the devil looks after these small matters and concentrates on them to make man fall.

Therefore the saints are always beware of a devil called “the devil of small matters”.

And for that reason, it is said in the Song of Solomon: “Catch us foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines” (Song 2:15). As for you, bring God in with you, even in the small matters.

Do not trust your strength, no matter how it seemed a trifle thing.

Many of the saints fell in sins that they thought were “sins of the beginners”. As for you, do not belittle a specific sin and do not think that there is an insignificant sin that does not need help from the Lord. Seek the Lord always to work with you in everything, whether it seemed hard or easy.

Do not say: This is an easy matter. I will do it on my own. And that is a difficult matter, and I will need the Divine help for it. The easy matter is the one where God stands by your side in it. Otherwise it would have been difficult. And the difficult matter is what you do on your own, without God, even if it seemed to be easy.

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I like a fairy tale that was said about Noah’s Ark. Eight members were in it: Noah and his wife, his three sons and their three wives.. But..

It was said that there was a ninth on the Ark, who was steering the wheel. Without Him, the ark would not have been saved. This ninth was God. Yes, would anyone believe that Noah entered the Ark without God entering with him?!

There is no doubt that the divine providence is what guides us. Without it, our human hand would not be able to work. We plant and we water, but God gives the increase . Then it is “neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Cor 3:7).

Without the two angels who came to Lot, he would have perished with Sodom. They reached out their hands and pulled Lot when he took his time and they hurried him to get out...

If God did not send His angel to shut the lions’ mouths, Daniel would have been lost in the den. And if it was not for God’s angel, Peter would have remained in prison.

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Therefore do not concentrate your thinking on yourself, your gifts, ability and understanding, your will, determination, planning, experience and your chastity. Fear much lest you are depending on a human hand...

Struggle, but not on your own. And work, but do not depend on your work. Think, but: “Lean not on your own understanding”. Look at the electric bulbs; they may look strong and beautiful and from the best quality, with good wires and correct connections. But if the electric current does not go through them, they will never give light. The same with you.

There is a verse that I would like you to place always before you, like a slogan, which is:

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman stays awake in vain” (Ps 127:1).

It is true, you must work with the Lord. He builds and you pass to Him the bricks, stones and the mortar; or you become a good brick in His hands. But do not think that it is you who is building your life, alone, without Him. Listen to St Paul the Apostle when he says: “I can do everything, through Christ who strengthens me”.

He can do everything, but not on his own, rather in Christ who gives him strength. And if Christ does not strengthen him, he would not be able to do anything.

Therefore we say in the hymn: “Take hold of my hand and lead me”. Say to Him : “Lord , without you I can do nothing. Lead me, guide me, show me your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths”. “Lord, open the boy’s eyes that he may see”. Give me strength and support. Work in my weakness.

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The Lord Jesus Christ said a beautiful phrase to His Disciples whom He trained by Himself:

“Tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (Lk 24:49).

And what about all our experience, our knowledge and our spirituality? Or what about our long discipleship to You?..Do not depend on yourselves. Wait for the Lord’s promise, wait till you are endued with power from on high.” You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to me.” Only at that time and not before...

The same with you, do not work till you receive power from above. Seek this strength with all your weakness, your prayers, your actions and then you’ll be a witness to Him...

Then it is not with your human hand, even if you were one of the twelve Disciples, but with the power that you’ll be endued from on high. It is not with your strength or with your godliness but with the name of Jesus Christ the maimed will be able to walk. Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it.

Any sin that faces you, say to it: “I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts”, like David when he met Goliath. Enter for the Lord in the battle, because the war is for the Lord, be certain that the Lord is fighting with you. And if you do not feel Him, struggle until the breaking of day and say to Him: “I will not let you go unless you come with me. And if you do not come with me, I will not go to the war”, like what was said by Barak, the commander of the army, to Deborah the prophetess (Judg 4:8).

Be like the house that is built on the rock “and the rock was Christ” then you will not fall. Do not build your house on yourself because you are dust and ashes, and the house that is built on dust, great will be its fall...

The angels of the seven churches were in the right hand of Christ (Rev 2). “The right hand of the Lord does valiantly”. (Ps 118:16). You, too, remain in the Lord’s right hand. Be like the child who walks on the road peacefully because his father is holding his hand. Say to Him: “Do not leave me to myself and my intelligence. Hold my hand”. “O Lord, if I was left alone with my mind and my intelligence, away from You!” I would have then perished!!

Here is the Apostle saying: “Do not be haughty, but fear” (Rom 11:20). And if you felt fear, say to Him: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).

This is the spiritual man who progresses on his holy path, depending on the Lord’s strength that supports, guides and protects him and also works in him...

He never depends on his human hand... or any other human hand, away from God..


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