self discipline

Comfort Amidst Our Failed Resolutions

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Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.
Tree covered in ice silhouetted against the sky.

By Linda Rex

I’m sure by now that many of you have fallen off your January resolutions for self-improvement and life improvement. And I’m sure many of you are currently in the process of self-flagellation, beating yourself up because you didn’t meet your own expectations, whatever they were.

It is a given that we are broken human beings and we struggle with habits and behaviors that often are not healthy and life-giving. And most all of us want to improve ourselves, have better relationships, and grow as individuals. Now I’m all for New Year’s resolutions, but too often they are our own attempt at self-discipline, rather than a lifestyle change rising out of the deep inner power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, which is the spiritual gift of self-control.

When we look at the Scriptures which talk about being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2), and we are reminded at this time of year when we celebrate Christ’s transfiguration that we are being transformed from our human glory to the glory that is Christ’s, I think it is real easy to look at transformation as being something solely behavioral. What I mean is we often think that our transformation means that we will be better people who will act in better ways.

Indeed, God wants to transform our behavior, but I believe that he wants to go much deeper than that. I believe God wants to transform our inner being. And he wants to transform our relationship with himself—so that in relationship with him we become the people he created us to be—his adopted children who live eternally in intimate relationship with him and one another for all eternity.

It occurred to me this morning as I contemplated the transfiguration that what Jesus said about this process was significant. When he prayed to the Father the night before his crucifixion, it is recorded that he asked that the glory he was given by the Father would be given to those who were his so “that they may be one, just as we are one”. In other worlds, the purpose for sharing in Christ’s glory, in Jesus’ mind, was not so much that we become good people, but that we could and would share in the unity, the intimacy, the oneness of the Father and the Son in the Spirit.

Jesus’ prayer was a request with regards to unity and oneness. Going on, he said, “I in them and you in me, that they may be perfected in unity.” This has to do with our sharing in the divine perichoresis or mutual indwelling of the Father, Son and Spirit. This is a relational oneness that we struggle to have with almost everyone in our lives.

Apart from the grace of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit, it is difficult or next to impossible for us to have the relationships in our lives the way we should have. We don’t realize how often the Spirit is at work interceding between us with one another and in our relationship with God so that we can have unity, peace and harmony. I think if we did, we would be a whole lot bolder and consistent about asking the Spirit through Jesus to intercede in every relationship in our lives, whether individually, as communities, or as nations.

Indeed, it is our rejection of our Father, Jesus and the Spirit who indwell human hearts that creates such havoc in our lives. When we are fully in control of all that happens in a relationship and insist that others behave in the ways we think they should behave—we create havoc and destruction in those relationships. When we suffocate the people in our lives because we expect them to take the place only God should take in our lives, we reap the consequences that go with such behavior. When we demand things from others that only God can do for us, we create relational holes that are impossible to fill.

God created us for relationships. They are important and essential to our human existence. Introvert or extrovert, we all need people in our lives to love us, to affirm us, and for us to share life with. Some of the saddest people I know are those who have shut out everyone and have holed up in a place all by themselves. The twisting of the human soul often comes with the significant relationships in our lives harming or attempting to destroy us. And it is only through loving, healthy relationships with God and one another that we find true healing.

Our behavior is often a reflection of what is going on inside of us. It rises out of the depths of our being—the being that we really are inside, not what we project to everyone around us. There are times when we find ourselves doing things we don’t want to do and we can’t figure out why.

This is because there are depths to our being we push down or hide away, or reject because either we don’t want to face them, or we are afraid to let them surface because we may not be able to control what happens when we do allow them to come to light. Indeed, there are times when it would be good to see a counselor or therapist to get help with these deep issues of the heart. And in other cases, to be in a spiritual community where we can be authentic, transparent and accepted is essential.

But other times it’s more a matter of inviting the divine Counselor, the Holy Spirit, to go with us into the dark places and inviting him to bring the healing light of our divine Physician Jesus Christ there. And God will heal us as we ask and cooperate with him in our healing.

Transformation of our lives begins first by the transformation God gives us through Jesus and in the Spirit in our relationship with himself. God draws us near so that we can draw near to others.

When we have a strong foundation in our lives of a deep, intimate relationship with God through Jesus and in the Spirit, we will find that our relationships will begin to reflect that change. Sure, some of them will fall away because there is no room for God or the divine realities in them. But others will begin to heal and blossom and grow. And as we choose to respond to God’s guidance in making healthy choices in our relationships, we will find ourselves in the midst of a healthy spiritual community, and we will find ourselves beginning to heal.

It is in our healthy relationships with God and one another that our true being is reflected back to us in such a way that we begin to change. This change comes not by following a list of rules, mind you, but by God’s work of transforming us by his Holy Spirit.

Our relationships, when they are filled with God’s love and grace, begin to influence us and change begins in our hearts and our minds. True, it is good to study the living and written Word of God so that our minds are renewed in the true realities, but it is God through the Spirit who brings about our true transformation. We are merely participants in the work God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ and in the Spirit. May it be our new resolution to receive this gift of transformation God has given us and to actively participate in what God is doing in our hearts and lives.

Dear loving Father, thank you for the gift of yourself through Jesus and in your Spirit through which we may experience loving relationship with you and one another. Please finish the work of transformation you have begun in us, and grant us the grace to fully participate with you both in listening to the living Word and obediently following the Spirit as he leads us, so that we might ever walk in step with Jesus. May we be fully transformed by grace through faith. In your Name we pray, amen.

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” John 17:22–23 NASB

Broken Lives

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by Linda Rex

Nothing can bring me to tears faster than to hear the story of a broken life. Growing up as I did in a church that was once insular and self-protective, I did not hear such stories very often. As I child I knew that evil and heartache were “out there” but I did not experience it in a real way as part of the life of someone I knew personally.

But no household, not even that of my family, is safe from the hardships and griefs of life. In time my family also experienced the reality of brokenness and the pain that comes from living life in a way that contradicts that which God ordained from the beginning. No one is immune from brokenness or pain or suffering. It is a part of the human condition. Our best efforts cannot protect us from experiencing the fallout from living out of ourselves, our self-determination, and our self-will.

In a culture where self is worshiped and served in every imaginable way, and people are told right and left to “have it your way,” it is no wonder so many are suffering from the tragic results of self-centered living. Freedom, when ungoverned by love (unconditional, out-going concern for others), is destructive and creates chaos and brokenness.

So, what hope do we have?

For many, the solution is found in the establishment of rules for living. They say that if you follow a particular set of rules, of principles for living, that you will never experience broken lives or families. If you keep the Ten Commandments, obey the 5 Principles, or the 7 Keys to Effective Living, that your life will be hunky-dory, full of happiness and joy.

I will not debate the value of these rules to live by here, for they serve a purpose, but I would like to point out the reality that the success of such a venture is fully dependent upon the self-discipline and self-will of the person attempting to follow them. And since the human self cannot be depended upon to do what is right and best and truly loving in every situation, the attempt is doomed from the outset. Some progress may be made and a person’s life may be significantly improved by the attempt, but the person’s inner being most likely will not be transformed in the process. Something else is needed.

If a person does not believe in a divine One who loves and cares for him or her personally, he or she will reach an impasse here. For the person’s only hope will be in a human’s ability to change or control him or herself and/or other people and circumstances. There will be a constant struggle for, or persistent denial of the need for, self-control and true compassion for others. Perhaps the person is strong of will and purpose—he or she can go on indefinitely in this condition. The person has the freedom to do so, if she or he wishes.

If a person does believe in God, then he or she is also faced with a choice. Will she or he receive the gift of the One who saved her or him, or continue in her or his own frantic efforts to handle everything by her or himself? I believe Christianity has received a black name in so many ways because Christians are frantically attempting to live a perfect, sinless life out of their own selves, on their own strength, and in their own way. It was never God’s intention for us to do this. Otherwise he would not have come in the person of Jesus Christ. He would have let the Old Testament laws stand for themselves. He would not have taken on human form. What would be the point?

But the eyewitnesses of the New Testament record tell us that Jesus Christ was a man in which the fullness of Deity lived: all of God as a human being. And in this Being, this God/man, we are made complete. God did not leave it up to us to save ourselves, to be perfect ourselves, to do what is loving and right and best on our own. He did it himself, and then offered us the opportunity to share in what he had done and is doing in Jesus Christ.

This is why the Scriptures, especially here in Colossians 2, use the expression “in Him” or “in Christ” over and over. We are to “put on Christ” or “abide in Christ.” These are all ways of saying that we share in Christ, in his perfect work which he performed in his life, his crucifixion and death, and his resurrection and ascension. It is in this relationship with God in Christ that we experience transformation and salvation, not in our human efforts to abide by a bunch of rules.

As we share in his death, we die to what we once were—our self-centered, selfish way of living and being. As we share in his resurrection, we find new life—that we are a new creation in him. This is not just a one-time event expressed through the Christian rite of baptism. It is an ongoing daily event—daily dying to self and living to Christ. Christ’s faith for our lack of faith. Christ’s love for our lovelessness. Christ’s obedience for our disobedience. This is how we put on Christ.

We share in Christ’s ascension through the gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we receive the power and the love of God, the personal presence of God within. We receive Christ’s moment-by-moment intercession for us in the presence of the Father, where he enables us to hear and receive the Word of God, and he presents our requests, our needs to God, interceding for us so we may continuously be forgiven and reconciled to God. We are given a relationship with God, not through our own efforts, but through the efforts of God, who reached down to us and brought us to himself, wiping away anything that once stood between us.

How refreshing is the wonder of grace! This is such good news that we don’t want to hear it. We prefer to continue our own efforts at self-preservation and self-glorification, even after we believe. For in receiving Christ as being all that we need, admitting we are complete in him and him alone, we have to give up all the glory to God for our wholeness and transformation. It begins with him, and is completed in him. To him be the glory! Amen.

Thank you, Father, for your great love, which you have lavished on us in your Son, Jesus Christ, and in your precious Spirit through whom you have come to dwell in human hearts. We praise you for your precious gift of a personal relationship with you, of life in you and with you, forever. To you be the glory and honor forever and ever. Amen.

“For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete…” Colossians 2:9-10a (NASB)