Everybody has a Fanny.
Mark Clark Sr. shared a powerful testimony during the 2011 Missions Conference in Dover, TN of how he witnessed to an intimidating man on an airplane. He began by talking about when an offering was going to be received for a missionary, he was moved in his heart to give. But, when he pulled out his wallet, he began negotiating about how much. During his time in the airport, he felt moved to speak with this rough looking man, but began negotiating his way out of it. I appreciated his transparent honesty and I, along with most present, identified with what he said.
It is human nature. We are inspired to some difficult task or new discipline and then the negotiation begins.
“We don’t need to do quite so much.”
“We don’t want to go overboard.”
“Surely, nobody would expect us to do all that.”
In many cases, it is not long before we have talked ourselves out of the action entirely. We usually then pat ourselves on the back for the wisdom we displayed in it all. At that moment, we are like those James reproved for their dead faith:
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?
– James 2:15-16
Like John and Fanny
Jane Austen illustrated the human nature of negotiation brilliantly in her book, Sense and Sensibility. John Dashwood was the principle inheritor of the Dashwood estate. When his father, Henry, lay on his deathbed, his dying wish to John was that he would look after his step-mother and three step-sisters. John was moved by the deathbed scene and the prospect of his rich inheritance to a certain largesse and determined within himself to give his step-sisters a thousand pounds each upon their removal from Norland, the Dashwood home.
John was pleased with his plan and thought it suit his father’s dying wishes well. Once his wife, Fanny, learned of his intention, she was displeased and the negotiations began. She provided many reasonable sounding arguments that the sum was too large. John quickly cut his purpose in half to five hundred pounds a piece.
Fanny pressed the non-specific terms of Henry’s request and soon John adjusted to only gifting his step-mother with one hundred pounds per year. Fanny then waxed eloquent on the sure unpleasantness of annuities and how long half-blood relatives are sure to live if they are to receive per annum. John could see the reason in this and confirmed that surely fifty pounds given every now and again would be far better in the long run.
Fanny returned to the general nature of Henry’s request and questioned if he could have had a gift of money in mind at all. Having come down so far from his original intention, John found it an easy step to dismiss the idea of giving money at all. He thought his father must have meant more of a general kindness and such assistance as was convenient for John to give.
He thought then a small present of furniture when they moved was all that was required of him. Fanny, undaunted, reasoned that they already had inherited more furniture than they could ever need, nor indeed were worthy of wherever they might remove to. She concluded her argument that Henry had already provided for their needs and couldn’t have thought of John giving them anything but general well-wishes and such. John was then resolved that to give them anything would be wrong of him and that he might help them, as he could, to find a place to live.
Austen was very insightful of human character and could paint characters with her words to rival any artist with brush and canvas. If Fanny had suggested in the first place that John was to do nothing for his step-mother and step-sisters, he would have been appalled since he had such a large plan. By cunning craft, she whittled and manipulated until she got him down to nothing and he was resolved to it as his own plan. Solomon has some words of warning for a wife like that.
Whenever I Would Do Good
The truth is: We all have a Fanny. To put it in more Biblical terms, we turn to Paul’s words in Romans 7.
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
– Romans 7:14-21
That pernicious wife of our flesh is always with us, and whenever we are moved to do good, she employs every cunning craft to negotiate us down to nothing. Then “the good that I would I do not.” Giving in to Fanny only encourages and bolsters her. It only makes her harder to resist the next time. Soon giving in to her every demand is a way of life for a spineless man.
If we live in slavery to fleshy Fanny, we will not and cannot please God (Romans 8:8). The end of that life is death (Romans 8:13). We are bound to Fanny by law and only gain freedom from her when she is put to death (Romans 8:13). We must stand fast, resist the evil negotiator, and gain victory through Jesus Christ (James 4:7; Romans 7:24-25).
We need not despair. They that have the Spirit of God are His (Romans 8:9) and He is at work in us to will and do His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). By God’s grace, we can labor more abundantly than all, “Yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).