July 29, 2012

Selecting my wardrobe

Any beloved activity begins with a zeal and energy that drives me. I make progress because of enthusiasm. Then reality hits and I realize that if I am going to finish this activity, I must press on, even enduring drudgery and lack of motivation. 
Making a large quilt is one example. I’m excited by the design and color and begin with great desire. Planning it and doing the initial work is fun. I’m filled with anticipation of the finished project. However, after cutting out 270 triangles and 350 squares (or whatever this project calls for), I start calculating how long it will be before I am finished. In many cases, I am tired before the half-way point, and must simply press on if this project is going to be completed.

Sometimes I feel like that about my spiritual life. The goal is being like Jesus, and that is exciting. I began with great enthusiasm and anticipation. Yet as the years go by, the closer I want to be to God, the farther I feel I am from that goal. I see sin in me that I never saw in the beginning. Like a relentless army of locusts, all sorts of bad attitudes, selfishness and indifference march into my head. There seems no end in sight. Instead of being excited about making progress, I feel like any small step forward leads to three or four steps backwards. Without the promises of God, I’m certain that I would give up.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you…. (Colossians 3:2–5)
Paul wrote this to people just like me. My mind strays to the stuff of the world. Would it not be easier to grow and become more proficient with those things? I know all of them are temporary and do not matter for eternity, but at least a prize here and a compliment there feels as if I’m accomplishing something. The business of being dead to sin and living by the power of the Holy Spirit should be fresh each day, even exciting, but some days not so much. I need to read passages like this one, reminding me that walking with Christ may be uphill, but it is glorious, not drudgery. It is also a choice.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:12–17)
The decision to follow Jesus happens to those who are given new life in Him. He gave me a new heart and new life, like a new set of clothing. However, the old stuff is still there. I must choose. I also know that putting on the new life never means that I simply cover the old ways with new ones. Those old ways are dead, separate from the new life of Christ, never mingled. In this put off-put on business, the word is “instead.” God bids me to choose His power, His life, rather than living in the power and characteristics of the old life. He gave me Jesus Christ and eternal life, but He never made me a chess piece that He moves around His kingdom. I must choose.

Oh Lord, at times, choosing new life seems far too difficult. Sometimes I just want to be a spiritual couch potato and watch the world go by, rather than put on all those active qualities of compassion, kindness, meekness, and love. Each of them means giving, sacrifice, doing something. The old clothes of selfishness seem easier and more comfortable. Yet I know that the comfort quickly becomes a poor fit, pinching here and sagging there. You want me to let Jesus rule in my heart, experiencing His peace and joy. That cannot happen unless I get off that easy chair and put on those new clothes.

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