Paul was afraid, this was no hyperbole. He knew the Church in his own generation would struggle with letting their minds be deceived into walking away. The Spirit will instruct and encourage every generation, leading pastors and elders everywhere to share Paul’s concern. The Spirit dwelling in us leads us too as we read; He will build us up rather than allow us to wander away.
I have been reading through John Owen’s “Indwelling Sin in the Life of Believers” and have been so encouraged. Owen had this same concern for his own parish, and his love for his parishioners led to this beautiful book. Owen says that quite often we are led astray after we sin and rather than repent, we “multiply duties” in an effort to restore ourselves to the communion with God that we long to abide in. Rather than a mere multiplying of duties, and attempting to make up for what was left undone, Owen would have us return to the life God has invited us into–one with duties, but not a communion earned by our dutiful obedience.
So how do we live this Christian life, without multiplying duties, yet also without the careless swagger of one who presumes grace is plentiful and therefore what does it matter? We look to Christ, remember His words, meditate on His work on the cross. And we walk in the ways that He has laid out for us. Here briefly let us consider just a few of these ways!
Private prayer is one means of grace that we need to grow in continually. This begins by taking heed to the passages teaching us to pray, and how to pray. We grow in this as we stop ourselves from rehashing scenarios in our minds, and overthinking; but turn our thoughts to prayer. Before long, this will usher you into a life of unceasing prayer, where you are conscious of His presence and His delight and His power available to you moment by moment.
Peter instructs us to seek to remain sober-minded for the sake of our prayers. We can be, with a few helps, when we begin to turn our thinking into praying. It is the rehashing that leads our minds to hand control over from the prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) to what is considered our “feeling brain.” From here it is a short time until our hormones send messages through our bodies that we ought to be anxious, and then we find ourselves out of control. Contemporary neuroscience tells us that everything Paul and Peter taught by the Spirit concerning how to pray, and how to fix our minds on particular thoughts, really does bring peace to calm our anxious minds.
To grow in this, meditate on Philippians 4; Romans 8; 1 Peter 1, 4:7, 5:6-11; Ephesians 3:11-21, 6:18; 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, 3:5; Jude 2, 17-25.
Paul describes a time when he despaired of life (2 Corinthians 1). Do you realize the fulness of this phrase? He had no will to live, did not feel he could keep living, was depressed beyond what most people experience. God never fails to support such a one, and lavish us with His comfort. The Spirit of Comfort will have us too let go of our despair, but without pretending life is easy.
Paul’s despair was comforted, and then he could say in 2 Corinthians 4 that Christians are perplexed but not despairing. He was no hypocrite; nor a stoic. Like Jesus, Paul felt things deeply. Like Jesus, Paul did not hold them in; he had close communion with other believers to pray with, to seek out in distressing times. The Spirit of truth, Who is also the Spirit of comfort, shines light into our despair, reminding us of God’s power, wisdom, goodness, holiness, and steadfast love.
We let go of our despair, and move into admitting we are perplexed, and afflicted in every way–but not destroyed. We remain in Christ, finding our identity in Him and not in our affliction, nor in our sin and the consequences brought upon us by our sins. Indwelling sin deceives us into trying to see our sin as part of ourselves or even our very essence. Jesus frees us from that struggle, and in our ongoing life of faith and repentance this becomes a beautiful duty in the life of the believer. Let go of that which lies behind.
Puritans, and even Jonathan Edwards a couple hundred years later, made the daily habit of journaling and/or praying through all that they needed to confess and let go of in the evening. The sleep of one who delights in these moments is sweet. What would help you take hold of Christ more firmly as you let go of what distresses your soul?
To grow in this, meditate on Philippians 3:8-14; Psalm 73; Romans 8:9-17; 1 Corinthians 1 & 2; 2 Corinthians 4 & 5.
Communing in the Margin
There are habits of grace, as some call them, or spiritual disciplines; ways to seek the LORD. These practices described in the Scriptures really do change the landscape of your brain, allowing you to holistically flourish, to know and love and serve your God with heart, soul and might. Practices that allow you to “purify your hearts, you double minded.” And to proclaim with your whole being that His nearness is our good. The danger lies in following the advice of others who have incorporated other religions into their “spiritual disciplines.” Remember to weigh everything by holding it up to what God has revealed in His Word. Not all ways of seeking are pleasing to the LORD.
Take a minute to be honest with yourself: Have you filled your schedule, taking great delight in making all the puzzle pieces fit and just barely squeezing in a moment of prayer at meal time? Have you been bulldozed by urgent tasks, feeling as though life is so out of control that you c a n n o t take a moment to rest in Him, adore Him, enjoy His love, listen to His words, or order your thoughts enough to pray more a sentence?
Are there ways that you can repurpose those “in between” moments? This is a gamechanger. Start small, with the moments that you think “ok, I have 7 minutes until ___fill in the blank___ so I’ll just ___fill in the blank with your time waster____.” What do you put in that last blank? Is it something you can let go, as you seek to commune with God? Is it something unnecessary?
In these spare moments, plug in a habit that you want to grow in; set the goal of filling in those few minutes–and next season, pick another. Scripture memory? Journaling? Memorizing hymns to sing in the shower (I’m serious)? Learning to “declare His steadfast love in the morning, and His faithfulness by night (see Psalm 92)? What will help you taste and see that He is good?
Take care! Care for your soul; do not leave this for another time. You will be fooled, you will be carried away, you will be deceived otherwise. Stand firm in your faith, grow in grace and knowledge. Let your heart be set upon Him, let your affections for Him drive you towards this care, this discipline. Do not pursue a disciplined life in order to earn anything, but because you have been given life, faith, hope, and everything necessary for life and godliness!
photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash