work at praying

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:18

This is in the classic spiritual warfare passage, but doing what that passage directs is not supposed to be just on special occasions or situations that call for it, but ongoing, regularly, we might say daily. And though it’s to be done “in the Spirit,” we can see from “keep alert” and “always persevere” that it requires work.

It would be nice if we could just step in and do it, and I think in a certain sense that can happen, God encouraging us as a result. But for this to become a practice of our lives day in and day out will require long term commitment, effort, and growth on our part. To have the intent is necessary, but it’s the follow through which often falls through.  We shouldn’t despair because that will happen, but see that as a wake up call to pray.

I think this goes beyond lifting up others to God once a day, or maybe even more, though that’s good and needed. What we need to learn is what wrestling in prayer for someone and for all of God’s people looks like. If we’re ready to learn, God will surely teach us. I write this as a novice at best in this. But wanting to grow and find my way into some space in this way, some fixed place of significant, ongoing practice. In and through Jesus.

peace of mind

Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
in peace because they trust in you.

Isaiah 26:3

Shalom is the transliteration of the Hebrew word translated “peace” which means more than inward tranquility and rest. As translations indicate and considering the context, here it could mean safety (NET), as well as the flourishing of humanity and creation. Peace of mind comes with the sense that all is taken care of, that all will be made well, and in the end be well as in whole, no longer broken.

I think in this life we have to hold on to promises like this, because so much seems in flux, unstable, threatening: undermining what is good. We certainly do need peace of mind, which is often the way this Scripture passage has been applied, even if that’s not its precise meaning. It certainly is included. And notice that it’s dependent on whether or not we trust in God. When we do, no matter what, God will give us God’s peace. This reminds me of another Scripture passage, Paul’s words to us:

Do not worry 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

Notice that the promise here is not that everything will turn out just the way we like. We know better than that in this life. But that no matter what, God will be at work through our prayers is implied, with the promise that God’s peace which surpasses all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. We need to hold on to this promise and not let go of our faith, putting that faith into practice by doing what Paul tells us to do here. God will always answer. According to our faith, it will be done for us. And God values our efforts, even though inevitably imperfect.

We know that in the new creation we’ll live in God’s care with no concerns whatsoever, whole and fully at peace in the love of God. But even in a world which is often turbulent and tearing at the seams, we can still have God’s peace. Yes, right in the midst of the storm. And in spite of so many things we wish would be different. Peace of heart and mind. In and through Jesus.

the need for human resolve with the grace of God

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-8

Human resolve gets bad press in Christian circles for good reason. We can’t do it on our own, period. The end. We either come up with something which is more or less a coping mechanism, or we might enter into a false sense of security and well being which won’t hold up in the long haul, or we might just cave in and give up. One thing I want to add here: If we have mental health issues, that is no shame whatsoever. There is much needed wisdom from God within psychology, as well as medical help if needed.

We see in 2 Peter here, that Peter (I say) helps us see that from the grace of God in Christ, we humans can resolve and do better on any given issue. We should never think it will just be a snap of our fingers, and we’ll be relieved overnight. No, we need to think of it more as a long term work project, so that our commitment is beyond the moment or time we make it. But that this commitment, indeed resolve, as we call it, resolution is actually indeed necessary, and through God’s grace in what God gives us for life and godliness, is necessary for us help to make actual progress against whatever our struggle is. For me over the years, I think my prevailing issue has been anxiety. Whatever it is, God can and wants to help us. But we must take the bull by the horns and take hold of such help. Take what God gives us, and make the needed effort.

God’s grace given to us doesn’t mean we’re passive. We have to say enough is enough. But remember too, that whatever progress we make, while our effort is required comes only through the grace, meaning the gift and help God gives us. Through everything, whatever we’re facing each day. God will not only see us through, but help us to do better, grow, and ultimately to see substantial improvement, maybe even making that problem more or less a thing of the past. But this basic is ongoing in our lives, since we never arrive to perfection in this life. Given to us in and through Jesus.

can the Lord help us through each situation?

There are so many passages of Scripture which could help us. The problem with quoting any one of them here is that we can too easily almost make the passage itself nearly like a fetish by which I mean having power in itself apart from its true meaning. But we need to keep going back to Scripture again and again, because through that we find God’s revelation to us in Christ, and the details surrounding that.

Yes, yes, the Lord indeed wants to help us through each situation. This actually takes hard work on our part, akin to the thought in Scripture that we’re to make every effort to enter into God’s rest. We are so used to doing it our way, so “programmed” or set in that way, it’s so much a part of who we are, that sadly we’re at a loss to give that up. But we need to set ourselves in the straight and narrow of being determined, even if it makes us sick to our stomach, to commit everything to the Lord, and then depend on him. Prayer, talking to the Lord. A little bit of this goes a long way. And I mean a sincere, honest effort on our part. And not wavering, as James puts it, being two-faced, actually “double-minded.”

This has to be our ongoing commitment, and I speak for myself, so that this attitude and corresponding action becomes more and more a part of who we are, what characterizes us. Something I hope by God’s grace to continue to work on. In and through Jesus.

effort needed to overcome anxiety

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 4:6-7

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

God is the one who relieves us of our anxiety and worry through Christ. Only God can do that. But it does require our effort. That is clear in the above passages. We have to pray instead of worry. But when worry overcomes us, we cast that on God. That requires our effort.

Anxiety and worry is not God’s will for us. We sometimes hold on to it as if it’s our duty, or like it’s God’s will for us. We somehow think we’re to take care of the underlying issue, solve the problem causing the worry. When all God wants us to do is pray, telling him the problem, giving him thanks, with the promise that the peace of God beyond our understanding will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. In other words, God will keep us from anxiety and worry, or take it away from us. We’re also told to cast all our anxiety on God, because God cares for us.

That requires effort on our part. We can’t just wish God would do something about our anxiety, and we certainly shouldn’t hold on to it as if it’s our duty and responsibility. Instead we’re to relinquish the problem entirely to God in thankful prayer. To cast what anxiety we have on God. God wants us not to be overcome with anxiety, but sometimes we will, too often for some of us. God doesn’t say we’re on our own when that happens, but tells us to cast all of it on him. Because he cares for us.

Something I’m working on, and have to do off and on. In and through Jesus.

unlearning our striving

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)

In Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this passage, Jesus invites us into “the unforced rhythms of grace,” learning that. It’s in terms of a yoke, like oxen yoked together, Jesus carrying the load. But who also says that his yoke is easy and his burden light.

“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 11:28-30

It is a discipling relationship. We get to learn from the Rabbi, but that kind of learning wasn’t like what we ordinarily think of as education. It was living with Teacher and learning their way of life. Learning to see life as they see it, and act as they act, live as they live.

This is something we choose to accept, but then it depends on the Lord taking us on, and fulfilling the promise he makes here. None of this is anything we can do. And yesterday I heard someone making the point that we have to unlearn our own striving. How we think it all depends on ourselves, our effort. And imagining God rewards that. A big part of the American way, and seemingly what most evangelicals actually believe. And that fits in perfectly with the attitude in all of life that might and success are what matter. But not at all the truth or reality found in Jesus. But hard for us to break away from, so ingrained in us, even from childhood.

No, instead we need to learn straight from the Lord himself the unforced rhythms of grace. Something only he can teach us by the Holy Spirit. And learn to live more and more in that. In and through Jesus.

 

remaining in the truth and life God gives us

Only let us live up to what we have already attained.

Philippians 3:16

I remember the good, gifted servant of the Lord, Chuck Swindoll and one of his books entitled Three Steps Forward Two Steps Back. I think of that book title when I think of this subject, holding on to the progress and growth the Lord gives us. Paul makes the point in this great passage in Philippians that we’re to continue in the new way or place growth in Christ brings us. It is certain that we’ll at least be tempted to drift back. I think I remember hearing Swindoll say that for every three steps forward we go in the Christian life, we go two steps backward. That seems to play out in experience, unfortunately.

It’s important for us to hold on to the growth we have. And the only way to do that is simply to continue to grow (2 Peter 1). But it’s important not to backtrack and settle for the old, thinking what breakthrough or growth we experienced is not ours to remain in. Again I remember hearing Swindoll say in the past that if God gave something at one point, it is still always good at that point, not something to surrender, words to that effect.

It’s by faith and effort, more faith and prayer, more prayer and effort and faith that we do this. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s grace helps us where we are

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2:11-14

Sometimes we think we have to be in a certain place before God’s grace works. But actually apart from God’s grace we can’t do anything that will be helpful. Grace might be nudging us simply to realize that. Grace here is meant God’s gift of forgiveness and new life in Christ. God’s grace helps us exactly where we are. And we’re enabled by that grace to do better, indeed we grow in and through that grace.

We need to remember this. All depends on God’s grace to us always. We not only go from there, but continually live from that. In and through Jesus.

grace enables

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:3-11

God’s divine power given to us in Christ is how we can live a godly life, details aside, but coming. It is through knowing him, and then the passage builds on that. The words above speak for themselves.

It’s important to remember that our strength comes from God and from knowing him. That we have the “precious promises” of his word to help us continue on in this new life. And that effort is never opposed to grace, but enabled through God’s grace. In and through Jesus.

 

 

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.