love: the perfect harmony

Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:14; NRSVue

The love spoken of here is of Christ in Christ’s body, the church. But as we see in this letter from Paul to this particular church, this is not a given, not automatic. When it’s all said and done it is the love of God in Christ given to us by the Spirit worked out in our relationships and relationship with each other, which makes the harmony, indeed perfect harmony that’s needed.

The church and us as individuals together are told to clothe ourselves with love. This is a word about relationships which makes sense when you consider the meaning of love and made clear in this short saying. It is something we have to commit ourselves to, be committed to, realizing the great love of God for us, for each other, and actually for everyone.

Love is what makes it all work together and well, yes “in perfect harmony.” Without it nothing else matters (1 Corinthians 13). And it can’t just be there in the background as it were, simply existent. It must be what makes everything work. God’s love given to us by the Spirit in and through Jesus.

necessarily slowing down

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

Lamentations 3:25-26; NRSVue

I hate to have to be in a hurry over anything. Sometimes we have to slow down or even better yet, stop. And the stop spoken of in the passage above from Lamentations is about waiting on God, and doing so quietly, in anticipation of God’s salvation.

When we’re in a hurry it is usually all about the effort we’re putting into it. God might bless that to some extent, and there are times that we absolutely have to make tracks. But by and large we are better off to slow down and even stop at times. In the words of the writer of Lamentations (traditionally, Jeremiah) we need to wait on God. Not keep moving on as if we got it and it’s all good.

The only good that comes is from God. It’s not because of our effort, although effort is required to receive what God gives. But to receive that, a big part of our effort, what we do, is to simply slow down and sometimes stop. A reminder that I need at times.

In and through Jesus.

are we improving?

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 goodness. 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 goodness, and goodness 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 short-sighted and blind, and is 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

We are often enough painfully aware of faults and shortcomings. That we certainly don’t measure up to the full stature and perfection of Christ. I really don’t like to chalk that up to being fallen. Yes, we are still recovering from all that we were, referring to the bad and the ugly. But “in Christ” we’re a new creation already, but needing to live out what God is working in us. In the words of this Petrine letter quoted above, we’re to put our full effort into living out of the new divine nature in which we’re participants.

The question is: Are we improving? You certainly can’t tell that from day to day. It takes time, more like from year to year or more to notice improvements. But it’s good to note such.

We first need to be aware of our faults, and not just shrug them off and forget about it. But take it seriously, seeking to change. And in the words above: make every effort to support our faith with goodness, then on and on.

Where do we start? Right where we live, on the very thing that is troubling us, in which we’re not doing very well. Perhaps in our reactions to it and all that’s involved in that. We may keep it mostly to ourselves, but it is still troubling us inside. Whatever it is, we want to see improvement over time, change. And we’re very much involved in that, as the text indicates above. And the above passage implies that it is not only an individual effort, but involves community in Jesus.

Along with our own effort is God’s enabling. Yes, it’s a struggle. But God is present to make the needed difference. But we must participate in what God is doing, otherwise as the above text intimates, it will not take hold, it won’t do any good.

So let’s not give up and give in, but carry on, with all the effort we can muster. To become what we’re not, seeing change toward that. So that just as we realize we’re different in some ways, even if it’s a humble difference, then say a year ago, we’ll also see a difference a year from now, should we still be alive in this present existence. In and through Jesus.

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.