keep going (walk through it)

Immediately he made the disciples get into a boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Matthew 14:22-33; NRSVue

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”

John 14:1; NRSVue

One of the most important things any of us can do who have struggled with anxiety is to just keep walking through life rather than allowing ourselves to be gripped with anxiety. That doesn’t mean that we don’t acknowledge the problems or situation we’re facing. We do, but our focus all along needs to be on Christ.

Peter was gangbusters with his faith, part of his personality, also probably in part why he often took the lead among the apostles. He made his share of mistakes, but learned in the process. We learn faith only by faith or one might even say by doing faith. It’s not just something good to store in our heads, but we have to do it, to work it out in our lives.

Peter accepted that it was the Lord walking on the water, and somehow thought that if Jesus could do that, then so could he. After all, the apprentice is supposed to learn to do what their master does. And when it came right down to it, it was a matter of faith.

Unfortunately Peter took his gaze off Jesus, instead quickly becoming captured with the reality of the waves being beaten by the strong wind. He began to sink, but had the faith to cry out to the Lord to save him.

The situations we face in life are real. The question is how to face them. When our faith is weak we probably are best to avoid considering them altogether, but instead to turn our attention to Jesus in prayer along with meditation on scripture.

Years ago our church group went to a ropes course. The first year I was terrified and couldn’t even walk across the first rope and got down. I am not fond of heights. Of course we were strapped well. As I recall it, I tried, but might have fallen, suspended in midair, and that was enough for me. I think I looked down that first year, a terrifying sight for me. I knew we were going back the following year, and decided to not look down, as I recall it fifteen feet or likely somewhat higher. That year I actually did the entire ropes course, never one time looking down which I knew would be my downfall. I wonder what would have happened if I would have fallen. I don’t know, though I’m not optimistic.

But when our faith becomes stronger, knowing that Christ will hold us, will see us through, then we can work on the problem, even giving our attention to it, yet all the while not letting our hearts become troubled since our trust is in Christ. What if in this story, Peter’s faith would’ve been stronger. He might have noticed the wind whipped waves and as I imagine of him, simply laugh, continuing on toward Jesus, then both of them walking to the boat and getting in.

The point is that no matter what we face, God is with us in Christ. God will see us through. But for this to take hold and make the needed difference in our lives, we’re going to have to simply be willing to keep going with our attention turned toward the Lord, receiving the Lord’s help to us as we stay in scripture. As we do that we’ll learn by experience that the Lord always upholds us through what otherwise would be nothing but being caught in the grip of our latest anxiety or fear. No, we just keep walking by faith, and refuse to let any circumstance stop us. And as we do, then in time and sooner than we likely think, we will be able to receive God’s help so that we have a better perspective. And part of that is receiving God’s peace in Christ Jesus which actually surpasses our understanding and lack thereof and indeed even guards our hearts and minds (see Philippians 4:6-7).

Life is full of trouble and problems, no doubt. And true faith does not simply ignore such or pretend it doesn’t exist. But true faith in following Jesus also refuses to give in to a troubled heart and mind. We’re told to not let our hearts be troubled, but rather to trust in God. In and through Jesus.

getting rid of “if only’s”

I like to put up a scriptural text since I find grounding in that, leading me to Christ and the good news in him along with specific directions for life. For this one I couldn’t come up with anything, except to think of Judas Iscariot hanging himself over his betrayal of Jesus, and Peter weeping bitterly when he denied the Lord three times. They both handled it drastically differently, but although Peter came out in the clear, it certainly wasn’t easy for him.

We probably have some pile of regrets, things we wished we would have done differently, or not done at all. When you think about it, there’s probably some small regrets each day, maybe a few bigger ones along the way, but we get caught up in this or that, and wish we would have done better, that something of the edge might be taken off of us. We can immediately repent, and count such times as learning opportunities, so that we might be aware of our deficiencies and work in God’s grace to do better and keep growing in goodness in Christ.

But to the topic. “If only’s” easily plague us. Yes, most certainly we can learn from them, and we should count that as a plus. After all, at the time we somehow thought or felt what we were doing was alright or good enough. We can at least take away from having failed, all the way from a miscue to a sin, that we can learn from that, and do better. Hopefully not just because of the pain experienced, though that’s entirely legitimate. But most importantly along with that, over concern out of the love of God to love God and others.

“What if’s?” or “If only’s!” are simply a waste not only of time, but even worse, a waste of our minds and hearts. We’re led down a track and put into a pit in which it isn’t easy to escape or get out of. Much easier to fall into it, then get out of it.

None of this will help us in the least. We certainly can’t time travel and reverse this or that, though I’m sure most all of us would be happy to do that if we could. It is not only wasted thinking, but harmful. It can lead us to a dark space devoid of grace. With God’s help and commitment to do better, we can find God’s grace and light to bring a peace that surpasses all our own understanding, lack of understanding, along with misunderstanding, but add to that, even what we think we understand all too well. And giving us even a cheer and joy that seems inexplicable, but right from the heart of God to our hearts.

We have to look at this as part of the spiritual warfare we’re engaged in. We have to commit ourselves to not going there, but with the realization that we can do this only by God’s help. Yet at the same time knowing too that it is we that have to do it. God isn’t going to do it for us. Although there are those strange occasions, and rare, when it does seem like God is doing it for us, so that what we do is nearly effortless.

God will help us to get past this, but let’s not expect it in a flash, or think we can just leave all of this behind in a day. It will be a part of our spiritual growing process, and ongoing spiritual warfare along the way. God will help us and see us through, as we trust and keep going in the right direction, sometimes confessing our failure to do so along the way, then getting up to move in the direction that God will give us. 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.

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.

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.

how do we grow? trials

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

I recently heard a pastor say essentially that we don’t grow except through trials. I don’t know if that’s an overstatement. They have been in the ministry a good number of years and are older than many of us themselves, and I know they have far more wisdom through that pastoral experience and in their lives than I do. It seems to me we might mount an argument from passages like 2 Peter 1 to say that growth can occur apart from trials. But it does seem true to a significant extent as we consider our own lives and the lives of others. It’s so easy to drift, which results in actually diminishing in our spiritual life. We probably don’t just remain the same. We are probably growing or losing ground. Well, that’s some speculation.

But we’re clearly told here at the beginning of this letter how we’re to approach trials of any kind. That we’re to consider such as nothing but joy. That is not easy to swallow, but that is to be our mindset and attitude. It is sadly easier to wallow in fear, despair and grief. Instead we’re to approach each in an active faith, as well as passive in the correct sense, that of receiving from God. And we’re to look at life that way, all the problems and troubles we face, and again, whatever kind they might be. No exceptions.

I find this so helpful myself. There are many reasons left to ourselves to be down in the mouth and simply wanting to escape. But God wants us to meet all of life head on, but in full dependence on the Lord, along with interdependence on each other. But finding our way so that we can stand on our own, but only because of God, along with the help of others along the way. What God has for each one of us. In and through Jesus.

that we might love more (and better)

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more…

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10

Regarding life together and getting along with each other, you don’t need me to tell you what to do. You’re God-taught in these matters. Just love one another! You’re already good at it; your friends all over the province of Macedonia are the evidence. Keep it up; get better and better at it.

1 Thessalonians 4:9-10; MSG

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:18-19

Rich Mullins probably in at least one song wrote how we really don’t love others well, certainly not the way we’re loved by the Lord. Life down here is not easy. There are so many demands, and when you either live with someone or work with them day after day, certain deficiencies in each other can rub the wrong way. Hopefully in the case of spouses and families, this is just a part of healthy growth together, because it’s inevitable given our incompleteness as well as actual sin as human beings.

But love is at the heart of the Christian message, the gospel, what Jesus Christ brought and brings. Yes, through his atoning sacrifice for us, we’re both taught what true love means, as well as recipients of that love from God which we enter into by simply receiving this in faith. And that gift sets us on a course of both love to God and to our neighbor, to everyone, even our enemies, and especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We need to grow in this love. A vital, even crucial part of our development as God’s children. So we need to make the effort from what’s already planted in our heart by God’s word and the Holy Spirit. And we need to pray and ask God to help us grow deeper and deeper, on and on in that love. In and through Jesus.

accept darkness (the needed darkness before the light)

A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the temple. Of David.

I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O Lord,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.

To you, O Lord, I cried,
and to the Lord I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me!
Lord, be my helper!”

You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

Psalm 30

There is one thing none of us like, what’s called “the dark night of the soul,” when any sense of God and of spiritual insight is gone. When it seems like we’re on our own.

Seasons of darkness vary. Sometimes we feel like we’ve taken a battering from the spiritual enemy if we’ve been taken for another ride in their deception, having failed to resist that. Or it might be over some sort of struggle we’re having in our attitudes, or in overcoming sin, maybe something which has plagued us, even an addiction, whatever it might be. There are times too when we really can’t put our finger on it. Maybe we’ve drifted, unbeknownst to us, but for whatever reason we feel dry and lost.

Seasons of darkness, even of dryness we can and should see as opportunities to seek God and hopefully find God in something of a new and fresh way, breaking through into our lives in some ways God hasn’t before. Maybe times for needed confession of sin and repentance (James 4). And such times can serve to confirm our faith rather than unsettle it. If we only hold on and look to God and not give up.

When the light does start breaking in, because by and by it will, we need to accept that. Be thankful and live in that gentle light of God. Realizing the next time darkness come settling in on us, that light will eventually come.

All of this for our good. In and through Jesus.

keep on praying

Are you hurting? Pray.

James 5:13a; MSG

Prayer, simply praying to God is underrated. Or at least it seems that way to me. Though the further you grow in maturity in Christ, the more likely you’ll agree with that thought. But it’s another thing to do what we know we should. It’s something we have to deliberately practice.

James’s directive here when we’re “in trouble” (NIV) or hurting is to pray. When we have God’s peace and joy, it’s just natural for us to praise and thank God. But when our hearts are heavy, or we’re carrying a heavy burden, sometimes seemingly unbearable, or we’re concerned about this or that, we’re to pray, pray, and keep on praying.

By and by we’ll find that in a way prayer itself is the point. And in the parched, dry places where our soul is deeply hurting, that’s where our prayers might ascend and hit pay dirt more than we imagine. We know that when we have the sense of God’s Presence and peace, we also have the sense that our prayers are effective. But when we can feel nothing but heaviness, then we won’t have that sense, and may not pray at all. Instead we should pray all the more.

Such experience humbles us, and hopefully our roots grow deeper into God, into our dependence on God, and commitment to him. And that can help our prayers all the more, even if we think they’re not making a difference at all. Gradually we’ll begin to sense and see in small ways that our prayer is being heard, being answered.

So trouble and hurt while in themselves not something we want, can actually be a help so that we pray all the more, as well as deepen us in our relationship with God. In and through Jesus.

we are in process

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1:3-6

Over and over again, I’m reminded that we are people in process. The good and most important thing to remember is that it is God at work in our lives. We likely wish we were further along than we are, I know I do.

We really need to hold on to this truth that we as followers of Jesus. And that it is God doing the work, not we ourselves. God who began this good work in us will indeed carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus, when Jesus returns.

This helps me as I consider my own life as well as the lives of others. We need to take our hands off. It’s God’s work, not our own. The change in our lives comes only because of that. Maybe this means we need to be more in prayer.

There are things I’m not sure about. It does seem clear to me that we can get in the way of God’s working, and impede it. But God works around and even through those ways that we can get in the way, I suppose. I often wish I could just do what I know I ought to do. Like rest in God’s peace instead of being anxious about this or that. It’s a maturing, growth process, and all of Scripture in one way or another is meant to help us in that.

The one thing we can take away from Paul’s words here for sure: God who began the good work in us in Christ will finish it. We can mark that down in stone, but more importantly God has written that change into our hearts to unfold in our lives toward the goal of making us the people we’re supposed to be, through Jesus fully human and unique in our person as God intended. All of us together in this, Paul addressing not just individuals here, but the entire church. In and through Jesus.