At least twice a year my “proneness” seems to come front and center—at New Years when I make my list of resolutions and at Lent with my more spiritual resolves. Prone comes with the package of our human nature and unfortunately is with us for the long haul.
Prone is an archaic word you don't hear much. It means to have a natural tendency to do something, an inborn inclination. It is a predisposition toward something. We are inclined to lean in a certain direction. Sheep are prone to stray, to wander off. It's their nature. The Scriptures make the analogy that we are prone to do the same. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way....”
We can understand why turning away is true for unregenerate mankind, but what about those of us who are Christians? Haven't we become new creations in Christ with a new nature that is inclined toward the good and the holy? Yes and no. Even indwelt by the Holy Spirit from our baptism and regeneration, we are prone to lean toward our fleshly nature. We still keep breaking our resolutions.
Saint Paul agonized over our common condition as Christians in the seventh chapter of Romans. Listen to him: “For that which I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” He was giving us a reality check. If a spiritual giant like Paul had that problem, we know all too well that this is an accurate assessment of our lives in Christ too.
A phrase from the classic hymn penned in the early eighteen hundreds, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” describes our condition. “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” But that doesn't seem right somehow. Why would I want to distance myself from the God I truly love? It happens because of my proneness and that experience of Saint Paul that he called his “wretched” condition. We are caught in the net of our continuing mortality, the drag of our flesh, the pull of the things of this world that still entice us. We are drawn away by our own desires and lean in a negative direction.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God; the Scriptures proclaim that clearly. But even as Christians we can back away, drift off, and allow some things to lure us from an intimate, abiding relationship with God. Jesus spelled out what such enticements could be: “the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts [desires] of other things” make us prone to wander and cool our ardor for Him. In the book of Revelation Jesus calls it the decline of our first love—“prone to leave the God I love.”
My own proneness shows itself even before the sun has set on the first day of the New Year. The resolutions I carefully made with the best of intentions to improve myself give way to my proneness to my old ways, my well-rutted habits. And my predisposition to prone rears its head again as the days of Lent march along toward Easter and I confess that I have already failed to do what I ought and have done what I didn't want to.
What is the antidote to being prone, leaning in the wrong direction and going my own way? I have green plants in my picture window that are prone to lean toward the warm sun streaming through the window. Their nature is to incline in that direction. If I rotate them to face in the opposite direction, soon their inner energy inclines them toward the sun again. There is much in Scripture instructing me to “incline my heart, incline my ear, incline my way” toward God. He has created me with free will and expects me to do that on my own; God will not force me or do for me what is in my free will to do.
The Holy Spirit lives in me and is greater, stronger than the pull of my lingering proneness. So I can defy my proneness to lean toward my flesh, and I can determine with God's enabling to walk in His ways even if it is a more difficult path. Even if it requires denying myself and taking up my cross and resisting my flesh—or more drastically, crucifying my flesh as Saint Paul termed it. Lent is a good time to practice that in a stated length of time.
Thanks be to God, throughout the days of Lent Jesus the Good Shepherd looks upon my prone sheep-heart and shows compassion toward my weak will. When I fall and fail, He gently brings me back in line each day with His rod and staff and picks me up. He pours healing oil on my head.
He encourages me: “Let Me take your hand these forty days and learn of Me. I see only the good steps you have tried to take. Start afresh tomorrow. It's a steep climb upward toward Calvary and the victory of Resurrection morning. Resist your proneness. Lean on Me, incline your heart to Me, and My strength will infuse you for your journey--not just for forty days but for your lifetime.”