5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God.
And renew a steadfast spirit in my inmost parts.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Not everyone knows about so-called spiritual conflict. And those who actually are involved with struggles of the soul have experienced for many years already that all this talk about “spiritual heavyheartedness” actually amounts to nothing more than pious fanaticism.
This situation can be explained by the fact that in the natural order of things, there is no inherent conflict between Satan and our hearts. If we begin with the fact that we are friends of Satan, how could we ever be his enemies? No, the conflict arises because God does what he promised in Genesis 3:15 that he would do: “I will put enmity between …” If the conflict between us and Satan existed naturally, then God would not have had to promise that he would put enmity between the two of us.
So now we are by nature friends of this world and enemies of God. Consequently, it’s obvious that a real miracle has to occur within us to turn this situation completely around! That miracle has to create a situation in our lives in which we become enemies of Satan and friends of God!
And when it once gets to that point in our lives, then the battle, the spiritual conflict, the wrestling of the soul becomes automatic. Not immediately at full strength! Not with equal strength for everyone! Here much depends on you personally, on your personal circumstances, and on your past. But once it does get to that point, everyone experiences this struggle. And once the battle begins, it doesn’t stop until we enter our eternal rest. This is a battle not first of all against people whose thinking is different from our own or against worldly society. These actually have nothing to do with this spiritual struggle. But this is a battle that is fought in our inmost parts. In the hidden recesses of our hearts! Deep inside our souls, where no other person can detect what’s going on there! On the distant horizons of our innermost emotional lives, where we discover our inner evil and corruption! Where our secret sins are found on which the Lord shines the light of his presence! On those concealed compromises that likely even our closest and dearest friends here on earth don’t know about!
The battle rages between the Holy Spirit and Satan over us. As a result, it is also a battle between our own faith fostered by the Holy Spirit and our own wicked heart, behind which Satan hunkers down.
The faith in us is a new, sacred power that has been placed within us. It clings tightly to the Messiah, strives toward God, and does not abandon the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, it regularly and squarely opposes all the wicked, sinful, and godless desires that arise within us.
Believing and yearning are the sharp instruments with which this battle is conducted. Originally everything was captured in a single desire. Then the law said: “You shall not covet!” But that didn’t stop you! On the contrary! Desiring agitated you all the more intensely, adding fuel to the fires burning in your desires. And that’s where things stayed until God created faith within you. And that faith, as you know, was something different, something contrary, and something that militated against your desiring. And that’s how spiritual struggle began.
The battle did not consist of putting a stop to desiring and beginning to believe. Then no spiritual struggle would have occurred at all. No, desire continued. It even became stronger than it had been. And that’s precisely what caused your inner wrestling, surprised you about your soul, and produced your heavyheartedness.
Now it wasn’t Satan who was doing the yearning, but you were doing the coveting. Now it wasn’t the Holy Spirit who was doing the believing in and for you, but you were doing the believing. It’s true, the coveting did not originate with you, but Satan worked it in you. But it’s also true that the fruit that this bore was that you yourself, personally, in your self-centeredness became a covetous person.
And at the same time, faith did not originate with you either. The Holy Spirit worked it in you. But it’s also true that its fruit was that you yourself, personally, in the core of your being became a believing person.
Don’t vacillate on this! Hold on to it resolutely.
You are a being who yearns and one who believes. It’s from the two of these that your inner spiritual struggle arises. This is a conflict not at the place you work. Not in the circles of people where you live and interact! Not even in your emotions! No, it’s a conflict that occurs in that most deeply hidden part of you, deep inside you, in what David in Psalm 51 calls his “inmost parts” when he says: “Renew a steadfast spirit in my inmost parts.” It happens in what we often refer to as our “ego.” That’s where the mystery is concealed. That ego is dead, because Paul states: “It is no longer I that live.” And yet, that ego enters into the most glorious life imaginable, for the same apostle also says: “What lives in me is that I live through faith in the Son of God!”
What proceeds from that inmost core of our egos is a dynamic influence on every dimension of our soul’s existence: on our imagination, on our emotions, and on our will. And what this dynamic influence on our ego produces in our imagination, emotions, and will is our spirit. It is the spirit of our humanity within us.
That spirit participates in the conflict going on within our inner selves. In the mysterious vacillation between longing and believing two frequently opposing dynamics are at work on this spirit of ours. If faith is busy working in the core of our being, well then, the strength of faith exerts a holy power on our imagination, our emotions, and our will so that they become instruments of righteousness. By the same token, if the force of longing is at work in us, then the power of sin exerts a sinful force on our spirit, and our imagination, our emotions, and our will become instruments of unrighteousness.
If that back-and-forth dynamic is exerting pressure so that now faith is working more powerfully and then it almost completely disappears and a powerful, terrible sense of yearning prevails, then the spiritual battle within us is at its most intense.
But God’s long-suffering and his mercies toward us are great. Through his Holy Spirit he diverts and renders ineffective the depth of these powerful, natural desires. He causes our faith to work powerfully and consistently for a time. But then a moment comes once again when the dynamic is reversed and the power of yearning unexpectedly overwhelms us. It is turned loose and prevails. Then it enlists those parts of our being in the service of unrighteousness.
Then our soul mourns deeply, sadly.
And those dimensions of the ego thought: “Now I’ve arrived! Things have gone very well for so many days and weeks. Finally, after all this time, God in his mercy has heard me and broken the power of sin.” But watch out! That’s when you lose everything once again!
How can that happen? How else than because when things were finally going so well, you stopped being watchful. It happened when you actually began imagining that your faith is a sure thing! You no longer took it hour by hour, bit by bit. You no longer thought of it as a gift from the loving hand of your Father in heaven.
And that had to be punished. That’s the reason, the only reason, that the Lord God turned you loose! He didn’t fail you. That wasn’t the cause of letting go of you. But it was for sinning with respect to your believing that he, the Holy God, was punishing you.
But he who punishes is also vigilant. He sees to it that the wounds that he had to inflict on you do not cause you to bleed to death!
And thus, while the punishment has not yet ended, the dynamic that turns you back to him begins working again. Faith begins functioning once more. A deep, soul-wrenching sorrow develops. Clinging to the all-sufficient blood of the Lamb is restored. A sense of your poor, naked, empty-handed dependence and smallness returns. You become meek and lowly once more, and God renews his grace to you.
Now the soul lives again, and prays again. But now it still doesn’t pray with the same strength or earnestness or forcefulness that it had when it prayed: “Lord, create in me a steadfast spirit.”
That vacillation now becomes the source of deep sadness where God is concerned. Initially a person didn’t have much interest in this swinging back and forth. But now it has become a curse on the soul.
Initially it had the attitude: “Oh, if God would only sanctify my spirit, I’ll see to it that it stays steadfast!” But that has changed. Languishing in the awareness of its own impotence, it now prays: “O Lord God, I’m not able to do this by myself! In your mercy, create in me a steadfast spirit.”
Abraham Kuyper, Ever in Thy Sight: 31 Devotions on the Psalms