our mothering God

A Song of Ascents. Of David.

LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and forevermore.

Psalm 131; NRSVue

Probably the most important thing I learned in my first year of college is just what little I know. A world of knowledge was opened up to us, and what I thought I knew was set aside. In that kind of education, one not only sees how little they know, but that oftentimes what we think we know is flat out mistaken.

This psalm touches on that, but that’s not really the heart of it. It’s more about our relationship with God and life from that perspective. I’ve never been a mother, so I can’t speak firsthand here, but the relationship between God and each person is likened to a mother and child, in that culture a weaned child being between three to five years of age (The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version). A child at that age wants to explore and learn, but they’re still quite dependent on their mother.

Childishness is spoken of in Scripture as a sign of immaturity, but childlikeness quite the opposite, a mark of maturity. Jesus said we must repent and become like children to enter into God’s kingdom. In that sense remaining a child.

I’m not sure I’ve ever learned this, or maybe I should say not obviously so to me, though in indirect ways I’m becoming more that way. Just the sense of need for God correlates to this, even if we aren’t aware of enjoying and experiencing enough of that care.

Yes, it’s motherly care that God’s care is likened to here. But as the psalm tells us here, the child is to take it on themselves to calm down. Probably God is calming us down as well, since surely God does that for all of us as God’s children. But we often resist that, for whatever reasons. Instead we’re to let down our guard and let God. You might say in the well known if often misunderstood phrase: “Let God and let God.”

We are completely dependent on God for everything. Do we really believe that? Do we really believe that we truly understand nothing aright or well apart from God’s help? Do we really believe that God in God’s love will take care of us, or even that we’re actually in need of that care?

None of this means that we can be immature. In fact in this picture immaturity is a denial of this, and maturity an acceptance. A hard one for us to accept on our own. I’m having trouble with this right now. I want to unlearn so much and learn what God directly would like to teach me. I would like to experience so much more of God’s motherly care.

And we’re all in this together. Together we’re to put our hope in God in this way from now on and forever.

a resolution that can stick

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face various trials, consider it all joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8; NRSVue

I’m not much into New Year’s resolutions. I do have kind of a half-hearted one that I’m not sure exactly how to carry out, but that’s not really relevant here. I will say that not only would I break resolutions in New Years past (probably distant), but I would likely forget them altogether.

Scripture has a special pull and not only influence, but power in that it is inspired by God so that God’s word, especially in Christ and the gospel, but also in specific ways related to life can come to us. But we have to have ears intent on listening and hearing along with a heart set on doing whatever it is that we believe God is telling us.

In this case from the scripture quoted above from the book of James, we’re referring to a mindset, even a discipline in how we approach the inevitable trials of life. We’ve touched on this before. What is interesting is the recent revision of the NRSV telling us that we need to “let endurance complete its work, so that we might be complete and whole, lacking in nothing” (emphasis added). This actually seems to be quite true to the Greek, and clever when you think about it. Again, we’re to let endurance complete its work, so that we end up being complete and whole.

If we set ourselves to do this, committed to that, it’s actually one of the many things from scripture which can be fulfilled. I’m not talking about perfection, as if we’re always going to get it right, and never break it. So in that sense, not. But in the long haul, yes, this is a kind of resolution as we’re resolute to follow through on this, even when at times we need reminding. And life itself will remind us, when we’re up against it, and failing in this regard.

God will help us continue on and grow, so that we get better at all of this, even if it does seem painfully slow at times with numerous setbacks. But if we keep at this, in time we’ll begin to see the difference, so that it isn’t just more breakthroughs for us, but becoming more of a settled disposition in us for good. That indeed God did help us in this as we become more and more complete and whole, at least clearly on our way to that. In and through Jesus.

we’re on our way in this life, so keep going (don’t stop)

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

Philippians 3:12-16

The sense of having arrived, so that one thinks they’re all set as far as their lives are concerned is not a good place to be, even a dangerous place, frankly. If Paul could say he hadn’t arrived, then all the more so true of any of us. In fact Paul calls it a mark of maturity to acknowledge that, as well as to keep pressing on.

We are on a journey. It has inevitable difficulties along the way. One can’t help but think of John Bunyan’s epic work, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Although my own theological understanding in many ways does not line up with his, that entire story is a great illustration of what I’m trying to get at in this post. For “Christian” there are difficulties and challenges right to the very end on his journey to the Celestial City.

There ought to be the sense of having arrived only in the practices we ordinarily always do. But there is that sense in our hearts that indeed we’re still on the way, anticipating what we can hardly imagine, what apart from the Spirit’s help we can’t imagine at all, seeing Jesus as he is, and becoming like the one we love.

Let’s not forget that it’s always not only about us individually. “…the arc of history is long and bends toward justice…” God in love is working God’s purpose out, and God will get God’s way. Within that thought, we long for Christ’s return to at long last clean up this mess, and put in the new order.

But until then, and until our end in this life comes, we want to press on, in fact we have no other choice but to keep doing so. God will see us through to the very end in and through Jesus.

keep on going

…and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:4

When we feel up against it, something akin to what is being described in the first part of James (click above link to see context), a natural reaction is to want to escape as soon as possible. To get the answer needed, and the relief that comes with that.

But when we do so, we essentially short circuit the process. And according to James, it’s a needed process if we’re to arrive to some full-orbed maturity.

So we need to hang in there in the midst of weakness. To go through it, looking to God for help both through prayer and through the help of others, particularly the church. We have to get out of the habit of bailing out. God will see us through, yes into some good relief. But most importantly increasingly into the person we were created to be. In and through Jesus.

not about getting through the trial

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

It’s not enough to simply want to get past whatever trial we’re in, then call it good. That is not taking seriously what James is telling us here. We’re supposed to count it as nothing but joy whatever trial we’re encountering, because the testing of our faith produces endurance in us. And to get the full benefit of this, we’re to let endurance have its full effect so that we might be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. The maturity spoken of here may not be so much a place of arriving in this life as much as an ongoing as it were cyclical growth, an analogy like rings on a tree, toward a larger, fuller, as well as more comprehensive growth.

It’s not like we might not get any good out of it, but often, or at least I can say so in my case, we tend to see it as all good, and that we’re in the clear when the trial is over. That’s as if the goal is for the trial to end well. But the real goal for us is not that the trial might end well as good and important as that is. It’s rather that the testing of our faith might end well, that the endurance with which we’re facing the trial will have its full effect. The trial itself in a way is beside the point compared to what’s at stake here: being mature and complete, even lacking in nothing.

And James’s word on asking God for wisdom is most helpful in this. Even with the rather seemingly harsh and blunt word on doubt which properly understood goes with doublemindedness and really concerns those who are not completely engaged if at all in the commitment and attention this needs, but who would be happy to be rid of the trial with really little or no care for spiritual growth. It is not about those of us who really want to press on to this maturity, but often find ourselves weak in doing so, and tempted with doubt along the way not only about our own lives, but God in our lives.

This isn’t easy, not for the faint of heart. On the other hand the alternative is not great, continuing to live in less than full maturity and all the problems which come with that. And paradoxically, as we press on toward maturity, we become more and more stable, able to weather the storms, that is go through the inevitable trials of life better.

A necessary, if not welcome part of our lives, which we are called to welcome fully since God can and will use every trial for our good if we trust God. In and through Jesus.

trying to understand

About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Life brings with it many questions. Some are over simple matters in which we can often get quick satisfactory answers. Other things are more difficult to try to figure out, and some things don’t yield easy answers at all. Living in “the information age” we expect everything to be at our fingertips, just a press away, and perhaps the solution shipped to our door or readily accessible to us one way or another. We tend to be impatient over matters which may yield no answer right away, taking time.

Scripture not only mirrors life with real life characters, but like life, often yields no easy answers for us. Scripture can seem a mystery to us, to those without the Spirit- foolishness or making no sense, and to young followers of Christ, often difficult at best even while intriguing and interesting.

I often don’t read Scripture to try to understand, but simply to see or receive whatever God might give me through it. But when we are stuck on something, it’s good to slow down, turn it over and over in our minds again, and prayerfully try to understand. The book of Hebrews from which is the passage quoted above, is often challenging. One needs to be in all of Scripture which will help. And read it discerningly with the help of Bible scholars who dig into the original meaning of the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, the original languages in which the Bible was written, along with a cultural understanding derived from written accounts and archaeology. And we need to seek to read and discern together, a staple of the faith tradition of which I’m a part.

We have to keep at it, or as the writer to the Hebrews above warns us, we are in danger of falling away. It’s either pressing on toward maturity, not giving up, trying to understand, or not doing that. One or the other.

God will help us as we continue on, trying to find whatever it is that God has for us, as well as trying to understand all of its application to all of our lives. In and through Jesus.

accepting and being willing to go through the trial, and doing so to become more mature: itself a sign and mark of maturity

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

Trials are an inevitable part of life. We would rather not go through them, not face them, somehow be able to bail out. Some people attempt to do that, sometimes in unhealthy, even destructive ways. Or else we melt under the pressure, and don’t respond well at all. Or we allow the trial itself to have an effect on us which is not healthy.

What James is calling us to here is much better, but that doesn’t make it easy. A trial is still a trial. And going through it, the experience is not going to be a cakewalk, or anything thrilling. It might be more like chilling, but God is with us in Christ by the Spirit and through others in Jesus.

We do well to accept and be willing to go through it. At the same time asking for wisdom, and God’s help, even deliverance from it. What often gets us in a bad way here is the desire to go through a good experience, and not to have to struggle. We think what we’re going through surely comes across to others badly, and there’s no question, it’s no good as far as we’re concerned. We want to feel the love, peace, and joy of our Lord.

But God’s help will break through to us, if we learn to settle into what we have to go through, seeking to let the endurance that the testing of our faith can bring take full effect. That doesn’t mean we don’t try to get God’s answer and help concerning the trial itself. That itself is an important part of the maturing process. But while we do so, we refuse to squirm and try to wriggle our way out of it. Instead we accept it, we accept the element of simply having to endure, not enjoy something. If we hold on to that, God will not only see us through the trial itself, but will bring much good out of that. Even if we’re left with a limp from the experience.

One last word. I remember an esteemed professor from my past tell us something like, he thought that God especially values the effort of those who hold on to faith and persevere in the midst of great struggle, as compared to those who seem to joyfully sail along with little or no care at all. Thankfully God does give us peace and joy along the way. But going through the trial, fears and our weaknesses can and at times will beset us.

But I want to go through what is inevitable anyhow in the way prescribed here, getting the growth God wants through the trial, maybe not unlike the caterpillar struggling to get out of the cocoon, as it becomes a beautiful butterfly. In and through Jesus.

what is needed beyond considering every trial nothing but joy

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

It’s a breath of fresh air to be told to consider any and every trial as nothing but joy. That is a good start, and lets us off the hook so to speak. Before we would take it all on ourselves, and believe the solution and outcome depended on us. And that brought with it all kinds of pressure even when we thought what we might have to do might be manageable. But all the more so when it seems either an impossible or next to impossible task. Or when we’re faced with a trial with seemingly no good answer.

It’s important to hold on to the first word, the first directive to consider nothing but joy, any and every trial we face. But we need to add and keep in mind and before us what follows. It is because there is a needed maturity that will come out of it if we just hold on. If we simply do the first part and let it go at that, that won’t be enough. We need to go through the entire process.

To remain in this means to go through a trial. We would rather dismiss it, get rid of it, see it gone. But no, it remains regardless of what mind tricks we might play on it. When it comes right down to it, there’s no denial of reality. So we may as well accept the inevitable, what is present, and seek to make the most of it.

We can reason that the harder the trial, the more God wants to accomplish out of it. And the goal is nothing less than a fullness of maturity in this life. Not perfection here, but some kind of arrival in maturity nonetheless. We have to hold on, not drift, and with that fall back into old ways. But we can be assured that as we “let endurance have its full effect” that indeed, good will come out of it.

Wisdom will be added as well since we’re told that the goal of going through it is to be “mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” But we’re graciously given the opportunity as we go through the process to ask for wisdom. I’m sure for myself that the felt lack and need for wisdom will insure that I ask for it, or at least that I should ask for it.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

James 1:5

All graciously given to us in and through Jesus.

needed wisdom on our way to maturity

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.

James 1:2-5

The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version makes the interesting observation that though trials are meant to give us wisdom, we can ask God for wisdom in the midst of, and before that process is complete (my interpretation of what is said there). We desperately do need God’s wisdom along the way to help us. Trials are not easy to go through, and yes, while we consider such as nothing but joy, anticipating the maturity with the wisdom that comes out of that, nevertheless along the way we not only can, but this passage seems to suggest that we should ask God for needed wisdom.

This seems to me to be another padding helping us through this process. We know good is going to come out of it, if we hang in there and go through it. And God is present to give us wisdom to help us do so. A wisdom not meant to replace the process, but instead to help us through it. In and through Jesus.

blessedly not let off the hook (by James)

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

James 1:2-8

James gets right to it, but throughout the letter from start to finish there’s no letting up. He’s certainly a pastor, but gives us needed insight into one aspect of pastoral ministry as well as what the church is to be. Yes, there’s mercy and patience. But for those who really follow Christ, there are certain nonnegotiables.

If we’re to follow Christ we do what we’re told here. If we fail to do that, and I’m referring to sincere honest attempts, not letting up, then we aren’t following, indeed can’t follow Christ. We either consider it nothing but joy, whatever trial we’re in, letting endurance have its full effect toward full maturity in Christ, or else we’re not. We either ask God for wisdom, as indeed we’re all lacking in that of ourselves, and ask in faith without doubting. Or we plain don’t. There might be something in between, but James would tell us that’s a part of being double-minded, and thus unstable in every way. As Eugene Peterson points out in The Message, that can be simply a matter of “keeping all your options open.” No, we either trust God or we don’t. The difference between darkness and light.

This has been helping me immensely, but I can’t let go of it. And it’s not like we’re passive and no longer involved in life. But that God is there to help us through whatever it is we’re facing, whatever responsibilities we have to fulfill. God wants to use all of life to mature us, and to help us gain wisdom. As we not only commit ourselves to this course, but follow through on it, God helps us to live in God’s peace, as well as get God’s help.

An important part of what it means to follow Christ along with others in this life. In and through Jesus.