I don’t know about you but I get pretty tired as a practicing Christian of being driven by life and it’s frustrations as opposed to breaking free of them. How many times I found myself responding with the same attitudes, thoughts and actions that were “anti-Christian” are too many to count! The good news is I’m not going to offer a formula to turn your life around but when it comes to breaking the spiritual stalemate of marginal faith there are a couple key principles that it took me over 33 years in Christ to start seriously practicing as a spiritual discipline before I began to transform from simply being saved in Christ and having a relationship with Christ. I had to rethink from responding to life with short term “fixes,” which I must confess many were undeveloped Christian principles thrown back at life and other times being out right frustrated pushing back against life that wound up being no more than participating in behaviors that gave me a reprieve from stress! And yes at the time I knew I was settling for less than God’s best for me.
Part of maturing in faith, I mean growing up, or being transformed involves developing spiritual muscle and maturity. There’s no short cut to it, and it requires the exercise of free will on our behalf to practice spiritual principles which are clearly taught in the Bible by those who followed Christ and had an impact for the Kingdom of God. We all want to impact the world for good and for the Kingdom of God right? Even those still seeking relationship with God acknowledge this is attractive! And the world today needs us more than ever, that’s for sure.
And how we handle life’s frustrations… and pressures speaks volumes about the reality of the Christ that lives within us. Not only to others, but more importantly to ourselves.
Response to frustrations in life, even great trials are meant in the Christian sense to be handled in an authentic relationship God. Many folks broken and worn down by life are resolved to capitulate to the despair, dissolutions and disappointments of life finding release in thoughts and actions opposed to God and yes the Christian and the non-Christian share this reality. When you can’t control the uncontrollable or the painful that surrounds us at least we can strike back with an attitude that reinforces our autonomy. Unconvinced? Consider the way our exercise of choices in difficult situations are often a sense to determine our will, our way or an alternate path? Why? Because its a short cut. It’s not the narrow path that leads to life. I wish I could say maintaining and experiencing intimacy with Christ was easy, but I’m afraid I would be selling you something Jesus never taught and I would be disingenuous to my own journey of faith. Many of us know this reality already so this is not news for those in Christ or those journeying without Him. The stanch reality is this exercise of our will often leads us away from God full of anxiety and the very solace we seek. It’s a delusion, and the same trap experienced by our first parents in the garden they thought would lead to true freedom, it doesn’t. In fact it ruthlessly leads to the very slavery Christ sets us free from. “It was for freedom he set us free,” Galatians 5:1
There’s another path though not so “obviously” opposed to God’s will that counters anxieties through the incorporation of spirituality into the journey. It’s a tenacious adherence to “just enough truth” to be dangerous to the self. Its a trap via a formula of rules an regulations self imposed and yes even having apparent spiritual fruit with the same results; the exercise again of free will to resolve the issues of life on our own terms except this time with a “spiritual veneer.” Both paths are dead ends to responding to life. The second being somewhat worse in that it incorporates partial answers without answering the deep questions of “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?” These answers are not revealed when our strategy to life is dodging life’s trials like bullets.
Breaking the stalemate, or at least starting to, requires pairing up with authenticity. It’s not simply admitting our shortcomings, we all get that. Authenticity must be practiced as part of our ongoing relationship with God through His Son. This is how many Christians, decent folk by the way fall into the spiritual stalemate. The spiritual stalemate looks like this:
Frustrations/demands + human resolution = peace or rebellion in sin = temporal peace
That strategy, if we’re honest involves those self defeating responses and attitudes that ruin relationships leaving us broken more often than not. Well that’s my experience anyway and it left me far from God. It’s similar to the law of addiction. Just as the addict’s behavior or expression of choice over time diminishes in effect requiring a stronger response, the addiction remains. Our coping mechanisms to life are often areas of defiance for God’s good intentions and they operate under the same law. For the materialist, bigger and better “things” are required to produce reprieve; for the proud and self reliant increasing accomplishments or expanding power over others is the path; for the lonely an increasing dependency or reliance on the love or validation of others imbeds itself or its opposite; using others for selfish reasons becomes a master in the attempt to fill the spiritual reservoir inside which struggles to reconnect with our image of God which is an innate part of each of us.
Our response to life’s frustrations in our focus verse is a life that is entrusted in Christ which comes with a promise, “A peace that passes comprehension.” This peace is the mark of a follower of Christ with an authentic relationship with God in a willing commitment to be regularly examined in a thankful response in God’s ability to provide comfort, truth and direction in the process. It’s avoiding the life of “sins of presumption.” spoken of in Psalm 19:12-14. That’s a miserable road for sure. God in Christ desires to reveal the inconstancies in our lives that are opposed to His will while loving us at the same time. The inferred from Philippians 4:5-7 is obvious; deep communion and intimacy with God occurs through the vehicle of authentic communication (prayer) that trusts in His ability to handle the issues. Its not intended as a knee jerk reaction when things get bad! It’s a spiritual discipline requiring development and there’s no shortcut for it but without it, Christian or not, one is stuck in the cycle of being pushed around and repeatedly experiencing discouragement in what we’ve coined a “spiritual stalemate” We can know all the verses in the world and all the head knowledge about faith, but if this principle has not been nourished in our lives we will continue to experience an immature faith that communicates to the world a false peace rife with platitudes often plagued by a life devoid of mercy simply due to the overwhelming frustration that lives within. We may be saved, but most likely we’re miserable!
The first stop at jumping of the train of life demands involves practicing this discipline of Philippians 4; bringing it all…all those frustrations by prayer with thanksgiving to a God desirous of helping us. It’s a 24/7 approach to life that’s meant to transform your mind and give us strength as well as peace not to mention a supernatural hope!. Not being anxious requires effort, it requires we seek God through intimate communion with Him regularly. This is what growing up in faith means, we we’re no longer pushed around by the winds of change or the disappointments of life. We don’t have to approach a spiritual discipline like its “one more task to do.” Communion with God is meant to be the ultimate conversation of life and God’s ready to have that discussion right now with any of us. How ready you might ask? Heres how:
“Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find knock and the door will be opened, For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds and to him who knocks the door is opened. Matthew 7:7-8
That’s a promise straight from the lips of Jesus.
There’s a subsequent part of living authentically that requires additional authenticity which we’ll take on next week. If you don’t know Christ, or somehow you’ve lost that peace we’re speaking of, He’s available right now to you, simply ask Him into your heart as the remedy for your life. The Bible promises when we do this, His Spirit comes and resides within us. If you’ve gotten off the path for one reason or other he’s waiting to develop a relationship with you deeper and more exciting than you can ever imagine!
J.P. Grier is the founder of SentinelforChrist com – A network of Christian men helping each other to press deeper in Christ