Give Him an Inch and He Will Take an Ell

Have you ever heard the expression “Give him an inch and he will take an ell”?  I had not.  I am more familiar with the American expression “give him an inch and he will take a mile.”  I ran across the expression in a chapter of C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity.”  An ell is an old English form of measurement, equivalent to six hand-breadths, or about 45 inches.  Just shows how prone to exaggeration Americans are – there is a much greater distance between an inch and a mile than there is between an inch and an ell.

C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis uses the expression to talk about how God wants to work in our lives.  He compares God to a dentist who won’t just work on the cavity we went to him for.  Instead, the dentist wants all our teeth to be as healthy as possible.  In the same way, if we go to God to fix something broken in our lives, God won’t just fix the one thing.  Give him an inch and he will take an ell.  God won’t stop until either everything is fixed or we remove ourselves from his care.

I suffer from the Christian “good-enough” syndrome.  Most of the time I like to think that I’m a good-enough Christian.  I don’t really have any glaring sins.  I’m careful to obey the big 10.  I attend church regularly, attend to the spiritual disciplines, volunteer to help others, and give my tithe to God.  Good enough.

But good enough to me isn’t good enough to God.  God wants us to be perfect.  He may be satisfied with our first wobbly baby attempts to walk the Christian life, but after years of walking, God expects me to be a sure-footed Christian adult.  God is there to show me the way and Jesus modeled the life.  God even gives us the Holy Spirit to help us move.  But, all too often, I would rather stay right where I am in my Christian development.

The truth is, I’m afraid.  If I give God an inch, he will take an ell.  And what might that ell look like?  Will he want me to move to the inner city and work with the poor?  Will he expect me to give up reading novels so that I have more time to devote to others?  Sometimes I get mad at Tom and even revel in my anger.  I have a feeling that isn’t behavior pleasing to God.  And I can be particularly nasty and snarky in talking about people I don’t like.  I am very judgmental.  All things I’m not really interested in changing.

And yet, there is that call.  Be perfect.  Live up to your calling.  Let me make all of you healthy and whole.  C.S. Lewis writes “We never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into.  But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us.”  This idea is very alluring.  I can stick to my idea of good-enough, or I can let God work to make me into what He intended me to be.  Letting God work on me, without standing in his way, seems to be exactly what I am supposed to do.

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me!
Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.