Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I had the splendid and joyful opportunity to be with the Finch family in the hospital as they awaited the arrival of the latest baby Finch. First off, it was a real pleasure to be in those nice delivery rooms, Not as the person who is in the uncomfortable position of giving birth, but as an encouraging spectator. They are really nice rooms. Second, I was able to witness in another person something profound that I have experienced myself, namely, setting oneself in motion to bring another life into the world. This decision for life is a sacrificial and overpowering task. At its most basic point, you, as the person bringing another life into the world, have to make the decision to go ahead and do it. However much you may long for the child, however much it is inevitable, at that point, to give birth, a moment of decision arrives—I’m going to do this, even though I am anxious, even though its going to be difficult, even though its probably not going to happen the way I want it to, for the sake of another person, I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do this now. The decision has to be made.
I remember this vividly when it arrived for me. And I saw it in Liz’s face this morning at the crucial moment.
For those of us who are Christian, when this moment of decision comes, and we choose to go ahead and do the difficult thing in front of us, two important things happen: one, the grace and love and power of God comes in and gives us what we need to do the job, and two, we get to see what it is that God did and does for us on the cross.
The first part—the grace, love and power of God giving you what you need to do the job—is called Providence. God promises, when we put ourselves in his hands and trust in him, to meet our needs. I was getting ready to pray for someone this week and they said, ‘Oh, I don’t like to pray for myself. I don’t want to be selfish.’ This stance of self reliance is actually an extra hassle for God. He went to the trouble to make you. He knows you inside and out—when you lie down, when you stand up, when you go out of your house, when you come in, when you think, when you rest, when you work. He’s more than equipped and willing to meet your needs. You do yourself a great disservice when you try to solve your problems yourself without consulting God. More than likely you will mess things up and then have to call on God anyway to fix it.
Trusting in God’s providence means going to the source of all things Right Away, without waiting. When you’re facing something difficult, go to God first in prayer, lay out the trouble, ask him for strength and courage and the skills and resources to do the job in front of you.
The clearest most powerful example of God’s providence in our lives is the cross. When we mess things up, when we sin, when we rebel against God, it is the providential work of Jesus on the cross that saves us and makes it possible for us to live, be healed, forgiven and whole. This providence is, of course, first and foremost available to us when we accept, by faith, the work of Jesus and accept him into our lives and hearts to rule and transform us into his own image. But as you live as a Christian, the depth and richness of the cross will continue to provide and to nourish.
One way this happens is through the experience of suffering. Suffering, pain, difficulty, trials, all are ways to enter into and see what kind of sacrifice it was that Jesus made. Essentially, he put his whole self aside for the sake of you. He laid down his glory, as the Son of God, his Authority, his power, and his own body, so that you might come into his family and have a relationship with his Father. Any time you experience suffering, you can take that to the foot of the cross and lay it next to the suffering of Jesus, and in so doing, you get to see what Jesus is like and what his work means.
The cross is essentially life-giving. Jesus did not just die, the way we die—to no purpose and effect, our bodies in the ground, our spirits with God or in Sheol. His death, his dying in his body and his soul to himself, for the world, was a life giving event, for the sake of another, in order to give you life.
Another way to enter more deeply into work of Jesus is, as the writer of last week’s collect (Sunday prayer) says, ‘to love things heavenly’ and ‘to hold fast to those things that shall endure’. This is completely contrary to the way American culture currently orients itself. As we go about our daily lives, there is very little that tells us to fix our minds on the things of God. When I bustle through the grocery store and try to think what on earth I am going to put in Emma’s lunch box day after day, there is very little that orients me towards God. I’m not generally thinking about what God wants or what he is doing in the world. But by allowing myself to be distracted, by not grounding myself daily in the presence of God, I do not maintain a heavenly perspective. I become limited in my vision and scope and I miss what God is doing in the world and in my own life. This lack of vision and focus allows me to believe the lie that I am in charge of my own life and can provide for myself, that I do not need God’s providence.
One practical way, however, to begin to develop a mind and heart focused on heaven, on things that last forever rather than fade away, is to find, in your morning reading of scripture, one short line that you will keep for yourself, and say it over and over again as you work and run and keep up with life. My one line, lately, has been, from 1 Kings 17:12-16, the story about Elijah the prophet and the Widow of Zerephath. This woman was destitute and there was a famine in the land where she lived. The day Elijah met her she was gathering a few sticks together to make a fire, and then she was planning to go home and cook the last of her food—flour and oil to make a small cake or bread—which she and her son would then eat and then wait to die of starvation. At precisely this moment, when from a worldly perspective all seems lost, Elijah come to her and performs a miracle. Instead of eating the last bit of food herself, she gave it to Elijah, and then, for the whole time there was famine in the land her ‘jar of flour did not run dry’ and her ‘jar of oil did not run out’. These two lines I say to myself often as I go about my business. However busy I get, through God’s providence and mercy, I will not run out of time for the things that are most important, my time jar will have enough in it to get me through. However tired I am, I will not run out of energy for the things God wants me to do, my energy jar will have enough. However poor I feel, I will not run out of money and resources for the things that are most important, God always puts enough money in my money jar. By saying these lines over to myself throughout the day, I am able to know and be reminded that it is God who provides and cares for me, not me who provides and cares for myself. It might be a different line of scripture for you, but I encourage you to find one, for today, and carry it with you.
The key in all things is to keep God, and his work in Jesus, front and center as you work and rest and live your life. In other words, to love things heavenly, to hold onto the things that last forever, to trust in Jesus’ work on the cross, and to seek God’s will in all things.