Christians like to quote Philippians 4:13 that tells us we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. It’s not a magic formula and doesn’t keep us from doing things we don’t want to do or even thinking things we’d be better off not thinking. But it is an important part of our lives as Christ’s followers. His strength is our strength and his power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Trusting Jesus doesn’t give us superpowers but as my friend Jan Johnson (author and speaker) likes to say, you can do anything for ten minutes. For example, I can be nice to this person for ten minutes. I can wait patiently in this line for ten minutes. I can love this person for ten minutes, even though they drive me crazy. I’ve been adding Philippians 4:13 to this: for ten minutes I can keep my mouth shut through Christ who gives me strength.
Dying to self is kind of like eating an elephant. How do you eat an elephant, you may ask? One bite at a time. How do I die to self? Perhaps ten minutes at a time, through Christ who gives me strength. For ten minutes I can put aside my desire for (fill-in-the-blank) through him who gives me strength. For ten minutes I can put this person’s needs before mine through him who gives me strength. I can die a little every day, ten minutes at a time – through Christ who gives me strength.
Loneliness has always been a problem in our society. We don’t have the networks of family and friends people had even in the last century. And now with social media and cell phones seemingly growing out of people’s arms, we have even fewer personal connections and more loneliness. The stay-at-home orders haven’t helped either, though some have been trying to connect more online.
If you’ve been reading my blog over the past few weeks, you may remember what Jan Johnson said in one of the sessions of the Trusting God retreat. She said it’s never just me and the pipe, meaning whatever we’re facing, we’re not alone. Jesus is always there to help. I don’t recall anyone mentioning loneliness when attendees chimed in with their situations, but it certainly should have made the list.
Christian Kettler, in an interview on gci.org, talked about the vicarious humanity of Christ and how we don’t take it seriously enough. In his humanity, he has taken on our despair, our doubt and our anxiety. When Jesus prayed on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Kettler says he was praying on our behalf, taking our despair to the Father and in doing so, healing it. Kettler says, “We are not alone in that despair. We are not alone in our aloneness. We may still be lonely, but we’re not lonely alone. Jesus is lonely with us.”
How encouraging to anyone who has ever felt alone or lonely (I’m pretty sure that includes all of us), to know we aren’t lonely alone. Knowing this means we don’t ever have to feel lonely again.
P.S. This is my 500th post! Thanks to everyone who’s been reading and supporting me these past several years. Love and blessings to all!
One of the few true freedoms we have is what we do with our minds. We are free to think about whatever we want. We can go anywhere in our imaginations, which is one of the reasons I love to read. I can go back or forward in time; explore outer space or become embroiled in a mystery. We can create, plan, solve problems – or get ourselves in trouble.
Controlling where our thoughts take us is difficult, but so very important. If we let our thoughts go in negative or destructive directions, our actions will likely follow. (For an in-depth study of this, I recommend The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.) It’s easy to get caught up in worry and anxiety, especially when situations in life seem – or are – out of our control.
What can we do about wayward thoughts and rabbit holes of negativity and discouragement? We can do as Jan Johnson suggests in the Trusting God retreat: make the pivot. As some of the psalmists did, process your feelings with God, rant and rave a little if necessary, lament and cry. And don’t worry – he can take it. Then pivot back to him, remembering the reality of who he is and what he’s done for us. And as always, he’s the one who can help us make the pivot. We’re never on our own, even when we’re down in the dumps or angry at life.
I was happy to learn that some of you signed up for the Trusting God retreat with Jan Johnson and Matt Rhodes. I hope you were able either to listen live or to have accessed the recorded event. I also hope you enjoyed it and benefited from the teaching and interaction.
One lesson really helped me and has stuck in my mind since I heard it from Jan. She told the story of how she mentioned to Dallas Willard that she had been struggling with a pipe and felt the problem was insurmountable. He told her it was never just her and the pipe – Jesus was with her and she was never alone. Then Jan asked attendees to share their problem, phrasing it as “It’s not just me and _______.”
It’s not just me and this computer. It’s not just me and this flat tire. It’s not just me and this tree root. It’s not just me and this person I’m arguing with. What a great way to look at trials and frustrating situations. It’s never just me alone with whatever is going on in my life. God is always with me, always on my side and when I ask, he helps me figure it out – or gives me peace about it.
Learning to trust God is a daily, ongoing process. If you’d like to share something you learned from the retreat or needed to be reminded of, we can help each other along the path to greater trust.
Like it or not, we’ve all been forced to slow down during the COVID crisis. Those who have been used to a fast pace of life might be having trouble with staying home instead of keeping a frantic, overloaded schedule. For me, since my chicks left the nest and my husband retired, a slower pace of life is the norm. I enjoy being home and living a quiet life.
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 30:15 in the NLT: “Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength.” Resting and quietness come more easily to us introverts, but perhaps this time of forced rest will be an opportunity for everyone else to practice the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude as well.
Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, is an excellent book explaining not just the disciplines, but the why of them. Jan Johnson, a student and mentee who actively carries on his work and ideas, has published Spiritual Disciplines Companion, Bible Studies and Practices to Transform Your Soul. I only recently acquired the book and naturally chose the section on Silence and Solitude as my starting point.
Our lives will probably go back to at least a semblance of what used to be normal, but for now, let’s take advantage of this time to return to God, rest in him, be quiet and trust, for that is indeed where we find our salvation.
What does it mean for us to follow Jesus as a servant-listener? “Listening is minute by minute submission to others” (Jan Johnson, Invitation to the Jesus Life, Experiments in Christlikeness). It’s dying to self, as he did: letting go of our desires to be heard, to be acknowledged by others, our agendas, of using words to shape people’s opinions of us or to impress them or get attention. Rather than engaging in conversations with people for our own gain or just to hear ourselves talk, we can follow Jesus by loving them through listening.
Instead of talking about ourselves, we can pray as we listen that God will help us draw others out. Ask the Holy Spirit for help to hear their deeper selves. As we pray and listen, God helps our speech become a way of loving and blessing, rather than putting ourselves forward.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when we only half listen to someone, we are dismissing them as having less value, and disrespecting them as human beings. “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive type of listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.”
Remember, at the same time we are listening to others, Jesus is listening, loving and blessing both of us. If we can become more aware of this, we can learn to love and listen, listen and love, and forget about ourselves for a while. And who knows, it could lead to closer friendships and deeper relationships.
Last time I mentioned Jesus is a servant-listener. I became acquainted with this term in a book by Jan Johnson, Invitation to the Jesus Life, Experiments in Christlikeness. We already know Jesus came to be a servant (Philippians 2), but the connection between listening and serving is one I hadn’t made before.
It’s hard to imagine Jesus doing anything other than being attentive. In our always-connected digital culture, most people are anything but. They look at their phones many times a day, and if they’re not looking at them, they are thinking about looking at them and wondering what they’re missing. In conversations, a lot of half-listening goes on. People often look around for someone more interesting to talk to or are simply distracted by what they think they need to be doing.
If Jesus had access to a cell phone, I’m sure he would have turned it off when he interacted with his friends, or anyone, for that matter. As usual, he is our example in this. As we experience him listening to us, we can learn to listen to others. He is never too busy or distracted. He never tires of us, even when we repeat ourselves over and over. He’s never looking around for a more interesting conversation. For him, listening is a vehicle for loving and blessing.
Next week: How to Be a Servant-Listener