one of my go-to books and passages to help me when I feel either on edge, or overwhelmed

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

2 Corinthians 12

Life can seem overwhelming to me much of the time. People around me may not know it from simply watching or interacting with me, but if they get to know me well at all, they’ll realize that I feel pressure about this and that. Challenges are of course a part of life. Some people don’t seem to struggle any with ill feelings, but I’m not one of them.

2 Corinthians starts out with Paul acknowledging despair for good reasons, even to the point of giving up on life entirely. But with the helpful twist that he felt the sentence of death in himself, so that he might no longer trust in himself, but in God, who raises the dead, and who would deliver them from any deadly peril which faced them. The letter ends with the same theme, highlighting Paul’s own weakness, and then that of our Lord’s in his crucifixion.

I find it most helpful again and again and again, world without end, to accept the difficulties, and hard places. To simply accept them, period. Not radical in understanding, but radical in meaning, indeed. But for the same reason spelled out by Paul in the passage above (click the link to read it all): to help us be more completely dependent on God. I would like to add from other places in scripture, also more interdependent on each other, for that is the way God would have it. Even in 2 Corinthians, Paul is working with others, so that it’s a team. We do well to share our struggles, or what we might call over-burdens with each other for needed empathy, possible counsel, and prayer. At the same time learning to carry our own load better, while casting on the Lord the things which weigh us down. Above all, as 2 Corinthians makes clear, and especially this passage, we need to learn to accept and even come to delight in our weaknesses, in order that we might experience the Lord’s help and strengthening.

Something I can easily forget, but which I need to remember more.

faith as allegiance

I am more than a little bit averse to easy constructs in theology to describe the whole of what is going on in scripture in the story of God. But I ran across a post, worth the read, which I think provides a good summary of one important aspect of faith, from a scholar, Matthew Bates. I wish he would describe things more in a way which puts the cookies on the lower shelf. If you read him, you may have to use a dictionary and work at thinking through what he is saying, which really is not a bad exercise in itself. Here are three points Scot McKnight draws out of Bates’s thoughts about what faith is:

  1. Mental affirmation/intellectual agreement: certain enough to yield.
  2. Professed fealty to Jesus as Lord (Rom 10:9-10).
  3. Enacted loyalty to the king, as in the obedience of faith.

I do think this point made of scripture making faith to be at its very basic, allegiance, does reflect what scripture actually teaches when one considers faith in the context of Jesus, and again, the post admirably sets that forth. I also want to see faith as somehow basically family-oriented, in that we are children of God through faith in Jesus, and that the faith of a little child is required, if one is to enter into the kingdom of God. So yes, allegiance to King Jesus the Messiah, as Lord, but also faith within the context of family, as God’s children. Of course we need scripture to fill out all the parameters of what allegiance to Jesus and living as God’s children in God’s household means.

Faith as allegiance to Jesus as Lord, and trust in God as Father is important in becoming our orientation in the rough and tumble of everyday living. We do things not out of some personal, self-centered goal, nor thinking that it ultimately depends on us. Instead we do everything out of loyalty to Christ, trusting in the Father to bring good out of everything, and to meet all of our needs together with others. All of this in and through Jesus.

learning the lesson of continual basic trust in God

It is probably breathtaking just how much we take for granted even in matters which amount to life and death. We may even be thankful, but we might get into our cars day after day, month after month, year after year without so much as a thought of asking for God’s traveling mercies, though we might do that for trips. Or for God’s help at work, since we are skilled (yes, from him) and can take care of that ourselves.

But every once in a while God might send gentle if not uncomfortable reminders of our utter dependence on him for safety, help, and blessing. Of course the blessing of God results in much more than just getting the job done in front of us, but includes how we do it and why. But first things first.

We need to really commit everything to God, whatever it might be that we’re doing: the nuts and bolts of it all, and all that underlies that. I remember someone taking me home from work, since I needed a ride that day. They did what they always do before driving, they committed in prayer the trip to God, short as it was (a half hour at the most). My guess is that their father did that as well, so that they learned that from him. Or maybe they started it themselves, perhaps under someone else’s influence.

I remember at the time, while appreciating it, kind of seeing it as a bit much, maybe a little on the super spiritual side, though this person puts on no such airs at all. But I think there’s wisdom in that. It won’t necessarily save us from a bad thing occuring. But it is an acknowledgement of our utter and entire dependence on God. And a good practice of faith, that we might do well in the faithfulness of God, and see the difference needed in our lives in and through Christ.

working hard at prayer

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

Ephesians 6

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Colossians 4

I love the times when the Spirit seems to help me pray. Feeling the love, and the blessed empowering of the Spirit as a complete, sheer gift from God. And I want to know more of those times, and engage in prayer during such times. It can seem as if the Spirit is taking our spirit to be with someone else, with their spirit, and in their circumstance.

But more often than not, and for the most part, prayer can seem like drudgery more than delight. I am doubtful that we can blame our spiritual lack on that. It might be more in line with human weakness and living within the realm of the world, the flesh and the devil, even when in and through Christ by the Spirit we are no longer in any of those realms ourselves. Check out the New Testament, if you doubt me on that latter point.

I believe the Spirit can help us through and out of those difficult times of praying, when it seems all is uphill. And then we can experience the empowerment of praying in the Holy Spirit. But one of the all kinds of praying in the Spirit surely must be a kind of wrestling in prayer in which much of our own effort in the midst of all kinds of weakness is given. To struggle to pray, and actually pray in that way is surely not only underrated, but looked at as less than spiritual. But that surely is a mistake.

To live in the realm of the world, the flesh, and the devil -in Christ, is surely to be up against resistance on every side. And dependency on God in our humanity is something Jesus himself experienced on earth as he looked in prayer to the Father. We should neither think we ought to be immune to it, nor be discouraged by it. In fact that sense can be a wake up call for us to get on our feet, more like on our knees so to speak, and pray, and keep on praying. Something I want to keep working on and continue to grow in, in and through Jesus.

false knowledge versus true

Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

1 Corinthians 8

I may indeed be untrained as a speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way.

2 Corinthians 11

The more we learn, the more we realize we don’t know. Those who think they know it all are barely touching water, whereas those who know better, find themselves in an ocean they had previously not known. Real knowledge inculcates/brings humility (see the entire book of Job). And with that there’s an awareness of how very dependent we are on God, and by God’s gift interdependent on each other. I think I was struck by this awareness my first year in Bible college as a young Christian, perhaps more than anything else.

Admittedly people can know a lot, and yet not know well. To know well is not merely a head crammed with “facts” and thus in our mind, power. Knowledge or success as they say, can go to our heads. Rather, we want to learn how to see things more and more the way God wants us to see them. And part of that, incredibly enough, is to begin to see life and everything from God’s perspective, in and through Jesus.

Knowledge is a gift from God, both in its basic form which children begin to learn from infancy at least through high school. And in a special gift of the Spirit given to some in the church to share the truth of scripture, of the gospel (1 Corinthians 12). And as we can draw out from the passage in 1 Corinthians 8 quoted above (and see 1 Corinthians 13) amounts to nothing, apart from love. True knowledge from God comes out of love, situated for life, for living.

Someday somehow by God’s gift in Jesus, we will no longer know in part, and the gift of knowledge as experienced today, will no longer be needed. We will have been ushered into what we begin to experience now by the Spirit, into the fullness of that reality, in and through Jesus (1 Corinthians 2). Until then, we realize fully that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13). And that part is always in love, if it’s the knowledge given by the Spirit, or the way God wants us to approach all knowledge in this life. As well as in the humility which attempts to see everything in light of the love of God in Jesus. And better yet, is seeking to rest in that love.

the invitiation to the Sabbath rest in Jesus

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11

Recently on Discover the Word, Elisa Morgan helped me see the possible connection in the above passage between Jesus’s relationship with the Father and our relationship with Jesus. You have to sort of read between the lines and gather it in, but actually it is clear when one reads all of the gospel accounts, particularly the gospel according to John.

I love the fact that just as Jesus, the Son was completely dependent on the Father, even while being deserving of equal honor with his Father (John 5:23), so we too are to be and actually completely are dependent on the Son (John 15).

In the passage quoted above from Matthew 11, Jesus is alongside us, pulling the weight himself, thus making it light to us. And yet we’re alongside with him in God’s work. Amazing.

Of course it’s an invitation in the first place. An invitation to everyone who is weary and burdened to find rest. And in that rest we somehow find the work we’re to do. Instead of trying to rest one day out of seven, which actually is a good thing, and I think we do well to try to practice that insofar as that’s possible, this is the Sabbath rest scripture speaks of (Hebrews 4). Something I want to understand and learn to live in better. Of course in and through Jesus.

Eugene H. Peterson on the prophet pointing us to our true humanity dependent on God

God asked Jeremiah to do something he couldn’t do. Naturally, he refused. If we are asked to do something that we know that we cannot do, it is foolish to accept the assignment, for it soon becomes an embarrassment to everyone.

The job Jeremiah refused was to be a prophet. There are two interlaced convictions that characterize a prophet. The first conviction is that God is personal and alive and active. The second conviction is that what is going on right now, in this world at this time in history, is critical. A prophet is obsessed with God, and a prophet is immersed in the now. God is as real to a prophet as his next-door neighbor, and his next-door neighbor is a vortex in which God’s purposes are being worked out.

The work of the prophet is to call people to live well, to live rightly—to be human. But it is more than a call to say something, it is a call to live out the message. The prophet must be what he or she says. The person as well as the message of the prophet challenges us to live up to our creation, to live into our salvation—to become all that we are designed to be.

We cannot be human if we are not in relation to God. We can be an animal and be unaware of God. We can be an aggregate of minerals and be unaware of God. But humanity requires relationship with God before it can be itself. “As the scholastics used to say: Homo non proprie humanus sed superhumanus est—which means that to be properly human, you must go beyond the merely human.”

A relationship with God is not something added on after we complete our basic growth, it is the essential core of that growth. Take that core out, and there is no humanity at all but only a husk, the appearance, but not the substance, of the human. Nor can we be human if we are not existing in the present, for the present is where God meets us. If we avoid the details of the actual present, we abdicate a big chunk of our humanity. Soren Kirkegaard parodies our inattentiveness to our immediate reality when he writes about the man who was caught up in things and projects and causes so abstracted from himself that he woke up one day and found himself dead.

A prophet lets people know who God is and what he is like, what he says and what he is doing. A prophet wakes us up up from our sleepy complacency so that we see the great and stunning drama that is our existence, and then pushes us onto the stage playing our parts whether we think we are ready or not. A prophet angers us by rejecting our euphemisms and ripping off our disguises, then dragging our heartless attitudes and selfish motives out into the open where everyone sees them for what they are. A prophet makes everything and everyone seem significant and important—important because God made it, or him, or her; significant because God is actively, right now, using it, or him, or her. A prophet makes it difficult to continue with a sloppy or selfish life.

Eugene H. Peterson, Run with the Horses: The Quest for Life at Its Best, 48-49. The quote is from E. F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Perennial Library, 1977), p. 38.