"Are ye Abel?" said the Master
Truth be told, virtually all of us feel a healthy sense of insecurity in our lives. Yet we so often go about our days tricking ourselves and others into believing that we have it all together...that we are able to handle anything life throws at us...that we are confident and self-assured. Like the respondents in Marlatt's hymn "'Are Ye Able,' Said the Master," when we're asked by the Lord, "Are ye able . . . to be crucified with me?" we quickly respond with gusto, "Yea . . . to the death we follow thee!" And like Peter in Matthew 26, when Jesus convicts us of our sin and highlights how we will betray him (or how we've already betrayed him), we reply, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you" (Matt. 26:35, NIV). We want to believe good things about ourselves; we want to project to the world a sense of control and spiritual maturity. We want to belt out the chorus, "Lord, we are able. Our spirits are Thine."
Yet, our lives tell a different story. Not only do we have very little self-control or genuine confidence in ourselves, but we are also beset by such gnawing and debilitating sin natures that, like Peter, we often turn our backs on God, and unlike Marlatt's respondents, we cry out, "Lord, we are feeble. My spirit is mine."
So, what do we do? Well, maybe we start by hearing a different question from God. Sure, the question, "Are ye able?" is an appropriate one, but it usually elicits the rote answer, "Sure, I'm able, God!" I want to suggest that we hear an alternate question today, namely, "Are ye Abel?" You see, Abel, being the second person born in human history, had a front-row seat to man's budding relationship with God. Although his parents had sinned and put enmity between God and man, Abel had quite obviously taken it upon himself to submit to God's will and try to make right what his parents had made wrong. Genesis tells us that "Abel kept flocks" (Gen. 4:2) and from these flocks he "brought an offering--fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock (Gen. 4:4). Because of his blood sacrifice in apparent obedience to God, Scripture tells us that "[t]he Lord looked with favor on Abel and his offering" (Gen. 4:4). Indeed, Hebrews 11:4 says that it was because of Abel's superior faith that God considered him a righteous man.
What exactly did Abel do that garnered him such praise from God? Simple...he followed God. He didn't rush ahead of God; he didn't trick himself or others into believing he was something to be praised; he didn't try to project confidence or control; rather, he humbly submitted to and followed the Lord. He lived a life of obedience, service, and sacrifice!
How are you living today? The Master asks us a lot of questions in our lives of faith, but the one he's asking us right now is not, "Are ye able?" but, rather, "Are ye Abel?" In other words, the question is not one of ability but one of humility. God is not concerned with how much or what we can do; his concern is how much we're willing to allow him to do through us. And one immutable truth of our faith stands: the more we act like Abel, the more God is able to do with us!