Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18

 

This is the sort of thing that we hear a lot in the world of Christian thought and direction for life. Yet, does this really make any sense? Is this a reasonable or even a reasonably human reaction to the sorts of things that happen to us? Even God tells us that He wants to hear our fears, doubts, concerns, pain, and grief. The Bible is laced through with examples of godly people who pour out their agony and dread to the Lord in the hope of relief or comfort or salvation. So, going about life with thanks to God on the tip of the tongue and praise for the Lord as the instant response to bone-crushing situations seems to me to be utterly crazy and not even close to reality. However, if Paul was anything at all, he was a realist. He knew his way through the harder sides of life, and he had experienced Christ’s redemption in a profoundly real and life-altering manner.

 

For Paul and for each of us, the difference maker in all of this is Christ Jesus. Paul knew of and about God. He was devoted as fully as any human had ever been to the pursuit of that knowledge and to the carrying out of God’s will as he perceived it. Yet, without Christ he did not truly and actually know God, and he was not capable of living out the will of this Father who he did not know. This is true for all people. Many of us think that we are following God, and we may consider that we possess all that we need in order to do so. However, God’s Word makes it very clear that there is one and only one way to enter into the sort of relationship that leads to the close, intimate, and life-giving connection that God desires to have with people and that is by and through Jesus the Christ.

 

So, in Christ everything is changed. Life is ours, and this new life is one that fills our days here and now, and it grants to us the fullness of eternity with God. Christ transforms the perspective that we have on the world where we live as He grants to us His vision of it all as the dwelling place of the Lord and of His heavenly host of angelic beings. As Christ is in me and His Spirit counsels, guides, and directs my reaction to the world and engagement in it, everything looks and feels different. Pain, hurt, disappointment, fear, and grief are not eliminated, but the Lord’s strength and comfort overcome their power over me, and my heart and mind are set free from the oppressive hold that the author of all loss is attempting to gain on me. Christ makes it reasonable and even rational to be thankful in the midst of great trials. As I surrender to God’s will in Christ Jesus, He brings every day of this life into conformity with His desire for me to live with the internal peace and calm reassurance of His presence filling me to overflowing with thanksgiving and with praise.

Let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4: 16

 

In this thought lies one of the greatest aspects of the transformed reality that is ours in Christ Jesus. There is a human tendency to fear authority, and this is especially true when the sort of authority that we are facing has power over and control of our comfort, freedom, and feeling of well-being. Most of us have experienced the dread that comes with the prospect of going to see the school principle, of having a parent discover our misdeeds, or being summoned to the boss’s office. The heart rate elevates and palms become sweaty, and the mind starts to build images of the worst of all possible outcomes into something that is like absolute fact; so, we don’t want to go and face the music.

 

However, Christ calls, He summons us, and the Lord seeks after us to come before Him. The words that He needs to say may very well be words of correction, for we might need more than anything else to have the way that we are thinking and living straightened out and changed; still, Christ calls us to receive mercy and to be blessed by the kiss of grace. He hands us the receipt that has been signed and sealed by the highest court possible that tells us that the fine for all of our misdeeds, all of our sin, has been paid in full by Christ; more so, it indicates that the sum that was paid was the sacrifice of the one and only perfect and blameless lamb, Jesus.

 

Now everyone can come to God under all circumstances, at any time of the day or night, and in whatever state of being that we may find ourselves; and we can do this with total and complete confidence and with the understanding that we will be received with the open arms of love that the Father uses to greet His most beloved children. You see, because of Christ’s sacrifice, an act that He willingly performed for my sake, I am now cleansed of all of the impurity that had previously created a barrier between God and me. Also, I have Christ’s promise that He does stand before the Father to tell God that I am His own, and I know with the sort of confidence that can only come from the word of truth that is Christ that I will be touched by God’s love, healed from my brokenness, and transformed into His glory.

 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3: 28

 

This is an extraordinary thought. In the days of Paul these three sets of contrastive people groups were culturally and societally about as far removed from each other as any sets of people could have been. These were descriptors that framed people into the boxes that separated them and that helped keep the strong in their positions of superiority and left those with less power in their subservient places. God has a different view of the pinnacle of His creation. He didn’t design things to be this way. People forced divisiveness into our differences, and we have worked hard ever since to fortify and to defend these false ideas.

 

Christ changes it all. He brings those of us who were far removed from each other into a state of occupying the same space. Christ swings the mighty hammer of grace and reconciliation so that these stout walls of separation that we have spent generations of time in constructing are not just knocked down but they can actually cease to exist. As we embrace God’s love as granted to us by and through Jesus, His Spirit works on our understanding of who people truly are. God sees people, all of us, as equally made in His image. The Lord also desires to draw us into close and intimate relationships with each other. These are relationships that are founded and based upon our commonality in Christ.

 

It seems to me that there is something very special about all of this. The familial bonds that come about as a result of Christ have the potential to be even deeper and stronger than those of traditional family. These new relationships can be most closely recognized as like the connection between brothers and sisters, but they are even more profoundly deep. Christ desires to see us embrace Him with a totality of being that forces us to set aside all of our personal difference so that we would sacrifice all for the sake of another. In the community of Christ we can live as brothers and sisters who are also the closest of friends. In this community our differences are beautiful and our loving care for each other brings glory to our Lord.

 

Thanks to Wesley Hill and his book, Spiritual Friendship

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge – even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of the Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 1: 4-8

 

The journey through this life is not easy. This is a fact regardless of spiritual orientation, faith in any form of god, or status and wealth. The earth is a beautiful but deadly place to reside, and it is not getting any better despite all of our best efforts to clean it up or to straighten it out. There is danger lurking in the water and in the air, and there is treachery and deceit to be found in the hearts of people across its surface. Essentially, every activity that we enter into and each of the relationships that we engage has the real possibility of doing us harm. It seems that life should come with a very large and boldly stated warning label: ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK.

 

Yet, it is also true that we people brought all of this upon ourselves. We took the gift of perfect peace and returned it to its giver with a form of arrogant disdain that told Him that we would prefer something a bit bolder, a little more exciting and a lot more within our control. So, God gave us what we asked for, but the Lord did not leave us alone to suffer the consequences of our demands on our own. Now there is a beast in our forest, a demon in our closet, and God is present in our lives if we choose to allow Him to enter in. That choice is the critical one. It makes all of the difference between life and death.

 

In Christ we are alive. In Christ our lives have meaning and direction. In Christ we still suffer and the brokenness of this world impacts us with all of its fury and senseless brutality. Yet, in Christ, we are never alone, and the painful hours and the grief that our hearts endure work to bring us closer to the only One who both understands it all intimately but also responds to bring us comfort and peace. The harsh air of this world forces Christ’s people to enter into the holy sanctuary of His presence in order to breathe in the pure grace of His love and mercy. Christ’s Spirit gives each of us the gifts that we need to take our personal loss and turn it into gain for God’s Kingdom, and He also provides us with the strength to carry on in that service until our days here are complete.

Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus.

Romans 15: 5

 

When I consider things which are nearly impossible for us humans and situations that are almost never going to happen; thinking like others, you know, having a synchronized view of the world and acting in consistent harmony of heart and mind with other people, gets a spot near the top of the list of the improbable, unlikely, and impossible. Just try driving in moderately heavy traffic for a while and see how hard it is for the drivers of all of those cars to stay in harmonious agreement about where they are going and the rules of the road that they need to follow. People just don’t want to be conformed, and we certainly don’t want to yield our own perspective to another person’s.

 

The idea that people can share a common understanding and think in a unified and harmonious manner seems to be important to God. Yet, He made us with this strong, independent and continually inquisitive nature; therefore, He must have a plan for accomplishing the desired unity of thinking without crushing the strength of our individuality out of us. This is a part of why God gave us His Spirit to live with and in us in an active and intimately interactive relationship. He also granted us His revealed truth and a clear picture of who He is through His Word. In addition to all of this, God speaks to and with each of us and with His body as we engage with Him in prayer and meditation.

 

It is through the Spirit, the Word, and in prayer that we gain an understanding of God’s true desires. It is through the acceptance of this total knowledge of God that we are given the strength of character that is required to truly understand another person’s perspective and the courage to yield our own viewpoint to that person’s. Engaging in relationships to the depth and with the commitment that is required to make them strong and to continue them over time requires the ability to stick with the other person regardless of the way things are going from moment to moment. This is perseverance, and it comes from God. Generally, we also need to be encouraged to stick with other people when there doesn’t appear to be anything to gain from doing that. It is the Spirit of Christ that continually brings that sort of encouragement into my heart. In Christ we do have the ability to believe, think, and live together in unity. We can possess the peace and the joy of honest yet harmonious relationships, and when this happens, Christ’s body is unified for His purposes.

 

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

 

The difference between an event that is cause for celebration and one that leads to sorrow is often very slight. It can be a few inches on the distance that a ball travels through the air, it might be a few votes in an election, a decision made or rejected, or a route chosen for the drive home. The distinctive in how we handle all of these events, whether we are on the joy or on the pain side of the result, is found in our view of life and the vantage point from which we look at it.

 

To me, it seems utterly irrational to experience a defeat, a negative life-changing event, or a deeply personal loss and shout for joy when it happens. Yet, God says that I should trust Him in this matter. However, unlike many well-meaning people who try to minimize the hurt and the devastating sense of loss that can come, God understands how I feel, and He helps me see that He has experienced all of the same emotions as I am going through. The Spirit of Christ helps me to grasp the fact that it is normal, rational, and expected to feel deeply. Even in the hardest of times and situations He shows me that there is hope, purpose, and healing for everything that occurs in this life. This is true for all of life’s events from the smallest of disappointments to the greatest loss.

 

God wants me to see that I am not rejoicing in the outcome of the event itself, I am rejoicing in Him. As I position myself so that I am continually close and intimately engaged with my Lord through the process of talking with Him, opening my deepest thoughts and feelings to Him, and studying His word with the sort of receptiveness that allows His Spirit to speak to my heart and mind from deep inside the pages, God shows me His perspective on life. He leads me to the place where I can see more clearly. He takes me to that high vantage point where the soothing breeze of His Spirit’s presence has dried my tears. Now, my heart is set free from the oppression of loss, and my mind is given the clarity that I need to move forward in Christ’s victory

 

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4: 5-7

 

There are many things about God that are hard for me to understand. There are also almost as many aspects of being His child that are mysterious to me. I believe that these areas of incomprehension are related. God is spirit yet He lived fully in the same sort of flesh as I do. God has existed before and beyond time, and He breathed all that is my universe into existence. The strange, the wondrous and the marvelous are all simple routine to the Lord. My mind, my heart, and my soul stand in thankful awe of His greatness and in deeply humble thanksgiving in the blessing of His grace.

 

Peace is truly one of the greatest wonders in this life. Christ leads us into engagement with our world. He calls upon His followers to care deeply for the people around us, and He even instructs us in how to love all of them with a love that is willing, without thought, to lay down our own lives for the possibility of saving another’s. However, at the same time as He was extending grace to all of humanity Jesus was speaking and living out God’s righteous truth in the face of earthly power and human compromise. So, He calls upon us to follow along this same path.

 

Caring deeply for all of Creation, loving people regardless of who or what they may be, and openly placing God’s truth above all else do not sound like a formula guaranteed to bring about the sort of calm, comfort and ease that we might define as peace. Thus, I see here another aspect of the mysterious. Christ continues to lead us in times of fear and doubt, in times of anxiety, for He took His own hours of searing pain and He turned to the Father in honest prayer. Then, Jesus listened and opened His mind to God’s comforting touch. The peace that God grants to us is not guaranteed to change the trials that surround us, but it will grant our hearts and minds the clarity to engage them with the full confidence and the certain assurance of the Father’s protective hand at our sides.