Tuesday, October 27, 2009

All Else Was Forgotten

St. Paul urges all Christians to "Be joyful always... give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:16, 18, NIV). I have a painful tendency to come up short on both points. Even when there's nothing obvious to dread, the first mental message I get upon waking is usually "Why bother getting up? Nothing worthwhile ever happens to you anyway." Even when there's nothing obvious to complain about, I feel semi-depressed a good bit of the time. Blame bad habit, natural temperament, physical health, or all three--in any case, "life stinks" is not a pleasant attitude to live with.

Still, as with most negative personality traits, those of us who suffer from chronic pessimism tend to dread even more the prospect of changing. There's something comfortable about familiar territory even when we're miserable in it. The idea of moving up to new ground can generate a mental image of perpetual climbing, never reaching the top, never being able to rest, never really seeing things get perceptibly better. With this idea fixed in our heads, attempts at self-motivation prove sporadic at best.

The antidote is God-motivation, which is probably why Paul placed "Pray continually" (1 Thess. 5:17) right in the middle of his call to joy and thanksgiving. The three are inseparable in a Christlike attitude, and there is no place for being sporadic; this approach is to be practiced "always... continually... in all circumstances."

Hard? No question. Slow progress? Almost certainly. The development of such practices--even coming to understand exactly what they look like in an individual life--usually is sporadic. But it becomes a bit easier when we remember that it's not our strength but God's that does the real work. The mistake most of us make is to let our circumstances, our weaknesses, and our emotions "get in our eyes" and block our view of God's strength, God's adequacy, and God's provision. Even our prayers often focus on our wishes for what we see as the best solutions--which leaves little time or inclination to praise God for Who He is and to thank Him for all He has already done.

Next time you find yourself thinking "I can't" in regard to a point of spiritual growth, don't argue directly. Read the Bible, look at the stars, or review what God has done for you in the past--and see if your gloom-and-doom feelings don't fade away in His light.

Job saw life's achievements all crumble around him;
It seemed God had left him when trouble had found him.
He cried out to Heaven for some explanation,
For justice, fair hearing, and quick vindication.
And God finally answered from out of the thunders,
Directing Job's vision to all the Lord's wonders.
Job quickly left off from bemoaning his story:
All else was forgotten in light of God's glory.

I cried out to Heaven for freedom from troubles,
And for quick relief from my doubts and my struggles.
My longing for ease was obscuring my vision
Of God's mighty strength and His endless provision.
Then He urged, "Remember the ways I have brought you,
The deeds I have done and the things I have taught you."
I felt so ashamed in recalling life's story:
All else was forgotten in light of God's glory.

Our Father is Master of everything living;
Our Lord, the Almighty, is constantly giving;
Yet we, wretched mortals, crave comfort and pleasure
And give little thought to God's Heavenly Treasure.
Stop praying for things that you think you're "deserving,"
And look to your Lord and His purpose unswerving,
And open your Bible--get lost in His Story--
Let all be forgotten except His own glory.

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