Monday, August 24, 2009

One Day at a Time

Ask anyone in recovery, whether it’s a member of Alcoholic Anonymous, a person in drug rehab, or a man struggling with porn addiction, and they’ll say this: you have to do it one day at a time. It’s no good looking far into the future and imagining what it’s like to be free of whatever addiction or demon besets us. We can only live in the moment, and do our best to make good decisions today, this day. We’ve all heard this so often that it has become something of a cliché. One day at a time, we hear from counselors, from friends, from mentors, from out accountability partners. We hear it so much that we are a bit dead to it.

But it’s not mere cliché. For that matter, a saying only becomes a cliché because it contains truth. If there were no truth there, it wouldn’t be repeated enough to become cliché. A cliché is a proverb that has had a lot of success.

In the case of “One day at a time,” the cliché originates with . . . Jesus. He said it in Matthew 6:-34:

“Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

In the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow. It’s another way of saying one day at a time.

And it’s great wisdom. We cannot change tomorrow. Yet. We can only change tomorrow when it comes to us. We must receive the blessings and trials of each day as they come.

Easy said, right? Not so easy to do. But, really, what else can we do? We are all locked within time. Not a one of us can reach forward to tomorrow or backward to yesterday.

Also, look at the verses just before this in Matthew. Jesus is talking about worry and how it is contrary to dependence on God. The pagans worry, he says. But God knows what we need, and we should be about seeking the Kingdom.

So, we should deal with one day at a time when it comes to our food and our clothing. Makes sense that it should apply to the strength we need to resist temptation or do the right thing, too.

For that matter, even God deals with each day as it comes. I know, you’re going to say that God is outside of time, that he’s eternal. A day is as a thousand years to God.

And you’re right. God is outside of time. But we are not. So much of what God does uses, even depends on us. He used Noah, and Abraham, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Moses, and Joshua, and David, and Solomon . . . you get the point. God is outside of time, but we are locked in it. And God has always, since he created Adam and Eve, worked with the people he created. Sinful though we are, frail and foolish as we are, he works with us. He created us to be his allies. And since the day when we turned against him, he has worked to make us strong allies, soldiers in his war against Satan and the third of the angels who rebelled with him.

There can be only one reason for this. He loves us.

And because he loves us, he provides for us, works through us, and lives in us.

One day at a time.

So, the next time someone tells you to live one day at a time, take heart. Know that God is living this day with you. Look beyond the cliché, and see the one who made this day. He’ll make another one tomorrow, and give you everything you need to get through it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Resisting the Devil

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
James 4:7

Something I heard recently has bearing on my last post, Pray Hard. I am very familiar with this verse, and I've quoted it to a lot of people. Unfortunately, my understanding of this verse (and I'm not alone) has been somewhat inadequate. It all stems from translation and not knowing the culture in which this was originally written. Thanks to Patrick Mead for pointing this out to me in one of his recent lessons.

There are a lot of sporting terms in the New Testament. That's hardly surprising. The Greeks, if you remember, started the Olympics, and they had conquered everything from the Adriatic to India. Greek was the language of trade and literature, and Greek social customs and terms had filtered out into all the cultures they touched.

When James speaks of resisting the devil, he is using a sporting term. It is from a type of wrestling where the participants wrestle to the death. It had a specific meaning to James' readers, but over the intervening years and through translation we have lost that meaning.

That kind of puts a different slant on "Resist the devil," doesn't it. We have had this idea of just saying, "get away, Satan", and he heads for the hills, screaming like a little girl. That couldn't be further from the truth. What James is saying is that we have to fight hard against Satan, resisting him even to the death, and he will flee. We have to be willing to give everything, even our lives, in the battle against him.

Really, this should not be shocking to us. Look at 1 Peter 5:8-9:

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

I don't know about you, but I've never lived in a place where lions roam. We think of lions as those big, placid cats at the zoo. Those who live with lions know to fear them. An adult lion can be over 450 pounds, and can kill and carry off a grown man with as little trouble as a cat playing with a mouse. Does it make any sense that you can just resist a lion with a glance or a word and it will leave you alone? In addition, look at the last part of those verses. Do you think those folks being persecuted could just say, "leave me alone, Devil," and their persecution stopped?

Look also at Hebrews 12:4:

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Umm . . . didn't that say something about shedding blood?

This is not a picnic day in the park we have signed up for. It's a battle. God is at war, and we are soldiers in the line. Nobody said it would be easy. There will be casualties. Our leader and savior was crucified. He told us that we needed to pick up a cross to follow him. I think that might be a hint.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Pray Hard

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. "Why are you sleeping?" he asked them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation."
Luke 22: 45-46

It's funny how you can read a passage of scripture repeatedly throughout your life, and then one day it will just jump out at you. That happened with this passage. And I wasn't even reading the passage. I was actually listening to Luke on my iPod.

The first thing that hit me was that the disciples were exhausted from sorrow. They were grieving because Jesus was grieving, and that wore them out. If you remember, this was in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed so intensely that his "sweat fell like drops of blood." Apparently, the disciples weren't up to this. They fell asleep.

But Jesus was up to it. That tells me what a mighty man Jesus was. The disciples were a rough lot. Most of them were zealots, most of them men who made their living with their hands and their strength. But Jesus prayed intensely while they fell asleep.

But the thing that hit me hardest was what Jesus said to them. "Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation." How many times have I read that and missed it? None of us wants to fall into temptation. We all want to have the strength to resist. So, what's the secret?


That's it. Just pray. I'm assuming that Jesus wouldn't have told the disciples to do it unless it was effective against temptation. Pretty safe assumption, wouldn't you agree? There we have it in Jesus' own words. Pray so you will not fall into temptation. Considering what Jesus is going through here, I suspect he's not talking about a quick "Help me, God. Amen." He's talking about struggling in prayer, wrestling in prayer. Praying against resistance.

Praying hard.

Generally, we fall into sin because we are weak, or because we are willful. We've all seen both sides of that coin.

But maybe, just maybe we didn't pray enough, or hard enough.