Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Perseverance AKA "The Hard Lesson"

Heh. This is simply going to be one of those posts, then, isn't it? No, I'm not going to start Bible thumping or hurling proverbial lightning bolts, but the reader just can't appreciate how scatterbrained I am over here. If I wanted any semblance of authority, I'd aim for a lot more transparency and delete this paragraph. But I need this one. This is my launching pad. I'd suggest I've gotten sick of watching a blinking cursor, but the fact is my gaze has long drifted from the screen. Not only am I in a season where my commitment is being tested daily, I'm finding that the narrow margins by which I scrape by are seeping into my ability to write about the very subject that is both plaguing and rewarding me in ways I couldn't begin to articulate.

Earlier tonight, I alluded in conversation to the first couple months of my Christian walk. The response I got was very insightful and accurate: it's like a honeymoon, only with the Creator of the universe. No arguments here, but my poor articulation really glossed over the point I was trying to make, which was not that I was on fire for God, but that it was made pretty darned easy to be that way. As it happened, my job situation was absurdly flexible--so flexible, in fact, that many consecutive days afforded me enough time to read anywhere from 30 to 60 (yes, 60) pages of Scripture.

Believe me, if you want to test whether there's any validity to God's existence, commit yourself to sincerely reading the Bible and tell me if you find yourself addicted to any of your old vices. The crux is in approaching it without bias, but I assure you the result will be a strange but genuine release from the bondage of your innermost stumbling blocks. Maybe Scripture was the whole "secret" to my early success. Maybe I should make that point and end this post, resign myself to reading the Bible in every spare moment I have, and perhaps that way I can avoid some of the tests to which I've been subjected lately. But it doesn't seem that I am presently in such a season of life.

I have to note the above point, that I was so invested in my new life that I really tore through the Instruction Manual. It probably sounds like I'm boasting, which is not my intention, but let me here burst my own bubble in case there are any sets of eyes rolling backward out there. My focus has been sorely lacking, and I read significantly less. Even on my "good days." Now then, finally getting to my point, I'm starting to feel that I've lost the reason for it all. I'm starting to feel like life is utterly dragging its feet about getting a move on, and I don't think it's a coincidence. God doesn't desire fickle servants, and even in the moments when I wouldn't [necessarily] consider myself a victim of spiritual attacks, I find life really lacks a certain...magic. In other words, now that God has called me to exhibit patience--or extreme patience, as it feels to me--will I prove faithful?

The honest to goodness truth is this: while I have hardly been at risk of renouncing my faith, I have been very lackadaisical about it. Often. It seemed in my earliest months of belief that I was not only feeling a rejuvenated spirit but that I had been suddenly bestowed with an absolute mastery over my vices. There were entire chunks of times, consecutive days and weeks, when I was hardly tempted at all. Sure, we all sin in our minds, but my self-control was impeccable for remarkable (for me) stretches. Now, daily, it feels like I'm being utterly drilled. It's gotten so exhausting that I often feel like succumbing to my sinful desires just so I can steal a bit of rest. As I said in an earlier post, fighting this battle is a daily challenge. It was very unchallenging in the early days. It spoiled me.

But I suppose God needed to protect me then. Heck, for all I know, He does the same thing for all new believers. And then you enter into a new season when He has to up the ante. I don't know what the common reaction is, but mine could be expressed in these terms: "What the heck changed? Why am I fighting this alone now?" I think I also mentioned this in an earlier post, but my recent jaunt through the New Testament made me feel really uncomfortable. Too often did I see it mentioned that God calls us to not only persevere, but to be thankful in the process. Thankful? It feels like I'm drowning here. Like all people, I need to feel there's a point to it. As mature believers already know, there is. The problem with it is not that the reward isn't breathtakingly amazing; it's that the reward for perseverance is an even more challenging test that threatens with greater force to knock the faith right out of you. When I was a new believer, I might have scoffed at this:

James 1:4
Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Some of you have noticed that I glossed over one of the most, erm, unsettling verses in the Bible. You know, the part about considering it pure joy and all that. In my Christian circle, I've heard this corny joke more than once: "The book of James; that's your book!" Or something to that effect. (And for the record, no one tells cornier Bible jokes than I do.)

Moving along, I'd like to respond earnestly to something spoken in jest. I would not have written that book unless God explicitly wrote it through me. I guess it's the same thing for all the prophets and Biblical authors. Every one who contributed to the Bible's 66 books had to write about ideals they couldn't, and didn't, achieve. This one in particular makes me uncomfortable. As much as I struggle with perseverance, it is much easier to persevere than to enjoy the process of persevering. Those are two entirely different machines; aren't they?

So the point I'd like to make in closing is this: Not that it functions as an excuse, and not that I'd like to salt any wounds that James the brother of Jesus might have felt, but isn't it easy to forget that he once embodied the antithetic principle? He certainly antagonized Jesus prior to the resurrection. However, it doesn't mean we shouldn't consider his words as credible, nor should we consider him a less than credible authority on this subject. He suffered for his ministry, and the Bible is utterly clear that to be a Christ follower one must not only deny himself but suffer in the name of Jesus and for the sake of the gospel and for Him.

As for me, I don't feel much satisfaction in venting here. I still feel that life is dragging and wearing at me like the waves erode the shoreline. But if I am the least bit closer to being complete, I need to celebrate that. Again, I'm not boasting here, because I don't feel like I've really accomplished anything. It feels more like I'm staving off death and indulging in life. It feels like I have heavy chains around my feet as I try to move forward. But I still want to be made complete. I've stumbled many times on the way, but I haven't fallen. It ain't time to raise any banners yet, but it ain't time to burn them either.


Blogger James said...

Not to read too much into things, as is my tendency, but within seconds of finishing this post, what did I find and kill in this house but a friggin' locust? Honestly.


26/6/08 00:20  

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