Monday, December 16, 2013

The Way to Finish Strong.... and Start Over Again

It's silly, I'm sure, but I need to remind myself fairly often of some things that are embarrassingly simple.  Today I need to remember and know this....  This side of eternity, there is no arriving.   I have every reason to be content and glad and profoundly soul-satisfied..... and to keep striving for more.  

I have to remind myself of this as this year winds down and I think back over all my dreams for 2013 and "how am I going to make it in 2014?"  Because it really is true and it should be a happy thing to remember:  our work will never be done.   How mistaken to let that be a frustration!  Let it be comfort and confirmation to my very good, calling....  to serve with joy.  

So... the way to finish this year strong? J.I. Packer has these sweet words in his latest book,    Weakness is the Way.  (p 31-32)

"Whether we are at home [in heaven] or away [still on earth], we make it our aim to please him,"  Paul says (2 Cor. 5:9).  Pleasing those who in some sense have your heart- a spouse, a sibling, a child, a friend, a mentor, a benefactor, or whoever- is a demanding occupation.  It calls for imagination, empathy, and effort;  you have to be aware of their hopes and expectations that involve you, their likes and dislikes, and their sense of the bond between you and them.  

Is this a major motive in our own lives, I wonder:  always and under all circumstances to please our Lord and Savior?  It was so with Paul, and this agenda, then for him, as now for us, is demanding.  It requires sustained love to Jesus, expressed in adoration of him for all that he is in himself and thanksgiving to him for all that he has done, for the world of lost humanity in general and for us sinners in particular.  It requires sustained obedience to all his commands, up to the limits of our understanding of them.  It requires constant watchfulness against temptations to self-indulgence, and constant battling against sloth, laziness, and indifference to spiritual issues.  It requires respectful and caring treatment of all others as persons created to bear the image of God, and self denial at all points where self-absorption would conflict with and damp down active neighbor-love.  It requires daily holiness, from morning to night, a daily quest for opportunities to bear witness to Christ, and daily prayer for the furthering of Christ's kingdom and the blessing of needy people.

There is joy in laboring wholeheartedly to please Christ, as Paul knew, but there is no denying that, as Isaac Watts put it, "love so amazing so divine [as Christ's love, supremely displayed at the cross], demands my soul, my life, my all."    

And then Packer shares an illustration C.S.Lewis used to describe the Christian's continued pursuit of Christ, continued service of Christ....  

"Lewis asks, what is it that a man in love wants when he courts the girl, woos her, and gets engaged to her with a view to marrying her?  Answer:  he wants more of the relationship with her that he has already begun.  He wants the deepest, richest, most satisfying mode of togetherness with her that it is possible for him to have.  He wants, in other words, more of what he has already."  (p35)

Hebrew and Greek are far from my Chinese-English brain, and I can't pretend to be scholar, but I've heard enough great sermons of pastors mentioning that Matthew 7:7, when we're told to ask, that it's really "ask and keep asking" and "knock, and keep knocking."  

I have no idea if it's there in the original languages but I think it must also be true for "abide in Me"(John 15) and for "we make it our aim to please him"; I've got to remember that's a present continuous thing too.  I'm not going to arrive at this place, a line in the sand of "now I've mastered abiding in Christ".... like I could coast on from there.  It's just not going to happen.  Just like getting the house clean is never going to last 60 seconds.  This is life.  Abide in Christ, and keep at it, keep abiding.  Aim to please him and keep ever after it, hard after it.  Like the lover who is already pledged to marry or already married, but who wants more, still more...  Run hard after that one end.... the prize of His smile and embrace.   

And for the moments when I shockingly feel like I may have hit target?   Rejoice!   Enjoy that thrill and know that it won't last long. The moments and days of falling far from target are the vast majority.  But rejoice then too.... because the Savior has come for just this!  For just me and for every failure, every flaw for everyone of us.    He has promised rescue and redemption and love, always love.  So aim and keep aiming, attending to His Word, and always aiming for more for His glory.  This is joy..... This is Life!

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