Tuesday, December 2, 2008

putting up our sails

“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” – Phil 1:6

This is Paul at his most encouraging (compare w/ Gal 5:12). Paul writes words of confident assurance to the church at Philippi. He acknowledges that the “good work” of faith and baptismal participation has begun in them. He asserts that, as of now, that “good work” is incomplete. He assures them that the “good work” will be completed. And finally, Paul explains that God is the One responsible for completing this “good work.”

I’ve encountered frustrated Christians just about everywhere – in bars, in my office, in the mirror. And in some sense, being frustrated comes from a good place (or at least from a good desire) within us. We yearn to be whole and pure and holy and kind and non-anxious and fearless and tearless. We know that a “good work” has begun in us and we yearn for that good work to be brought to completion. And so we try. We jump on a never-ending treadmill of trying harder. We feel responsible for completing this “good work” of faith that’s begun in us. And so we try. We assert our will. We “make up our mind to change.” We move from a jog to a sprint, but eventually the treadmill speeds up. And so we fail. Time and time again. We discover that we can’t complete the good work that has already begun in us; the good work that makes us try so hard in the first place. And because we “can’t” accomplish the changes we seek in our life and in our character, we feel powerless. And because we feel powerless, we get frustrated.

To frustrated Christians everywhere, Paul gives a promise: what is incomplete will be completed; what has begun will be brought to an end; what is partial will be full; and God is the One who will do it. God is ultimately the One who will save us and sanctify us and make us whole. God initiated the salvation-project and God intends to finish what He started.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing for us to do. There is. We should “try hard.” Grace is opposed to earning - not effort. That being said, we have to try the right things. And asserting our own will to change ourselves isn’t a sustainable long-term strategy. Eventually the treadmill speeds up. And when it does, we trip and fall to the ground in exhaustion. And so “trying the right things” is ultimately about giving God room to work. It’s about not quenching the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19).

UNTIL THURSDAY: Examine whether or not you’re “trying the right things.” Only God can send the Wind – but if we don’t put up the sails, the boat won’t go anywhere. Ultimately, trying the right things is about putting up our sails – about putting ourselves in the position for God to complete the work He began. Whenever we pray or meditate on Scripture - we put up our sails. Whenever we serve the less fortunate or bless the unlovable – we put up our sails. Whenever we worship God or speak a kind word to another – we put up our sails. And so don’t be frustrated. Phil 1:6 is Paul’s way of saying that in God’s time, and in God’s way, God will send the wind. And so in the meantime, step off the treadmill and start putting up your sails.

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