Monday, June 26, 2017

God Will Hold Our Mess so We Can Act in Grace

C.S. Lewis exhibits his usual intuitive insight when he says, in a letter to an acquaintance,

“...the thing you need is not to think more or better about it but to think less: to act unselfishly—that is, charitably and justly—and leave the state of your feelings for God to deal with in His own way and His own time...
But how to do it? For the very effort to forget something is itself a remembering of that something! I think, if I were in your shoes I should try to regard this sense of self-imprisonment not at all as a sin but as a mere tribulation, like rheumatism, to be endured in the same way. It has no doubt its medical side: diet, exercise, and recreations might all be considered...At any rate, remember: ‘I cannot turn one hair black or white: but I can brush my hair daily and go to the barber at regular intervals.’ In other words we must divert our efforts from our general condition or frame of mind (which we can’t alter by direct action of the will) to what is in our power—our words and acts. Try to remember that the ‘bottomless sea’ can’t hurt us as long as we keep on swimming.” C.S. Lewis, in a letter to Edward Lofstrom, from The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume III and compiled in Yours, Jack

I find the above to be absolutely true. To act charitably towards someone else means to over-rule our worldly thoughts with Christ’s righteousness, so that our words and actions do not feed our inner impulses.

I agree with Lewis that we cannot will ourselves to change our feelings at any given moment. But God can own those emotions for us while we stand firm in our conviction to put God first, not our self-centeredness.

And so in spite of the fact that we are annoyed by an insult, the Holy Spirit empowers us to be prudent and overlook it (Proverbs 12:16). And as men and women of God’s prudence, we escape trouble by not reacting with sinful words (Proverbs 12:13).

Further, we do not avenge or assuage our needful state by participating in or initiating gossip (which includes the forwarding of other people’s news and always needing to be the first with any and all information about others, Proverbs 10:19, 11:13, 18, 20:19, 26).

Proverbs is the place to go when our ego threatens to derail our commitment to being steadfast in Christ.

Proverbs 12:14 says,

“From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.” 
In the margin of my Bible, I at one time wrote these words:

“Righteous talk can be laborious—the flesh wants to sin with the mouth. It’s harder to speak righteously—it can be hard work!”

I don’t know what inspired my handwritten comments to that proverb; perhaps I summarized the words of a commentary. But they are spot on. It is harder to be a person of grace and to let things go: those billions of statements, barbs, injuries, belittlings, jokes made at our (or our political party’s or ideology’s) expense, and being dissed and otherwise unfavored in any number of ways. 

It is so easy to unwrap each and every affront and, like a lollipop, suck on them for a very long time.

Lewis makes a very important point: God is able quite handily to hold our messy purse of defensive thoughts, so to speak, while we outwardly act charitably and justly.

That doesn’t mean we stop being discerning: God gives us discernment to warn us of foolishness and evil (again, read Proverbs!). And it doesn’t mean that acting charitably or justly requires us to let our guard down and not set boundaries with toxic and invasive people. It does not stop us from speaking up in someone’s defense, or curtailing curmudgeonly conversation with a positive word.

It does mean that we begin, finally and at once, to log into our standing in Christ and end the bondage of being perpetually and dysfunctionally offended. We must prioritize God and not our pride.

That is why we give folks second chances. That is why we forgive in word and deed when we do not yet feel forgiveness towards a person. We trust God for His spiritual love for people to be our spiritual love for people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it beautifully:

Spiritual love will be willing to release a person to Christ “in order that Christ may deal with him. It will respect the line that has been drawn between him and us by Christ, and it will find full fellowship with him in the Christ who alone binds us together. Thus this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ. It knows that the most direct way to others is always through prayer to Christ and that love of others is wholly dependent upon the truth in Christ.”

If boundaries need to be set, God will guide us in doing so. If confrontation is absolutely necessary, God will nudge us to it, but gently—not dramatically—calmly and gently. If people rebuff us, it is because that is where they are (and haven’t we all been there, too?). We give ourselves and them to Christ and pray, as Bonhoeffer has said.

God is in control. We’ve heard it so often. But is He, in our own reality?

All of us, at one time or another, have allowed other people to control us by giving them unfettered access to pushing our buttons.

Jesus says we are to come to Him with all of that, and let Him be our fortress against attack.

He will work out our insecurities in His timing. But we must fully submit them to Him while at the same time act and speak as His Holy Spirit directs us.

Jesus doesn’t expect us to “just get over it.” He expects us to let Him be over everything in our life so that we can, one day, in all honesty say,

“I’ve put such and such behind me. Praise God it is His doing!”

Our obedience to Christ in being just and charitable is part of His process of dismantling strongholds and thus, freeing us.

That is what it means to be a faithful servant. To trust and allow God to do what He came to do: regenerate us to new and abundant life in Him, that our joy may be full and His peace (as opposed to the proverbial and elusive world peace) will prevail. 

copyright Barb Harwood

“These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” John 14:25-27

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