Recently I was out in the woods hauling some things with a wheelbarrow. As I tromped down the hill, with the weeds, grass, and briars brushing against my legs and arms, I was concerned about getting poison ivy. Then I remembered seeing this video about how to never contract it again (proving Facebook does have some value!).
The message of the video, delivered by Dr. Jim Brauker, is that the urishiol oil in poison ivy must remain on your skin for some time to create the itchy rash. Since this oil is undetectable to the eye and adheres to the skin, it is easy for it to remain on your body. Using very visible axle grease to demonstrate, in the video Brauker shows different ways you get the oil on your skin and then, with his hands and arms blackened by the grease, goes inside to clean up. Brauker uses different soaps and proves that none of them is the true answer to getting rid of the oil. The key is (you guessed it from the title) friction. He uses soap and running water with a cloth, and carefully cleans the axle grease off by rubbing it. He explains in the video that most people get poison ivy between their fingers, on their elbows, and behind their knees because these are the places least likely to be rubbed when showering.
Though he spends a great deal of time out doors and used to be plagued with poison ivy, Brauker claims to not have contracted it for years now following this method. Though I saw the stuff during my recent jaunt through the wood and am quite sensitive to it, I applied his method and, in my limited experiment, did not contract it. So simple, scientific, and satisfying! Though I doubt I will purposefully stand in a patch of it like he did, it is freeing to see the benefits of his friction method.
Which got me to thinking. Friction is useful for so many things. Sharpening knives. Beating eggs. Signing a check. Digging a hole. Sanding wooden floors. Driving along the highway (think of when there is ice on the road). Scratching a back.
However, when it comes to our spiritual lives and the church, we shudder at the idea of friction. We get bothered with the agitating factors of Christian living. God’s Word rubs us the wrong way sometimes. Prayer’s hard work pains us. We hate conflict with another brother. Besetting sins irritate us. Crossing racial lines is uncomfortable. Doctrinal disagreements discourage us. Ministering to a mentally ill or disabled person exasperates us. Talking to a poor person with body odor grates at our nerves. We quickly can begin to think that the lack of spiritual friction is the ideal.
Yet over and over, do we not see that it is precisely the times of friction that the Lord uses to sanctify us? The Scriptures are a sword and a hammer, after all. Agonizing in prayer, like Epaphroditus did, is heart expanding. Brotherly iron can sharpen brotherly iron in conflict as well as with accountability. Putting that sin to death yet one more time strengthens souls. Loving a face of a different color gives new perspectives on the kingdom of God. Wrestling over a theological point causes appreciation for our God and his salvation all the more. Suffering long with a difficult person in ministry creates Christ-like patience and long-suffering. Being with the lowly reminds us of our own poverty of soul and the glorious riches of Christ. These actions are the deep working of his Spirit in us.
Like rubbing away that poisonous oil, the Lord knows how to use friction in our lives to rid us of our greasy, irritable ways and soothe our souls with his oil of gladness.