The Lost Art of Forbearance

“Forbearance” isn’t a word we hear much these days, but it’s a needed one. It shows up throughout KJV New Testament passages meaning endurance. But two passages in particular bring out this meaning more fully.

Ephesians 4:1-3 says “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Other translations say, instead of “forbearance”:

    • “bearing with one another in love” (several)
    • “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love,” NLT
    • “showing tolerance for one another in love,” NASB
    • “patiently put up with each other and love each other,” CEB

A similar passage is in Colossians 3:12-15, with similar translations in other versions: Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”

The Dictionary.com definition for “forbear” that most closely matches this context is “to be patient or self-controlled when subject to annoyance or provocation.

A former pastor’s definition matches most closely with the CEB: “good, old-fashioned putting up with each other.”

People don’t “put up with” much these days, do they? Or, I should say, do we? We want what we want, the way we want, and we want it now. Woe to the person who hinders any aspect of our getting what we want. Having multitudinous selections and the fastest cooking and delivery times in history have not made us more patient: we’re more impatient than ever. And if someone wrongs us in the slightest way or even makes a mistake that inconveniences, we feel obligated to let them have it and vent all over social media. And if someone holds a position we disagree with, well, then, they’re fair game for ridicule at the very least.

Granted, some things should not be tolerated: abuse, criminal activity, actions which hurt others all need to be dealt with. Wrongs need to be dealt with. Stands need to be taken.

But everyday faults and mistakes? Who doesn’t have those in abundance? How do we want others to treat us when we mess up?

Ephesians and Colossians pairs forbearance with:

  • humility (Where’d I get the idea everything is supposed to be my way?)
  • meekness
  • kindness
  • forgiveness: Colossians 3:13 gives the standard: “even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
  • love
  • peace

Aren’t these the traits we long for in others’ interactions with us? Don’t we long for others to take time to hear and understand instead of just assuming, reacting, and blowing the situation out of proportion? Wouldn’t we rather someone talk to us privately when there’s been a misunderstanding instead of talking to everyone else? When we make a mistake, and we’re fearing the worst reaction, aren’t we blessed when someone says, “That’s all right — don’t worry about it. We all blow it sometimes.” Don’t we yearn for mercy and grace?

Then let’s take the initiative and exercise these traits toward each other.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV).

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Bruised Reeds Are We All

One of my children has a friend who, after graduating from a Christian college and working in Christian camps, went home, got involved with a guy who landed in prison, and ended up pregnant and unmarried. Her church was very supportive of her and helped her through her pregnancy and single motherhood. But within a couple of years, the same thing happened again, with the same guy. This time the church was kind to her children, but held themselves aloof from her. Their attitude seemed to be “To make one mistake is forgivable, but to repeat it — she must not have been very sincere in her repentance.”

Yet who among us hasn’t sinned at least twice in more than one category?

And while I’m tempted to quick judgment of these church people, I am convicted by by own tendency to hold grudges. I was thoroughly startled one day to realize that a grudge is just continual unforgiveness.

Jesus takes forgiveness seriously. He died to obtain it for us. The prayer He taught contains the line, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:9-13). As we forgive our debtors. He goes on to say, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (verses 14-15). That’s a scary thought.

I used to have trouble with forgiveness when I felt the other person didn’t “deserve” it. But what finally changed my heart was the parable Jesus told in Matthew 18:21-35. Jesus had just talked about lost sheep and the process of church discipline. Then Peter asked, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” He probably thought that was pretty generous. Jesus said it’s more like but seventy times seven. Then He told a story about a man who owed a massive debt that he could not pay to a king. When the king made plans to sell the man, his family, and all he had, the man fell to his knees and begged the king for patience, promising he would pay everything he owed. The king took pity on him and forgave the debt completely.

But when the forgiven man left, he ran into someone who owed him a much smaller amount and demanded repayment. This debtor made the same plea the forgiven man had made the king. But instead of responding in kind, the forgiven man refused to forgive and sent his debtor to prison.

Word got back to the king about this man’s behavior. The king summoned him, rebuked him, and threw him in prison til his debt should be paid. Jesus concluded, “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I realized that I had been forgiven an immense debt when Jesus saved me. No one could sin against me to the extent I sinned against Him. So how could I hold a smaller transgression against anyone else when I had been forgiven so much? As C. S. Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Yet I still have to remind myself of this often.

The beginning of Matthew 18 (as well as many other places in Scripture) shows that Jesus does not take sin lightly. It’s serious business, and forgiveness doesn’t mean just blowing it off like it doesn’t matter. We acknowledge that there has been a debt, an infraction, which caused pain. But, by God’s grace, we forgive it. We may not feel very forgiving, but forgiveness is not a feeling: it is a decision.

Forgiveness also doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t consequences. In the same passage, Jesus described how people should go about handling an unrepentant sin against them to the point of church discipline. In cases where abuse or other crimes have been committed, the perpetrator still needs to be arrested. There’s a difference between enabling and helping, and it’s not always easy to know the difference when someone is addicted to something. We can’t be naive, and we need to pray for wisdom. Forgiveness also may not mean that now you’re best buds with the other person. Some relationships are toxic. There may be any number of good reasons why the relationship should not be restored. However, that doesn’t mean that treat everyone that way for every infraction.

There are times to separate from someone who persists in wrong doctrine or wrongdoing, but that’s only if they professing Christians who are unrepentant and if everything else has been tried to bring them around. Even that extreme measure is done with the hope that they might return, like the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who repented by 2 Corinthians 2. First Paul had to admonish the Corinthians to deal with the sin in 1 Corinthians. But when the man did repent Paul had to encourage the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him” (2 Corinthians 2:7-8).

Sometimes someone with a besetting sin needs counsel rather than aloofness. In a book I recently read, a man kept falling into the same sin, even after he was saved. There was a difference afterward, in that now he loathed his sin, whereas before he didn’t care. But he still felt like he just had to try to “do better.” What he really needed was to learn how to depend on the Lord and not his own strength.

In another book I read this year, a fictional story based on a real one, the female protagonist also had trouble with with sexual relationships. Though she made steady progress in her faith, she had trouble overcoming in this one area. I wondered how many people would dislike the book or would have distanced themselves from her in real life instead of helping her. She reminded me very much of the woman at the well, who had five different husbands and a current live-in boyfriend. She came to draw water from the well alone, not at the time when all the other women in the village came. Was it because she felt ashamed? Or had she suffered their condescending looks and comments before and wanted to avoid them? Either way, Jesus made a special point to be there when she was and to tell her about the water of life available through the Messiah — Himself. A multitude believed through the testimony of one “fallen woman.”

We tend to look down on certain types of sin more than others. But what did Jesus say the greatest commandments are? To love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Doesn’t it follow that if these are the greatest commandments, disobeying them is the greatest sin? And don’t we fall short of them every day of our lives? How then can we look down on any other sinner?

I’ve wondered, in this social media era, about the widespread tendency towards Internet outrage at people. Careers, reputations, and even lives have been ruined because someone started a tangent on Twitter without knowing half what they were talking about, and it spread like wildfire. Or someone did do wrong, but instead of extending grace and hoping they learn from their mistake, we right them off forever. How is this treating others as we would want to be treated?

There is a beautiful passage in Isaiah foretelling the coming Savior. Isaiah had just foretold in Chapter 41 about Cyrus, a conqueror who “tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow” and “shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay (verses 2, 25). By contrast, the Savior:

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
    my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
    he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
    or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
    and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
    he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:1-3, ESV)

This passage is quoted again of Jesus in Matthew 12:15-21, ending with the line, “and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” He’s like the man in the parable he told who stood up for a fruitless fig tree and gave it another chance, working with it to help it bear fruit.

Henry F. Lyte draws on several passages of Scripture to form this stanza in his 1834 hymn, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven“:

Fatherlike He tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame He knows.
In His hands He gently bears us,
Rescues us from all our foes.
Alleluia! Alleluia!
Widely as His mercy flows!

Instead of an atmosphere of haughtiness or superiority, let’s show the same welcome,  mercy, gentleness, and grace we have received.

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Studying the Parts to Understand the Whole

A few years ago I read an annotated version of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Sometimes I struggled with disrupting the flow of the story to read the notes. But the notes added so much to understanding the story, they were worth it in the long run.

I read recently an article where someone brought up this difference between reading for pleasure versus reading an annotated version of a story, stopping to read every footnote. This writer brought out the disruption of this type of reading. She pointed out that we don’t read regular books that way (unless we’re in school reading an assigned text), so we shouldn’t read the Bible that way.

There are times we should just read a particular passage as it is for pleasure, with no cross references or footnotes. But there are other times we should study it out in depth. It isn’t either Bible reading or Bible study. We need both.

Some people read and study in tandem. They’ll read one passage devotionally and study another, possibly to prepare for a group Bible study. Others will take turns: they’ll read one book of the Bible all the way through, then do a Bible study project on another book or topic, then read another book of the Bible through.

When I first started using a study Bible, I wasn’t sure I liked reading a verse or two and then stopping to read the footnotes sidebars, and charts. It did seem more halting and fragmented than just reading the passage. But the extra material did aid in understanding the passage.

Instead of reading a verse and it’s footnote one by one, sometimes I read a paragraph at a time, then look over the footnotes. Or, if there is a lot of footnote information for each verse, I’ll read each footnote after its verse, and then go back over the last few lines of text just to put it all together.

Then, beyond just the notes in a study Bible, there are commentaries, Bible study guides, and a whole slew of other Bible study materials with which to dig into a passage even further..

Let’s see if I can illustrate the benefit of study in another way. I was not exposed to classical music much as I was growing up. I remember one Girl Scout trip to a symphony, a couple of performances of Handel’s Messiah in school or church, our pastor playing excerpts of Mendelssohn’s Elijah oratorio in a high school assembly. I remember thinking the pieces were nice and enjoying a few of the songs more than others (especially “He, Watching Over Israel,” based on Psalm 121:4, from Elijah). But I didn’t get much more than that from the pieces.

Then I went to a Christian liberal arts university which wanted to teach us more than academics, so we were exposed to various kinds of classical music concerts, Shakespearean plays, etc. During my junior year, I asked a sophomore music major roommate to help me pick out some classical vinyl albums marked down to $3 at the bookstore that she thought I might enjoy. I grew a bit more in my appreciation of classical music.

But it wasn’t until my senior year in college, when I had a class called Music Appreciation, that I really began to understand and then love classical music. We went era by era, learning what kind of music was produced by which composers in each period. We learned something of the lives of major composers. We listened to and took apart some famous works. We learned to identify the different themes in each piece, note their development, and trace how they interacted with each other. We’d have tests where the professor would play a few seconds of a piece of music, and we’d have to identify it as the first theme of the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony (a melody which was later given words by one of his students and turned into the lovely song “Goin’ Home“). Some of the works we studied then are my favorite pieces today – New World, Hayden’s Surprise Symphony (and the fun story behind it), Smetana’s The Moldau, Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and others. Listening to them again is like rereading a favorite book, enjoying and anticipating the flow. I came to understand and enjoy the whole much more by studying the parts. In fact, I haven’t added any new classical music loves because I haven’t studied any pieces to the extent I did then.

It’s the same way with the Bible. As we study the individual parts of a biblical book, we learn what the details mean, how they fit within the book itself, how the book fits within the whole Bible. We trace the themes and see how they intertwine. We’ll know and get more from those passages in ways we don’t know those we’ve only given a cursory reading. And each time we read that book, we build on what we know and appreciate what we remember from previous studies. Study might seem tedious in the midst of it, but it’s worth it when you put it all together. C. S. Lewis contrasted the difference between meditating on a single verse devotionally vs. working through a longer passage: “Hammer your way through a continued argument, just as you would in a profane writer, and the heart will sometimes sing unbidden (from The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis).

Some days, even some seasons of life, like when young children are in the house, our Bible reading may be more like grabbing a quick protein bar instead of sitting down to a meal. There are many good reasons to read the Bible, and sometimes we’re greatly blessed from just reading a passage. While working on this post, I read Julia Bettencort’s great post about reading the Bible for pleasure. Some days our thoughts are already scattered, and focusing on and absorbing a single passage is more helpful than adding notes or references. But we also benefit from studying more in depth at times. Our study informs and enhances our general reading. It’s good to make time for both.

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While we wait

No one enjoys waiting. Even if we’d prefer to put off something we’re not looking forward to, at some point we just want to get it over with. Sometimes waiting enhances the enjoyment of whatever we’re waiting for until it finally comes — cookies baking, marriage, an anticipated outing. Some waits are particular nerve-wracking and even traumatic: a response from a job application or a medical test. Waiting can make us feel impatient, unsettled, and strained.

Wait can be an active as well as a passive verb. A waiter serves others actively. One of the best ways to deal with waiting is to get busy about something else. If we’re serving others or accomplishing some task, we’re not only using our time profitably, but we’re also distracting our thoughts from our wait.

A couple of weeks ago I was reading in 1 Peter and was arrested by verse 7 in chapter 3: “The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.” I’m thankful that all my Christian life, I have been under teaching that emphasizes reading whole chapters and whole books of the Bible rather than isolated verses. I made a list that day of all the things Peter went on to tell people to do and think about until “the end of all things” actually comes. Then today, looking back through all of 1 Peter, I realized “the end of all things” hearkens back to the “living hope” we were born again to “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:3-5).

Until that time, God has given us plenty to do – not just as a distraction, as busywork, but as that which must be done.

This isn’t a full exposition of 1 Peter, but here are some things I noticed we’re to do while we wait for that inheritance at the end of all things:

Remember:

Remember who you are in Christ if you are a believer: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (2:9).

Remember why you were called: “that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (2:9-10). “You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (2:5).

Remember your pilgrim status (1:17). 1 Peter 2:11 in the ESV calls us sojourners and exiles; the KJV says strangers and pilgrims.This world is not all there is. It’s not our final destination. We’re “just traveling through,” as the song says. We seek “a better country, that is, a heavenly one,” one God has prepared for them (Hebrews 11:16).

Adjust your thinking and actions:

Feed on God’s Word like babies take in milk (2:2-3). “The word of the Lord remains forever” though all else fails (1:24-25).

Endure tests and trials in a way that honors the Lord (1:6-9; 3:13-17; 4:1-2). He allows them to test and refine us or for other reasons. Remember how Christ suffered unjustly, without threatening, sinning, or reviling, “entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (2:19-25; 3:18). Don’t be surprised at suffering, but glorify God in it and rejoice. “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (4:12-19). Know that you are not alone: others are suffering, too (5:9).And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (5:10-11).

Be holy (1:14-16, 22; 3:10-12, 16-17; 4:3-5). Remember you were delivered from the “passions of your former ignorance” (1:14) and redeemed “with the precious blood of Christ (1:18-20, 23; 2:4-8). “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (2:1). “As sojourners and exiles . . . abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (2:11-12).

Be sober minded and alert (1:13, 17; 4:7; 5:8). That doesn’t mean you can never laugh or rest. But the tenor of our lives isn’t that of goof-offs. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith” (5:8-9a).

Hope (1:13). “Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Biblical hope isn’t iffy: it’s a confident expectation.

Have a humble mind (3:8; 5:5-6).

Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (5:7).

Rejoice in the inheritance waiting for you (1:6). “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1:8).

Interact with others in these ways:

Love others above everything else, sincerely, earnestly, and continually, from a pure heart,  (1:22; 3:8-9; 4:8).

Submit to God-given authorities (2:13-18; 5:5) unless they tell you to violate the commands of God (Acts 4:18-20).

Honor each other in marriage, the wife submitting to her husband and working on “the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” rather that giving undue attention to outward beauty, the husband honoring and protecting his wife (3:1-7).

Don’t retaliate. “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing” (3:9; 2:19-25).

Be ready to answer. “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect (3:15).

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling (4:7).

Use the gifts God gave you (4:10-11) “to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace,” by His strength, for His glory. Especially shepherds (5:1-5)

“This is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it” (1 Peter 5:12b).

All of this instruction is given to believers in Christ. Others passages warn unbelievers not to be so caught up with life’s pleasures and problems that they neglect to think about their need of a Savior now and in eternity and urge them to believe on Christ while there is still time. “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:18-21).

___

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The Essence of Prayer

So many posts and articles I see concerning prayer try to offer something new and exciting to the table. Sometimes it’s a particular form, ritual, or activity. One title said something like “5 Prayers to Unleash God’s Power in Your Life.” As if we have God on a leash!

I wonder if we’ve forgotten the essence of prayer. We’re told when we first become Christians that Christianity is not just a list of rules or a system of activities: it’s a relationship with God. But sometimes we can lose that focus and end up just doing things rotely. Remembering that we’re communicating with a Person can transform our viewpoint. The Bible uses different metaphors to picture the various aspects of our relationship with God: father/child, bride/bridegroom, shepherd/sheep, king/subject, master/servant, Savior/sinner, teacher/disciple.  Sometimes we approach God with those different aspects in mind. I most commonly think of prayer as just talking to our heavenly Father due to the prayer Jesus taught, the one we commonly call “The Lord’s Prayer.” We don’t search for different forms with which to talk to our earthly parents: why do we do so with God?

Well, prayer is a little different. For one, we can’t see God, so that feels a little awkward sometimes. And, for another, He is God, after all. That can be a little intimidating. And then, how can we have a conversation when we fall asleep mid-sentence or have to juggle massive prayer lists?

The best place to learn to pray is the Bible. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to just the words of Scripture, but they can form the basis of our approach to God. Jesus gave us a pattern for prayer in what is commonly called “the Lord’s prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13). The psalms give us multiple examples of someone pouring his heart out to God, even his not-so-nice feelings, reminding himself of truths about his God and straightening out his thinking. The epistles include marvelous examples of prayer. When we pray these Scriptures, we know we’re praying according to God’s will. We base our hope in God’s answer on what He has said. David said, “O LORD God, the word that thou hast spoken concerning thy servant, and concerning his house, establish it for ever, and do as thou hast said.” (2 Samuel  7:25, KJV). The psalmist of 119 said, ” Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope” (verse 49).

Other Bible passages provide wonderful examples of prayer that we can learn from. Nehemiah’s quick prayer before answering the king (Nehemiah 2:1-8) is one of my favorites, because I send up those quick requests for help or wisdom frequently. On the other end of the spectrum are all 176 verses of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. We have Daniel’s prayer, Habakkuk’s, Jesus’ prayer for His disciples in John 17, His agonized prayer in Gethsemane, Paul’s and Peter’s prayers for their readers in the epistles, and multitudes of others. I’ve copied various prayers from the Bible into the “Notes” section of my phone to have them quickly available. One of my favorites is from Colossians 1:9-12 (KJV):

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.

See how immensely different this prayer is from the kinds of prayer requests we usually share with each other? It’s certainly not wrong to pray for health needs and financial concerns and such, but we need the elements in this prayer so much more than any physical desire.

Sometimes we compartmentalize our quiet time with a certain amount of Bible reading, prayer, and maybe memorization. But we can pray while we’re reading the Scripture. When we come to a passage of praise, we can lift our hearts in praise to God right in that moment: we don’t have to make a note of it to remember later when we pray. It’s the same with a petition or intercession for others. When something we read in the Bible reminds us of a need in our lives or others’ we can stop and pray right then. I used to think something wasn’t “officially” prayed for unless I had mentioned it during my quiet time, but later I learned I could talk to God all day, mentioning requests and concerns as they arose.

The Bible says that the marriage relationship pictures that of Christ and the church. So let’s compare the two in the realm of communication. Husbands understand if a wife has a super-busy day or if she is tired. But if that happens all the time, and she is frantically running around taking care of children, housework, even outside ministries, and never has time to just sit down with him, he’s not going to feel loved and wanted. If she spends the time they do talk in losing focus, daydreaming, pondering what to put on her grocery list, he is not going to feel heard. If the only time she communicates with him is on the run while doing other things or when she needs him to do something, or if their only conversation is in the last few  minutes before sleep when they’re drifting off in mid-sentence, their relationship is going to suffer.

There is nothing wrong with those types of communication in themselves. We are to pray without ceasing, all through the day, even while doing other things, as I mentioned before. He wants us to come to Him with our needs, and ending the day talking with Him is lovely. But there needs to be some times of just pure focus on Him, on worship and learning from Him. Even though God doesn’t “need” us in the same sense a husband does, He wants to fellowship with us, and He knows we need to hear Him.

Because we’re easily distractible, sometimes it does help to have something to help us remember what we’re doing. Some use acronyms, like ACTS: adoration, confession of sin, thanksgiving, and supplication. Another is PRAY: pray, repent, ask, yield. Sometimes if I have a hard time keeping my thoughts together, I pray through the Lord’s prayer, stopping at each phrase to expand the thought in my own words. For instance: “‘Our Father, which art in heaven’…thank you for your omniscience. You know every care in my heart as well as the rest of the world. Thank You for Your power, Your Holiness, Your love,” and so on.

Elisabeth Elliot said of distractions:

Distractions can be useful. They provide constant reminders of our human weakness. We recognize in them how earthbound we are, and then how completely we must depend on the help of the Holy Spirit to pray in and through us. We are shown, by a thousand trivialities, how trivial are our concerns. The very effort to focus, even for a minute, on higher things, is foiled, and we see that prayer–the prerequisite for doing anything for God–cannot be done without Him. We are not, however, left to fend for ourselves.

The Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness. For when we cannot choose words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words, and God who knows everything in our hearts knows perfectly well what he means, and that the pleas of the saints expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God” (Romans 8:26-27 JB) (A Lamp For My Feet).

In another place, Elisabeth said:

When I stumble out of bed in the morning, put on a robe, and go into my study, words do not spring spontaneously to my lips–other than words like, “Lord, here I am again to talk to you. It’s cold. I’m not feeling terribly spiritual….” Who can go on and on like that morning after morning, and who can bear to listen to it day after day?

I need help in order to worship God. Nothing helps me more than the Psalms. Here we find human cries–of praise, adoration, anguish, complaint, petition. There is an immediacy, an authenticity, about those cries. They speak for me to God–that is, they say what I often want to say, but for which I cannot find words.

Surely the Holy Spirit preserved those Psalms in order that we might have paradigms of prayer and of our individual dealings with God. It is immensely comforting to find that even David, the great king, wailed about his loneliness, his enemies, his pains, his sorrows, and his fears. But then he turned from them to God in paeans of praise.

He found expression for praise far beyond my poor powers, so I use his and am lifted out of myself, up into heights of adoration, even though I’m still the same ordinary woman alone in the same little room. (From the chapter “Meeting God Alone” in On Asking God Why).

She went on to say that hymns were another source she used. They often combined prayer and praise

So sometimes we can use these boosts to our prayers as long as we remember that relationships are built on and maintained by communication, not just going through motions, not just repeating “vain repetitions” (Matthew 6:7, KJV), or “empty phrases” (ESV). God communicates with us through the Bible; we communicate with Him through prayer. May we always keep in mind that our time in prayer and the Word of God is communication with the One who loves us more than anyone else could and desires our fellowship and worship.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Share a Link Wednesday, Grace and Truth, Faith on Fire)

 

Strong Women

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A friend and I were discussing the two half-sisters in The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Marian Halcombe is gracious, smart, strong, and capable, but ugly. Laura Fairlie is pretty and sweet, but somewhat weak and fragile. You can guess which one gets the guy.

That discussion led to thinking about other women in literature. Dora, the first love of David Copperfield, was pretty, sweet, and charming, but childish and totally inept as a household manager. She even told him to think of her as a “child wife.” After failed attempts to strengthen Dora, David had to just accept and love her as she was. But Agnes, his friend whom he later came to love after Dora’s death, was steady, capable, strong, and mature, and they could support and help each other. Lucie Manette from A Tale of Two Cities came up in the aforementioned discussion as a Victorian ideal of the weak damsel in distress, but I disagreed. I think she had to be very strong to take in a father who was mentally disabled after so many years locked up unjustly in the Bastille and and nurse him back to health. Then she traveled to France at the height of the French Revolution to find out what had happened to her husband when she feared he was in danger. Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility is another strong literary woman. She was steady, had to manage the household frugally even when the rest of the family complained, had to reign in her emotions to do the honorable thing, as opposed to her sister, Marianne, who gave free reign to her emotions and whims. Ma Ingalls is another: I honestly don’t know how she dealt with the sheer hard work of her life as well as the loneliness of being away from other people so much.

I am not a feminist by any means, but I do like to see a female protagonist who does have some umph to her, who adds more to the story than a pretty face.

Besides literary examples, we have a plethora of strong women in the Bible. How could Mary, the mother of Jesus, endure all she did without His strength? Other strong biblical woman are Jochebed, Moses’ mother, who defied Pharaoh to protect her son; Rahab, who took a great risk to hide the Hebrew spies because of her faith in their God; Deborah, a judge who went to battle; Hannah, in grief over her barrenness, yet knowing to whom to turn; Esther, who risked her life to intercede for her people before the king; Priscilla, who helped her husband in business and in discipling; Mary and Martha, strong in different ways; Joanna and the other women who ministered to Jesus’s needs, and so many more.

Being strong is not an unfeminine trait. In fact, Proverbs 31 says of the virtuous woman, “She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms,” and “Strength and honour are her clothing.”

She is strong in character: excellent, or virtuous in some versions (verse 10), trustworthy (verse 11), does her husband good (verse 12), kind and compassionate (verses 20, 26), characterized by honor (or dignity in some versions) (verse 25), praiseworthy (28-31).

She is strong in industriousness and initiative: She “works with willing hands” (verse 13), she gets up early to start work and serve others (verse 15) – she’s not still in bed late in the morning waiting on someone to serve her (except maybe on special occasions), she weaves and knows her products are good (verse 18-19), she works into the evening (verse 18), she makes nice clothing (verse 21-22, 24), she makes products to sell (verse 24), she looks well to the ways of her household and is not idle (verse 27).

She is strong physically (verses 17, 25): she plants (verse 16),

She is strong mentally and intellectually: she seeks good products and prices (verses 13, 14, 16), she plans ahead for bad weather (verse 21), she is wise (verse 26).

She is strong spiritually: she fears the Lord (verse 30).

We can sometimes get discouraged just thinking about this epitome of womanhood, but as I like to say, she didn’t do all of that in a single day. And I don’t think we have to take up weaving, plant a vineyard, or have a home business to become virtuous women. But taken as a whole, the tenor of her life is that of strength, industry, and honor. She is definitely not a “damsel in distress,” but she doesn’t need to assert her strength by challenging her husband or stepping into his role.

Admittedly we all experience times of weakness, tiredness, and weariness, and there are times we do need rescue. I’ve so appreciated the times my husband has come to my aid when I’ve gotten stuck or over my head in a project, behind in getting ready for company, overwhelmed with a ministry activity, etc. As a family we all pitch in and help wherever needed rather than standing back and saying, “That’s your responsibility, not mine.” There is nothing wrong with a husband helping and serving his wife: if he loves as Christ loves the church, Christ helps and serves us. But I did struggle in early marriage with wanting my husband to help me in every little thing and having to remember that I am supposed to be a help meet for him. We don’t depend on our husbands instead of the Lord, but we do depend on their God-given assets and strengths. Our husbands also need to depend on us to be able to stand strong in the Lord’s strength. And God enables us to minister to others and give of ourselves even when we feel depleted.

We don’t usually step up to the brink of adulthood or marriage strong in all the ways we need to be. Strength of character has to be developed just as physical strength does. When you first start exercising physically, the first thing you notice is how weak and out of shape you really are, but starting to exercise even in weakness is the first step to developing strength. Often God develops strength in us by putting us in situations where we are totally weak. I could not have endured my husband’s many travels without learning to lean on the Lord for strength, but I was pretty much a basket case at first. I can remember the dismay of realizing as a young mother that I couldn’t just take to my bed when I was sick when I had little ones to take care of. I was probably overly dependent on my husband at first, but had to learn how to make decisions and take care of things while he was at work and out of reach.

Jonathan and Rosalind Goforth were missionaries to China from1888-1936. She had written his biography, and then by request wrote Climbing, one of my all-time favorite books, about missionary life and furlough from her perspective. She writes not as a “super-Christian,” but rather as a woman “of like passions” as we are. She writes in one place:

It was while I had a large family of little children about me and mission work was pressing heavily upon me, while feeling burdened and that strength was insufficient, I sought to find in God’s Word whether there were any conditions to be fulfilled for the receiving of divine strength. The result of this study was a surprise and joy to me, and later a blessing and help to many to whom I passed it on, for every condition the weakest could fulfill!

Conditions of receiving strength

1. Weaknesses. II Cor. 12:9-10
2. No might. Isa. 40:29
3. Sitting still. Isa. 30:7
4. Waiting on God. Isa. 40:31
5. Quietness. Isa. 30:15
6. Confidence. Isa. 30:15
7. Joy in the Lord. Neh. 8:10
8. Poor. Isa. 25:4
9. Needy. Isa. 25:4
10 Dependence on Christ. Phil. 4:13

The key is in Hebrew 11:32-34: “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.”

Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor. 12:9-10).

The song “I Could Not Do Without Thee” by Francis Ridley Havergal says it well:

I could not do without Thee,
I cannot stand alone,
I have no strength or goodness,
No wisdom of my own;
But Thou, beloved Savior,
Art all in all to me,
And weakness will be power
If leaning hard on Thee.

May you “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10) today.

(Revised from the archives)

Update: I discovered this afternoon that Dr. Michelle Bengtson’s post, 10 Scriptures for When You Need Strength, shared even more from God’s Word to strengthen us.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Share a Link Wednesdays, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Booknificent)

Giving out of our poverty

We’ve probably all experienced this: someone needs time, attention, affection, ministry, or something else from us right when we feel we have nothing left, yet we don’t feel we can refuse.

I’m not talking about a people-pleaser who is drowning in obligations because she doesn’t want to disappoint anyone. We can’t say yes to everything. We all have legitimate limitations, some more than others due to physical conditions or other obligations.

But sometimes you’re a mom with three sick children, and you can’t stop giving them what they need. Or you’re looking for a few minutes of quiet respite after a busy day, when your poor husband, who is supposed to come first and has been sadly lacking in the attention department, needs you. Or you’ve been pouring into a work or ministry project, and the other person on the project falls ill or forgets or just doesn’t do their part. Or you’ve prayed about something someone requested of you, and you have every reason to say no, but you just can’t shake the feeling you’re supposed to say yes.

Recently when I was in one of these situations, God did give me grace to say yes and blessed my efforts. And as I thought over the whole situation, the Macedonians came to mind. What Macedonians? The ones in 2 Corinthians 8. Paul had been raising money to help the believers in Jerusalem. The Macedonians, though in “extreme poverty . . . overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part” (verse 2). They gave not only “according to their means,” but “beyond their means.” They didn’t have to be coerced; in fact, they were “begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints” (verse 4). They gave with abundant joy (verse 2). And, perhaps the secret to it all, they “gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us” (verse 5).

Paul comes back to the Macedonians in 2 Corinthians 9, pointing out that Christians are to give, “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (verse 7). He reminds that “whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (verse 6). He shares that “the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.” Their service not only helps meet others’ needs, but it brings glory and thanksgiving to God as they recognize that He’s the one who supplied through His saints. And Paul encourages that:

God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God (verses 8-11).

Though Paul is talking about financial giving, I have found the principles to apply in other types of giving as well. I think of the poor widow of Zarephath who was about to make the last meal for herself and her son and then prepare to die. Just at that point, the prophet asked her for food. She could have said, “Are you crazy?” But she did as the prophet asked, and “The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17: 16). I remember a preacher sharing an experience when he got into a taxi after an exhausting stretch of traveling and preaching. He just wanted to enjoy the quiet and rest. But the driver wanted to chat, and the preacher was able to listen and then share truth from God’s Word. I think of the apostle Paul, who said at one point, “We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death.” But, he said, “that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10).

There are times God wants us to say “No.” There are times when we need to step back, perhaps to let another lead the way, perhaps to rest and recuperate. But when God calls us to do something, even when we feel depleted, we can lean on Him for grace and provision to give to others.

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman Titus 2 Link-up, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

The Forgotten Element in Bible Reading

It’s funny how you can read certain Bible passages for years, and suddenly something new jumps out at you. This happened one morning last week as I read in 2 Timothy. Chapter 2 verse 7 says:

Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

Many verses speak of God giving us understanding as we read His Word. I often pray for Him to do so just before I start reading the Bible. And I knew the Bible instructed us not only to read, but to study and meditate on it. But this is the first time I noticed both God’s part and ours so clearly and closely working together.

The ESV Study Bible notes comment on this verse:

Paul exhorts Timothy to make the effort to think and meditate on what Paul has written; as he does so, God will give him understanding in everything about which Paul has instructed him. The believer’s efforts and God’s empowering work together.

The definition of the Greek word for “think over” is noeo and means “to perceive with the mind, to understand, to think upon, heed, ponder, consider.” The KJV says “consider,” the NIV uses “reflect on.”

By contrast, just one chapter over, in 2 Timothy 3:8, Paul speaks of men who are “corrupted in mind.” The ESV notes say: “False teaching is cast in terms of deficient thinking . . . this is why divine aid is necessary for coming to the “knowledge of the truth” (2:7, 25-26)” (emphasis mine).

Jen Wilkin said, in “Studying the Bible Is Not Supposed to Be Easy“:

Bible study is . . . absolutely a skill. And so we need to go into it expecting, not that it will be easy – that the Holy Spirit is just going to dump truth on us just because we were faithful to sit down and flip open the covers – but rather, that if we obey just some simple reading tools that we would use with any book, that the Bible will begin to yield up treasure to us. 

I started to do a study on meditation, think, consider, ponder, etc., in the Bible, and then realized the topic was too big to complete in time for this blog post. But just looking up forms of the words “mediate” and “ponder,” I came up with the following:

When people speak of meditation, what usually comes to mind is emptying the mind or concentrating on one’s breathing. But what is Biblical meditation? It’s cogitating, reflecting, thinking about something, turning it over in your mind.

What does the Bible tell us to meditate on or think about?

  • God’s Word in some form: mentioned 10 times
  • God’s work, deeds: 9 times
  • God Himself: once
  • Our way (in relation to God’s): 4 times

Some of the words often associated with meditating on and pondering God’s Word:

  • Joy, delight
  • Counsel
  • Wisdom
  • Comfort
  • Love

The result of meditation on God’s Word is often faith, hope, and praise.

There are times for overview reading of larger parts of God’s Word, and times for camping out on a smaller section. Either way, we need to remember the object isn’t just to get through a certain amount of material or to check off our duty for the day. We need leave space to turn God’s truth over in our minds. Perhaps we need to allow for thinking time while reading and studying. Perhaps we need to turn off the constant noise while we go about our day’s duties to have time to think.

Of course, we have to be careful that our thoughts involve the text and what it says and how it applies. Some peoples thoughts stray far from Scriptural truth, yet they claim to be teaching Scripture. We don’t need to insert our thoughts into the Bible: we need to insert the Bible into our thoughts.

In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word (Psalm 119: 14-16, ESV).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2, ESV).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth, Booknificent)

The humility of wisdom

When’s the last time you heard anyone say they needed wisdom? About the only time I hear anyone mention wisdom is in regard to a particular situation. “I need wisdom about this job decision.” I’m praying for wisdom for dealing with Johnny’s continued disobedience.”

But when is the last time we thought about our need for wisdom just to live our everyday lives for God’s honor and glory? We often pray that He will guide us, provide for us, forgive us. But do we pray for wisdom? Do we value wisdom as the Bible does?

Or do we plunge ahead with our day and our plans, thinking we know everything we need to and can make our own choices?

Our church has been reading through Proverbs together the last few weeks. If you’re familiar at all with Proverbs, you know it is all about wisdom. I don’t think there is a chapter that doesn’t mention it. And since we’ve been camped out there, the need for and value of wisdom have been emphasized repeatedly and in varying ways.

A full-scale study of wisdom would take more space than a blog post allows. But what struck me most during this reading is the humility of wisdom.

It takes humility to understand that we need wisdom, that to go our own way often leads us astray.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
 Proverbs 14:12

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10

It takes humility to search for wisdom, to acknowledged that I don’t have it, and no matter how much I have, I need more.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;  yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5

It takes humility to receive and instruction, and even more to receive rebuke. I was familiar with one or two verses about it being wise to receive reproof,  but I’ve noted 19 so far! Here are a few:

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:12

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:31-33

By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.
 Proverbs 13:10

If someone tries to correct us, is our first response, “I better take heed: I might gain some wisdom from this?” No, our first response is anger with thoughts of “Who do you think you are?” and “Don’t judge me!” But the Bible says the wise person listens and learns. By contrast, “A scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1) and “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

It’s scary to think of the personal consequences of rejecting reproof: it’s even more scary to realize that my lack of listening to instruction can negatively affect others. “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).

I wonder if this lack of realization of our need for wisdom is behind our subtle ageism, even in the church. Once when visiting a new church, someone was showing us where the various classes were, and as we passed one door, our guide said, “Oh, you don’t want that one. That’s where the older folks are.” One younger lady told me she didn’t come to our ladies’ meetings because she thought only older ladies attended – even though at that time most of the attendees were just in their forties. Instead of deeming older people as worthy of our time and drawing on their wisdom, we label them out of touch, too slow, not “with it.” Proverbs honors older saints and the value of listening to authorities.

Of course, the need for wisdom runs throughout the Bible, not just Proverbs. One notable passage says:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. Colossians 2:1-4.

May we continually seek Him and His wisdom through His Word.

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(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Porch Stories, Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth. Links do not imply complete endorsement)

Press on toward the goal

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There is a tension in life between satisfaction with where we are and the need to grow in various areas. Coaches encourage and applaud athletes’ efforts and milestones while still pressing them to do more and do better. Parents celebrate and reward good grades and bolster their students for the next test or project. Performance reviews acknowledge an employee’s strengths and successes, but they also note areas where the employee needs to grow and improve. A wise coach, parent, teacher, supervisor, or mentor has to constantly seek balance, avoiding the stance of a slave-driving task-master who is never satisfied with anything less than perfection on one hand and that of the indulgent grandmother who never sees a fault on the other hand. And we need to seek that same balance with ourselves.

I see some of this same tension in the Bible, particularly Paul’s epistles.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”

Paul prays that the Philippians’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9).

In Colossians, Paul proclaims: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:27-29). Christ is in those of us who believe in Him, yet there is a sense in which we grow in maturity in Him.

In Philippians 3, Paul acknowledges that he’s still in a state of growth and hasn’t reached perfection yet. We often use his statement in verse 13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” as an encouragement to forget the sins and failures of the past. But what Paul is setting aside in that passage is his past laurels (verses 4-11).

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

Our righteousness comes by faith in Christ, not our efforts. Our own efforts could never measure up. Yet there is still a “straining forward” toward growth in maturity.

Sometimes perfectionists can be thoroughly discouraged that no matter how much progress we’ve made, we’ll never get to the point where we don’t have something to work on. But we won’t be perfect until we reach heaven. Part of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:11 is that we may “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That fruit comes from God. But fruit also conveys the idea of growth. And growth takes time.

On the other hand, some of us are prone to inertia. “Good enough” is sufficient for some ares of life. I once heard of someone who boasted that when she made the bed, the sheets were stretched so firm and tight that a quarter could bounce off them. And I thought, “Whatever for?” I’m all for a neatly made bed, but a good-enough made bed falls far below quarter-bouncing standards for me. But “good enough” isn’t sufficient for spiritual growth.  We need that prodding to keep pressing on.

In recent years it’s become common to read of our “mess” in an effort to be transparent and authentic. We’re not perfect and we shouldn’t try to put forth a false perfect image, so we need to pull back the curtain and let people see our flaws and failures. And there’s truth in those thoughts. We can more readily identify with someone who doesn’t seem to have it all together all the time. Yet it’s easy to go so far as to glory in our “mess” instead of progressing.

Or we can feel that the progress we’re making in most areas offsets the areas we’re struggling with. We all have our besetting sins, after all. One son once got upset that I pointed out the one area of his report card that needed attention instead of being satisfied with the rest of commendable grades. While I needed to remember to acknowledge the good grades, I couldn’t overlook the bad one.

While fruit in our lives comes from God, He also calls us to pursue wisdom (Proverbs), love (1 Corinthians 14:1), righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), peace (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 3:11).

Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” We’re made perfect in Christ when we believe on Him for salvation. But while we live here on earth, we still have our old nature, which fights against the new one we received at salvation (Galatians 5:16-17). That process of growth toward Christlikeness is called sanctification. Romans 12:2 tells us we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds, and one way we do that is by changing our thinking, lining it up with what God’s Word says, putting specific Scriptures in our minds that the Holy Spirit can then use to remind us.

The standard the Bible continually points to is Christ. We’ll never be Christ. But we don’t rest in self-satisfaction with how we’ve grown over the past ten years or how far we are compared to others: we grow towards His likeness. Yet we will stumble and fall, and we extend grace to ourselves while still making progress. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we behold Him in His Word, He changes us to become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Titus 2 Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)