image by tim marshall from Unsplash
"He will be their peace."
Peace has been on the top of my mind recently, simply because of the lack of it.
When a friend initiated an app-based Bible study, I didn't hesitate suggesting a study topic. Anxiety. Worry. Fighting for peace. Yes, please.
As the study discussed, those emotions of anxiety and worry--if you break them down--stem from fear and lack of trust. Sure enough, if you consider, the fear we face is basically the fear of what is beyond our control: limitations, external situations, etc.
We're afraid that we can't manage everything.
We're afraid that despite our best attempts, we won't win the love and respect of others.
We're afraid of rejection, of failure, of unfulfilled dreams.
Of pain, without any hope of painkillers.
Of grief that doesn't go away.
Of losing something we can't imagine living without.
And this reflects the self-reliant, self-centered mentality that is so ingrained in us as our instinctive coping mechanism for our life here--full of tragedy just around the corner, of devastated hopes one hair's breadth away, of happiness so fragile that we can only hope hopelessly for it to last. We're terrified of losing control, of being helpless, being uncertain. We rely on our efforts to control our lives but don't dare to acknowledge that it won't, can't, be enough.
Which clearly shows us the link, as Christians, between a lack of faith (in the One who is in control, though we aren't) and a lack of peace.
It's easy to say that we need to "trust God Who is in control"--too easy to spout another vague abstract statement about His sovereignty which only gives us a greater sense of how far off we are from achieving that peace we want so desperately.
And that very naturally leads us to the age-old question: how to increase our faith? Though we pray to God about our problems they still harass and burden us with worry. We echo the heartbroken father in Mark 9:23-25; "I believe; help my unbelief!"
As someone who is struggling with this issue now--present tense!--who is very much treading water at sea, not as someone waving nochalently from the shore, high and dry--I believe we need to realize two things.
Firstly, a deeper understanding of and love for God. Before we can actually apply our abstract knowledge about His attributes, power, sovereignty, etc. We may know and believe that He is powerful, that He's in control, that He holds all things in His hands, (and there, I've almost composed a Christian hit song.) But let's be honest, those are cold comfort when you're lying awake at 2 am trying to sleep while your heart is throbbing uncomfortably, your head is swimming with worry and apprehension for tomorrow, and you wonder drearily if a good cry would help disperse the cloud of anxiety, exhaustion, and fear--but no, you got to sleep, you need your sleep, the last thing you need is to be sleep-deprived...and you lie awake miserably for another two wretched hours before falling into a restless sleep filled with bad dreams of your teeth falling out or being endlessly chased by serial killers. All right, maybe we don't all have the same experiences of being stressed.
The strongest, most absolute trust does not necessarily depend on the ability of the one trusted but rather on the relationship you have with them. I would feel more comfortable trusting my sis than a prime minister--powerful as he might be, however much I believe he's sincere about helping me. Does that make sense? Perhaps not logically, but then when were human emotions logical?
It's a good time to ask yourself what actually is your personal relationship like with this God who is in control.
How much do I actually love and know Him, aside from how much I know about Him?
Secondly, realize our anxiety and worry stem from the nature of our priorities.
It's hard to manage our anxiety and fears when we're convinced the sum total of our happiness and fulfilment depends on them.
We all know the difficult verses like 1 John 2:15; "Do not love the world or anything in the world." Turning from that verse to examine our lives is perhaps one of the most uncomfortable things any pastor could do to his congregation.
Which brings up another uncomfortable but related question: what does it mean to be spiritually minded?
We need to strive, as a long-term goal, to define our happiness less and less on how things work out on earth. Not just when dealing with worry and anxiety, but throughout our lives; the sunbathing, beach holiday times as well as the shipwreck survivor dog-paddling in the middle of the ocean. To have a long-sighted view of ultimate happiness that we're moving towards, that we can start to enjoy even now regardless of what happens to us during our time here. To let our understanding of Heaven transform the way we understand life here.
Still dog-paddling in the ocean, taking life ten seconds at a time, but knowing that behind the fog surrounding us lies the shore--however faint it may look now--a solid and dependable shore.
photo by Josh Post from Unsplash
Your spiritual growth is your personal responsibility.
We might accept this statement in every other area of our lives--replace "spiritual growth" with education, career, happiness, success--but we tend to leave the responsibility of growing spiritually to our pastors, to our parents, to our church.
It's an unpleasant truth but no matter how many churches we try, how "godly" the youth group is, how great of a pastor/preacher/Sunday School teacher we have, we can't expect ourselves or our children to grow spiritually without realizing that the real game changer is ourselves. With the Spirit's help.
It's tempting to think otherwise--that we just need the sermons to be more insightful, to stir us up; the Bible studies to be more inspiring; the Sunday School teachers, to engage our children more, and that everything will work out naturally.
Thinking that changing to a "better" church with "better teaching" or "better Christians" will be the answer is a mindset that is heavily influenced by the consumerism mentality of our culture--if it doesn't fit, change the brand, try another product, buy something else that seems to promise that outcome we want. We, the consumer, passively wait for it to solve our problems, and if it doesn't, we switch to the next available option out there. To paraphrase an old saying--cliched as it is--we're good at moving on, throwing away instead of trying to figure out why it didn't "work" the way we wanted it to.
Because if we did take some time to consider, we might realize that the whole point of spiritual growth is really not about finding that one perfect church or conducive youth group, however much either might help us--and I'm not denying that they can.
In heaven, where we're looking expectantly to, where all of this right now on Earth ultimately leads to, there are no longer any churches or youth groups or any of these means we're given during our time here to help us. What ultimately matters is our relationship with God. Our one-on-one relationship with Him. Our love. This is what endures, what actually matters. Talk about perspective.
The tools/means we were given to help us should not become our qualification for growing spiritually, or our excuse not to.
We end up fatalistically lamenting where God placed us, blaming our situations, becoming increasingly short-sighted and crippled by our discontent and yes, perhaps even entitled mentality.
God, I can't grow because You didn't give me the right conditions or means or people. None of this is my fault, in fact if anything it's Yours.
We need to think why God--with Whom all things are possible--chose to let us struggle in our corners. Why He chose to withhold what seems so clearly to us as good, even necessary.
Sometimes, my violin students complain that their instrument is lousy, the quality isn't good enough, their parents ought to have bought them a better instrument. I tell them that they just need to practice more. Maybe they have a point, but their progress isn't dependent on their instrument's quality. Ownership. This is a fact they vitally need to grasp if they are to have any drive or motivation to practice and improve at all: knowing that the sole factor of whether they improve or not is themselves. I remember the switch from a good quality violin given by a friend which I'd outgrown, to a larger, but cheaper instrument with a less mellow, scratchier tone. It was depressing at first--mainly because I realized my playing wasn't actually that good after all. It forced me to really buckle down and practice harder in order to improve my sound quality. Later on, when I moved on to the next size up, I switched to a better instrument once more.This time, that change was sweet.
Come on, guys. Imagine the early Christians in Rome having to listen to our excuses. You know, I was literally set on fire for what I believed. If we go by conditions, I had plenty of reasons for backsliding, or blaming my lack of growth on my environment. Being eaten by wild beasts wasn't exactly conducive after all.
I used to struggle with this thought when I was younger, and unhappy that there was virtually no one of my age group in my church. I would envy friends I saw who had big, close-knit youth groups of what apparently seemed like peers all "on fire for Jesus"; I would tell myself, there was so much I could do, so much I could grow, "if only."
I spent several years during that period of my life mucking around in discontent, envy, and self-pity, feeling sorry for myself and not having the maturity to recognize all the means and opportunities God had already given me to grow in, all the areas I could have made a difference in, instead of waiting for someone to step in and do it for me. I am not proud of it but I stagnated like this without any real growth until thankfully by God's grace, I woke up one day with the idea of seeing things differently.
So I unfortunately speak from first-hand experience. I won't bore you any more with my entitled immaturity (what's new?)
For a more balanced perspective on spiritual growth, however, it's more than just accepting responsibility. Being someone who tends to extremes, unfortunately, I came out of this rut only to fall into another one, this time the inverse.
I realized that:
I am primarily responsible for my own spiritual growth.
However, I need to be open to and consciously embrace how God will use external means (people, experiences, books, etc) to help me in my spiritual growth.
Likewise, I also need to be aware that my spiritual growth--even though it may be a primarily personal matter between God and I--inevitably has an impact on those around me.
(continued in part 2)
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
Click to set custom HTML
ALL IMAGES FROM PINTEREST UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED. THANKS, PINTEREST!