PHILIPPIANS 4:3 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me–practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
Citing the passage above, back in February, I wrote:
…dark things going on in the world right now… especially in America… The spiritual battle is raging. People are taking sides… [This] is by no means bad news. Nor should we be startled. But with sober minds, we need to recognize that the stakes are real and it’s game-on. We’ve each been placed where we are for a reason. Are we manning our post, being bold for the essential gospel?
I have been holding back in delving into the dark battle raging… for precisely the reasons Paul outlines in the text above. The most important thing is to recognize and dwell on the fact that Christ has won. Think of these things. Seek Him. We know the final score. Whatever may happen to our flesh or our worldly circumstances, we are safe in Him.
The same could be said about any era in history and every chapter of our lives. One could make the argument that it’s harder to focus on ultimate spiritual reality when times are good… but one could make the same argument about times which are difficult. The same spiritual discipline should apply to all of them. It seldom does. We need Divine help even in that.
Being human, we get distracted by the things of the world and the things of the flesh on both the upside and the downside — and also in the ‘middle’ (for we tend to either worry about things getting worse, or pine after things getting better). The ways in which we can get distracted are as various as the human experience.
[UPDATE: I was trying to remember the following verse when I was composing this post. Well, wouldn'tcha know it, but there it was as part of the reading I was finishing up here as I ice my knee before cooking dinner. Ha! Gotta love that Holy Spirit. He's amazing...
PROVERBS 30:8b ...give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, 9 lest I be full and deny you and say, "Who is the LORD?" or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.
I used to have a client, when I was consulting down on Wall St., in the years right after 9-11, and they were very tied-in to the market… i.e., about as close as it’s possible to get without actually being on the trading floor itself. I could walk into an executive’s office at this place, having heard nothing of news or financial market headlines and the individual’s face and demeanor would tell me instantly, and with almost perfect precision whether the stock market was up or down that day, and by a lot or a little.
With just a few notably unflappable exceptions, the people I was dealing with (most of whom had worked there twenty years or more) had evolved to a place where they had no genuine moods of their own, or at least no control over the ones that washed over them. It was kinda sad.
JAMES 1:6 …the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
MATTHEW 13:57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” 58 And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.
Many years earlier (mid ’80s), when I was part of an executive team at another company, in a different industry, we had consulting psychologists come in and talk with us about things that were holding us back as a team. To our surprise, they focused on what are called ‘fundamental abilities’ and how they can get in the way of maturity and stability in the workplace — and in life in general.
Basically, fundamental abilities are what most — but not all — kids develop before or at latest in kindergarten. And they need them in order to continue in school, at least in theory. They include things like mpulse control and the ability to control one’s own mood. Such skills are not perfected at that age, but they take a big step up for most kids, enabling them to ‘play nice’ with others (to a degree), and to focus attention (for a time) on what is being taught.
There’s probably been a whole new school of thought layered-in on top of this since that time, e.g., about ADHD and whatnot, but that was the gist. Intuitively it made and still makes a lot of sense. The trouble comes, they told us, when some kids don’t fully develop these abilities but yet still manage to get by in school anyway. They end up being constantly tossed to and fro by whatever they’re feeling — perhaps related to external circumstances, but not always (e.g., sleep deprivation or seasonal affective disorder are examples of ‘internal’ circumstances which most people experience to some degree or another).
The reason I mention all that is because of some reading I’ve been doing lately, of blogs I used to visit regularly — blogs run by what seem at least reasonably orthodox, Bible-believing Christians. To be honest, I could throw many past posts from this blog in that same pot.
The point is not that what they’re writing is incorrect. Much of it requires deep research and insight and I’m not alleging any intent to deceive. There’s usually some spiritual tie. At least some of these individuals have particular callings to point out certain things that are dangerous, and which many of us may not be aware of.
Yet as I get older and confront more thoughts about my own mortality than I did thirty years ago, I’m beginning to realize that we’ve only got so much time, and worship is all about time and attention. The two together (time/attention) are our one truly limited resource and thus the one thing we have to offer sacrificially which is truly precious.
(Money is a partial, imperfect proxy for time. Most people are paid by the year, month, week, day or hour and the longevity of our careers are limited by our mental and physical capabilities. And multi-tasking is just a way of giving partial time.)
I’m thinking about time also as the Olympics are on. Begging the issue of their moral content, spiritual tenor and inherent messaging, which I hope to deal with in another post, they’re a huge time sink. One could Tivo everything, quit one’s job, and still be watching in October. The same could be said for many hobbies or pastimes. The question is usually not whether the activity is inherently bad, but whether one is focused on the Lord while doing it.
I’m having increasing difficulty squaring the tenor of a whole realm of activity — from being a news junkie, to being constantly in touch with friends on the Internet, to watching sports — things that are at least better than most of the dreck on TV these days, with passages such as the one at the top of this post. They may be ‘good’ in a worldly sense, but are they ultimate? Are they helping us to be light and life to a dying world or merely float down the river with the current a little farther along with everyone else. Are they helping to prepare us to be citizens in the kingdom, much less effective ambassadors for it?
Consider this familiar verse, which Jesus didn’t somehow do away with by his coming:
DEUTERONOMY 6:5 You shall love YHWH your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
There are aspects of this which translate literally (e.g., “love… on your heart… teach them diligently… talk,” etc.) and others which may be applied allegorically (e.g., binding to hands and eyes implies applying Biblical truth in screening how we see, whether with ‘good’ eyes full of light or ‘bad’ ones filled with darkness, and what we do — e.g., preferring cutting off a hand to continuing to sin with it.)
The overall picture is one of deliberate, focused attention on one enduring, unchanging thing: God Himself. (See Malachi 3:6, Psalm 102, and James 1:17 about God’s constancy.)
It’s the same parable the disciples got to see (and which Peter learned the hard way) when Jesus came to them walking on the water. Keep your eyes on Him is the big ‘takeaway’ lesson. We are to experience an entirely new outlook as a result of that focus of our attention:
ROMANS 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
There’s a great scene in the original Matrix movie (which I still enjoy, albeit with reservations, e.g., about blasphemy, among other things). ‘Neo’ (Keanu Reeves) is perched on the ledge of a tall office building, holding a portable phone as he tries to escape pursuers (demons, thinly disguised as ‘agents’ in the narrative). On the other end of the line is ‘Morpheus’, whom he has never met, giving him precise but seemingly frightening instructions about how to climb over and further up the building to affect his escape.
As Neo is listening, still teetering on the ledge, he looks down, at least twenty floors and gasps in abject terror at what could happen to him. As he does so, two things happen: 1) he drops the phone, losing his only connection to the ethereal, authoritative voice who’d been trying to save him and, 2) he freezes in fear and gives in to the agents who then take him into custody.
The point is the same as we see all over scripture and it’s a command, not a request: Do not fear; don’t stare into the darkness. Look up. Keep your focus on Jesus.
GENESIS 50:21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he [Joseph] comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
EXODUS 20:20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.”
NUMBERS 14:9 Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.
DEUTERONOMY 1:21 See, the LORD your God has set the land before you. Go up, take possession, as the LORD, the God of your fathers, has told you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ … 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.
It goes on from there. In virtually every book of the Bible, in different words, with slightly different contexts, the message is precisely the same: don’t focus on the constantly changing, seething, churning world and its whims and tribulations. Those are merely the seas through which our lives must pass on the way to the far shore. And they will get there if we are in Christ. If we don’t cut loose our own lifeboat and try and go it alone.
There’s an insidious ‘Christianesque’ version of this fear and, frankly, I’m tired of it. As far as I know, it’s virtually unknown in churches who’ve experienced real persecution and matured as a result. The idea behind it is that it’s OK to get crazy or panicky praying about certain kinds of things that we imagine are new to the world (denying Ecclesiastes 1:9). It’s as if, without our help, God would find them insurmountable.
Instead, it’s made clear throughout scripture, that we are to give thanks that we are counted worthy to endure trials, and we ought to ask for grace and wisdom before removal/rescue. Yeah, yeah, I know: that’s easier said than done. But that’s the whole point: building our faith and trust so that we won’t be tempted to run back to apparent safety (and death) in our own proverbial Egypts, where the agents of darkness stand ready to take us into custody.
So, whatever is going on in Syria, or Iran, or Aurora, Colorado, or Washington DC, or at the Olympics (and yes, I know there are conspiracies on top of conspiracies on top of conspiracies in all of them) the God-man, Jesus has known and allowed them all for a time and a purpose, having already conquered all of the evil in them by his bloody death for us on the cross.
UPDATE: As I was writing this post, I was completely unaware that the stock market was experiencing unusually high volume and wild gyrations. Go figure. Thank you, Holy Spirit.