It is so easy to let our body distract us from our soul.
There are always so many things on our mind, to be done, dreams, desires, thoughts, relationships, things which are concrete and urgent--so many that our soul and its spiritual life is reduced to mere maintenance.
It becomes another responsibility among a list of others, another thing to try to balance along with everything else. Knowing it's the most important one--yet it's not URGENT like the others--trying, guiltily, not to let it slip as you target the other more clamorous responsibilities.
And the phrase 'Christian living' is reduced to a list of actions to incorporate into our lives. We're too busy to cope with vague, hard-to-define issues about our heart, though that's really the root of the matter. It takes time and effort and thought, and--worst of all to a busy schedule--it almost always includes feels. Not the most conducive for efficiency.
It's much easier instead to reduce Christian living to a literal meaning, shrink it to a pragmatic, hands-on to-do list we can tackle like any other task:
1. Get my devotions done everyday.
2. Squeeze in a respectable block of time for prayer.
3. Try to listen to the sermon every Sunday.
4. Post Bible verses on social media when I feel depressed.
5. Being polite and nice to the people around me because that's witnessing, right?
Tick. Tick. Tick. I have successfully lived like a Christian.
What has happened, instead, is that my spiritual life has degenerated into another ball, a ball vaguely labeled 'Christian living', which I'm trying to juggle along with everything else.
I know that my life should be different as a child of God.
But we're so busy that we can't afford 'different' to be anything more complicated than a list of things to DO, simpler, more mindless. Tick the box, or at least try to, without wasting much thought.
Thanks to Search the Scriptures, I gleaned some little gems from 1 Peter 1:13-2:3 which woke me up to this and helped me think more about how I should be better defining 'Christian living'.
The changes or new standards that should characterize our daily living as Christians, as you gather from the passage:
1. God as priority
2. Christ as our first love and ultimate motivation
3. constant, active, purposeful dying to sin/self
4. pure, sincere, sacrificial love for others
Now, these are neither abstract concepts--like the beautiful but vague phrase 'glorifying God'--nor mindless actions that can be just ticked by doing something--like the completely practical 'go to prayer meeting.'
They are balanced delicately somewhere in between by being non-specific, yet invoking ideas of practical application, and that's exactly why I found them helpful.
God as priority--I knew immediately this wasn't always the case. Me. My schedule, my list of boxes to tick. Or other people. And almost immediately after I had admitted this it was quite clear why peace was lacking...I was busying myself with things which had no end, no solution, because they and me were imperfect. Once again, I was missing the center of it all. *cue Chris August music: The Center of It*
But it was also practical: I had to redeem my relationship with God, stop treating it like a little routine of boxes to tick; He would naturally become my priority once I saw Him as He was and related to Him as I ought.
Christ as our first love and ultimate motivation--Again, this was clearly not the case, though it was something I desired. Love of self, love of all the little idols in my life. Motivation of pride, people, greed.
I had to change my motivations to improve both the process and product of doing. Again, I needed to refresh my love for Christ and appreciation of what He had done for me.
constant, active, purposeful dying to sin/self--This made me see that active fighting against sin should be a constant characteristic of my life, not just an occasion struggle. I should always be on the look-out on the habits, feelings, tastes I develop, examining whether they glorify God or gratify myself. Sin should be something I'm always aware of--keeping me humble and watchful. A vigilant conscience means a healthy soul. If I hadn't experienced any struggles with temptation for a while it could mean desensitizing of the conscience, a cooling love for Christ, or just plain laziness and pride.
pure, sincere, sacrificial love for others-- Here, I realized that my love for others, while it could be pure, or sincere, was seldom sacrificial. Yes, I truly did care for them...but to be absolutely honest when it came to the toss-up ME was the weighted side of the coin. Whenever this incomplete love came to the test it shrunk back at the idea of having to lose something, to step out of a comfort zone, to share something I still wanted more of. Suddenly my eyes were opened to the incompleteness of my love for others, and I was stripped of my complacency in this area. My love was there, all right, but it was a soft, cushy, flimsy love, like cotton candy, which is all very well when you're at a party or carnival but isn't much use when you're starving on a desert island.
Unlike Christ's love.
A love which meets all our needs as well as all our dreams and desires.
A love which is so deep we keep on discovering that it gets better and better.
A love which is so beautiful and so perfect that it can transform ugly and imperfect loves like ours, to reflect its loveliness.
What are you praying hardest to God for now?
We've all had searing, heart-cry desires weigh on our souls. Tear up our insides. Hollow us out in an anguish of wanting. Drive us desperate as nothing seems to be changing, to be happening, as we ask God yet again to grant us our desire, feverish with impatience.
I've had desires, all right. I didn't want them to come between me and God, to become something which embittered me and alienated me, which dulled my awareness of His goodness. But on the other hand, they weren't wrong--right?
Hebrews 13:5-6 was maybe the last place I expected to find guidance. It didn't mention patience, or God's wisdom, or even trust. But it dealt with the heart of the matter nevertheless.
I realize, reading it for Search the Scriptures, that it was a very simple guideline.
Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.' So we may boldly say: 'The Lord is my helper; I will never leave you nor forsake you.'
Christians, of all people, should be at once the most content and the most hopeful. Their reason for being content is an ultimate and complete one, because we believe that our God is the source and essence of all goodness and power--and we know that He is with us. Hebrews 13 reminds us that Christ Himself has promised to be with us, to never leave us nor forsake us, and that with this most important need met, we have all we need to be content.
On the other hand, this reason for our contentment is also the reason for our hope. We believe that God can do great things in this fallen world, and since He is all-powerful and all-good, we have the best reason to hope for the best. What Hebrews 13 warned was the line between hope and covetousness.
Covetousness is basically understood as a 'strong desire, especially for material possessions.' It usually has the implication of greed, that you already have, but desire more. It suggests a restless discontent and a one-minded drive to fulfill a desire--not a need.
Our hope should be balanced by our contentment, so that we desire things not because of self-gratification. Our desires are based on a foundation of contentment with what we have in Christ, and what God has given us. Our desires are shaped by our desire for God's glory and our trust in God's goodness. Our desires should not arise from discontent with our current situation but desire for increase in God's glory, increase in what pleases God.
Hopeful, but contented.
'Prudent' is a word usually associated with frugality.
Being prudent in your speech generally means few words, just as prudent spending generally means few receipts and fewer regrets.
Prudence, as it is commonly understood and used, is the aspect of wisdom regarding our resources--how we use them (which usually also means how we see them, by the way.)
It's a very relatable word for those of us struggling with the widespread problem of not having enough time/energy/insert overused word of choice.
How much time should I spend on people, how much energy to invest in relationships?
How many minutes must I give to my devotions, how many seconds to prayer?
How much do I have to restrain myself from doing what I feel like doing, or force myself to do what I don't feel like doing?
How much money should I tithe, how many dollars do I have to donate to feel safely good about myself?
How little am I allowed to spend on myself and my desires? How little do I sleep so I have time for something else?
How much is too much, how little is too little?
Oh, for prudence, we sigh. If only we knew...if only there was a nice handy measuring cup to dole out our resources, and a clear-cut recipe to follow for a perfectly balanced life...
'The wise in heart shall be called prudent...'
The book of Proverbs is our family meal-table tradition. Growing up, we went through Proverbs three times at the regular rhythm of one proverb per meal. Guess what. We're doing the rounds for the fourth time.
My mom was trying to think through what exactly Proverbs 16:21 meant, and she gave an explanation that I wasn't expecting, but which caught my attention.
The thought that prudence may not necessary mean simply sparing with your resources. That 'wise in heart' may be more than the superficial cautious, careful, reserved that we'd generally assume from the context of the sentence.
Perhaps, she suggested, wise in heart meant instead that you value the things God values; that your heart's emotions, desires, loves, are God-centered rather than self-centered.
Perhaps this is where prudence begins. Perhaps prudent managing of your resources isn't about how much--or how little--you give of your _____(again, insert word of choice); isn't only the external act of self-control/restraint that we tend to think is all it means.
Perhaps prudence starts in the heart. When we love, feel, want wisely, the actions and decisions we make regarding our resources will be influenced as well. When we value what is truly valuable, when we love what is truly worth loving, when we desire what is truly worth desiring, we will give it the priority it deserves in our life. And everything else will fall into place, because--to use that old analogy--once you fit the big pebbles into your bottle, the sand fills into the spaces snugly.
Prudence, in that case, is not a merely logical and methodical set of decisions made by the brain. It is the result of a heart that loves and feels wisely; a 'wise heart.'
'The wise in heart shall be called prudent...'
'Human beings carry the unique ability to not merely please God through their existence, but to do so through conscious joy in their Creator.'
~Sweeney and Strachan
Along my one hour bus route to college, almost half of the time is pure highway with hardly any buildings, bridges, or people--fairly rare for Singapore. Instead, I get treated to a gloriously long vista of trees; rain trees, gentle giants whose lacy canopies are so high above that their wispy beauty often goes unnoticed...plump bushy trees like marshmallows , their green sides frosted with feathery orange...slim sad-looking trees...young bare-branched ones with a few brave leaves...choruses of vibrant, happy red leaves gleaming in the sun...
I am so thankful for the trees along my prayer route. They make it so easy to see God. They make His goodness so simple to understand, and so real to feel. Looking at them, absorbing their beauty, loosens my mind and heart from all the busyness and distractions that have tied them into hard knots of efficiency, and my heart naturally turns to God--not, for once, because I need His help, but simply because He is the source of all this beauty.
As Steve DeWitt said: Beauty is God's invitation to delight in Him.
And in that lovely restful frame of mind I slip into prayer as easily as falling asleep (which is an apt analogy since it's on a bus)--specifically, the first stage of prayer, Adoration; it takes on a new meaning after your soul has been steeped in vivid awareness of the goodness of God.
I wish I could reflect God's glory as purely and consistently as the trees do, I thought once.
I may have more potential to do so in a greater scale, but I am a lot more likely NOT to actually maximize that potential.
This lovely quote, however, was a comforting and uplifting reminder to counter-balance that otherwise possibly depressing thought (I say possibly because I couldn't actually feel depressed in the face of all those glorious trees; just humbled in a wholesome, good sort of way.) It was from the short book Jonathan Edwards: Lover of God by Sweeney and Strachan. (I started reading this book mainly for an overview of Edwards' life, work, and impact; but along the way I discovered it had little gems of its own tucked away obscurely, in the middle of a prosaic paragraph of factual autobiographical narration.)
Human beings carry the unique ability to not merely please God through their existence, but to do so through conscious joy in their Creator.
Yes, the trees are pleasing God--and man--simply by being, by existing, by quivering under the load of beauty that they bear. I sense the joy God has in them when I look at them, the delight in His creation which made Him say 'It is good.'
And as for us--we flawed, weak, selfish, foolish humans--we can be this, and even more. When we consciously delight in God, we glorify Him even more than the tree in all its beauty. I don't even have to do something great and splendid before I can glorify Him. I can glorify God through something as simple and natural and desirable as being happy in Him.
To seek joy in Him--because it is joy; because I need it; because it enables me to understand Him; and because it glorifies Him.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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