Normally, I blog because I want to share something funny, or strange, or because I need a creative outlet. I talk about fluffy stuff... my kids, biodiesel... (see, I told you I was going to try to work "biodiesel" into every post). Occasionally, though, I feel reflective, and I need to write for myself, not my readers, in order to work something out. I think it's only fair to warn you, this is one of those. It's not for you, it's for me, and if you are offended by Christianity, go ahead and stop reading now. I promise, soon I'll be back with lighthearted tales of funny kids and weird things I've observed.
Anyone who knows me knows that my faith is central in my life. I absolutely believe that God is the reason for all the good things in my world, and I do my best to live a life that follows the example of Christ. I do not always succeed. Sometimes I'm petty and selfish, sometimes I make terrible choices, but I really try to ask for help, ask for forgiveness, and keep on going. I'm not guarded about my faith, but I am private about it. I feel like my relationship with God is an intimate thing, and I guard it as I would any other relationship, which is why it is not often on my blog, or my facebook status, or my tweets.
But here's what I am working out today, and I thought I'd share, because maybe other people are in the same place, or maybe they've already traveled past it, and can offer insight. I'm reading Romans at the moment, and have had some really great "aha!" moments, but today, I felt like what was being imparted to my heart was broader than the passage I was reading. Romans deals pretty heavily with the law, and our justification through Jesus Christ, and what it all means in regards to works... and this is where I'm hung up. So here are some passages from the Phillips translation, and let's see if they take anyone else where they took me:
Romans 3:23, "...everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God's plan. A man who has faith is now freely acquitted in the eyes of God by his generous dealing in the redemptive act of Christ Jesus."
and down in verse 27, "What happens now to the pride of human achievement? There is no room for it. Why, because failure to keep the Law has killed it? Not at all, but because the whole matter is now on a different plane- believing instead of achieving."
Ok, so that's awesome, and I've always known it was awesome, but today the part that stands out to me is the part about "a different plane".
Chapter 5:1-5, "Since then it is by faith that we are justified, let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him, we have confidently entered into this new relationship of grace, and here we take our stand, in happy certainty of the glorious things he has for us in the future. This doesn't mean, of course, that we only have a hope of future joys- we can be full of joy here and now, even in our trials and troubles. These very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us."
So, what I take away from all this is... jumping off of the idea of trying to look at things as being on a different plane from just obedience to the law, and moving off to this confident grasp of the peace and grace of God, we come around to patiently enduring whatever life throws at us, in order to develop a more mature character, and part of that maturity is a sense of hope.
This is all really intertwined, isn't it? It's faith that gives us the confidence to endure, which builds our character. That maturity produces hope. And then this makes me think of Hebrews 11:1- "...faith means we have full confidence in the things we hope for...", so the hope we build in our characters leads us to more faith. It's circular.
Previously, when I've read Romans, I've come away with this idea of being justified by faith, not works, which is, of course, a big theme. But this time, I'm seeing much more personal responsibility. It seems to me that we need to get it through our heads that we already have this grace and peace, and provision... we don't need to grasp for it. And I think it's really true in life... when we're not trying to prove ourselves worthy of something, it gives us breathing room to accomplish something bigger. Also, ceasing to worry about material things gives us room for a view of the bigger picture.
Jesus said in the Beatitudes that we're not supposed to worry about food, or clothing, or shelter, or any other material thing, but just trust that God will take care of us. I think we often stop there, or we stop at being justified by faith, or whatever other passage makes us feel protected and comfortable. God will supply all my needs, if I just have faith? Excellent. Thanks, God!
But what does it mean? I mean, really, why are we told not to worry about all of that? Just because God is benevolent and wants us to have a carefree life? Well, no, I don't think so. If we were going to have a carefree life, why would we need patient endurance? To build our character. But to what end?
I often feel, in my life, that my prayers are ask-heavy. Please heal this person or that person, give me this or that, bless us, keep us, help us... not without thanksgiving, because I'm extremely grateful. But how often do I wake up, hit the floor and ask God what I'm supposed to be doing?
Jesus wraps up the Beatitudes with an admonishment to put his words into practice. And what were his words? He told us to love our neighbors, refrain from being critical, angry, or judgmental. Feed and clothe the poor, tend to the sick, care for the needy, and do it all without making a big deal about it. Love love love... flowing through all of this is the admonishment to love people. Is that what we're doing? Is that what I'm doing? Probably not enough.
I guess what struck me today, what I've been trying to work out here, is this idea that I want to get to that higher plane, a place where I just gain confidence in God's provision, for things both material and immaterial, and move on past that into a place where I work harder at giving out, rather than taking in. Work at being joyful no matter what, at patiently enduring (patience and endurance are not my strong suits), and understand that I'm building my own character, so that I will innately have hope that sustains me, not just so I can be sustained, but so that I can do whatever it is that I'm supposed to be doing to make a difference. I want to be squared away enough in myself, and in my relationship with God, to be able to access the sort of big picture thinking that will truly make me a worthwhile person in the world.
Anybody else struggle with this concept? Anyone out there with thoughts on this? Or are you all just ready for me to stop pontificating and return you to your regularly scheduled fun blog?