Give Thanks- Passion

I am grateful for passion.

People have an amazing capacity for doing extremely difficult things, so long as they are motivated by a pure desire. While having a hardship imposed on us by another is a terrible thing to bear, imposing our own hardships to accomplish something we are passionate for is a privilege!

Our greatest desires are a joyful irritant, they constantly discontent us with things as they are and convince us that they should be made better. From this restless desire for improvement has come the idea that a country could be run by a democracy, that a better painting material could be derived from oils, and that people could fly in machines. And while these accomplishments were the greatest revelation anyone could hope for in their day, the next generations were restless again to improve on them.

And so democracy is extended to people of every race, hospitals develop better sanitation, and technology connects more and more people together. We take the good that we already have and are driven to push it farther. Just because we want to. Just for our own personal satisfaction. What a wonderful system has been written into each of us, that we make the world a better place just by pursuing the most genuine desires of our hearts.

#givethanks

Give Thanks- Time

I am grateful for time.

Time is a powerful commodity, the greatest currency in our lives, one that we spend at a regular rate. And if we observe where we have passively spent that time it will reveal to us the things that we love most. For more than words and commitments, the proof of our devotion is where we have dedicated our days and hours.

But we can also consciously spend our time on the things that matter most to us. This is the surest way to guarantee that those things receive the respect they deserve. We can even spend time on the things that don’t matter to us as much as we think they should. After enough time is spent on something, we inevitably form a powerful bond to that thing.

And spending time isn’t all. We can also invest it. Even a small contribution each day can yield a powerful profit. And slow and steady contributions of a person’s time have resulted in some of the greatest work this world has seen.

In short, time is the currency by which everything we do gets done. It allows us to take a our current situation and, through time, improve on it. Given enough time, we can become the sort of person we want to be.

#givethanks

Dealing With Failure- Personal Example #2

In my last entry I spoke of an unhealthy guilt in regards to trying to improve myself. I have had many times of berating myself for failing to be perfect, even though I was actively improving overall. No, I was not yet in the perfect image of Christ, but I was getting closer and closer to it.

But today I want to talk about the other side of that coin. Because I have also strayed into a unhealthy lack of guilt when I have done wrong. I have found it all too easy to do what I know is wrong, and then immediately ask forgiveness for it, fully knowing that my heart was still unchanged. I have even apologized before doing the wrong thing, making a promise that “this will be the last time.” A promise that of course never holds true.

It is possible to beat ourselves up for not being perfect, but it is also possible to give ourselves a free pass, defending ourselves with the argument that it’s enough to just “want” to be good.

But what has always given me hope is that my conscience has never been at ease with either extreme. I may have thrown over to one side, and then whiplashed back to the other, but in both cases my heart knew that God was not in either. Because neither of these is the way that God treats my mistakes either. He does not berate me for my errors, but also He does not ask for “lip service” only.

And now, with this established, I will spend the rest of the study considering how God (and the godly) do respond to failings, and how I can emulate that pattern with myself.

Dealing With Failure- Personal Example #1

I want to explain a little more of my personal experiences, and the two conundrums that inspired this particular topic of study. The first of these deals with the steps of repentance I was taught to follow as a child.

I understood that to repent I must sincerely feel sorrow for what I had done wrong, confess my wrongs to God and anyone else I had harmed, make restitution as possible, and then not do that behavior anymore.

Now I actually think this description for repentance is fine, when understood as a process, and not a singular event, particularly in regards to that last step. I do believe that there are times that you can swear off a certain behavior forever, but far more common is that even when I feel genuine sorrow for my wrongs and wish to never do them again…I probably will at some point.

Thus there were times that I was told I needed to repent of a misdeed, and if I did it again, was asked why I hadn’t really repented, as I was still showing the same wrong behavior. And this was quite disheartening, and eroded my confidence in my ability to repent and become a better person.

Yes, at times, I needed to be more sincere in my efforts to improve, but also there were times when I actually was improving, I simply had not attained perfection yet. In those moments I believe I would have been greatly helped by an understanding that sometimes repentance means not repeating the wrong behavior…eventually. It means we try again and again, recommitting after each slip, doing the wrong thing less and less, soldiering on through the process of letting God change our hearts, until finally we no longer are subject to that sin.

The Doing Muscle- Isaiah 40:31, Isaiah 41:10

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

COMMENTARY

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength
For I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee
Yesterday I spoke of our moral resolve as a muscle, and the need to strengthen it without trying to overwhelm it. It is fine to acknowledge that we have limits and temper our efforts according to them.
But…we also need to pair this prudence with a faith in miracles. God has promised to give us strength beyond our own, the ability to stand against storms that we simply do not have the power to face ourselves. It is possible to both set realistic goals for one’s growth, and still leave the door open for divine intervention.
In my own path of addiction recovery, I took care to set manageable, attainable goals for myself. I did not try to muster up the strength for perfection, only to keep my commitments for each new day. And while in the process of taking these small steps by my own power, I found myself being swept forward by the grace of God to beyond what my own efforts could accomplish. My mind and heart healed in degrees that made no sense. I found a restoration of the soul that I had not even come close to earning.
So it can be with all practices of self-improvement. You do what you can do, and you let God do what He can do.

The Doing Muscle- Galatians 6:9, Mosiah 4:27

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

And see that all these things are done in wisdom and order; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.

COMMENTARY

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not
There is a reason I titled this study the doing “muscle.” Holding oneself to self-improvement takes a very real energy. And that energy is not infinite, it runs low and it runs out, it is more available after a good night’s sleep, and less so when exhausted. Sometimes we feel energized to do that work, and other times we just don’t have any resolve left in us. We can exercise this muscle, but we can also overdo it and crash.

And see that all these things are done in wisdom; for it is not requisite that a man should run faster than he has strength
And frankly I have many times burned myself out because I didn’t view my resolve like a muscle. If I consider my literal muscles, then I know that if I sprint for too long I will feel fatigued, and I will know to bring my pace down to a more sustainable level. But how many of us have over-the-top New Year’s resolutions, ones where we don’t recognize the fatigue until we’ve completely fallen off the bandwagon?
In addiction therapy they caution against “white-knuckling,” where you try to force yourself to be totally perfect by sheer force of will. Force of will expends itself until it just isn’t there anymore, and then you fail again.
Yes we should improve and yes we should strengthen our moral muscles, but we will have much more success doing it in a measured, sustainable, steadily-improving sort of way.

The Doing Muscle- John 21:3-4, 15-17

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.
So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

COMMENTARY

Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter reverted back to the lifestyle he knew before. I can certainly relate to that. Very often I try to instill a new behavior in my lifestyle, and sometimes I start to see those changes come to fruition and get excited, but then, more times than not, a few days later I’ve lost what progress I had, and am back to my old default behavior.

Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?
He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?

What did Jesus do when he found Peter back in the fishing boats? He asked him to verify his love, and called him back to caring for the Lord’s flock. And then he did it a second time. And then he did it a third.
There are two things I want to note here. First is that just because Peter had abandoned his post once did not mean that he had lost his calling. If we try to do what is right, make some progress, then fall back, the story is not over. We can always get back in the saddle.
Which leads to the second point: what truly matters is that we pick ourselves up and try again. I believe many of us think of discipleship as exercising our “do it perfectly” muscle. However, as we see in this example, discipleship is instead about exercising our “try it again” muscle. If you are to be perfect at anything, be perfect at picking yourself back up and trying again.

The Doing Muscle- Judges 7:2-5

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel vaunt themselves against me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me.
Now therefore go to, proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him return and depart early from mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand.
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water, and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be, that of whom I say unto thee, This shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, This shall not go with thee, the same shall not go.

COMMENTARY

And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hands
And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many
In the story of Gideon’s army, we learn how the Lord filtered his forces down, then filtered them down again. The first cut, in which all the soldiers with any fear were sent home, was not enough, there was more purifying that needed to follow.
In my own life I have also found that I am purified by degrees. For today there are certain practices that I must strive for, and if I accomplish them then that is well for today. But tomorrow…it is time to be purified even further.
There is a temptation when we have achieved our goals to not set new ones that extend further. It is all too easy to say that now we are “good enough” and this half our progress. The problem with this is that complacency is soon followed by deterioration. Rather than let a milestone be the end of our journey, it is better to let it be a signpost pointing still onward.

The Doing Muscle- Question

For this study I wanted to take a broader topic, one that I expect will take me to a plethora of different scriptures and examples. The motivation for this particular topic stems from a conversation I had recently, where I spoke about how scripture study agitates my conscience into wanting to be better, and how I still struggle to meet that desire.

With this study, then, I want to examine how one develops the power of actually doing. How does one take the knowledge in their mind, the desire in their heart, and turn these into the actions that they actually do? For it is abundantly clear to me that having knowledge is the first step to changing oneself, yet one can have a sound understanding of right behavior but not live a single piece of it.

I would be curious in the meantime to hear how you have faced this challenge in your own life. What do you do when you know what is right, but you just feel no motivation to do it? Have you ever attained your goals of self-development, but then struggled to extend yourself to new ones? Are there any core principles that you cultivated in your heart first, and from that found other practices naturally falling into line?

For Our Own Good- Exodus 3:16-17, 4:10

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanite, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.

COMMENTARY

Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, The Lord God will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt unto the land of the Canaanite
And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue
Yesterday we spoke of how each of us requires a “mighty change of heart” in our lives. I believe that many would say they agree with that statement, but then specify that for them it is a cosmetic change only, not a structural one. Meaning we most often feel that the underlying desires of our heart are already perfect, and we just need to follow them better. We see our actions as flawed, but our paradigms as perfect,
However, as we see in this scripture, that wasn’t the case with Moses. He was already a good and honest man whom the Lord was willing to reveal Himself to, yet Moses still needed to change his image of what was right in order to keep the commandment that God was giving to him.
Similarly, Sariah was a good and faithful woman whose heart wasn’t ready to receive a child, and Abraham’s heart wasn’t ready to receive the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Peter needed an intervention to consider the Gentiles as worthy of receiving the gospel. Jonah wanted the city of Nineveh to be burned, contrary to the Lord’s will. These were all good people, yet people who still needed to change.
God does not only intend to change the hearts of the wicked and sinful, but even of the righteous. His intention is not to make us into the best people that we can imagine, but even into people that we have never before considered.