Monday, June 4, 2012

Joyous Struggles

I've talked before about living in the flesh as opposed to the spirit.  Living in the flesh, Paul tells us, is death, REAL death, spiritual death.  Why?  Because if we are feeding the flesh, and the flesh is fed with worldly distractions and pleasures, the spirit atrophies.  We have a nice fat flesh on us, when we pass through the veil of physical death, and when God's refiner's fire hits us, all flesh is burned away, to prepare us for a new body.  All flesh is gone. All that is left is spirit.  If we have not been feeding our spirit, if we have been feeding our flesh INSTEAD of our spirit, our spirit is withered away and small, practically non-existent.  There is nothing left of us.  Complete physical and spiritual death.

But if we feed our spirit on the Word of God, our spirit grows, it thrives.  When the refiner's fire hits us, the flesh is burned away, but the healthy spirit remains.  God can breathe new life in that spirit and cause it to grow.  We have something which can have a relationship with God.  This is everlasting life.  We will be sons and daughters of God.

How do we feed this spirit?  By reading the Word?  That sounds too easy!  Well, it IS that easy, but the sin in us, the distractions of the world, and the devil himself are set against us.  They want to keep us from reading the Word and praying to the Lord.  But we have the spirit of God in us.  The Holy Spirit does all the work.  We do not come to Christ unless the Spirit draws us.  We cannot pick up the Word of God and read unless the Spirit draws us.  As Paul says, we cannot cry out Abba! Father! unless the Spirit forms the words in our throat and lets them come out.

Someone who does not have the spirit does not think of these things.  It's not like they are struggling to cry out Abba! Father!  They are not struggling to pray.  They are not struggling to pick up the Word of God and read.  They are not drawn.  They do not even think of it.  Without the spirit, we are left to freely choose the lesser of two evils.  Either one is evil.  To choose God, God first has to choose you.

Praying may be a struggle for us.  Reading the Word may be a struggle for us.  Calling out to the Father may be a struggle for us.  But thank God it is a struggle for us.  Someone whom God has not called is not struggling AT ALL with this.  They don't even think of it.  It is not option.  It is not an aspect of their lives that requires any consideration.

Let us thank God that we struggle, because in that struggle we are thinking of God.  We are reaching out to Him.  We are crying Abba!  Nicodemus became a Christian.  How do I know?  He reached out to Jesus.  The Spirit led him to do so.  This did not even enter the other Pharisees' minds.  Christ tells him one of the most powerful statements in the Bible.  Unless one is born again, born from above, as the NRSV reads, he cannot SEE the kingdom of God.  We haven't even gotten to the place where one can ENTER the kingdom of God.  We are only talking about SEEing the kingdom of God.

This whole passage has Nicodemus struggling to understand.  This is good news for Nicodemus.  His struggling to understand means that the Spirit is drawing him to Christ.  The only thing holding Nicodemus back is his own flesh.  We see at the end of the book of John that Nicodemus is one of the men who takes his body down from the cross, prepares it, and entombs it.  Nicodemus' spirit has won the battle.  He is no longer feeding his flesh but his spirit.

Struggles are good.  They make us stronger.  James tells us that we should count it all joy when we meet trials of various kinds, because the testing of our faith produces steadfastness, feeding our spirits, so that when the refiner's fire hits us, our spirit will remain, healthy and thirsting for direct relationship with God.

Jesus struggled in the garden.  He knelt and prayed and sweated blood, he was so stressed out.  He asked the Father to take the cup he had to drink from him, but he knew all along that it was the Father's will that needed to be accomplished, and that was the whole reason Jesus came to Earth.  He persevered.  Christ's spirit prevailed.

When someone is lost, he does not know where to go, or he cannot find the way home.  He is trapped. Or he is in the darkness.  Blind to his surroundings.  Unable to have any sense of direction. He does not know where to even begin.  When we struggle with our faith, we need to consider it joy, because we know where we are going—we know the destination.  We may have trouble finding the path in the darkness, but we know there IS a path.  We are not blind.  We can see the kingdom of God, because we are born again from above.  The light of the world will guide our path.  It will be a struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but at least it is a struggle toward the goal of everlasting life.  As long as we have this goal in mind, we can call ourselves children of God, no matter how far along the path we are.