My dear brothers and sisters, in our travel along the narrow path, our objective is Christ, our saviour, our hope, our strength, and our example. Though Christ had a physical, fallen body just like us, His character was pure and untainted. There was not even a trace of inequity in Him.
In contrast, our physical and spiritual standing is quite the opposite. Thank Christ that His sacrifice on the cross has atoned for all our past, present, and future sins, because otherwise our burdens would be too much to bear.
We can never be like Christ, nor can we even achieve a close approximation. However, what we can do is use His life and ministry as an example for our own life.
I’ve stated in a previous entry that our works are not our salvation. Doing good works will not get us a ticket into heaven. We do good works not to become saved, but because we are saved. Our salvation comes by the grace of God, through the sacrifice on the cross. The good works are a reflection of our status (saved) and their main purpose is to show the world our Father’s character, not our own (Matthew 5:16).
In order to walk the Christian life consistently and continually, we must have a daily experience with Christ. He is the bread of life (John 6:35), and we must eat that bread on a daily basis. When we are hungry, we must feed ourselves. If we don’t eat, the hunger instinct starts to recede, until we are finally devoid of any desire to eat. This is a sign that we are about to starve. Physiologically, this is how starvation happens. Then spiritually, this is also how we starve ourselves of the bread of life.
It is not a good sign when our spiritual hunger decreases. In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable about some seeds that fell on rocky soil. They took root quickly, but the plants were scorched when the sun came up. These seeds represent those that take up the sword with joy, but give up quickly once they realize the implications, or meet persecution.
Aside: When I was going to the gym regularly, January was a really busy month. It was so busy that there were times when I just left because I couldn’t find a parking spot. If I did find a parking spot, there were lines for the equipment. January, as you know, is when people make resolutions to better themselves. Many people go to the gym and try to get into better physical shape. They keep at it for a while, but the desire wanes and dies off after a few weeks. Come February, I had no issues finding parking spots or using the equipment. It is the same idea that I’m trying to portray regarding our spiritual health. We must be careful that we don’t start our journey with the wrong goal and the wrong strategy, lest we find ourselves failing to maintain the momentum needed to push through the challenges we encounter.
Regarding this steady momentum, our relationship with God is maintained through reading the Word of God, and through conversing with God on a daily basis through prayer. To keep the physical analogy, our journey is a marathon not a sprint. Marathon training is quite different from sprint training, and is meant to build up endurance, not speed. Spiritual training must take place in order to be able to endure the obstacles of a Christian life. Our end goal is Jesus, so we must be able to keep in touch with Him throughout our journey.
Prayer is the best tool to stay in touch with God, but prayer can often be more about us and the blessings we want, and not about talking to God. Sometimes I don’t know what to ask for, sometimes I have too much to ask for. Other times my prayer is just a few quick words, said without feeling, but done more out of habit. In Romans 8:26-28, Paul talks about the Spirit making intercession for the saints according to the will of God when we pray. Jesus and the Holy Spirit form a combination amplifier and translator for our prayers. So don’t fret that your prayer isn’t “good”; Jesus will take your prayer and make it great.
There are a few hints for prayer though, not because God needs us to pray well, but that we may benefit from talking with God. Prayer should be done in a timely manner, not quick, but slow. Take your time to pray! Talk with God as if you would talk with someone sitting next to you (or in front of you). Many times I find myself praying on my drive in to work (I don’t close my eyes for this kind of prayer).
What I’ve noticed is that when my prayer is just about me, I try to get it done really quickly. I ask God for what I need and then I’m done. I’ve also noticed that this kind of prayer is not useful for my spiritual growth. In order to get close to God I’ve been trying to hold conversations with God, just talking like I do with my wife, or a friend, or a parent. Instead of just asking for blessings, I’m asking Him questions, or explaining a challenge that I’m facing, or just talking non-sense about the weather. It’s quite liberating to talk to Jesus as I would talk with a family member or a friend. When I pray in this manner, I find that it’s usually not a “gimme” prayer, but more of a bonding experience.
This kind of prayer is great for spiritual growth because we experience God not as a vending machine, but as a friend who is there for us, ready to lend a hand or an ear. In contrast to this type of prayer, sometimes we need to wrestle with God. There are times when we need to fight with God and pray our hearts out. Specific circumstances will be different for everyone, of course, but I can provide an example. On November 20th, I woke up with a terrible feeling around 6am. I wasn’t sure why I was feeling that way, but it just felt like my world was collapsing. I checked the news, and it turned out that something terrible was happening in Mali (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Bamako_hotel_attack). A group of people had taken over a hotel, and started killing anyone would could not (or would not) confess the muslim shahada (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahada).
At that point, my spirit just sank. This was in the wake of other such events around the world, and I just couldn’t come to terms with what was happening. So I got on my knees and just prayed. It started off pretty tame, the usual stuff, but by the end of it about 15 minutes later, I was crying and begging God to spare these poor people.
The time for this kind of prayer is at the very worst of times. Maybe someone you know is sick, or maybe they are going through a rough patch financially, or maybe they are struggling in their own faith. Maybe you are struggling in your faith. This is the time to get on your knees and beg, plead, and fight with God. In Matthew 26, Jesus wrestled with God asking for the cup to be taken away. His human nature pulled at Him and He prayed to the Father. This prayer was not because Jesus didn’t want to finish the work, but He found strength in prayer in His final hours. Our fight with God must be done in a similar vein and for a similar purpose.
The final thing I want to talk about is our light to the world. Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12), and we must be a reflection of His light onto others. The troublesome consequence of this instruction is that we could fall into legalism by trying to attain perfection in our fallen state. There is no such thing as long as we still reside here on this planet. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with trying to be “perfect”, but we sin by the very utterance of that phrase. The fact is that we are all sinners, every single one of us. How can sinners be perfect? Our sinful condition cannot be healed through our own powers, so what else is there? The answer of course, is that our salvation, or deliverance from sin, is God’s gift to us that we accept by faith. This gift can only come from God, not from within us, and it can only succeed in making us “perfect” if we just let it do its work. The gift I’m talking about is the Holy Spirit, without which we have no hope of conquering our sinful nature.
I know that in my case the Holy Spirit has a lot of work to do. There are a lot of skeletons in this closet. How can I, in my sinful state, possibly witness or preach to others? I would be labeled a hypocrite, and my words ignored. However, as soon as I admit that I am a sinner, the concept of hypocrisy cannot take root. I am sinner, but God is working in my life. I have accepted the gift of salvation and I am letting the Holy Spirit clean my fallen nature.
Think of this situation as an analogy about a really dirty mirror, so dirty in fact that it cannot reflect anything. The mirror cannot clean itself, as much as it tries, but as soon as one corner is cleaned, that little spot can now reflect light. This is the analogy of the early Christian inviting the spirit in their life, and a small spot is cleaned. To the early Christian, this means the world, for he has only been dirty all along. As we walk with Christ, read the scriptures, pray, and witness to others, that little spot of reflection gets bigger, so that more light can be reflected. At Christ’s second coming, He will clean up the whole thing, and we will be able to reflect His light with our whole being.
In closing, I pray that you will discover the blessings that are found in the reading of scripture, daily prayer, and reflecting God’s nature to the world. May your relationship with God grow exponentially every day in doing these things.