rejoicing in the Lord (spiritual warfare)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4

I haven’t actually wondered much over this exhortation from the Apostle Paul. I think I’ve summarily dismissed it during difficult times. And too often I’ve been in a thinking mode which might hide a lack the humility needed to simply praise the Lord no matter what. It’s not like I haven’t tried to put it into practice. I can exist in lament much of the time when I think about the troubles near me, maybe even on me, as well as the problems of the world.

Yesterday for a time I felt overcome in a kind of spiritual malaise and darkness accompanied with fear. Usually there’s some kind of reason behind it, even if it’s not entirely rational. Sometimes there’s really not much of any reason at all.

Then I thought of this exhortation or imperative, even command, although I prefer to take it as a gentle pastoral directive, that we’re to rejoice in the Lord, or be glad in him always, yes always. That made no sense to me in the present, but by faith that is exactly what I began to attempt to do.

What I found by and by, and actually sooner than not was a lifting of the clouds, darkness and chill, and a return of a sense of the presence and peace of God. By rejoicing in the Lord, even when I didn’t at all feel like it. By faith. All of this, as always, in and through Jesus.

simply being present as God does the work

In Jesus God is at work, and in the process actually enables us in Jesus to join in, of course even at risk to God’s reputation. But over all of that is a process in which God is at work to complete the good work he began in us through Jesus (Philippians 1).

Simply being present before God and with each other is surely underrated. Instead we tend to want to think it’s about what we need to do. Instead we need to get silent and get out of the way so that God can do the only work which will make a difference. As we learn to do that, we somehow become a part of that work. Of course essentially through God shaping and molding us in the image of Jesus, that being a lifelong process.

And it’s in communion with the saints, not just the dead ones if that goes on (and by the Spirit, that may be so somehow), but with those around us, others in Jesus. Somehow the image of Jesus being shaped in us gets rubbed off on each other through being together, even through the hard knocks and difficult places, including tensions arising in such relationships. But we have to at least be present with each other and preferably committed to this for that to happen.

God in Jesus is with us already; God is fully present. We need to be fully present before him, as best we can. In other words- accept, acknowledge, appreciate, and count on that Presence with us. Purposefully spending time by faith with God and learning to see all of our lives as in his presence. And also making it a priority to spend quantity, quality time with each other in Jesus. And with others as well.

This is central for us as humans, largely what makes us human. All of this in and through Jesus.

feet on the ground, experiencing God

Thomas Aquinas who surely had many wonderful things to say, his writings still benchmarks, late in life had a kind of vision of God, or more precisely an experience which led him to think of all of the writing as of no value at all. He had glimpsed, and had been taken in to something of the reality of God in which words seem to fail. Just the opposite is true though, about what he had written. His ability to think and put his thinking reflecting on philosophy and theology into words was a gift from God, surely a great gift, and end up amounting to helping others in the way of the Lord, and in catching a glimpse of the Divine in this life.

For the most part in my own life, I plod along with words. I am a word person. I can remember when we were part of what is called a charismatic church, we had a great group of quite artistic, creative people. They were kind of known as Spirit people I suppose, while I was considered a word person. I try to constantly be in my Bible, in a lot of places with a small New Testament/ Psalms and Proverbs. With that and my coffee, I feel pretty much okay, even at home, at least grounded, or attempting to be.

In the Great Tradition, the beatific vision, and theosis are held in high esteem, the former realized in the life to come, the latter beginning in this life. And actually both correlate to what scripture teaches, even if some of the descriptions given from church fathers might lend themselves to some misunderstanding. The point for us here is that we look forward to living in God, in the vision of God in the life to come, but in the meantime, we begin to experience something of that in this life through the word and the sacraments, so that we become more and more like God, by becoming more like Jesus through the Spirit, all of this in and through Jesus.

In this life we seek the Lord, we even seek his face (see the Psalms), while at the same time, we keep our feet on the ground, regardless of what we are, or are not experiencing. So much of life involves a groundedness in the midst of, and often in spite of the many details of life: the ins and outs, and ups and downs which come our way.

So for the most part, I’m quite happy to be plodding along, trying to understand, trying to follow. But to have those refreshing seasons when the water is turned into wine so to speak, and I have a strong sense of the divine, is quite helpful. But I am probably wary of receiving too much of that, because most of where life is lived will not be there. Life can seem not only austere, but even troubling, and difficult at best, one just trying to hold on.

That is why we need scripture, and to simply keep on keeping on. Thankful for the glimpses and experiences of divine glory, but not looking for that. Rather, hoping something of that more and more pervades our normal down to earth, feet on the ground experience, day after day, together with others, in and through Jesus.

nearness to God

Psalm 73 is a most interesting mix between closeness to God and complete inward desolation in which one feels not only poor and troubled, but left behind by God. It is typical of many of the psalms which go in and out between complaint and praise.

The sanctuary of God is the key and transition between darkness and light in this psalm. We are often so acclimated to darkness that we actually somehow find some sort of comfort and relief apart from God. It usually and perhaps always for us will be in things which are not necessarily bad in and of themselves. But the sanctuary of God is different. Into that place we take nothing except ourselves in all our brokenness and nakedness before God. We have essentially tuned out other things, and are tuned in to one thing only: the things of God, and more than that, God himself.

Again, other things might have their place, but if we have been in a season akin to “the dark night of the soul,” in which all is difficult, including the sense we can make out of life, all might seem empty, then perhaps that is preparation for entering into God’s sanctuary where we might find the peace and rest, even the very presence of God.

We need that sanctuary, I’m sure again and again, but it’s a reminder that God’s presence actually fills all things, even the very thing which troubles us and threatens to bring us down. But we can only come to realize that through entering the sanctuary, God’s holy place, and remaining there for a time, in and through Jesus.

grace comes through real life

Too often we are so caught up in how we feel, or what we’re up against, that we can become discouraged and be tempted to despair, even while we continue to plod along. And add to that, the ideal put in front of us that we shouldn’t be that way, that we should be on top of the world, feeling well and fine and dandy. That can make us feel all the more down.

But God’s grace in Jesus comes through in the real and rugged parts of our lives. We need not despair, even when we feel in despair, and sometimes for some good reason. God in Jesus is present. Remember: Emmanuel: God-with-us. We are not alone, and we’re not on our own.

We certainly face challenges along the way. On a number of fronts in our world, life can indeed be hard. It is the real world, after all. Certainly there are blessings as well, along the way, and we need to “count [our] many blessings,” no doubt. We should be thankful to God for his rich provision for us. At the same time, we don’t need to pretend that all is well. In the real world all is not well. Obviously there are sicknesses out there, as well as broken places everywhere, some especially broken in need of serious help, and divine intervention where there seems to be no answer. Yes, we live in the real world.

But like a cup of coffee can help us get going in the morning, remembering that God in Jesus is for us, and that by faith we belong to him, can give us that needed spiritual boost to continue on with confidence and good cheer that God will help and see us through, and even that we are victorious, indeed “more than conquerors through him who loves us” (Romans 8). Right in the midst life in the real world. A word that I need this Monday morning.

interacting with God

I know this post title sounds incredibly pretentious to many. Even many of us in the church can roll up our eyes and shake our heads over some of the claims our fellow Christians make. Yes, we can imagine God’s voice from our own imagination, even if God can speak to us through the imagination.

What I am getting at here is our need as those in Jesus to regularly interact with God. To keep the lines of interaction, even communication open. It is said that God is always speaking and wants to be heard. The problem is not with God, but with us, with our own blindness and stubborness of heart, or just our own condition and habit of not being in tune in heart and mind.

The good news from that, though, is that our very need and lack can become the means by which God’s grace is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit through Jesus. As we pray to God, even cry out to him about the needs we are concerned about, and there are plenty in this life, God will meet us, if in faith we pray to him and listen. Of course that includes the ongoing need for us to confess our sins to God (1 John 1:5-2:2).

This requires a commitment on our part. We’re naturally wired as human beings to see reality in terms of our experience now. So that unless we have the sense of God now, we feel completely lost. Like the difference between standing in the sun, or being in the shade, or a cloudy day and a sunny day. That analogy actually is apt in more ways than one: God’s presence still a difference maker, just like the sun, in either case. Felt presence, the difference here.

Jesus seemed to live his life on earth consciously in the presence of the Father. He often would get away in early morning hours to commune in prayer with the Father. Then in the course of a day, he would be doing this and that, often preaching the word and healing, along with teaching the disciples, so that he was busy. Of course in his case, though he was tempted to sin, and on the cross even felt abandoned by God (many say, because he was, although I don’t think so), he didn’t have the problem of sin which we still struggle with, and at times fall into, and in a sense live, though God’s grace in Jesus makes it in a way as if we do not.

Yet even that sense of our falling short or great need, including our actual sins themselves can help drive us to God. In the words of the tax-collector: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Our great need can work like the thirst the psalmist described as those in a hot, barren land, a thirst for God, to meet God, yes to experience God (Psalm 63).

I know that I am in great need all of the time. I need God, and I need to interact with God, which I do by remaining in God’s word, in scripture. And from that, I pray. Of course we can pray, and it’s good to pray first, but I find that God’s word helps me to respond to God in prayer. And besides that, it’s good just to be silent before God, and especially so, as we continue to meditate on God’s word.

And so yes, I try to remain in a place of interactivity with God. Ironically enough in the rough and tumble of life, I realize my need more for this. Whereas when resting, and having some time to enjoy this or that, especially so during a vacation, it can be more of a challenge to continue this. But when one sees that this is where we in Jesus are to live, that this is real life, such interactivity surely enhances all of life.

And so my goal today, this Saturday, with this and that I need to do, as well as a time of relaxation which hopefully follows is to remain in that interactivity with God, through the word and prayer in and through Jesus.

when left to ourselves

Elijah was a man as human as the rest of us (James 5). After the great confrontation against and God-given victory over the prophets of Baal with the verdict in Israel that the Lord (Yahweh) is God, Elijah ran off and hid from Queen Jezebel, who was bent on his destruction, and seemed to despair of life itself. He had been on the mountain, but now he was not only in the valley, but in the desert, so to speak. He was lost, out of sorts, and in despair. He had done God’s will, in a most contentious context, and God has brought about a great victory. But now it seemed to Elijah, all for nought. He was ready for his life to end.

On a much smaller scale, nothing in comparison, but nevertheless the case, I’ve been on a similar trek. I will do something which I either think might be God’s leading, or seems good at the time, only to not only want to take it back later, but to grovel in a kind of despair and regret over having done it in the first place. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. And it seems like what happened to Elijah, we can expect will happen to ourselves as we endeavor to live in faith and obedience in a world that is set against, and even hostile to such faith. Of course there can be a settled indifference in the world as well. But when push comes to shove, one can be sure the world will respond, and it won’t be pleasant.

When left to ourselves apart from God’s grace, we are going to be at a loss for sure, and our actions, or more precisely, our reactions, are more often than not going to be unhelpful.

In spite of himself, God supplied what Elijah needed at the time. He needed food and rest. And orders for his next task, or the sense of mission and how God was leading him beyond that time (1 Kings 18-19).

The God who is with us to help us do his will in the midst of opposition, will be with us afterward, and beyond. We are not left to ouselves. And not only did God not forsake Elijah, but a remnant of no less than seven thousand remained faithful to the Lord. We also have each other in Jesus.

Therefore we need to faithfully plod along, taking one step at a time. Intent on seeking God and endeavoring to live in his will, come what may. Assured that he goes before and behind us, and with us, each step of the way.