Spiritual Strength


If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.

Luke 9: 23

Jesus is talking about actually living in the manner that many people say that they want to live. He is telling us about the foundational approach that we need to take if we are going to wear or display symbols of Christian faith such as a cross, a fish decal or ornament on our car, or a few years ago one of those too common WWJD bracelets while actually mean it as a symbol and a reminder of our desired impact on the world. You see, Christ wants us to be fully aware of just what we have signed on for in agreeing to follow Him, for that is not the easy way to live, and it is certainly not the safest way, either.

When Jesus speaks about taking up our cross, He is saying that His road of righteousness and love requires its travelers to carry a heavy load; since, we need to be willing to set aside our desires and the things that make us feel safe in order o do what God sees as right and as needful. This path leads up a hill that is littered with the skeletons of past good intentions and that seems to get too steep to climb at times; additionally, the top is shrouded in a mist that leaves our view of the finish obscured. So, we need to continually trust God’s word in order to move forward. On top of all of that, there is no promise that the days get easier as we progress along our journey; thus, it is necessary for us to continually seek God’s will, surrender ours, and deliberately set out on His road.

If this all seems daunting, well, it is, for Jesus is telling us about life as it is. There is no deception and no holding back. However, here is the good part; for, Jesus also promised that He would never send us someplace where He has not been before, that He will never leave us, and that He always sends us straight to the center of God’s will. This is the place in life where all true peace, joy, and love reside. Also, an amazing thing happens during this journey; for, the daily cross is itself a very heavy object, and when I am focused on its weight and on the difficulty of the road ahead, that weight can become overwhelming, but when I look outward and upward and focus on the Lord’s desire for my day, that same load becomes as light as air and the same trials and challenges are made more than manageable. 

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In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith— more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire— may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1: 6 & 7

You may have heard that you should not store up treasures on this earth, but there is at least one form of such valuable possession that is truly worth seeking after in this life. That valuable object is our relationship with Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes to us as a result of Christ’s great love and the amazing sacrifice that He made for each of us. This thing that we call faith in God may seem to be a bit vague or to even lack substance, form, and shape; so, it might cause us to wonder about its reality or to go about life acting as if it were not a real and valid aspect of who we are. Yet, that sort of view of Christ and of His salvation is ill-formed and lacks in comprehension of who Christ is and of what He has done for His followers.

Knowing Christ is not just something that we claim as a form of identifier in much that same manner as we might list out country of citizenship, gender, race, or even name. People around the world have come to refer to themselves by religious categories such as Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other similar labels. These statements of identity may mean something significant to the person who states it or it may be nothing more than a convenient part of the way that they self-describe. Yet, there is something far more profound and tangible to be found in identifying with Christ, for in Christ, we have a living and an active being that has always been God and that is still reigning in Heaven as God. In Christ, this same eternal one comes to dwell within the being of every person who enters into a relationship with Him in a manner that permanently and substantially transforms that person into a redeemed and holy child of God.

As we are indwelt by Christ’s Spirit, He provides us with wisdom, guidance, strength, and comfort to relay upon in all situations and through each of the seasons of life. Christ walks with us so that we have the capacity to stand up through all that comes our way during our days. This may be illness, poverty, the grief of loss, and the failure of our minds and bodies. Still, despite all that we encounter in this world, the great treasure that is Christ’s presence in me and in you remains in our possession. It does not fade with time, it does not melt away under the heat and the pressure of trials, it is faithful even when we are not, and in the end, Christ is there to call us home to the glory that He has set aside for each of His people. We can lay down, set aside, and count as worthless everything that we have owned throughout our days on earth and still be wealthy beyond imagining with Christ as the treasure that lasts throughout this life and continues on into eternity.   

I will sing to the LORD,

   because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13: 6 

When David set out these words, his life was not going well. We don’t know the exact circumstances that surrounded him, but we certainly are aware of enough hard and challenging times that came his way for us to understand that he could be at the end of his ability to handle whatever it was that he faced. Yet, the song that starts out, “How long, O LORD, will you forget me forever?”, ends with this statement of recognition of the Lord’s care and provision and joyously hopeful note of thanksgiving. Had something changed in David’s life during the time of his reflection, or was it more a matter of his working through his fears, doubts, and concerns so that the Lord could respond to him with words of truth that bring with them the encouragement that his heart so badly needed? 

There is real value in doing what David did in this song, for speaking out to the Lord about the things that are troubling us is more than simply therapeutic. This act of engaging in honest conversation with God gets thoughts and feelings that we have working on our inner beings and it sets them out into the clear air of God’s realm of providing us with reason and order. The pain that we are experiencing, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, may not end at that time; however, talking it all over with the Lord does tend to grant a form of respite from the burden of carrying whatever it is that is so heavily weighting down the heart. The ability to manage pain, to calm a mind that is swirling in turmoil, or to find order in a jumble of confusion and chaos is something that comes most readily from the source of all order and peace in the universe, and that creator and source is God.

It seems to me that David is actually suggesting that he will sing a song of thanksgiving to the Lord even though the issues that are troubling him are still present and very real to him. There is no process of resolution mentioned in these six short verses; instead, we see David’s personal resolution to take all that is troubling him to the Lord with his mind and heart focused upon the many ways that God has taken care of him in the past and with genuine anticipation of the way that this same God will deal with what is going on at this time. This is an example of faith that is active and realized in the middle of the crisis. David expresses a form of trust in the Lord that grants its bearer the realization of peace that allows for him to think more clearly and to endure the moment more readily than would be the case without this tangible understanding of the presence of the Lord with him. David sings about God’s bounty as it has been poured out upon him over the course of his life, and he invites us to do the same as we travel hard roads and navigate the churning waters of our own times of asking, “How long?”  

How beautiful upon the mountains

are the feet of him who brings good news,

who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

who publishes salvation,

who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Isaiah 52: 7

 

Does it ever seem as if the Lord is far away or like His day may have come and gone leaving us all behind? These are tough times to navigate, and there is trouble to be found around the bends of its roadways. Yet, there is also joy, peace, and salvation to enjoy scattered along the steps of the journey. Their presence has much to do with what we are looking for, where our eyes are looking, and how sharply we are tuning in our hearing. Our God is not silent as to His message of hope and the redemption from death that He offers. The Lord’s messengers are out and about in our world, and the truth of our Lord’s Word is never held down for long. They are heard as they climb the heights, descend into the valley floors, and run toward the battle that is life. These messengers of the Gospel of Christ are speaking out with a form of clarity that cuts through all of the clutter of our cultural verbal exchanges and thus it points straight to salvation by and in Christ.

 

As we follow that same risen Lord, we are called upon by God to join in as heralds of this revival of faith. We are to join in with being those messengers of the good news as we set out the truth regarding what it means to be at peace with God, to dwell in a form of happiness that comes from a soul that is at rest, and that knows the deep meaning of salvation. The worldly smoke screen of fear, doubt, and distrust is cut through by the words of life that are contained within God’s Word, and that word is carried forth into the corners of our world by people who know Christ. That is, the word is lived out, spoken clearly, given away freely, and confidently proclaimed by people who are much like you and I. This appointment to the position of messenger for the King is not something that is granted to a select few; rather, it is the calling and the duty of everyone who knows Christ as Savior, Lord, and Ruler of our souls.

 

Our God reigns! This is the primary message that we are to proclaim. There is no other word that carries with it the same force and effect. This is the truth that changes lives, for it places all that happens upon the face of this earth and in the air of the heavens into clear perspective. It is all a part of a much bigger picture wherein God is working to bring all of humanity into relationship with Him as we head along a relentless path toward that final day of reckoning when Christ will have returned and all that is broken in the universe will be made right and whole again. This good news of God’s position of sovereignty means that people have the opportunity to enter into dwelling within that redeemed kingdom during the days of our earthly lives. Christ brings us into His royal presence and He fills us with the hope of His Spirit. We take on a newly published story that is one wherein redemption overtakes death and freedom replaces bondage to sin. In this new life, without regard for age, physical condition, or other human limitations, we can run along those mountain peaks and shout out to the world, “Our God reigns!”

 

 

When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat.

1 Corinthians 4: 12

 

We might dream or wish to live in a civil world where people respect others without regard for what we believe, who we are, or how we view governance or other like issues. Yet, we know that this is not true. The hyper-aware nature of our times makes it hard to ignore issues; so, it also makes sorting out the people that we meet from the positions that they hold a lot more challenging. The world where we live is one wherein people are frequently defined and catalogued by our political, religious, and cultural point of view. We use broad brush strokes such as liberal or conservative, believer or non-believer, nationalist, evangelical, Muslim, socialist, and many others as if those terms fully fleshed out the definition of who a person is and of what worth they might be. Nothing of this sort is truly valid when it comes to the way that we view others or when we determine how we should respond to the world where we dwell.

 

We might think that these issues and concerns are the result of the way that our world has evolved for our fast paced, electronic communication oriented environment is one in which it is hard to ignore what is happening around the world and who is involved in making these things occur. Yet, Paul is talking about some of the same sorts of things as they were current events in his times, too. The nature of people as we live out our brokenness and our sinfulness has not changed much over time. We are hurtful, arrogant, and prideful now just as we were long ago. We seek to make little of others in order to contrast our personal greatness to them, and we don’t much care how much damage we might do to others while engaging in these acts. Far too often labels are used as a replacement for engaging in relationship building, for these wide-reaching descriptors make it far easier for us to sift out and sort people into those that we consider to be acceptable and worthy of knowing and those that we do not value enough to associate with. All of these thoughts, actions, and attitudes cause harm and deny the reconciling work of Christ through us and in the lives of others.

Christ’s reconciling

In fact, we will encounter people with whom we differ on many topics and in many other ways. This is the beautiful reality of the great diversity that God has designed into humanity. We are intended to live in a manner that values these differences and that allows for the expression of our various points of view and perspectives so that, in the end, a fully-formed and balanced perspective is brought to bear upon the concept of living in a loving and considerate manner as we travel through life. This brings me to the partial verse above. I think that Paul is granting us some wise instruction for how we can live in this world as true disciples of Christ. As in all things, our Lord is the example for us to look to and to model ourselves after in our responses to the world. It is inevitable that we will be spoken negatively about and treated unfairly or unjustly by others because of our beliefs and due to the way that those beliefs demand that we think, speak, and act. We may even encounter violence or other severe forms of persecution as a result of standing firmly for what is right in God’s eyes. However, even in these extreme situations, we are still to return loving blessings in exchange for angry and hurtful words, we are to hold onto Christ in all situations by and through His strength and power, and we are to respond to all forms of attack with the truth of the Gospel as we hold Jesus Christ up as our rock, shield, and fortress while praying for the salvation of the souls of those who are seeking to do harm to us.

 

Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city but we seek the city that is to come.

Hebrews 13: 13, 14

 

There is a popular hymn that in all probability dates from the early years of the twentieth century that starts out with these words,

 

“This world in not my home, I’m just a passing through;
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from heaven’s open door,
And I can’t feel at home in this world any more.”

 

This says what the author of Hebrews was saying, at least in part. In Christ we gain much, but we also loss much, or perhaps more accurately, we leave behind much. Christ is our model and our leading example in all of this. He left the glory of Heaven and His position as Lord over all of Creation in order to live with and among us on this earth. He submitted to all that He was required to endure in life here, and then He allowed us to treat His royal being with cruelty and put Him to death as if the sinless one were indeed the criminal that all of us are in fact. Now, Christ calls upon all of us who submit to Him as His followers to leave the place of our births behind and to join Him in dwelling beyond the walls of worldly comfort and protection.

 

Jesus demands our primary loyalty; so, if we are in Christ, we can not be so aligned with any nation, people, religion, or earthly system of order or governance. None of these things will last beyond their few allotted years. All of this world’s entities, constructs, and rule of law will pass away, and each of them is already subordinate to God’s Word of truth. We should not give our hearts and our souls to any of these earthly orders or pledge our loyalty to any of their rulers, for none of these are worthy of such honor. Not one of them is righteous, holy, and without self-serving purpose and intent. We owe all honor, allegiance, and worship to God, the Father, to Christ the Son and our Savior, and to the Spirit that dwells with and in us. All other adoration and praise are poured out on unworthy recipients and is thus wasted effort and misguided loyalty. Christ alone is to be Lord over all aspects of our lives.

 

All that we do and everything that we stand for in this life should be focused upon Christ. He is the source of all wisdom and guidance for our days, and our Lord is the singular source for all of the strength, encouragement, grace, and love that will be required of us if we choose to live in this God-honoring manner. As otherworldly followers of Christ, we are people who seek out the broken and the oppressed in our world in order to grant them protection, healing, and dignity in the name of Christ. When we choose to dwell outside of the walls of earthly institution, we are setting aside the hard rules of those entities in order to see others as human beings, and so viewing them frees us to enter into their stories as people who can not only be empathetic, but also we can thus travel through hard days and along challenging miles of their journeys with them. As we move out of the city of this worldly life, we do leave behind much, but we also draw near to our Savior and Lord, for He dwells in these hard and rocky places that are beyond the borders of earthly cities. So, let’s gather together and worship our Lord in His true tabernacle of blessing where Christ’s Spirit is mighty and we boldly invite the stranger and the foreigner to come in and join in the feast.

 

Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.”

Matthew 26: 38

 

There is pain, and there is anguish. Sometimes they collide with each other in a way that can completely overwhelm even the strongest person’s ability to hang in there and to keep going. This is where Jesus was on that night in a garden of prayerful anticipation of all that He was going to endure for my soul’s sake. For He was fully aware of how much the sacrifice that He was about to make would cost Him, and in preparation for that time of exquisite torture, Christ sought to connect with His closest friends. He asked them to join with Him in a time of prayerfully seeking the comfort and the encouragement of the Father.

 

Jesus continues to ask us to do this same thing. He wants us to gather near to Him, to take a seat on a humble rock, and to commit all of our attention and the focus of our hearts to speaking with the Father and to listening to His response. This seems like such a simple request; yet, it can become one of the hardest things that we will ever attempt to do. For myself, I am not very good at quiet reflection, and I am really poor at the sort of humility that Jesus asks of me. Christ ask me to take on a form of attitude that considers the hard stone seat of His designated rock as if it were a leather recliner. That attitude requires me to take delight in the simple fact that Christ wants to include me in this most intimate of times.

 

There is no question in my mind that this life is saturated with the tears of hard times. We all experience physical hardships, emotional turmoil, and spiritual struggles, and they often seem to conspire together to come at us from all sides at once. Jesus experienced all of this Himself, and He knows and goes through every harsh and painful moment of our lives with us. Still, He speaks to us with the same request on His lips as He uttered on that singular night so long ago. Jesus asks us to come and to join Him in keeping a watchful eye and a listening heart focused on the comfort and on the answers that the Father will give to us. My Lord, Jesus, is with me for every moment and in every situation that will come to me in this life, and in this reality my soul finds its rest.

 

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