Filtering by Category: Exhortations

Make Every Effort: Sowing to the Spirit

2 Peter 1:5, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge..." The passage in 2 Peter:3-11 has meant a very great deal to me in the past month, I have drawn much strength from it. There are so many great truths in this passage which sets forth God's whole purpose for us in Christ Jesus to share in God's divine nature, His power on our behalf is displayed, the necessity of our striving, a way that never fails, and a kingdom that does not end. Wow, this passage is rich, deep, broad, and strengthening.

Last Thursday, on Thanksgiving morning while I was sick, the three words came to my mind, "make every effort." I was quite sure that they were from this passage and just before the instruction to add virtue to faith, knowledge to virtue, and so on. When I got my Bible and looked it up, I was thrilled to be right!

What struck me was the force of the instruction make every effort! I use italics, underlining, and boldfacing there to show the sort of crescendoing impact of those three words as I hear them.

In verse 3, the Apostle Peter tells us that God's divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through knowing Jesus Christ. Then he turns around in solid apostolic fashion and tells us that we must do something in turn. We must make effort. The Gospel is opposed not to effort, but to earning. Even more though, we are to make every effort.

The effort we are to be making is clear: adding love to brotherly affection to godliness to steadfastness to self-control to knowledge to excellence (or virtue) to faith (to put in reverse order). And we are to be striving to take every opportunity to do so; every prayer, every service, every day, every song, every act, every thought, every word, every greeting, every project, every sermon, every car ride, every breath, every meal. We are to make every possible effort to grow from faith into love.

This short three-word phrase, "make every effort," is code for spiritual discipline and it is how we sow to the Spirit (Gal. 6:7-9). And it calls us to repentance for our lazy Christianity and sluggish spirituality. True faith is going to require action; spiritual growth will not come laying down; progressing towards love will require movement. This is not going to be a sit-in, no letting-go-and-letting-God here. No, we are to be actively striving and acting in every possible biblical way to grow from faith into love (with every supplement mentioned in vv. 5-7 added along the way, though I don't think the list is exhaustive).

This means the spiritual disciplines, both the personal and the communal, integrated into the very stuff of our life, our eating, drinking, breathing, working, playing, serving, all our moments and our days. Yes, we wait on God to grow us, but we are not idle: we do not wait by sitting, we wait by sowing.

I Gotta Have My Joy

I don't know how you navigate life from day to day but one thing I have discovered in 2011 is that I simply cannot operate without a deep measure of joy in the living God.

If you grew up in a church using the Pentecostal Praises hymnal then probably know what page 202A was: "Joy Unspeakable." We wore that song out, but we loved, I loved it….

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Destroyed by What You Desire

I've been working my way through the book of Judges and have come to the Samson narrative. Now I have come to the end of that story, Judges 16. I was blown away as I read the whole story of Samson. How very carnal Samson seems to have been from the very beginning. He surely was one of the strangest vehicles of deliverance that God ever provided for His people. Samson was driven by great lusts, he acted nearly always by impulse, and never does one get the sense that the man knew God. He had power with God but I never see in the text that he knew the Lord in any other sense than that his parents set him apart for God through the Nazirite vows. I think that part of the point of the narrative of Judges is to show the increasing wickedness of the people of Israel including their own judges. Samson appears to be one of the final judges and certainly the worst. The Samson narrative gives way to a period of syncretistic worship and civil war. A dark day indeed.

Judges 16 presents to us the final days of the life of the tragic Samson. He loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek. I love the literary compactness and concision of description in the biblical narrative. Epic. Her name was Delilah and she was the final of at least three Philistine women that Samson chased.

Delilah. What kind of woman was this? She asks her Israelite lover and strong man: "please tell me where you great strength lies and how you might be bound, that one could subdue you?" (vs. 6). What a bald and bold question! How could Samson not see her deception? Did he enjoy this cat and mouse game? Did he like walking on the precipice? Apparently. But eventually he was literally lulled to sleep on the lap of his enemy (v. 19). Then he was bound, his eyes were gouged out, and he was enslaved to grind at a wheel.

Regardless of the heroic moment of Samson's death, this story is high tragedy as profound as anything Shakespeare could have imagined. A man, no matter how great, cannot toy with lust and win. He does not have the power. He will be destroyed by the very thing he desires.

Studying for Joy: A Forgotten Discipline

Psalm 111:2 - "Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them." I have been thinking about this verse a lot of recent. It motivates me and encourages me as a student of the Lord. Studying is a hobby of mind, as well as reading and collecting good books, so a Scripture like this ready ammunition against those who demean the labor of study and hard thinking.  But what can we learn from this verse?

First, studying is one of the basic spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. Praising, praying, and pushing back our plates to fast are all basic disciplines but we rarely talk about this one, the discipline of study. Studying takes time. Studying requires effort. Studying requires patience. It is more than reading. It is doubtless related to seeking solitude and meditation but it goes beyond that. It involves an intentional seeking out, investigation, process of discovery, and the capture of one's effort by pen, paper, keyboard, or computer.

Second, this discipline is engaged in by those who delight in the works of the LORD. There is a sense of inevitability here, like the moth drawn to the flame, or to give a more life-affirming metaphor, a deer drawn to a stream. We see here that the "upright" (vs. 1) are those who delight in God's work. And because they delight in God's works they are pulled into contemplation, reflection, and deep thinking on what God has accomplished, revealed, and spoken. This impulse to study is not driven by duty or demand but by delight. Delight is the greatest motivator in the world.  People do what they enjoy. What kind of people are the upright? Those who enjoy thinking upon the things of God. 

Of course, studying is not easy. We are talking about disciplines but drudgery is not a necessary component of discipline. Some use verses such as Ecclesiastes 12:12, "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh," in reference to study of the Scriptures but it does not apply here.  Ecclesiastes is a book which poetically and proverbially lays out the futility of man-centered thinking. In that context, the kind of study implied in Ecclesiastes is from a man-centered view of the universe that is "vanity of vanities." Just think of the piles of books in the stacks of your nearby public university and imagine being stuck there forever looking for answers from the great learned men of the ages-Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Spinoza, and all the rest with their lineage of interpreters-and never able to arrive at coherent answers. Yes, that is futility!  Those books will wear you out, but the Book will give you life. University studies may exhaust you, but those who wait upon the Lord receive strength (Isaiah 40:31).

Third, the focus of study is on the works of the LORD.  It is the great works of the Lord that the upright delight in, not the exercise of study itself. Study for the sake of study for the sake of personal smarts is not the goal here, that kind of study is the kind that leads to weariness of the flesh! The works of the Lord is a broad term encompassing all that God has done from the awesomeness of His creative power, to His mighty acts of deliverance and judgment, the giving of His law, and His inspired words through the prophets.  This is all of reality under God and God-filled.  The upright see the universe as a stage for the drama of God's plan.  This allows the believer to stake a claim on everything and study it before God with God in clear view but giving each subject its own due.  However, we must not lose sight here that the centerpiece of this study is God Himself and all His works.  There is an implied circle of delight here: God reveals Himself in His works, the upright delight in them and study them, God reveals more of Himself, the upright study and find delight, and forever this will continue...  As Lewis ended the Chronicles of Narnia with the words, "...and every chapter was better than the last!"

Discipline without Direction is Drudgery

Don Whitney writes:

"Discipline without direction is drudgery. But the Spiritual Disciplines are never drudgery as long as we practice them with the goal of Godliness in mind. If your picture of a disciplined Christian is one of a grim, tight-lipped, joyless half-robot, then you've missed the point. Jesus was the most disciplined Man who ever lived and yet the most joyful and passionately alive. He is our Example of discipline. Let us follow Him to joy through the Spiritual Disciplines." - p. 24

My observations: We often follow godliness as some ambiguous idea, a misty mystery of drippy spirituality speaking puffy but pointless platitudes and cluttered cliches.  Or, on the other side, we fall off into a rule-based regulatory regimen created by men for divine extra-credit.  This is why, I think, we often end up with "grim, tight-lipped, joyless" robots of religion.  But in the Scriptures, godliness and holiness are not vague ideas, rather, in the New Testament, God has put a face on godliness.  The face of godliness and the figure of holiness in the New Testament is Jesus Christ.  He is what holiness and godliness look like. If there are things that Jesus did which trouble you (like dine and drink with sinners or overturn tables), or if even Jesus could not live up to your extra-credit system (he did have a beard you know), then your understanding of godliness and holiness must be re-framed.  Jesus is the direction of our godliness; Christ-likeness the goal of all our religion. If it (whatever it is) does not conform to that picture then it should be cut away as excess, and if it is excess it should not be added back in.

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