accepting the tension of life

But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands.

2 Corinthians 11:21b-33; NRSVue

Yes, this is Paul, but Paul does tells us to follow him, his example, as he follows Christ. The wear and tear of life are telling during a day, during a lifetime. Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled into an undertow from which there’s no coming back. The tension can be palpable. We could chalk that up to spiritual warfare, weaknesses we have which need to be worked through- like in my case over the years, anxiety, whatever it might be. But there’s no doubt, life has ongoing tensions related to responsibilities, challenges, problems, concerns, even dangers and tragedies. Life on planet earth is not for the faint of heart.

I’ve found over and over again that when I accept the tension of life, I gradually usually sooner than later start to sense help from God, and in time a nearly unsettling peace because it seems unreal, settles in. But life goes on with all the conundrums, with our own weaknesses. I wish we could live in that unsettling settled peace, and maybe if I live long enough, I’ll find that I live much more there than now. I can say that I do experience that peace more than in years past. But life isn’t easy for any of us. Just consider only for a moment what we’re facing today, and you can cut through the tension that easily comes with it, with a knife.

It’s not easy to accept the tension of life. It’s one thing when you’re on the other side where’s there’s at least some blessed relief, quite another when you’re in the thick of it. But that’s part of our calling in Christ, to live in that very same weakness in which Christ lived. In that we’ll find Christ’s strength and not just in our own lives, but in us together in this experience in Christ.

the central importance of self-control

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith…with self-control…

2 Peter 1:5-6; NRSVue

There are few things more important than self-control, in fact we can say that’s it’s on the first level of needed virtues to make our way in faith in this world. To understand it within the Christian or “in Christ,” following Christ framework, we must never consider self-control on its own. As in the passage from 2 Peter above, it’s attached to faith, and in the end, love. Our consideration of self-control here is not about self-control by itself, though that surely has its place in the world. But considered within our faith, it becomes a life saving and we might even say life giving component.

We must exercise self-control in the midst of doubts and difficulties, even disappointments from happenings. Yes, no matter what the thought, self-control must prevail. Of course it’s not alone. Reading the passage above as a whole, that’s quite evident, just as we’ve already hinted:

His divine power has given us everything needed for life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and excellence. Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust and may become participants of the divine nature. For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For anyone who lacks these things is blind, suffering from eye disease, forgetful of the cleansing of past sins. Therefore, brothers and sisters, be all the more eager to confirm your call and election, for if you do this, you will never stumble. For in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you.

2 Peter 1:3-11; NRSVue

So this call for self-control like any other place in Scripture requires context. And when you consider our culture, just as much so. After all, self-control would be the epitome of the celebrated rugged individualist “can do” attitude which can overcome all odds. So says the narrative we’ve been raised on. But that’s not the self-control referred to here. It means the same, but in an entirely different context. We are self-controlled in and from our life in Christ, a life together in Christ’s body, and then in our own activities in the world. Again, entirely different.

This is vitally important for me. I have suffered with anxiety, a sense of not feeling well, glass half empty, however else you might describe it, syndrome for years. Maybe related to all the head injuries I’ve had starting as a boy. But whatever the case may be, this is especially important for me to keep in mind since so often in my life I’ve felt on edge. But really, for all of us, for everyone self-control is a necessary part of the whole package of virtues we’re to keep in mind and pursue day after day in our life in Christ.

pressing ahead to God’s peace

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

There are times which trouble human souls (as the saying goes). And in this world, even during the best of times, there can and will be things which are unsettling. Scripture never promises us that all things always in this life will go well, that nothing bad will happen. No, not at all. But we do have promises that God will be with us, that Christ is with us, that no matter what we face, we can navigate it, even go through it well with God’s help.

We should be careful not to act out of fear or in reaction to whatever it might be. We do well to hold back, to try to look at the larger, even big picture, to pray and seek wise human counsel, and then let it go and wait. We’re going to be spinning our wheels, getting deeper in the dirt, going no where if we keep proceeding with a sense of panic.

It is hard at the moment and during that period of time, but we can actually grow substantially through it in ways we could never imagine. It has to be experienced, we have to be taken there, to a better place than we were before. A process which doesn’t end in this life, though I’m probably too glad myself for the intervals in which I’m okay in the inevitably imperfect state I’m in.

keep pressing forward no matter what

My soul clings to the dust;
revive me according to your word.
When I told of my ways, you answered me;
teach me your statutes.
Make me understand the way of your precepts,
and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow;
strengthen me according to your word.
Put false ways far from me,
and graciously teach me your law.
I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
I set your ordinances before me.
I cling to your decrees, O LORD;
let me not be put to shame.
I run the way of your commandments,
for you enlarge my understanding.

Psalm 119:25-32

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. seems to be celebrated across the board nowadays, though I’m sure that if he were still present, some would at best only grant him a grudging respect. Some of the same elements that he and the Civil Rights Movement were up against, have come to the fore today, saying and standing for some of the very same things which he was challenging. King was committed to nonviolent resistance to evil, always in love for enemies, grounded in the promise of shalom in the gospel of Christ.

Part of King’s story was the need to go on no matter what, whatever pressures were being faced internally or externally. This is something of the same lesson I have to keep going through, of course in my case, in much lesser matters. I find that I have to just keep pushing through, going through by faith. And one of the most important aspects for me to remember is to simply accept the heaviness, fear, whatever it may be I’m experiencing, and keep going through in faith.

If I resist those negative experiences, as a friend reminded me this morning, I’m resisting it in the power of the flesh which will get me nowhere. If I’m getting nowhere over time, that’s a sure sign that I’m going about it wrong. But going on in the Spirit, means I accept whatever I’m experiencing, that being a part of trusting God instead of thinking that somehow it’s up to me to get rid of it. At least this is something which has worked for me over and over. Though it seems like I still have to be reminded the hard way.

Martin Luther King Jr. was able to be triumphant through it all, because he did not try to escape reality, but was willing under the leadership of the Spirit, to confront it head on, along with others. Part of what Christ calls all of his followers to.

no end to worry except here

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

There is one thing for sure in this life. You’re never going to run out of things to worry about. If it isn’t one thing, it’s another, and some of them seem downright threatening. What are we to do?

Of course we can reason through it, ask for help, and try to do what we can. But best before and while we’re doing anything, above all we do well to pray. To ask God for God’s help, the help that only God can give. To see us through regardless.

be still and know

To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar; the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice; the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted in the earth.”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Psalm 46

I think one of the most important things any of us can hear is the words, “Slow down.” “Pause.” maybe even “Stop!” It’s not like what we do doesn’t matter, including some of the hustle and bustle we get caught up in. Sometimes at least that seems to be necessary. And then there are more than enough things to chew one’s fingernails over. You name it, quite a long list of domestic and global concerns, not to mention all the things immediately before us which can carry us away in overmuch care and concern.

We need to hear again and again with God’s people of old the words of the psalmist here:

Be still, and know that I am God!

God will have God’s way and nothing will get in the way of that. And in faith ultimately together with the world as we see in this psalm, we will indeed be included in that.

So take a deep breath and more of them. And just settle into the stillness.

putting on the whole armor of God: the shield of faith

With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Ephesians 6:16

There’s no escape from the reality that we’re in a spiritual conflict. Some Mennonites and Anabaptists are reticent to use any terminology that acknowledges warfare given the peace tradition which is both nonresistant to evil in that it rejects any violent act of retaliation, and resistant to evil in the sense of showing love through prayers and good deeds to any enemies. That’s all well and good, but I accept as reality that we are in an actual conflict spiritually with forces and beings which are not human. There may be other viable ways to see that, but that there are spirit “demonic” entities active in the world seems evident enough to me. At any rate we do face an evil that is active and makes it way into the fabric of human culture and activity.

The shield of faith is part of the whole armor of God that we’re to take up to put out all the flaming arrows of the evil one which are directed against us. Believe you me when I say that I’ve experienced a lot of this which has got past my shield because in all likelihood I really did not have it up to stop those arrows. They then get through to the mind and heart and tend to immobilize, so that one is at a loss until the Spirit of God helps one to do what needs to be done, or at least helps in whatever way one can receive. I know about this in experience all too well.

My wife told me that it’s not our job to worry, but to trust in the Lord. I’m sure for others the darts cause other problems, whatever they may be. For me over the years, anxiety has been my number one issue, not to say I haven’t had other problems. But that has been the dominant one.

The shield of faith refers to a faith in God’s word in Christ, in the gospel. It’s a good news which covers us in this life, and takes care of whatever might plague us, so that we can carry on in God’s will in Jesus, as followers of Jesus. So that we can simply follow on.

But this is something we have to do. This requires effort. Putting on the whole armor of God along with taking up the shield of faith. The ideal would be to do that as the arrows come our way, to block them. Having a sense of discernment to know. The reality is that the arrows often seem to get through before we put up that shield. I would like to learn how to catch the arrows ahead of time. God in God’s grace more than understands, but still God wants to teach us to do better. Again this requires action, and one would suspect a vigilance on our part. And a willingness and corresponding commitment to carry on, regardless, battle hardened so to speak, of course in the spiritual battle we’re in.

Something else I’m working on even today. In and through Jesus.

to avoid anxiety altogether

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

Saturday, I wrote some on replacing anxiety with prayer. Today I would like to go one up on that and talk some about avoiding anxiety altogether. After all that’s what this passage along with others seems to suggest. Before becoming anxious, interrupting that process. Some might point to what is expressed beyond the passage above, referring to our focus, or what we’re thinking about (click above link to passage). That can be helpful. But I want to concentrate on the word immediately at hand about addressing the anxiety problem.

Strictly speaking Paul’s words here are not about dealing with anxiety once we have it, but again, avoiding it altogether. What I find helpful is that soon as something comes to mind that I know at least has the potential to make me anxious and then caught in anxiety, there are certain basic things I need to immediately do to put that to rest, to stop it dead in its tracks.

“In everything” means in everything, thanking God, we’re to tell God all about the problem. We can’t stop our immediate feeling, but we can hopefully displace it or at least stop anxiety from taking root by simply doing, putting into practice what we’re told to do here. And with specific requests about it.

That needs to become our immediate reaction whenever we’re hit with something which we know we’ll make us anxious and probably overcome with anxiety. And it needs to be immediate, not delayed.

All of this doesn’t mean that we ignore problems at hand. But that we handle them with prayer, looking to God for help. And then proceed accordingly. Something I want to begin to see more in my life in days to come. In and through Jesus.

replacing anxiety with prayer

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7

For some reason for some of us, it seems like anxiety is a given. It seems or at least has seemed a part of who we are. We not only have the normal healthy anxiety needed to grapple with life, but a decidedly unhealthy debilitating kind. God in God’s grace even uses that weakness, and as we experience something of Christ’s strength in that weakness, that’s good. And that is one way to deal with anxiety.

But when we’re told in Philippians to not be anxious, and that instead we can experience the peace of God surpassing all understanding, indeed guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, we can experience both hope along with frustration.

It seems so easy from what the writer, Paul said. But in real life it is often not that easy. Before applying this passage I’m anxious already, so I seem to have failed already. I don’t think that’s the intent of those words by the way. If anything, they are meant to be an encouragement to us. We might more and more come to the place where we’re less and less anxious, and perhaps someday, experience of undue anxiety might be rare, maybe just part of a satanic attack.

There’s nothing fancy or earth shattering here. We just have to apply what is said as best we can. I’ve found over and over again in my life, that no matter what anxiety I’m experiencing for whatever reason, when I do this, always imperfectly, then the anxiety eventually dissipates and is replaced with some measure of a sense of peace. Maybe some of the reason my application of this passage is not that powerful in my experience, is because I’m not thanking God enough or even at all, in the midst of trying to do this.

Instead of so to speak being anxious about our anxiety, let’s simply be direct with God about what is troubling us, right down to the last detail, if need be, and ask for a good outcome. Trusting in the God who has promised to take care of us even down to the last detail. In and through Jesus.

the necessity and importance of self-control

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.

2 Peter 1:5-7

In a true sense, self-control is like the linchpin that makes all the other virtues in our lives individually in Christ and collectively as Christ’s body to work. Without self-control all else will at least weaken, and likely fall apart.

Self-control in this context is practiced whenever anything would distract us from the goal in Christ for the true good of all. We have to resist such and go on, even if it seems we’re off balance in doing so, even if such seems unreal to us. Self-control involves hanging in there, and holding on, and simply pushing through, even if one seems wobbly and definitely not steady in the process.

Self-control here means that we refuse to give into any impulses which weaken our stand of faith together and as individuals within the whole. We don’t give into the latest fear, anxiety, or troubling thought that comes our way. We can even turn such for good, trying to understand the source, perhaps a weakness in ourselves, in fact usually anything which requires this kind of discipline does involves something of a deficiency in us individually, and perhaps a deficiency in the fellowship in Christ of which we’re a part.

To practice self-control often isn’t easy, and many times feels completely contrary to reality. But it’s an important expression and practice of faith, depending on God in Christ to help us together and individually become fully developed, and to walk through every difficult circumstance which we inevitably will face. God helping us as we do that to begin to realize all of these virtues of love in their fullness. In and through Jesus.