Self-preservation, or…?

Christianity is a battle, not a dream.”  – Wendell Phillips

I’ve written before about my ongoing struggle with fear.  I hold tight to the promises of peace, trusting in the nearness of God to be my good.  I memorize verses that tell me that He is my refuge.  I pray loud that God is my only security, that only in Him can I be safe.  Which is why I came up short the other day to find I was wrong.

© Copyright Jerry Segraves and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Jerry Segraves and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Nowhere am I promised to be safe.  Oh, He will be my refugeHis nearness is, in fact, my good.  He will become my security, but my insatiable need to feel safe will never be met this side of heaven.  I stumbled across one of those charts that you’ve probably seen before.  The ones that contrast “fleshly thinking” with “spirit-filled thinking.”

And this one sets the desire for peace against the acknowledgment that we are in a battle:

“Is self-complacent; craves the peace of mind that relieves him of unwelcome responsibilities.”


“Knows that warfare between good and evil will not allow undisturbed peace.[1]

I’d heard before that peace doesn’t necessarily mean everything goes perfectly.  You only have to look at the cross to recognize that Jesus didn’t mean “trouble free” when he said “My peace I give to you.”

I’d heard how He doesn’t promise to take the storm away, but that He gives you peace in the midst of the storm.

But what if it’s not just a promise to help us endure the storm?  What if it’s a call to get out there and stir one up? 

I spend so many hours hoping that tragedy doesn’t strike that I’m not even truly living.  I remember watching my six-year-old waver on the edges of the dodgeball game during kindergarten recess.  The thought of getting hit with the ball was just too much for him.  I can relate.

But here’s the truth, the one I need to sink down into the depths of my soul: The ball might hit you, and it might hurt, but staying on the sidelines means you never get to play the game.

Lisa Bevere states it this way:

© Copyright Michael Gäbler and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Michael Gäbler and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

“Becoming who God created you to be is both your best offense and your best defense against the enemy’s strategies.  He obviously didn’t stop you from drawing breath. It is now time to keep him from stifling the spiritual seed God planted inside you.  When the enemy oppresses, it is always because he fears what we might become.”

I think that’s true. The next best thing to making sure you were never born or killing you outright, is sentencing you to a living death where you do absolutely nothing.  Self-preservation is the opposite of the gospel, so how is that I’ve been telling myself God will help me with my pet project of self-security?

Preserving your life doesn’t save it.  It just keeps it.  And what good is a well-kept life? 

I want a well-spent one.  Whole-heartedly, frivolously, even recklessly poured out, because we’ve joined His game, and it’s a wild one.



“Ours should not be the love that asks, ‘How little?’ but ‘how much?’;

the love that pours out its all and revels in the joy of having anything to pour on the feet of its Beloved.

The question ‘what is the harm?’ falls from us and is forgotten when we Calvary, the Crucified, and the risen-again Rabboni of our Souls.”

–Amy Carmichael

[1] Beyond Ourselves, pg. 192

Democracy of the Dead – Gregory of Nazianzus

G.K. Chesterton once said that “Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead…Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”  

To honor that sentiment and to stave off an easy chronological snobbery, today’s post comes straight from the mouths (or pens) of men and women who have died in the faith.

A Prayer from Gregory of Nazianzus

I am spent, O my Christ, breath of my life. 

Cross by George Wharton JamesPerpetual stress and surge, in league together, make long, O long, this life, this business of living.

Grappling with foes within and foes without, my soul has lost its beauty, blurred your image.

Did ever oak such buffeting from winds or ship receive from waves as I do now?  Labor to labor, task succeeds to task…friendship has bowed and illness wasted me…Do not forsake me, my Strength, I beseech you.

When the storms beat hard I may have betrayed you, but let me return to you now.

–Gregory of Nazianzus.

The Good Shepherd

I like to sing the hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” because it helps me recollect that courage is my birthright.

© Copyright Hansueli Krapf and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Hansueli Krapf and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

Sometimes I get frustrated with the slow process, the way my head-faith doesn’t match up with my emotions and heart reality.  Some days the brokenness and self-absorption, the underlying this-is-not-the-way-it-is-supposed-to-be is overwhelming and I just want to hurry up and be sanctified already.  Faith-filled because of insta-healing.  Done with the struggle.

You and I both know that rarely happens.

The good news is that Jesus sticks fast.  He doesn’t leave us to ourselves or abandon us.  He doesn’t even wait for us to realize that we’re broken and self-absorbed.  It’s like parenting a young child.  You don’t tell a two-year-old to quit being so self-focused.  It’s just the way he is at two.  It’s just the way we are in sin.  We’re a mess.

We really are terrified sheep.  See that one over there?  The one who is frenetically racing around the sheepfold, quaking in fear?  See the joyless one?  She’s rushing from one thing to the next, harried by circumstances and hounding memories, and fears of the future.  She’s got raw wounds and infected flesh.

She’s beat up and starved, because she’s so afraid she never sits still long enough to find true nourishment.  She will continue to run, until she actually dies, because she knows no differently.  Even if someone could explain to her why it really doesn’t make sense for her to be afraid given her reality, she would find no peace or rest in that perspective.

© Copyright Michael Gäbler and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Michael Gäbler and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

This sheep on her own will die.  She will die because of her wounds.  And she will die because she is so blinded by herself.

Perhaps someday this sheep will be able to root out the fear and feed in security.  Perhaps she will venture out to the wide-open pastures there for thetaking.  Perhaps not.  Whatever she ends up doing, whatever she does in this present moment, her only hope is to stick close to the shepherd.  She may still hover about his knees, quaking at imagined threats, but he doesn’t mind.  He will protect her from any true threat and give her exactly what she needs.

And do you think any passable shepherd will leave her cringing there at the edge of his cloak?  No, he will gather that wounded scared-to-literal-death sheep in his arms, and carry her close to his bosom.  He’ll do the same for you.  He tends his flock like a shepherd, and he gently leads those who have young.  He invites them to feast on His presence even when they are beset by enemies.  He is with them in the dark moments.  He will lead them beside still waters.  He will restore their souls.

© Copyright Jonathan M and  licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Jonathan M and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!  Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!  

Finding Courage in Music

These past weeks, I’ve been reading with the Lectionary through 1 Samuel, revisiting all the stories of Samuel and David and Saul.

© Copyright Arpingstone and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

© Copyright Arpingstone and licensed for reuse under Wikimedia.

As I read, I look through the thoughts of the Ancient Christian Fathers on each text.  Not only is it fascinating to see how interpretations have varied throughout different periods in church history, but re-reading the early teaching on the Scriptures brings a refreshingly Christocentric interpretation.  For the ancients, every verse is always about Jesus.  I love it.

I’ve lately been puzzling over the ongoing conflict between Saul and David.  There are many layers to it, not least the early church’s teaching that David is a type of Christ, and Saul, his antagonist, represents the scheming of the enemy.  Recently I read 1 Samuel 16:14-23, which records how when David played the lyre, Saul’s spirit was refreshed, and the evil spirit that tormented Saul departed.

I’m not about to tackle what it means that the evil spirit “from the Lord” came upon Saul or how that contributed to Saul’s murderous intentions toward David.  But check out what the leaders of the early church had to say about music and our souls:

“Not that there was any kind of power in [David’s] harp, but, with its wooden frame and the strings stretched across, it was a symbol of the cross of Christ.  It was the passion that was being sung, and it was this which subdued the spirit of the devil.”  — Nicetas of Remesiana

© Copyright Mark Mcintosh and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

© Copyright Mark Mcintosh and licensed for reuse at Wikimedia.

“You, a man of the church, ought to be better instructed by the music of the church than by Pythagoras.  Think what David’s lyre did for Saul…” – Augustine

“So there is no doubt that sounds of music, at the Lord’s command or with his permission, have unleashed great forces.”  – Cassiodorus

I love how Martin Luther is said to have snagged his friend Melancthon to go out and “Sing the 46th!” when  his soul was discouraged.  There are so many great hymns and songs that give courage to our souls, and now that I’ve written this post, I feel as though I should link to the old, classic, theology-laden hymns (which I love in their turn!).  Instead, I’m going to link to this contemporary song I stumbled across last year that has so rallied my soul when it is downcast.  It’s worth a listen right through to the end:


Thank you for visiting. I am a fellow pilgrim, a lover of words, one whose heart had been struck by the Word of the living God. I love him. I trust that his perfect love for me is daily triumphing over my fears: fear of the unknown, fear of all the ugly scars of pain and grief, fear of death and dying, and I look to him to defeat the plague of fear and replace it with newness of life.

My words, prayers and reflections here are offerings of courage, a discipline that helps me take heart and strengthens my will to choose the good. I offer them to you in the hopes that together we might give each courage along the way.

May the Lord ever satisfy you with his Word.