John Owen discusses a truth we must come to grips with: “In every Christian there is both ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit.’… So in every Christian there is a war, the flesh seeking to rule and dominate the spirit, and the spirit seeking to subdue the flesh.”
In other words, there is a pull within every Christian toward the enticements of sins as well as a pull within every Christian to please God with our lives. With such pulling going on inside of us in opposite directions, there is a continual war going on in our souls.
How we perceive what is at stake is vital in determining how we handle the ongoing war within us. Do we perceive what sin offers us as desirable? Or do we perceive what faithfulness offers us as desirable? In the depth of our soul, do we see the enticements of sin as something to run away from? Or, in the depth of our soul, do we see the ways of God as something to run away from?
My fear is that I—and perhaps you—sometimes get the feeling that sin is appealing and that the constraints of faithfulness to God are unappealing.
Colin Campbell helps me to put things back in proper perspective. He writes,
“Freedom does not mean the absence of constraints or moral absolutes. Suppose a skydiver at 10,000 feet announces to the rest of the group, ‘I’m not using a parachute this time. I want freedom!’ The fact is that a skydiver is constrained by a greater law—the law of gravity. But when the skydiver chooses the ‘constraint’ of the parachute, she is free to enjoy the exhilaration. God’s moral laws act the same way: they restrain, but they are absolutely necessary to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom.”
The joy of parachuting comes precisely because of the constraints of the parachute. Could it be that the greatest joys of life will not come to us by trying to escape the constraints God would put upon us but in submitting our lives to His will?
After all, the One who calls us to submit our lives to His will is actually the One who tells us, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). The One who calls us to live in holiness is the One who promises us, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). The One who tells us to obey Him is the One who declares, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
I am humbled whenever I read the Apostle Paul’s prayers in Scripture. My prayers for others tend to be superficial (Lord, I pray that all will go well for So-and-so) and temporary (God, keep So-and-so safe on their trip). In my prayers for others, I don’t seem to get beyond the surface of what is happening in their lives at the moment. But Paul’s prayers go deeper; they address far more significant matters; they touch on matters that are important for a lifetime.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13 consists of one of Paul’s shortest prayers in Scripture. He makes just two requests on behalf of the Thessalonians, but these two requests address their character and the impact their lives will have on others.
Here are the two requests:
1: “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else….”
2: “May He strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father….”
I tend to ask God to make everything turn out nicely for a person. Paul prays that they will grow in love and integrity.
I would much rather be the recipient of Paul’s prayers than a recipient of my prayers!
I am inspired, though, by the great prayers of others.
I appreciate the prayer of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274):
“Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards; give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out; give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.”
And I am moved by the prayer of Julian of Norwich (1342-1416):
“O God, out of Your goodness, give me Yourself, for You are enough for me. I can ask nothing less that would be fully to Your glory. And if I do ask anything less, I will always be in need, since it is only in You that I have all!”
I am challenged by a Franciscan Benediction:
“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”
I am inspired by a prayer my wife prayed:
“Show me grace enough to want to grow; give me strength enough to want to go; hold me close enough to feel Your peace; may the love of God increase within me, around me, through me. Amen.”
And I love a simple but profound prayer my five-year-old granddaughter prayed:
“Wait for God. Don’t take longer. Say, ‘I love you.’ Don’t be afraid.”
I hope to learn to pray for the deeper things we all need.
What do you do with the failures of your life? What do you do with the bad things you have done or with the bad things that have come upon you? What do you do with the pains you have been through or the hurts others have inflicted on you?
I often kick myself. Sometimes I throw myself a pity party. Other times I harbor resentments.
But my self-kicking and my pity parties and my harbored resentments have never done any good for me or for anyone else.
Fortunately, some who are wiser than I offer better counsel.
Peter Scazzero points out, “John Milton in Paradise Lost compares the evil of history to a compost pile—a mixture of decaying substances such as animal excrement, vegetable and fruit peels, potato skins, egg shells, dead leaves, and banana peels. If you cover it with dirt, after some time it smells wonderful. The soil has become a rich, natural fertilizer and is tremendous for growing fruit and vegetables—but you have to be willing to wait, in some cases, years. Milton’s point is that the worst events of human history that we cannot understand…are only compost in God’s wonderful eternal plan. Out of the greatest evil, the death of Jesus, came the greatest good. God transforms evil into good without diminishing the awfulness of the evil.”
If nature can turn the garbage of a compost pile into life-nurturing fertilizer, and if God can turn even the evils of history into good (and the evil of Jesus’ death into our forgiveness and eternal life), cannot God do the same with the failures and the pains of our lives?
David Seamands adds, “His ultimate design is to take everything that has ever happened in our lives and turn it to God’s purposes for good. Everything? Some of you are thinking of some unspeakably evil and painful things which either you, or someone else, meant for evil. Things which have left you damaged and crippled in some way—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or relationally. Some wrongs which could only be called garbage. Is God able to even use such things as grist for His mill and turn them for human good and His glory?”
The answer is yes! Romans 8:28 promises us that God is in the business of constantly turning the bad things in our lives into good: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
As I contemplated the analogy of bad things in our lives becoming compost out of which God can grow something good, I did some research on what is needed for effective composting. The research stressed the necessity of giving the garbage a sufficient supply of air. Composting cannot happen void of air. That got me thinking about a vital ingredient for the “composting” of the garbage that has happened in my life. I need to bring a sufficient supply of air to the garbage of my past. The way we supply air to a compost pile is by turning it over. The way we do this spiritually is by turning the junk of our lives over to God. This happens through prayers of confession, and it happens through prayers of lament (crying our pain to God). It doesn’t happen when we stuff down the sins or pains of our lives, living in denial. It happens when we dig down and turn it over, bringing it genuinely to God.
Perhaps I need to be more active about the composting of the garbage in my life.
Why do the New Testament letters spend so much time dealing with relationships between church members? Why do churches put such emphasis on people coming together at church rather than simply encouraging believers to pursue their own personal relationship with God?
The Bible and churches seem to take seriously God’s remark in Genesis 2:18 that it is not good for man to be alone. The Bible and churches seem to put a premium on people being connected with one another in a family of faith.
Morrie Schwartz, who was gradually dying of ALS shared with Mitch Albom (as recorded in Albom’s book, Tuesdays with Morrie), “In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?…. But here’s the secret: in between, we need others as well” (p. 157).
Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend share the same message in their book, How People Grow:
“It is a medical fact…that from infancy to old age, health depends on the amount of social connection people have. Infants and older people die from a lack of relationship, and those in the middle suffer and fail to recover from illness….
“Virtually every emotional and psychological problem, from addictions to depression, has alienation or emotional isolation at its core or close to it. Recovery from these problems always involves helping people to get more connected to each other at deeper and healthier levels than they are” (p. 122).
The Bible stresses that we need one another.
What might it mean for us to take this more seriously?