no quick fix

When I read Scripture and life after over four and a half decades of being a Christian, at least it seems to me that there is no quick fix or great spiritual breakthrough awaiting us if we can just find it. Yes, it can make a big difference when we learn to depend on God and less on ourselves, and when we learn to “walk” more by the Spirit, be filled with the Spirit, etc. All of that surely does make a world of difference, the difference between light and darkness.

But it’s best to settle down into the realization that there simply is no quick fix. Change for us is incremental and takes time, and yes, effort, on our part. God’s grace underlies it all, and without God’s working, there will be no change at all. But we have to apply what God has given us, and do it again and again and again, so that new habits replace old ones. For example my first natural reaction to problems will be to grumble and complain, maybe utter something under my breath that I shouldn’t. But as I learn God’s way given in Scripture, I might instead learn to rejoice and give thanks, and pray to God, and at least not grumble. Or if I do complain, to do so to God.

Christians waste their time trying to find the big breakthrough, maybe some great spiritual experience, instead of simply endeavoring to follow Christ and stay in the word and pray, and remain in the fellowship of God’s people. And just accepting the fact that life will be a struggle in this world, that the world, the flesh and the devil aren’t going to disappear because of some mountaintop experience.

The sooner we accept this, the better. That God will be with us through it all. In and through Jesus.

the tried, tested and true

Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:38-40

It’s not like we don’t need to be stretched, and test and try different things. That can be part of our growth process, and is surely needed. It’s rather that when push comes to shove, we can get back to what we’re grounded in, what we’re used to in our walk in God. I’m referring to habits of life that keep us grounded in the faith, in our faith, in God and God’s good news in Jesus.

For me quite simply that’s being in the word and from that, prayer. And everything else is evaluated from that, so that there may be something quite valuable to gather besides: the wheat, and other stuff to ignore: the chaff.

I think it’s good to try new things. But I also think it’s important to develop habits through which we live, even approach the new things we’re doing. I am not one for big breakthroughs. I look at life more in terms of incremental ongoing progress in a process. Of course with steps backwards as in “three steps forward, two steps backward.”

And all of this in the underlying reality of realities: God is love. Learning to find and live in that love, and invite others indirectly and directly into that same life. In and through Jesus.

a new (for me) thought on dealing with anxiety (worry)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

As much as anything, and probably more, I’ve struggled with a low grade (sometimes high) anxiety most all of my life. If it’s the right kind minus obsessive compulsive tendencies, so as to take care of details on a job, that’s one thing. But when it amounts to thinking and acting as if life and its outcome depends on me rather than God, then that’s quite another, the latter not good at all.

I’ve had kind of inklings of this thought before, but not as plain as day like this: What if instead of first becoming anxious (or worrying; see NRSV in above link), I would immediately, as soon as something, or some thought occurs which will threaten my peace and result in anxiety, what if I would immediately bring that before God just as the passage quoted above says? After all, it doesn’t tell us not to be anxious after we have become anxious, and strictly speaking, it’s not about dealing with anxiety at all, although that’s the way I’ve used this passage in my life. It’s really about avoiding anxiety and worry in the first place.

Realistically, I say, it is hard to avoid anxiety in this life. It seems nearly like an automatic part of life for me. Of course there surely is a healthy anxiety which is different than the anxiety referred to here. That kind can comport with a faith in God, total dependency on him, and interdependency on others. But the anxiety we’re to avoid amounts to a lack of faith in God, somehow not believing God’s word, and thinking and acting as if all depends on us.

Of course we need to do exactly as this passage in Philippians 4 says. But the above link will make it clear that it’s in the context of rejoicing in the Lord always. And reading the entire book of Philippians will put it in the context of a life that is Christ, and is bent on moving toward the goal of conformity to him, and God’s calling in him. And beyond that, though the book of Philippians is definitely the place to start, we actually need the entire Bible to help us in providing needed context for not being anxious, or worrying by keeping the instructions here.

It is radical and abrupt, and surely not something we will simply step into unerringly, since we’re so used to being anxious and worrying in a way which at least weakens faith. We need to take it little by little, and learn a new way, so that over time, we can learn a new habit, and more and more avoid anxiety, yes completely in some measure in this life.

A new thought to me, one I look forward to working on in whatever days the Lord has left for me in this life.

replacing old habits with new characteristics through the new life in Christ

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed,which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:1-17

Even for those of us who have entered into the new life in Christ, there can be old habits which cling to us, and even though destructive, we can cling to them. As Pastor Jeff Manion has been pointing out recently in the series on Colossians, a new life in Christ doesn’t mean that the old habits automatically go away. In fact, it would seem quite the opposite, when you consider what the word here and in other places says.

There is no doubt that we often fall into habits from attitudes which are less than helpful. The good thing about this is that it can expose us in helping us see the dead-end and even destructiveness of what we’re doing. So that hopefully, in the words of Paul in Colossians, as graphically displayed by Jeff Manion with shirts on hangers, we’re to put off the old clothes, and put on the new, in keeping with the new life in Christ.

This can involve a radical change for us. The lists in Colossians are pretty stark, the two major categories being sexually immoral sins, and sins of anger and rage. These by themselves in some form make up something of the struggle for most all of us at one time or another. But there can be other sins we cling to, and which cling to us, as well. Because of our new life in Christ, we can take off and get rid of those sins, and in their place, put on Christ-like characteristics which will point others to him.

And we’re in this together in Jesus. It’s not an individualistic, self-help program. In fact the list of virtues we’re to put on, culminating with love can be understood only, or at least best in the context of relationships, and specifically relationships with our fellow Christian sisters and brothers. In a certain sense extending beyond that out into the world, but established and at work in the body, the church.

And so we need not despair, or simply give in to old habits which are eating away at us, and actually directly or indirectly destructive or unhelpful to others. In Christ together we have the answers toward a radical change which involves a life-long process, as we continue to take off the old, and put on the new, in and through Christ our Lord.

the importance of doing something regularly

From our Protestant Reformation culture, especially through the Lutheran strain, good works and effort are nearly always feared. Somehow the thought is that we might think we are earning our salvation through our own meritorious efforts, or that by those works we are closer to God than others. We can fall into those errors, and both are mistaken. However it is true that works can actually help us in our faith. When we make the effort to come before God and to use the “means of grace” God has provided in reading scripture, good books, along with prayer (and some prayer books like the Book of Common Prayer can be valuable in helping us in that), we can begin to experience change in transformation of life, even if it is incremental and at times in fits and starts (“three steps forward, two steps backward”). When done regularly preferably daily maybe with one day off a week, these practices can become ingrained into us as habits which can impact us for good.

Scripture tells us to be angry but sin not, to not let the sun go down on our anger, and thus not give the devil a foothold. In other words we have to deal with what is wrong, what is troubling us, or it can become sin. We have to deal with everything in terms of accountability to God, in a sense to ourselves, and in best case scenarios with trusted friends and companions in the way of Jesus. We shouldn’t let things slide, or push them under the rug.

Some things we don’t necessarily do daily, but regularly, as in meeting with other believers as church on the Lord’s Day, Sunday. Most things I need to do daily, or else they’ll fall by the wayside. Good habits can wear well over time.

Of course just because we do certain things, good as they may be, doesn’t mean we’ll be impacted as we should. Our effort can help us be open and eventually acclimated to a new way from God in Jesus.  But we can fall into the same trap as the Pharisees of old who thought they were doing well by what they did when their hearts were not right toward God or man. Good habits must be done in search of God’s gracious work in us. We want to be changed from the outside in, as well as the inside out.

And so we go on. Often not feeling like it, though as it becomes habit, yes feeling like it. It simply being a part of us whether we feel like it or not. Regularly, usually daily. As we follow on to know God better and God’s will for us in Jesus.

habits

Life consists of habits, some good, and some not so good, maybe some downright bad and unhelpful. As we look at the change in our calendars about to take place, the move into a new year, as well as looking back on the last year, it might be good to reflect for a moment on habits we have picked up, or perhaps have long lived out.

Instead of simply naming the habits and then categorizing, or perhaps along with that as a part of it, we need to consider the underlying motivation behind them. What may appear at first glance as detrimental and not good, may actually have an understandable and perhaps even good motivation behind it. Love, but a love that is grounded in God’s revelation in Jesus found in scripture, is what is needed for any motivation to be good. Recently I came to see that something I had been doing which I questioned, really in significant measure I’m supposing is motivated by the desire to live in as well as live out that love.

Some habits need to be dispensed of immediately, but oftentimes they are the kind of things which have a grip on us, sometimes even a stronghold, or we might say, stranglehold on us. Perhaps it’s an addiction, for some it may be pornography, for others alcohol or drugs. Maybe in other cases it is lesser problems which nevertheless take one away from their family. In the former, one may need special professional counseling, and plenty of prayer from trusted, spiritual friends. In the latter we’ll need prayer as well. And we all need accountability with each other.

I think ordinarily speaking, referring to habits which often are more subtle, maybe a trail we tend to take when difficulties or trials come, or perhaps curbing a habit which in itself is alright, perhaps even good in its place, but can become not good when it takes over our life, it is wiser to think about new habits we can work at getting into our psyche and practice, rather than simply dispensing of an old habit we know is unhelpful.

For me an indispensable habit is the recitation of the Lord’s/our Father prayer. And along with that I will repeat the Jesus Creed. I know if you have read this blog, that this is getting to be a broken record. But I think simple recitation over and over can help center us on what matters. What is needed is heart change which then spills over into one’s life and out from that into the world.

One of my worst habits is down talking myself. I’ll do that out loud in front of my wife who promptly corrects me and wisely won’t tolerate it. Nevertheless it has become, more precisely has been for sometime a pesky habit which seems to have its roots well entrenched in me, so that its fruit is evident when I am tired and life is trying. Especially when I am reflecting on how I’ve let others down, whether those thoughts at the time are really fair or not. And so this coming year I want the Lord’s help to work on that. To learn to rejoice in the Lord in everything, and all that goes along with and is related to that. Perhaps a good steeping in a book like Philippians will be in good order in the coming year for me.

What might you share here in regard to habits? What has helped you in this regard?