I’m sure you’ll have some cosmic rationale
But here you are with your faith
And your Peter Pan advice
You have no scars on your face
And you cannot handle pressure
(Billy Joel, “Pressure”)
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (Jesus, the Gospel of John 16:33)
The Greek word for “tribulation” in John 16:33 literally means pressure. So Billy Joel actually had the right description of our lives in this world— they are full of pressure.
He was also right about things that come up short in our struggle to handle pressure: philosophy (“cosmic rationale”), religious trappings (“faith”), pop psychology (“Peter Pan advice”). Sometimes people who spout any of these supposed solutions, either out of good or ill intent, would not do so if they had truly been through intense struggle (“you have no scars on your face”).
What Mr. Joel could not tell us, however, is what does work, what really does allow us to handle pressure.
In John 14-16 Jesus is speaking to his disciples for the last time before his death. He knows they will soon experience pressure unlike anything they have before. He tells them that He is the way (John 14:6), that He will send another Helper, the Holy Spirit, to them (John 14:26), and that by abiding in Him as a branch does in a grapevine will be their path to life (John 15:4).
So, in this last verse Jesus says the reason He has spoken all of the words in the preceeding 3 chapters is for them to understand this:
in Jesus–>peace in the world–>pressure
And just in case they had a doubt as to whether they could really withstand the pressure of the world in Jesus, he reminded them to take heart, for He had overcome(nikao) the world. Nikao in the Greek is a verb derivative of the Greek goddess of athletic victory. You might know her by the name of her overpriced shoes— Nike.
There really is a respite, a fortress, an armour against the pressure of the world, and it consists of abiding within the One who emerged victorious over everything the world handed Him– even death. If we wish to learn to handle pressure, our path is to learn to abide in Jesus.
Seeing and savoring Christ’s glory is the spring of all endless joy. —John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy
Why does that statement ring hollow to my soul so often? My intellect assents to its truth, but my heart still doubts.
Why is that? Because I tend to fall into one of two traps: either I am too caught up in the pursuit of earthly joys or too distraught by my earthly sorrows. In either case, my pursuit of joy in Christ and His glory suffers. But how do I pursue this joy that only comes from Christ?
First, Christ’s joy comes from the indwelling of the Spirit. If I have been truly born again, Christ has given me a new heart which the Spirit Himself dwells in. Jesus compared the Spirit to a spring of endless living water pouring forth (John 4:14). He is the source that will grow the fruit of joy within me(Galatians 5:22)(Romans 14:17).
Second, Christ’s joy comes by looking with the eyes of faith. I am so accustomed to receiving joy from something I see with my eyes or touch with my hands. But I cannot yet see Christ with my physical eyes; I must see Him and enjoy Him through faith. 1 Peter 1:8 teaches that, “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.”
Third, Christ’s joy comes through abiding in Him. John 15:11 promises me fullness of joy, but it connects my joy with my abiding in Christ’s love and obedience of His commandments. When my abiding is broken by straying from His commandments or turning away from His love, I will not experience His joy.
Fourth, Christ’s joy comes through a life of prayer. John 16:24 promises me that as I engage in Kingdom-focused prayer and see God respond and His kingdom advance, my joy will be multiplied as others receive and grow in the glorious joy of Christ.
If someone today wrote a book titled Communion with God, it would likely have the subtitle “How you too can in five easy steps feel as close to God as I do!!!” Fortunately, we get much, much more from John Owen in this brilliant book.
The word communion means a sharing through a relationship. Owen explains that “our communion with God lies in his giving himself to us and our giving ourselves and all that he requires to him…resting in him as the utmost fulfilment of all our desires.” Owen teaches the foundation and nature of our relationship with God, what God gives to us to receive and what we can in turn give to God, and how we can draw closer to God through understanding our communion with Him. This is an extended Scriptural exposition on the subject (sorry, no trite story illustrations), packed with hundreds of Scripture references on almost every page.
Owen has separate sections on the nature of communion with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. He notes that the primary way we commune with the Father is through love: “It is God’s will that he should always be seen as gentle, kind, tender, loving and unchangeable. It is his will that we see him as the Father, and the great fountain and reservoir of all grace and love.”
The bulk of the book concerns itself with our communion with Christ in grace. There are separate chapters on the glories and excellencies of Christ, the wisdom and knowledge of Christ, the purchased nature of our grace in Christ, acceptance with God, holiness, and the privileges we have through Christ’s grace.
Owen next deals with the Holy Spirit, first explaining the foundation of our communion (the Spirit’s being sent as Comforter and Helper by Christ), and then going on to the work of the Spirit in our lives such as to bring us the remembrance of Christ’s words, to glorify Christ, to pour God’s love into our hearts, to bear witness in our heart, to seal us, to annoint us, and to be the deposit in our hearts of things to come. He ends the book with how to have fellowship with the Holy Spirit, contrasting that rich relationship with the false comfort of people without Christ.
Communion with God is a book you will underline and mark and meditate on, and hopefully come back to again and again to refresh your heart and mind on the nature and glory of our blessed communion with the Trinity.
More information on the book from Amazon.com is here.
Also posted on soapadoo.
I wasn’t really expecting getting my first traffic ticket a few years ago to teach me anything about Christ’s presence. But while standing in the darkness of the night in my driveway, holding the ticket in my hand, God had something to say. And so I listened, and I wrote:
Every moment of my life is a gift to be cherished,
For every moment is an invitation from God
To pursue the deepest desire of my heart,
Which is intimacy with the One
Whom I love and treasure supremely.
Every moment is to be seized and savored or else squandered.
Every moment beckons me to fulfill Christ’s prophecy
That I will love Him with all my heart, with all my soul,
With all my mind, and with all my strength.
Every moment draws me to abide in Christ,
And have my life hidden in Him.
Every moment I must choose.
If I choose to abide in myself,
I choose that my way is better than God’s,
That by my maneuvering or planning or controlling of circumstances,
My life will turn out better.
This is foolish and the root of sin.
If I choose to abide in a lesser treasure,
I choose to value something above intimacy with Christ.
This is idolatry.
I choose to value Christ above myself,
Above my circumstances,
Above all else.
I choose to abide in Christ.
I have been reminded of the truth of those words again and again. Larry Crabb talks about perceiving where you are spiritually, to be able to see “where your red dot is” (to use an analogy of the maps you find posted in shopping malls.) I am always abiding someplace. I am either abiding in myself, or abiding in something else, or abiding in Christ. The trick is to take a second, stop myself, and see where I am abiding— and if it is not in Christ, to recognize it and move. To learn how to remain in Christ and not be pulled away is one of those great tasks of spiritual maturity that I think I will be working on the rest of my life.
I was filling up my car’s gas tank at the station the other day, complaining as usual about the cost, when I saw a man drive up, park his car by the pump, and then walk into the store. He came out with a couple of 2-liters of Pepsi, which he then proceeded to pour into his tank. He got back into his car, tried in vain to start his engine, got out, mumbled to himself, “There must not be enough in there,” and went back into the store. He soon returned with two more 2-liters of Pepsi, which he again poured into his gas tank. He again tried to start the car, and this time with a little more frustration in his voice remarked, “There’s not enough Pepsi in my gas tank!” This whole scenario played itself out a third and a fourth time, until there was Pepsi literally running over the tank opening down the side of the car.
Finally, I asked him, “Why are you putting Pepsi into your gas tank?” Looking at me like I had just arrived from Mars, he replied, “What kind of a question is that? My tank is empty, and I’ve got to put something in it. Pepsi tastes great, it’s on sale, it’s popular, that new Pepsi commercial is hilarious, what more reason do you want? I’ve got a long, rough drive ahead and I need something that will get me there.” I answered, “Have you considered that just maybe Pepsi, although it is all those things you said, and I happen to enjoy it too, just wasn’t made for filling a gas tank? That maybe the problem isn’t not enough Pepsi, but that you need something else entirely? That you’re always going to be frustrated and that your engine will never run as long as you keep putting Pepsi in it?” He seemed to ponder that thought for a while, then turned back to go into the store. As I drove away I think I heard him say, “Maybe diet Coke will work better.”
If you haven’t figured out the point of my strange little parable yet, the man’s gas tank is his soul, and the Pepsi could really be Pepsi (20% of all American calories consumed last year were liquid!), or chocolate, or watching NASCAR, or a romance novel, or sex, or a promotion, or seeing your kids make the honor roll, or even becoming a reptile in the TLLB (inside joke for the bloggers out there!).
There’s not anything inherently evil in any of those things of this world, and we can enjoy all of them. But it’s useless to try and fill up our soul with them; they’re not the right “fuel” at all. Yet, isn’t it true that the harder the “road” ahead, the more we try to fill up our soul with them? And we end up feeling empty or frustrated or out of control, and we wonder what the problem is? And then we try to fix the emptiness in our soul with just more of the same, because we conclude that there just must not be enough “Pepsi in our tank”? Jeremiah 2:13 speaks rather pointedly to the predicament we create: “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
Look at the parable of the rich fool in Luke 6:13-21:
And Jesus said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
This man just kept pouring in more “Pepsi”— he even thought about buying a bigger “gas tank”! But Jesus said that his soul was in want, for he was not “rich toward God.” He saw his life consisting “in the abundance of his possessions,” and he turned out to be wrong, dead wrong.
He wasn’t the first. Think about Solomon. He poured in the Pepsi by the truckload— the finest food every day eaten off solid gold, thousands of horses & chariots, his own merchant fleet, tons (yes, literally tons) of gold in his treasury, and a thousand different women at his command just to give him enough variety. But in the end, even posessing everything that he desired wasn’t enough, he bitterly found it to be “vanity and grasping for the wind.”
Are we within the church today any different? Aren’t we pouring in the Pepsi, and never thinking there’s enough in our tank? Aren’t we? When obesity and divorce and bankruptcy and pornography addiction are epidemic among us? When church members living in one of the richest countries in the world on average give less than five percent of their income to their local church? When it is hard to find virtually any demographic which shows that churchgoers are “buying Pepsi” of any sort (affairs, television viewing, consumer spending, take your pick) any less often than non-Christians?
Why do we keep going back to these broken cisterns? Maybe because “the road ahead is hard”, that life is hard, harder than we thought at first, and the things of this world seem to help, a little, at first. And when they don’t help as much as we hoped or as much as they used to, we frantically search for more Pepsi or maybe switch to diet Coke, not realizing the problem actually is that we are pouring into “broken cisterns that can hold no water.”
So, what is the answer to filling your gas tank in a sin-stricken, hardship-filled world? We can’t just run on empty— that’s a recepie for burnout, despair, or worse. So what can we do? What is the secret when your tank is empty, when you have a deep, yawning chasm in your soul because of a lost job, a disappointing relationship, a dying parent, a car that keeps breaking down, or a million other things that go wrong every day for all of us?
Paul said he had found the secret in Phillipians chapter 4:
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
Paul says that he had learned the secret of facing any situation. What was it? He had found a source of strength for his soul that was completely independent of his posessions or circumstances, one that would never fail, no matter what the situation. He had learned the secret of drawing strength from abiding in Christ.
Jesus told us both our need and our answer:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)
Jesus knew that the road was hard, and He knew our need to fill our tanks. He offered something more precious than Pepsi, chocolate, sex, or gold— He offered us Himself. If we will only take the time to turn our gaze from the world and turn it to Christ and abide in Him, we can learn to stop using the things of this world to fill our tank, to stop trying to draw strength or comfort or pleasure from the things that cannot truly satisfy. Instead, we can learn to drink deeply, yes, to our fill and to overflowing, as much as we desire, of the living water which is found only in Christ.
For this week’s Monday Media Meltdown, we start out with a trivia question: What do all of the above characters have in common?
The answer, which is obvious to Brit sci-fi lovers, is the title of this post—they have all been “traveling with the Doctor.”
For the unintiated, “the Doctor” refers to Doctor Who, the much-beloved BBC sci-fi series. The Doctor is always galavanting about saving the world and picking up various companions in tow, as the above pictures attest.
So, our next question is: How could you tell if someone had been traveling with the Doctor?
This question came to me one evening while I watched the famed “Five Doctors” episode along with “The Unquiet Dead” episode of the 2005 season, giving me six doctors and a whole slew of companions in one evening. As I was in my mini Who marathon, I asked myself: If you would travel with the Doctor, what would characterize your life?
First, it would be a life of adventure. Life is never boring for long around the Doctor. There are always new experiences, new places, and exciting events. In fact, he usually isn’t happy unless something is going on. In “The Unquiet Dead” episode he & Rose are walking down a quiet street when screams & mayhem erupt in the distance. With a smile on his face the Doctor announces, “That’s more like it!”
Second, it would be a life of battling against evil. The Doctor isn’t a vigilante looking to pick a fight, but he will not walk away when people need to be saved. He has laid his life on the line or even given it up to save others in nearly every episode. The people who travel with him both know it, expect it, and join him in it. In “The Unquiet Dead” the Doctor & Rose are facing imminent death at the hands of some evil aliens (as usual!), and she faces him and says, “We’re going out fighting?” He nods his head, she grasps his hand, and asks the single word, “Together?”
Which brings us to the third aspect of traveling with the Doctor, enriching relationship. Yes, his interpersonal skills need some work, but in the end his companions stick around not for the adventure or even the battle, but because of their relationship with him. He makes no apology that to travel with him can be dangerous, but he also revels in its excitement and there is something in him that wants to share the journey. In the same episode, after the Doctor describes the wonders of traveling through space & time, Rose impishly adds, “Better with two!”
These three marks of traveling with the Doctor, adventure, battle, and relationship, are profound and archetypal human needs for all of us (those of you who are John Eldredge fans may recognize them from his writings). They are part of the wide and enduring appeal of the series, and they are always present within the stories.
Which brings us to the third hypothetical question (hypothethical since the Doctor isn’t real): What if someone said, “Yes, I’ve traveled a long time with the Doctor, I know him well, but never had an adventure, never battled against evil, and never really struck up a relationship.”? I would be likely to respond, “If you’ve never experienced any of that, you’ve never really traveled with the Doctor.”
Which brings me to the point of this extended metaphor: If I consider myself a Christian, if I say I am traveling with Christ, then I am not in the company of a time-lord, but with the Lord of Time, not some fanciful fiction but with the ultimate reality, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
If I’m truly a follower of Christ, staying close by Him, shouldn’t my life be marked by adventure every day as I serve and love and teach and minister in His name? Shouldn’t my life be marked by battling against evil, whether social injustice or people bound by sin or sickness? Shouldn’t my life be marked by life-transforming relationship, both with Christ and with my brothers and sisters in Christ?
But how many people who name the name of Christ can truthfully say they are living a life of adventure, of battle, of transforming relationships? Too few, I’m afraid. How about you?
There once was a study done that showed that if a salesman would repeat his product’s name 5 times in conversing with a customer, his sales would increase. If the customer would remember just one thing, the salesman wanted the name of the product burned into his subconscious. Teachers have known the same thing for years—you repeat over and over what is going to be on the test, because you want your students to do well.
In John 15, Jesus is having the last conversation with the disciples before His crucifixion. The Great Teacher knew that his students were about to face their “final exam”, their greatest test—when He would be physically separated from them and they would watch him horribly die.
What did Jesus absolutely want his disciples to remember? What did he want burned into their minds? Three simple words: “Abide in Me.” Jesus just doesn’t say it once; He uses some variant of the phrase 5 times in 4 verses. I’m not aware of any similar passage in the gospels with this level of repetition. Just like a tutor helping in last-minute cramming, over and over Jesus said “Abide in Me”.
Could it be that Jesus is whispering the same to us in our trials? Could it be that above “I’ll fix it” or “Don’t worry” or “it will be all right” or “just hang on”, that Jesus more than anything is wanting us just to “Abide in Me”? Could it be that you need to respond to Christ today, not with promises or pledges or deeds, but first with a desire to abide in Him?