Posted in Christian Living

This House Divided

House divided

Rather than take away tomorrow’s trouble, worry voids today’s strength.  –Max Lucado, from Come Thirsty

Everyone talks about worry being a waste of time, but my morning reading pointed out to me a much more compelling reason to avoid this wasteful habit.  Worry actually divides my mind, keeping me from putting everything I have into today.

When Christ spoke about a house divided, He meant a couple of different things.  One time, He uses this metaphor to argue against the accusation that He is from the devil since He could cast out demons.  Why would Satan, Jesus reasons, do something to hurt himself?  Another time, Christ uses this metaphor to explain why it is so important to put our whole selves into the pursuit of our love of God instead of being distracted by the things of this world that tarnish and will do us no good in heaven.

When worry takes my mind away from the things of today, it also takes me away from my closeness to Christ.  I want to be engulfed in that closeness, not separated from it, for as Paul explains:

Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. With thankful hearts offer up your prayers and requests to God.  And God’s peace, which is so great we cannot understand it, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul’s words give us the steps for living what contemporary thinkers term “with mindfulness:”

  1. Pray about everything– I need to concentrate on what is happening to me and around me in every moment.  When we pray about something, we naturally focus our minds to what is most important.  By voicing what concerns us to God, we might even realize how ridiculous some of our concerns actually are.
  2. Be thankful– Gratitude makes us be more truthful with ourselves.  Often, my inner voice tells me things that are downright lies, but it can be hard to call myself on these unless I bring my mind to what is actually true.  When I take the time to name the many things I have to be thankful for, I inevitably unearth some of the lies I have been letting my worries tell me.
  3. Never stop– Paul says not to pray at certain times of the day or week, but about everything. It is possible to have hearts and minds that are in Christ as long as we actively engage our ability to foster our relationship with our Father.  We cannot be thankful and worry at the same time.  If we bring our concerns to God in prayer, we will find that what was a worry is overshadowed by the peace that is found in the presence of Christ.

How often because of worry have I raced through a day without giving full attention to really living it?  By being a house divided, I have lost many opportunities to fully participate in the gift of life God mercifully grants to each of us.

The next time I catch myself being engrossed more by my worry than by the beauty of the day, I think I will imagine the scene from II Kings, where Elisha and his servant face a horde of enemies, assured of victory because of the “invisible” army of fiery chariots prepared to defend them:

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (II Kings 6: 15-17)

Just as God protected Elisha, we are assured that He also has our best interests at heart.  He will be there for us during good times and bad.  He did not design us to worry, but to follow the two commands that Jesus said summed up everything:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27)

If I am truly working to follow both these important instructions, what time do I have to worry?  Indeed, if I truly love God with everything I have and then extend that love to others, when will I ever have time to worry?

A mindful life is truly a house undivided, unified in its goal to love God, obey His commands, and be thankful.  May your prayers leave you with a mind unified in the love of Christ.

Posted in Faith

What If You Choose?

PhotoFunia-ChooseFaith

What does faith look like?

I don’t think we really know what faith looks like in ourselves until we are faced with the kinds of challenges we least want to face.  Perhaps, this truth is why Paul tells the Romans:

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Challenging times are the reason why living as much like Christ as possible even during regular times is so important.  The more your Christianity is a way of life, the less likely you will allow stressful times to direct you away from God.

I have been paying particular attention to the ways that other people with challenging times handle them lately because I am personally juggling so many things.  Those Christians I’ve observed who seem to stay close to Christ during hard times share a unique trait.  They have the distinct ability to choose to love Christ and follow His ways, no matter how many bad things happen to them.  Here are three examples of this choosing ability:

  1. The author, Charles Martin, on blogging about his natural fears about his dad’s serious cancer diagnosis, concluded, “Lord, the promise of Your Word is truer than my fear.”  Instead of blaming God for his dad’s illness or giving in to doubt, Martin reminds himself that the Bible is full of promises that God has our back, even when we are at our lowest point.  God promises us peace, a burden that is light, and to keep our paths straight.  David writes, “For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will lift me high upon a rock” (Psalm 27:5).
  2. A young woman of my acquaintance who is a generation younger than I am has been teaching me quite a few lessons about choosing lately as she shares her challenges about the divorce her husband insists on getting from her.  One day, she talked about how low she had been feeling earlier in the day.  The only way she was able to lift her mood was to remind herself that she had joy in Christ to claim that she was not going to let Satan steal from her.  I was profoundly moved by this attitude that shows such a spiritual maturity.  So many times, I forget to claim the joy that is believing in Christ because I am busy worrying.  My young friend’s reminder that the devil is a real person who takes every opportunity to get between me and God was a strong lesson in the power of our ability and need to choose.
  3. Finally, a good friend said to me the other day that “sometimes you just have to adopt a Pollyanna attitude.” As a Christian, that means I need to embrace the promise God makes to work all things to the good for those who believe in Him (Romans 8:28).  Every time I have a negative or worrying thought, I can choose to stop myself and believe instead that God will help me through whatever happens to me.  I cannot expect to live a life without challenges, but if I choose to look at those challenges with a positive attitude, I am that much closer to persevering and feeling the love of God.

Choosing to believe that God loves me is what it means to walk by faith.  But that choosing isn’t just a one-time thing.  I have to make choices every day, from moment to moment, about how I will think and what I will do that will keep me close to God, which means grabbing the peace that is the promise of Christ.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith, Living, Love

A New Meaning For Carpe Diem

He may be one of our greatest Christian writers ever, but I have to admit that I am late to the game when it comes to reading C.S. Lewis. Maybe that’s just God’s timing so that my Spirit and mind are actually prepared for the depths of what Lewis has to say.

At any rate, I have just begun “The Screwtape Letters,” a collection of correspondence between Screwtape, an Undersecretary of the Devil, and his nephew, Wormwood, who also happens to be new to the job of making sure the people he’s been assigned stay on the devil’s side instead of God’s.

Early on in the correspondence, Screwtape reminds Wormwood that “He [God] wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

At first glance, the two parts of this statement may not seem that different, but actually they are worlds apart. If I am worried about what will happen to me, several bad consequences occur. First, I am centered on myself instead of paying attention to other people. Even if my worries about my future are about other people, making me think I am being altruistic, they are ultimately self-centered.

When I concentrate on future what-ifs, I am wasting my time as well as God’s. Didn’t Jesus tell us to concern ourselves only with this day, as it has enough problems of its own? Did He not also tell us not to worry because God takes care of us?

Thinking about what will happen to us usually also makes us focus on more materialistic things. Worry traps us into what we can see, feel and touch. The more we are drawn to the things of this world, the further away we are from God. “Where your treasure is,” Christ told us, “there will your heart be also.”

On the flipside, if we are concerned about what we do, we are smack dab in the middle of the only thing we truly have, which is this moment. To seize the day in this way, by thinking about our current actions, means we can be free to think outward.

Thinking outside ourselves means seeing the real needs of others and doing something about it. It means realizing the immediate effects of our actions. It means we have the opportunity to stop ourselves from sinning before we get caught up in it.

Doing instead of fretting is an even bigger challenge in our modern world. With telephones, television and the internet, we can go for ages without physically interacting with anyone. We can go our whole lives without meeting our neighbors face-to-face. And what we don’t actually see in person is very easy to push aside. Hasn’t watching television news footage our whole lives desensitized us to what we see on the screen, making it seem somehow not real?

In the moment, doing and interacting with our fellow wanderers, these are the times when we are on the same page with God. When we concentrate on what we are doing instead of worrying about what might be, we come the closest to loving others as God loves us.

Now, if I can just carpe diem God’s way every time I catch myself fretting instead of paying attention to what I am doing, I will already have learned a wonderful lesson from “The Screwtape Letters,” even though I’ve only just begun reading them.