rejoicing all the time?

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Philippians 4:4

Lament is a missing word in our vocabulary. I remember once leading a short devotional time on Psalm 88, and asking everyone if they thought it might apply to us today. They didn’t think so. I think it does.  So what’s up when Paul tells us more than once in this letter, and others elsewhere in Scripture to rejoice in God, to rejoice in the Lord, no matter what?

It is helpful that Paul gives it as something we’re to do. It’s not something he’s saying we’re caught up into, though that certainly may occur. It is part of the attitude we’re to adopt as Christ followers. Instead of groveling, being down in the mouth over difficulties, we choose to do something. Notice I didn’t say feel different. There’s nothing we can do directly to change our feelings, though what we do can indirectly result in our feelings being changed, given some time. We simply do something. We rejoice, and we rejoice in God.

Some do this loud and often, others like me don’t. Or depending on what we’re doing, we rejoice in the Lord under our breath. This is an important starting point for us, if we’re to live in the life God has for us in Christ. And it doesn’t mean we don’t sorrow or lament. Quite the contrary. If you return to the Psalms, unlike the Psalm mentioned above, you’ll notice that the psalms of lament and complaint are mixed with praise to God. As Paul wrote elsewhere, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10a).

Something I’m working on, that helps lift my spirits when I’m weighed down with trouble. In and through Jesus.

to be poor in spirit

[Jesus] said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:2b-3

To be poor in spirit in some respects is to be like Jesus. Jesus was poor in the world’s eyes, not a boaster, not self-willed, not posing as someone great. Utter humility in becoming one of us, but that’s who he was before. But this became evident when the Creator became a creature. And gentle and humble in heart. Not forcing his will on others, but giving space to them, even to the point of suffering at people’s hands, to the point of death.

When we look at poor in spirit, we think of the fact that we’re poor and needy sinners in need of forgiveness. Yes, that surely has application here. And it could mean something like living simply and being generous with what one has to help others in need.

At any rate, we in Jesus as his followers are among the blessed when we’re poor in spirit. In and through Jesus.

 

keep your eyes on God

A psalm of David.

I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me;
hear me when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

Set a guard over my mouth, Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil
so that I take part in wicked deeds
along with those who are evildoers;
do not let me eat their delicacies.

Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head.
My head will not refuse it,
for my prayer will still be against the deeds of evildoers.

Their rulers will be thrown down from the cliffs,
and the wicked will learn that my words were well spoken.
They will say, “As one plows and breaks up the earth,
so our bones have been scattered at the mouth of the grave.”

But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord;
in you I take refuge—do not give me over to death.
Keep me safe from the traps set by evildoers,
from the snares they have laid for me.
Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by in safety.

Psalm 141

We live during a most difficult time given the pandemic which has hit us, and the division that is exacerbated because of it. And we all have our unique challenges to face.

Like the psalmist here, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand and pretend like nothing is happening. Nor do we want to lose sight of the big picture. The psalmist does neither, as they address God in prayer and with their own thoughts, inspired or not.

And surely the key in the midst of the mess is to fix one’s eyes on God. This takes resolution and discipline, as we face the ongoing trouble, and lift our hearts and troubles to God. In and through Jesus.

taking on the challenge

Are there times when one can’t see the light of day, and would just as soon give up? Or when there’s not much more than going through the motions, trying to keep up well what one has to do, but nothing more than that? We live in a world in which it’s easy to lose hope.

For the Christian, the follower of Christ, there is the call to lay down one’s life for Jesus and the gospel. And a key for that is prayer. We’re to pray that the message of the gospel might go forward, and we’re to show by our lives the difference that gospel makes. And be ready to answer anyone in a conversation, on our part “full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4).

We have to learn that through the worst, God is able to work, in fact it is often through the bad, troubled times, that God does his work. Of course it is through our weakness that Christ’s strength is made known, or “perfect” (2 Corinthians 12).

And so that is my own determination. To walk right through the hard places in order to fulfill God’s calling for us in Christ, no matter how hard that might be. It is a challenge, to be sure. But the way in Christ is the way of suffering for his sake, and for the gospel. We carry on, because we want to see God’s good will break through in difficult circumstances, and lives impacted and turned around through the gospel.

Dallas Willard on self-control

Self-control is the steady capacity to direct yourself to accomplish what you have chosen or decided to do and be, even though you “don’t feel like it.” Self-control means that you, with steady hand, do what you don’t want to do (or what you want not to) when that is needed and do not do what you want to do (what you “feel like” doing) when that is needed. In people without rock-solid character, feeling is a deadly enemy of self-control and will always subvert it. The mongoose of a disciplined will under God  and good is the only match for the cobra of feeling.

Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting On the Character of Christ, 127.

casting our cares on God

Life is full of cares and concerns which at times burden, and can even threaten to overwhelm us. We’re told in scripture to cast our cares on the Lord, that he will sustain us, that he will never let the righteous be moved. And we’re to do so, scripture says, because he cares for us.

Some people carry heavy burdens and seem to take it all to heart more than others. But the fact is, we all have troubles and trials. It’s what we do with that which matters. Work and preoccupation can help. But are we really doing what God in his word calls us to do?

To cast our cares on God would seem to take effort on our part. It is an act of faith. It is deliberate. It is something we do out of our intellect and will, of course the basis being God’s promises. And yet it is not our intellect and will which rescues us. It is God who does that. We put ourselves in the position through this act of faith so that God can deliver us.*

Our troubles are often of such a nature that we may have to keep coming to God again and again, casting the same concerns on him. Over time it is often the case that what was once a concern to us is no longer, for one reason or another. I know Paul reached a resolution concerning his thorn in the flesh, no less than a messenger of Satan to torment him. While Paul learned to delight in his weakness, because in it was the Lord’s strength, I would have to think it was still what it was. Not something that was comfortable in itself. Something that Paul over and over again had to turn over to God. Or live in that mode of faith that it is God’s to deal with. “In acceptance lies peace” (Amy Carmichael).

I long to live more and more care free as one of God’s children. But it is impossible not to have cares and concerns in this world, even if we were completely free from personal concerns. We need to cast those cares on God as well, believing that his hand can be in that matter for our loved one, or for those hurting. Part of our life of faith in and through Jesus, together as a witness and help, in and for the world.

*Our Pastor Jack shared the idea of putting ourselves in a position for God to do his work through the exercise of our intellect and will in regard to another matter, yesterday.

 

 

choices

Sometimes in my life I’ve tended to downplay the importance of choices, instead wanting to emphasize a long term, way of life, in the words of Eugene Peterson: “a long obedience in the same direction.” And of course that is good, and important, and vital in our walk in God. Indeed over time, as N.T. Wright points out, what is good and right, the revealed will of God in Jesus, needs to become second nature to us. So that we are now wired and set in that direction in the way we live. More and more.

But even in that more settled, established life–and of course that is all relative, we are still being changed, and in process–but even in a relatively mature Christian existence, choices matter at key points. What are we going to do when tempted to do something that is not God’s will? Or more subtly, what are we going to do when we’re up against it, when all hell seems to have broken loose against us, when we’re troubled over (possibly) bad news, or something of the like?

This is when choices matter. Like when Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane. Automatic, that Jesus would go the whole way for us and for our salvation, indeed for the salvation of the world? Check. But wait a minute. Didn’t Jesus pray that if possible the cup would be taken away from him? But then comes Jesus’ clear decision: “Nevertheless, not my will, but your will, Father, be done.” Jesus decisively makes a clear choice. And proceeds. In dependence on the Father, and by the Spirit, and I would think praying the psalms.

I have faced this lately. I can give in and give up too easily. No. We stop in our tracks, and bring the matter to God. And wait on him. Stopping means we don’t proceed in reference to the matter. And for me this means a kind of slowing down, and becoming quiet. Waiting for God to speak and work. And with the choice to live in God’s will in Jesus, as God makes that known, and opens it up to us.

That has been important to me on a number of fronts lately. Mostly seemingly small things, though not altogether. I want to live as one among others in the way of Jesus. Of course by grace. Choices matter. Maybe even more often what we decide not to do, or say–than what we decide to do, or say. All in the way of Jesus must be done in love. And in accord with the truth as it’s revealed in Jesus and through scripture.

Wait is an important watch word for us. Slow down. Stop. Be still as possible in God’s Presence. Proceed when one senses God’s revelation and release. Even through words that come to us, or a sense of what needs to be done, or not done. All in the way of Jesus for us before and for the world.

C.S. Lewis on God’s relentless love

On the whole, God’s love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will. If we are trying to do His will we are obeying the commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” He will give us feelings of love if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 117, 118 in my edition.