accepting the tension of life

But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas guarded the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped from his hands.

2 Corinthians 11:21b-33; NRSVue

Yes, this is Paul, but Paul does tells us to follow him, his example, as he follows Christ. The wear and tear of life are telling during a day, during a lifetime. Sometimes I feel like I’m being pulled into an undertow from which there’s no coming back. The tension can be palpable. We could chalk that up to spiritual warfare, weaknesses we have which need to be worked through- like in my case over the years, anxiety, whatever it might be. But there’s no doubt, life has ongoing tensions related to responsibilities, challenges, problems, concerns, even dangers and tragedies. Life on planet earth is not for the faint of heart.

I’ve found over and over again that when I accept the tension of life, I gradually usually sooner than later start to sense help from God, and in time a nearly unsettling peace because it seems unreal, settles in. But life goes on with all the conundrums, with our own weaknesses. I wish we could live in that unsettling settled peace, and maybe if I live long enough, I’ll find that I live much more there than now. I can say that I do experience that peace more than in years past. But life isn’t easy for any of us. Just consider only for a moment what we’re facing today, and you can cut through the tension that easily comes with it, with a knife.

It’s not easy to accept the tension of life. It’s one thing when you’re on the other side where’s there’s at least some blessed relief, quite another when you’re in the thick of it. But that’s part of our calling in Christ, to live in that very same weakness in which Christ lived. In that we’ll find Christ’s strength and not just in our own lives, but in us together in this experience in Christ.

when feeling lonely and afflicted

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

Psalm 25:16-18; NRSVue

When feeling lonely and afflicted, we need to turn our attention to God. God helps us to find our way out of the wilderness of what often turns out to be our own minds. Our imaginations can run wild in ways that are unhelpful. And it’s hard to get out of that funk. But then and there, we have the opportunity to learn not to react in our own knee jerk way, but instead, put our attention on God and stay there. As we do that in all our weakness, even in the weak but sincere way we do it, God will meet us and help us. All such experience is the opportunity for us to turn our attention to God, and seek to remain there throughout our days, more and more.

we are weak, but Christ is with us

This is the third time I am coming to you. “Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” I warned those who sinned previously and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not be lenient— since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you but is powerful in you. For he was crucified in weakness but lives by the power of God. For we are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

Examine yourselves to see whether you are living in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless, indeed, you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed. But we pray to God that you may not do anything wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth but only for the truth. For we rejoice when we are weak but you are strong. This is what we pray for, that you may be restored. So I write these things while I am away from you, so that when I come I may not have to be severe in using the authority that the Lord has given me for building up and not for tearing down.

2 Corinthians 13:1-10; NRSVue

When you look at Jesus’s teachings, for example to the rich young ruler, and all the rest, it really leaves you in wonder, awe, and really left falling short, like hardly being on board at all. That doesn’t mean that there’s not the desire to be, though that can become beaten down as well when reality sets in.

All of this can lend itself to the false idea that we should throw in the towel and give up. That we’re really not followers of Christ after all. But Christ doesn’t tell us to make it work ourselves, but just to follow. I’m reminded of when Jesus told Peter at the end of John’s gospel not to worry about whether or not John would remain until his return, that he simply should follow Jesus. That was talking about post-Pentecost, so there is indeed a way in which we are called to follow Christ now.

We are weak indeed, but if I read the end of 2 Corinthians along with the rest of that letter correctly, that seems to be a prerequisite to being followers of Christ. We are this in our individual lives, but together as well, the essence of our being, in Christ and with each others in Christ’s body.

Christ calls us to the same weakness he carried, in which he lived. It is never our own strength, religion, position of power, whatever. It is always in him, and it turns out that being in weakness.

And so there is the greatest hope after all, in fact this new reality for us to live in, in Christ.

(I currently am unable to hyperlink on these posts. An article I read which largely contributed to the thought here was by Walter Brueggemann entitled, “The Unending Work of Contradiction” on the “Church Anew” blog.)

how are we victorious?

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through him who loved us.

Romans 8:35-37; NRSVue

The context of Paul’s words quoted above is about living in danger and weakness. And strictly speaking, it is addressed to people together. The point is that in everything, no matter what, we are more than victorious through him who loved us. Our victory is in and of Christ. And thinking even this small portion through a bit, it’s a victory that is not on our terms, but on Christ’s, in the way of Christ. The way of being loved and loving, yes even our enemies. That is how we’re victorious even in this present life.

secondary necessary provision

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious 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 4:4-7

Wouldn’t we all like to live above certain things? Whatever ails us, to be precise. When we’re in the clear, away from that, life with its normal inconveniences and struggles seems mostly all good. But when we fall into what seems to us an unnecessary pit, all of that is gone, and it’s almost as if we can’t even climb our way out, or it’s at least a struggle to do so. Or more like the light has to unexpectedly and as it were slowly, as if sneaking up on us and entering unawares, come to settle in, and we can again breathe a little easy, even while a bit traumatized from what has preceded.

What we’re told in the above passage is an example of what I would like to call secondary, but necessary provision. I’m not sure what better term to give it right now. Secondary not in the sense that it’s not important and even vital for us, for our lives here and now. But secondary in the sense that it’s given to us when we’re muddled up into something less than the full life in which God wants us to live in Christ. Actually it might be primary or of first importance for a long time, until we can grow to the point where we need this help now and then, but to some extent don’t live with the problem area enveloping and plaguing our lives.

Something to consider in the life of God given to us in Jesus.

where is God present perhaps more than anywhere else (individually and corporately)?

The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.

Acts 9:11; NIV

When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words.

Romans 8:26

We really don’t know what we’re doing when we pray (the same holds true when we read scripture), because it is really quite over our heads. It’s as they say, a God-thing. God is in it. And I am referring to real prayer.

When we have a sense of being caught up in that, it’s wonderful, or at least we have the sense that it’s more than just ourselves. But even when we feel lost, oppressed, and it seems like we’re doing nothing, we still do well to make the attempt, to continue in prayer. Real prayer is not dependent on us, but on God. However we have to make the attempt. From some scripture, I have to wonder if God doesn’t count the tears and cries of people in trouble as prayer. I think so, but whatever may be the case in that, we do well to lift up our hearts, thoughts and concerns to God. God meets us there. God is very present there.

This is blessedly true in our individual lives, and we should make a daily practice of this. But it is all the more true in our corporate “church” life. When we pray together, maybe we can say Christ is not more present, but all the more present. It’s as if that Presence becomes exponential from our hearts being joined together, part of what is central in God’s will.

Yes, God is quite present in our prayers. Poor as they may be. And most of mine are. And the ones that may not seem to be are only from what God gives me. God is with us in Christ and by the Spirit. And especially in our prayers.

Note: God is present everywhere, but in this post I mean God’s manifest presence. Where God’s presence is somehow made known.

be patient with yourself

And let endurance complete its work, so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing.

James 1:4

I just about entitled this, “don’t beat up on yourself.” Or it could have been, “don’t give up.” But “be patient with yourself” is apt for the point I want to get across.

It can be rather perplexing at times, and downright discouraging just how weak and wrong we can be over something happening, some circumstance or ongoing problem in life. Anyhow, I’m speaking for myself.

But as followers of Christ we can be sure that God will help us come around, grow, and see God’s hand in whatever situation we’re in, even if it’s just to help us through it in a way that’s honoring to the Lord.

In the meantime, we need to practice being patient with ourselves. As we come around and follow through on what God wants.

content with weaknesses

It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Weakness seems to be a part of life in this world. I’m not referring to actual sin here, nor is Paul in the above passage. That’s another matter, and certainly God’s grace covers that as we confess our sins to God and when need be to others. God alone can parse out some of the issues which need to be resolved in the kind of weaknesses Paul is talking about here, and give us insight in that. But interestingly enough, these were problems that were not going to go away, or a problem more likely, though we see Paul include a list of things at the end.

Thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to no less than torment him, that doesn’t seem like anything good from God. And surely none of that came directly from God. Yet God not only used it, but somehow actually gave it. Yes Paul was given this, I take it from God. You would easily guess that those who are God’s servants in ministry might somehow feel elated and on top of the world. I at least think they ought to have God’s peace as they go about their lives and work. But Paul’s peace and more precisely contentment came in the midst of experiencing something quite less than elation, the kind of thing that could easily plunge one into the depths of despair.

Note that three times no less Paul appealed to the Lord, that this torment, thorn in the flesh, whatever it precisely was would be removed. Paul knew the Lord could do that. But the Lord’s reply: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul’s response to that was an acceptance which opened the door to experience Christ’s power resting upon him as never before. All for the sake of Christ. Something again that I want to learn to live in much better than I do.

the necessity and importance of self-control

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with excellence, and excellence 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.

2 Peter 1:5-7

In a true sense, self-control is like the linchpin that makes all the other virtues in our lives individually in Christ and collectively as Christ’s body to work. Without self-control all else will at least weaken, and likely fall apart.

Self-control in this context is practiced whenever anything would distract us from the goal in Christ for the true good of all. We have to resist such and go on, even if it seems we’re off balance in doing so, even if such seems unreal to us. Self-control involves hanging in there, and holding on, and simply pushing through, even if one seems wobbly and definitely not steady in the process.

Self-control here means that we refuse to give into any impulses which weaken our stand of faith together and as individuals within the whole. We don’t give into the latest fear, anxiety, or troubling thought that comes our way. We can even turn such for good, trying to understand the source, perhaps a weakness in ourselves, in fact usually anything which requires this kind of discipline does involves something of a deficiency in us individually, and perhaps a deficiency in the fellowship in Christ of which we’re a part.

To practice self-control often isn’t easy, and many times feels completely contrary to reality. But it’s an important expression and practice of faith, depending on God in Christ to help us together and individually become fully developed, and to walk through every difficult circumstance which we inevitably will face. God helping us as we do that to begin to realize all of these virtues of love in their fullness. In and through Jesus.

waiting on God

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted,
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s something we don’t want to do in this day and age, it’s wait. Everything is at our fingertips, and either things are immediate, or very soon. That’s the day and age we live in. But the things of God are different. It takes time. Circumstances like what Israel of old was facing are a blessing in disguise if they help us turn our attention to God.

Surely we have to wait for a number of reasons. God’s timing and ours is different. And a big part of God’s answer is to change us. And that rarely happens in a moment, in fact by in large we’re always in process. God might address the circumstances in some favorable way, but God will help us through whatever we face.

I take comfort in all of this. God will help and give us the strength not only to carry on but do well. In and through Jesus.