Pay close attention to yourself [concentrate on your personal development] and to your teaching; persevere in these things [hold to them], for as you do this, you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you. (I Timothy 4: 16, The Amplified Bible)
As I have, you’ve probably joked about a chaotic, stressful day being one of those “character-building” experiences. While the concept is fun (well, sort of), it also contains practical truth and benefits for you and me – if…
But first, what are those benefits? It’s easier to work hard and persevere in difficult things if you can see how doing so will help. The scripture says, “You will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” When you understand that receiving salvation is a gift of grace based on what Jesus did to make it possible, it can be puzzling to read what seems to be the implication that what you do brings salvation “both for yourself and for those who hear you.” So what does that mean?
Well, the word “salvation” (sozo) actually means, “wholeness.” That wholeness is expressed in Christ in 3 verb tenses. A believer was saved when the Holy Spirit called and that individual said “yes” to the free gift of salvation, thus entering into a relationship with God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit – GOD. The Christian is being saved in the progressive verb tense over time as he or she develops in the faith and becomes more and more like Christ in thought and action. We will be saved, future tense, when we go to be with the Lord in person at the end of life, at which time our bodies and all of us will be made completely whole.
This passage refers to the progressive part of being made whole, called sanctification. In other words, when you choose to respond in certain ways to the challenges of life, you become more and more “conformed to the image of Christ.” You begin to think more like Him, respond in similar ways to Him with respect to the people and situations in your life. Further, you’ll have fewer times of getting completely off track. (That messing up part won’t be all gone until we are “future tense” saved.)
So what is being revealed here in the Timothy letter are principles of “character development.” By the choices of attitude we practice and the habits of behavior that we form, so our faith and integrity are strengthened or eroded. And further, our decisions don’t just impact us; they affect all of those we influence, “those who hear you.” How we handle this affects our own destinies and those of people we love.
Now this is worth paying attention to, isn’t it? Tomorrow, we’ll double back and talk about how to “work out salvation” over time and to become all that God intended for each of us to be.
Dear Lord, I want to mature in my walk with You and to influence others to do the same. Create in me a heart that longs to know You, to make choices aligned with Your best for me, and to spill Your Love over to all I touch. I want to learn to persevere in you, no matter what. Teach me, O God. I have such a long way to go, and I cannot do this without YOU.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6-7)
Earlier in my life, I adored the musical, The King and I. I’d sing at the top of my lungs, Whistle a Happy Tune. And of course, I’d attempt that whistle!
Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect
And whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid
While shivering in my shoes, I strike a careless pose
And whistle a happy tune, and no one ever knows I’m afraid
The result of this deception is very strange to tell,
For when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well.
Well, in real life the success of that strategy is near equil to the “pathetic-ness” of my whistle. it’s too bad that it’s not quite that simple when you’re feeling worried. In very stressful circumstances, the mind sometimes plays nasty tricks on your perceptions, and the evidence that supports “the worst” marches front and center into your vivid awareness. In such an emotional environment, you have to do more than fool yourself with a happy tune. You need real solutions.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the Philippians 4 scripture to discover a much better strategy for dealing with worry, an approach that changes it all. Your circumstances may change, or they may even stay the same. In either case, YOU become different when you take this approach. Shall we break it down?
“Be anxious for nothing…” Wow, what an absolute word, nothing. Don’t worry about anything at all. Not one man, woman, child, or situation. Nada. Concern, sure. Worry, no.
“…but in everything…” Oh, my, how I love that word “but” in the Bible when it follows the description of some negative or hopeless situation! It signals a contrast to come. Especially exciting is a description in which you see that phrase, “But God!” Instead of worrying, well, keep reading here.
“…by prayer and supplication…” Prayer and supplication are not the same thing, though often our prayers unwisely consist mostly of those supplication “gimmes.” Prayer involves that kind of two-way communication with God that builds trust and intimacy. Supplication actually means that you “make known” (like He didn’t already know) and express your wants and needs for yourself and others.
“let your requests…” In the original language, “requests” is related to supplication, but it’s not exactly synonymous. They’re cousins but not twins. Requests means, “Asking for a particular benefit.” In other words, you’ve told God about yourself and your situation and what you perceive your needs to be (supplication). Now you ask specifically for what you want, for how you currently believe that need can best be met. Yes, it’s good to ask, for we are told elsewhere in the scripture that sometimes we don’t have because we don’t ask.
“be made known unto God.” Now the original language gets interesting. To be “made known” means “to submit for advice, judgment, discernment, and determination.” Oh, wow, you mean God might actually know best? He might be able to sift through our requests (sometimes unwise) and have an even better idea about how to resolve our situations? Is it possible that the plans we’ve handed Him for meeting those needs could hurt us in the long run, and He wants to do it a different way to save us pain? Uh, yep, yep, and yep.
“And the peace of God…” Hang on! This is good. The Greek interpretaiton of this word is “prosperity, calmness, quietness of mind, set at one again, reconciliation with God resulting fin a sense of divine favor, health, peace of mind. Sounds a lot like the path to happiness, it seems to me.
“which surpasses all comprehension…” What God will do when you spend your time communicating with Him rather than worrying is more than your mind could ever imagine or figure out. The Lord’s peace to you and His responsiveness to your anxiety is far beyond what you could possibly have planned, schemed, or imagined.
“shall guard your hearts…” In the Greek, your heart is “thoughts, feelings, mind – the seat of desires, feelings, affections, passions impulses, values, affections, and conscience.” Whoa! Does all of that need to be guarded? Well, mine certainly does! I’ve found out the hard way that so much danger lurks in the recesses of those places!
“and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Your mind is your “intellect, thoughts, plans, reasonings, and imaginations.” Yes, the mind could use a guard stationed there 24/7, too.
Now let’s put it all together, my paraphrase.
Don’t worry! Lay your concerns before God. Tell Him your needs, and make requests about what you want in your life. Then leave it up to Him, and He will work it out in the very best way, far superior to what you could have figured out on your own. As a result of that process, you can be peaceful, confident, and calm because He is always on the job, protecting your heart and your mind and working all things out for your good.
When you understand these truths, why be anxious? Worry doesn’t change one practical thing, and except your peace of mind – in the wrong direction!.
Note to self: Get better at taking your own advice!
Lord, I lay my concerns before You, and I ask You to intervene in Your wisdom. I don’t know what to do. I choose to fill my mind with thoughts of You, Your goodness, and Your covenant with me. You alone are God, and I trust in You.
One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ. (Philippians 3: 13-14)
Recently, I was talking with a client about the difficult tasks in leaving a very toxic situation. You know you need to let go, and at some level you want to let go, but somehow you keep hanging on. Floating into my consciousness came a childhood memory that God used years later to speak to my heart.
When I was a little girl, I had a big white female cat named Penelope who apparently “got around.” Penelope had a new litter of babies every time it was possible. Her latest litter had included a little boy fur baby, my pick. Tiger was white except for one black dot on top of his little fuzzy head. My kitties in those days lived outside. One day Tiger was curled up comfy, his little body mostly under the slight overhand of our concrete back steps. Unfortunately, my dad stepped out those back steps with heavy boots on, and little Tiger was the casualty.
Oh, my, I cried and cried. I loved my fur babies, especially Tiger. Since my dad was a minister, and we lived by the church where the cemetery was right out back, I insisted on a proper funeral and burial. Daddy “preached the funeral,” as we used to say, and Tiger was properly honored. We then buried him at the foot of one of the graves in the cemetery.
About a week later, my mom was calling to me, looking for me everywhere. Finally, she heard me answer, and she followed the direction of my voice. There I was at the cemetery. As I secretly had been doing every day that week, I had dug up little Tiger and was crying over him. He was even a little smelly at that time, but I was not deterred.
Some 30 years later, I distinctly remember a divine encounter that was a turning point in my life. I was standing in front of my bathroom mirror, looking at my tear-stained face. I had gone back again into a toxic relationship. Predictably, I was hurting deeply aain. I’m convinced it was God Who, at that moment, flashed into my mind the vision of that little girl who dug up her kitty over and over, crying over him, when in fact, no amount of crying and digging him up was going to change that situation.
Can you relate to this at all? Maybe yours is a destructive relationship situation; a job that is dead-end, unmeaningful, and miserable, or ‘the attempt to live someone else’s goals for you. You’ve persisted, hoping against hope that maybe if you just try a little harder, this time it will be different. But it is not.
Quitting is not a shameful act when what you are leaving is either destroying you or holding you back from God’s best for you. Having the courage to make a decision to let go of something does not “make you a quitter.” Real quitters habitually quit even good things that just need patience and follow-through.
Yes, of course, there’s an important place for perseverance in the makeup of a person of strong character. The willingness to stick with God-given dreams and assignments despite adversity is a positive and essential quality. However, there’s a time when God says, “Enough!” You reach a point when you’ve gone around and around in negative circles, and you find yourself stumped about what to do besides what you’ve fruitlessly done over and over. If you have specifically talked and listened repeatedly and intimately with God, and you do not believe that He has released you, then hang in there. Otherwise, it may be time to consider letting it go.
“The upward call” to which Paul in the original language means, “a divine invitation to a higher place in order to experience the benefits of the Kingdom.” The scripture says that the Kingdom of God is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14: 7) God is calling for us to have the guts to release unto Him those destructive things we cannot control. He’s even calling us to let go of some “good things” that have either served their purpose or need to be replaced by His best things for us. If we clutch the wrong things tightly, our hands cannot be open to receive God’s beautiful new blessings.
Shhh…listen! Is that the Holy Spirit nudging you about something or someone in your life? Maybe, just maybe He’s saying to you, “I have better things in mind for you. Just trust me, and let it go…”
God, teach me to discern Your will for me in the various seasons of my life. Help me to value myself the way You do and o respect myself enough to pull away when I’m being harmed. Show me Your timing, and infuse me with Your courage. Nudge me strongly so that I will know when it’s time to let it go.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10: 27)
Sometimes when I am talking with a client, the Holy Spirit brings words right out of my mouth, and I hear and see what I’m saying for the first time myself. That’s what happened one day recently. I believe that today is the day to share it with you.
So my client, a believer in Christ, was struggling with the mental habit of berating herself for her shortcomings, her past failures, and her supposed comparisons with other people. I was trying to lead her in the general direction of becoming kinder in her self-evaluations and treating herself as she would a friend she loved. This led to my recalling for her what Jesus had called the first and second greatest commandments, “Love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” OK, all a given so far. Love God, love your neighbor, love yourself. Good stuff.
Then suddenly it hit me that the “Love” used in Jesus words was a special kind of Love – the God kind of Love (which I always capitalize on purpose). It’s AGAPE. It’s not that mushy romance kind of love, not a sentimental and sappy kind of affection. It’s not even the friendship kind of love. Startlingly, it’s something else, something else entirely.
This had come to me with such a punch in that session, I was pretty sure it was divine revelation (for me and much as for her). But then I went and researched it. Sure enough, all of the “Love” words in that passage are that same word, agape. We are commanded to Love ourselves as we Love God and others with a Love defined as: “the high form of love, the Love of God for man and of man for God. An unconditional Love that transcends and persists regardless of circumstance.”
And that’s what we are supposed to do for ourselves?? So contrary to natural inclinations! We lean instead toward loving ourselves when we believe we have knocked it out of the park and being disgusted with ourselves when we strike out. Agape myself; that is, Love myself unconditionally and persistently – regardless of the circumstances of my performance, despite other people’s words or opinions, or over the accusatory whispers of the enemy of my soul?
“I don’t know how to do that, Lord! And I don’t have the strength to do it, even if I knew how!”
Exactly! Agape originates in God, and only as you and I are completely plugged in to that Source can learn to Love ourselves that way – or our neighbors either, for that matter. When we agape ourselves, we are agreeing with God. And that’s a much better stance than to agree with the condemning whispers of the Accuser.
God’s Love for you and me is unconditional. He never gives up. He takes even our mistakes and turns them for good. He lived perfection here so that we don’t have to, because we can’t. But His Love never fails. That’s Agape.
This goes way beyond what I’ve taught for years, which is to learn to be a good friend to yourself. It’s true that we often call ourselves names and criticize ourselves in ways we would not dare to do to a friend. Use the skills you would implement if a friend was down on himself; be an encourager to yourself. That’s a start.
But Agape yourself?
I cry out again, “Lord, I don’t think I can do that!”
And He gives the same answer with which He has challenged me on so many topics:
“You can’t, but I can do it through you when you are completely surrendered to Me. You can do all things that I call you to do through Me, and I will give you the strength.” (Philippians 4: 13, my paraphrase)
All I can manage to say about this is, “Please, Lord, increase my faith!”
Consiter it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1: 2-4)
The opening line of this passage seems a little “out there” when you first read it. “Consider it pure joy?” When you go through the severe trials of life and even the daily hassles, these surely don’t invite an overwhelming feeling of joy. But read that again. It does not say, “Feel pure joy.” Rather, the instruction is, “Consider it pure joy.” In other words, rise above what’s happening and recognize that out of this hardship, you will develop and grow. Further, affirm the fact that no matter what kind of trouble happens, God can miraculously bring good from it for those who belong to Him. (Romans 8: 28)
I think about two examples from nature that illustrate this point. One is the koi fish. The size of that fish is directly proportional to the challenges it faces in its environment. If you put this little swimmer into a fish bowl and feed him his food, he will be about the size of a gold fish. Put him in a pond where he has to struggle and fend for himself, and he grows much, much bigger.
An important insight on this principle is also found in the caterpillar’s experience. If you came along and decided to help the caterpillar out by peeling off the outer layers for him, you would have doomed his survival. In order to morph into and survive as a butterfly, he has to struggle through each stage. Disturbing the struggle botches the transformation.
You and I, on the other hand, want to hurry up and get out of the struggles in which we find ourselves. Further, we sometimes try to rescue others from them when what they need is to go through them and learn better choices. Yet is is those very hardships that bring about the growth, develop the skills, and catalyze the maturity that we need to make it in life. Like the koi fish and the caterpillar, we grow in proportion to the experiences of adversity through which we walk with the Lord.
As Helen Keller put it, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”
Lord, as we walk through adversity, we call on You for strength and for wisdom. We trust that You will bring good from anything. When we’re walking through fire, we cling to You in trust.
Be patient then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You, too, be patient and stand firm, for the Lord’s coming is near. (James 5: 7-8)
Both my parents came from farm families, and I used to love to go visit on the farms of my grandparents, aunts, and uncles in North Mississippi in the summertime. Yes, this little girl, Bev, has picked cotton with a big sack looped around my neck and dragging behind me. The fields were fascinating to me. Oh, how my diligent relatives, year after year, put in the sweat investment that finally brought forth the crops! And then there was that big garden out back, where all the veggies “magically” grew. We picked them, and then we shelled them together on the front porch – laughing, talking, feeling connected to each other as family. I’m smiling as I recall those fond memories.
However, I learned from my parents as they told stories about farming, some years were good – and then there were those others. Uncontrollables like weather wielded powerful impacts on the outcomes of the same amount of hard work and financial investment. And after you’ve put in the hard work, and while you are putting it in, you wait. You stay busy in preparations and maintenance of the field, but you spend a great deal of time in anticipation, watching and wondering what will happen next and what kind of harvest will be possible. And you pray.
And so it is in our lives with that waiting thing. I don’t know about you, but I don’t do it so well. And I don’t like having my results dependent on uncontrollable variables. That may be the key root word – control. I cry out to God, “Make it hurry up!” I want to see those results quickly. Sometimes I try to take matters into my own hands. So what if the farmer grew impatient, went to the field with his hoe, and started chopping down into the dirt to check out the plant that had not yet made its appearance? It’s usually a bad idea to try to be God and to attempt to change the hands of the clock to your timing instead of His.
So many of us are in the mode of “wait.” We’ve planted seeds and watered them. We’ve done our best to keep out the weeds of doubt and fear. We’ve prayed, and we’ve listened, and we have believed that we heard from God. And yet, we wait.
The process of waiting exercises our trust muscles. We learn to have faith, though we are unable to see anything yet. God is definitely at work underground, putting down roots, nourishing our “plants,” and preparing you and me to receive the harvest that’s on the way.
Sure, in that difficult time of waiting, there’s legit work to be done. Just be sure that you don’t try to take control and destroy the crop God’s producing. Just be patient! God’s got this!
God, you and I know about the things on my heart. I’ve been waiting a long time, Lord. How much longer will it be? (You know I can be like a kid, Lord. “Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”) I’m trying to learn patience and trust and faithfulness, O God. These don’t come very naturally to me. Please, Lord, BE my patience, my trust, and my faithfulness!