Monday, August 25, 2008

Loving Consists of Dying, Part 1

This is my recent blog on my main blogsite:

This is a continuation to my introduction blog post (titled, Single-heartedness), in which I stated the basic issue of young adults today, Christians and un-Christians-alike. That issue is the heart, or also the affections and the will. We are a generation that likes to grab at things and, to be brutally honest, we covet on a daily basis. This predictably leads to an impatient spirit that is found in almost every young adult today. Most often you’ll find couples who are “going steady.” It is very obvious that…”the couple are not ready for marriage or even for the public commitment that engagement ought to entail, but neither are they ready to leave each other in God’s hands, “in the sublime keeping of the general and unspecific belief that God is answering our prayers in His own time and way.” Each clutches at the other, fearful lest he “get away” (Elisabeth Elliot).

Before we even address anything about single-hood, marriage, or sex, we need to get to the core of this matter.

“Amazingly, of all sins, covetousness ranks high enough – or low enough – to be explicitly forbidden in the Ten Commandments: “You shall not covet” (Ex 20:17). There’s a good clue to its meaning in 1 Tim 6:5-6. It speaks of “people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment.” The word “covetousness” isn’t used here but the reality is what this text is all about. When verse 5 says that some are treating godliness as a means of gain, Paul responds in verse 6 that “there is a great gain in godliness with contentment.” This gives us the key to the definition of covetousness.

Covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God.
The opposite of covetousness is contentment in God.

When contentment in God decreases, covetousness for gain increases. That’s why Paul says in Col 3:5 that covetousness is idolatry. “Put to death … what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. It’s idolatry because the contentment that the heat should be getting from God, it starts to get from something else.
So covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God or losing your contentment in God so that you start to seek it elsewhere.
Have you ever considered that the Ten Commandments begin and end with virtually the same commandment – “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3) and “You shall not covet” (Ex 20:17)? These are almost equivalent commands. Coveting is desiring anything other than God that betrays a loss of contentment and satisfaction in him. Covetousness is a heart divided between two gods. So Paul calls it idolatry.” (Piper 92, 93)

This is a hard Truth. This means that I sin more often than I thought. What a wretched realization of myself before God! But this ugliness in me (whether my longings are innocent or evil, it doesn’t matter – they both take my focus from Him) is what moves me to my Lord. This sinful nature should move us all closer to the Light when we see even a bit of a shadow over us. Let us move to Him, to learn to think and feel as our Lord thinks and feels.
But hold on second…you’re still thinking…
“If I don’t chase after romantic relationships, won’t I always be lonely and insecure? If I don’t pursue popularity won’t I become one of those strange social recluses who lives in the woods and has no friends? If I don’t build my life around success and achievements, what will become of my future?”
“Am I enough?” came the gentle challenge of my Prince, and His tender voice drowned out all the clamoring confusion in my mind. Jesus was, and would always be, much more than enough. He did not desire to destroy my life, to leave me as a desolate, lonely failure alone in the woods somewhere. He gently assured me that as I pursued Him and Him alone, all my other needs would be met. In the meantime, my only concern must be to worship Him with everything in me. – Leslie Ludy

If we imagine that happiness is to be found by furious pursuit, we will end up in a rage at the unsatisfying results. If, on the other hand, we set ourselves to pursue the wise and loving and holy will of our heavenly Father, we will find that happiness comes – quietly, in unexpected ways, and surprisingly often, as the by-product of sacrifice.
Desire for marriage deeply tests our understanding of the cross. The cross of Christ means sacrifice. He gave Himself. He asks us, who want to be disciples, first to relinquish our rights to ourselves, then to take up the cross, and follow (Luke 9:23). The cross in Roman times was an instrument of torture. Jesus took it up gladly – in obedience to His Father and for love of you and me. If He asks us to take up our cross daily, He is asking us to be willing to suffer. What else can the cross mean?
Except for those far ahead of most of us in sanctity, waiting is a form of suffering – the difficulty of self-restraint, the anguish of unfulfilled longing, the bewilderment of unanswered prayer, my flesh and my heart failing, my soul breaking. These are indeed tribulations, and tribulation is the curriculum if we are to learn patience. We want answers now, right now, but we are required at times to walk in darkness.
Nevertheless, God is in the darkness. – Elisabeth Elliot

“And yet even God-given desires can gain an unhealthy hold over our hearts and lives, such as the longing to finally experience a beautiful, God-written love story with one person for a lifetime. As precious as this dream is, it is all too easy to make this desire the focus of our lives. As a result, we miss out on experiencing the most beautiful love story of all time with our true Prince. The reality is that the only way to discover the true beauty of a God-written love story with another person on this earth is to delight in Jesus Christ with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – to find our security and joy in Him alone. Rather than focus all our efforts on the pursuit of a human relationship, we must center our lives on the pursuit of intimacy with our true Prince. Only out of the intimacy with our heavenly Lover can the beauty of a God-written human love story be experienced.
To prepare the environment of our inner sanctuary for intimacies with our Prince, any other lovers – anything we devote a huge part of our time, emotion, energy, and affection to (good or bad) – must be ushered to the door and kicked out. That means anything that has an unhealthy hold over our hearts and compromises our ability to be completely devoted to Christ. Often these are the things that we derive most of our earthly confidence, security, and happiness from. They are the things we cling to most tightly, the things we can’t imagine giving up or living without.” – Leslie Ludy

-Thou art bound to arise

The first step is always the hardest and that involves taking our minds off ourselves and placing it on Him. We must grab hold of our feelings and thoughts and say to our flesh, “NO! Look up!”

It is not my business to think about myself. My business is to think about God. It is for God’s business to think about me. – Simone Weil

No sin is worse than the sin of self-pity, because it removes God from the throne of our lives, replacing Him with our own self interests. It causes us to open our mouths only to complain, and we simply become spiritual sponges – always absorbing, never giving and never being satisfied. And there is nothing lovely or generous about our lives. – Oswald Chambers

“You are thinking that controlling your imagination does not depend on yourself…but it depends very much on yourself! When you cut off all the restless and unprofitable thoughts that you can control, you will greatly reduce all those thoughts which are involuntary. God will guard your imagination if you do your part in not encouraging your wayward thoughts. – Francois Fenelon

Here s the battleground, and none more crucial, in the lives of young people, who determine to be holy. There is an “Ancient Foe who seeks to work (them) woe. His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, on earth is not his equal” (Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress”). Until Jesus Christ is Lord of the sex life He is not Lord of one’s life. Not only is every act meant to be subject to His holy will, but every thought must be brought into captivity to Christ. And this “captivity” turns out to be not bondage, not repression, not misery, but joy! – Elisabeth Elliot

The discipline of feelings – “Troubled soul, thou art not bound to feel, but thou art bound to arise,” wrote George MacDonald.
Daniel is an example for us, he was trouble, dismayed, seized with terror, yet he rose and attended to the king’s business. “The story of Daniel provides a strong lesson in the victor of a God-directed will over the natural emotions.”
No one whose first concern is feeling good can be a disciple. – Elisabeth Elliot

The man who has accepted the rule of the Spirit in his life will accept spiritual discipline. In accepting the discipline of his Master, he will willingly discipline himself. This is a sign of spiritual maturity, just as it is a sign of emotional maturity. Both parent and child must suffer in the process of child training, because punishment sometimes becomes a necessary part of that process. Therefore it is a great joy and a great release when the parent sees the child at last accepting responsibility and disciplining himself. He is beginning to mature. Our Father in heaven must be glad when His child learns to control himself and not to have to be held in with bit and bridle.
It is the will that must deal with the feelings. The will must triumph over them, but only the will that is surrendered to Christ can do this. – Elisabeth Elliot

- Yield Our Whole Selves

Come, brothers and sisters, let us remember…
“Christ’s priorities of what he wants for you are so different than your priorities, that if you don’t begin to get your mind saturated with Jesus’ way of thinking, then you won’t be able to make sense out of the pain in your life. You tend to get angrier and angrier - because your priorities are, “if he loved me then…..”and you provide a list of all your demands and its not his list, it’s not the way Jesus thinks, because what he values is hearts that are so enamored with him that that shines more clearly when everything we were leaning on is gone.” - John Piper

This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world. – John Piper

“For, until men feel that they owe everything to God, that they are cherished by his paternal care, and that he is the author of all their blessings, so that nought is to be looked for away from him, they will never submit to him in voluntary obedience; nay, unless they place their entire happiness in him, they will never yield up their whole selves to him in truth and sincerity.” – John Calvin

We should remind ourselves that it is “in these matters of the heart” that our own hearts are “sifted and scoured and exposed” and “the process of purifying” begins. – Elisabeth Elliot

“I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake love until it please.” (Song of Solomon 2:7) ….no one, man or woman, should be agitated about the choice of mate, but should be “asleep” as it were, in the will of God, until it should please Him to “awake” him.” – Elisabeth Elliot

There is another way: to love what God commands and desire what He promises. It can’t be found except through prayer and obedience. It cuts quite across the other way, takes us where things are not at the mercy of changing fashions and opinions. It is a place where a man’s heart may safely rest – and a woman’s heart, too. – Elisabeth Elliot

- A Holy Life Is A Whole Life

Today, there are many preconceived assumptions about single-hood that are not only wrong, but clearly and undeniably unbiblical. It’s look down upon and rejected. If Christians truly desire the ways and wisdom of the Lord, this is one of the first and crucial areas we must change our thinking and feeling in.
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.- 1 Cor 7: 32-35
“It (sexual personhood) does not first emerge in marriage. No one is ready for marriage who has not discovered in practical ways how to live out his mature masculinity or her mature femininity.
“…The point is this: singleness has been a noble and courageous path for ministry ever since Jesus and the Apostle Paul chose it “because of the kingdom of heaven.” It is no sign of weakness to want to be married. It is normal, and it is good. The courage comes when you sense God calling you to singleness (for this chapter of your life) and you accept the call with zeal and creative planning for His glory.
- John Piper

Chastity is rare, but it always possible. “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4).
The “traditional” view has been handed down to us by no less an authority than God Himself, yet it is deeply disturbing to find that abstinence, chastity, virginity, sexual purity are seldom if ever the subjects of sermons in most churches today. It is often taken for granted that as free moral agents, we may choose whatever feels good or seems “right for us.” Sex is considered a basic need and becomes therefore a right that no one ought to be denied.
But God’s word is plain. “God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thess 4:7).
A holy life is a whole life. The words whole and holy derive from the same root. The word use for passionate lust covers a wide range of sexual interactions.
The very struggle in which we find ourselves when sexual longings are unfulfilled is God’s call: Come to Me. I will give you rest. But we must take His yoke – a burden indeed, but a light one, He promises. It is much lighter than the yoke our self-will imposes. – Elisabeth Elliot
So let us live by this….
Set-apart life: It is a life fully given over to the control of God. A life that is not its own anymore, for it has been bought with a price – the price of Christ’s blood. It is a life consecrated, and literally, set-apart for the purposes, the Kingdom, and the glory of Jesus Christ alone. It no longer lives for itself, but for Him. The set-apart life is the most profound and beautiful life. It is a life enraptured in the pleasures and graces of heaven; a life enabled by the muscle of God to carry out the errands of the Most High on Earth; and a life intimately fused with the love, purity, power, joy, passion, and peace of the person of Christ. - Eric and Leslie Ludy

Let us be comforted…
Wait for the Lord; be strong, take courage and wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14) >
Waiting is a season of preparing, particularly for singles (regardless if they marry or not). It a time to build up ourselves in the Lord. The Lord may give us what we desire and we have to be ready for it. Or, He may not and yet we are to be ready anyway. Be always ready for Him.

(Gal 5:22, 24 – 25) - Love always entails suffering. One who loves God is willing to wait. – Elisabeth Elliot

Elisabeth Elliot writes of an incidence where, at a seminar, she was given a piece of paper with the question… “What do you do when you feel you’ve come to a point that your singlehood appears to be an inadequate status for deep personal growth? How long do you hang on?” Elliot writes, “….Is that what singleness is? Does that mean that marriage and only marriage is an adequate status for deep personal growth? How ever did Jesus manage, then, as a single man?
I’m afraid the snake has been talking to that person. He’s been sneaking up and whispering, “God is stingy. He dangles that beautiful fruit called marriage before your eyes and won’t let you have it. He refuses you the only thing you need for deep personal growth, the only thing in all that world that would solve all your problems and make you really happy.” (Elliot)

- Little Deaths

But still, we feel the ache continually…

Is there a harder discipline than that of waiting, especially when one’s desire seem as wild and uncontrollable as a prairie fire? A bitter young woman wrote (to Elisabeth Elliot), “I am sick of waiting for God to get His act together. I feel hollow, empty, empty, empty, and disappointed in Him.”
Without real trust in who God is – trust in His never failing love and wisdom, we set ourselves up for disappointment. Is He a good God? Will He give what is best? If the answer is yes to both questions, it follows that He will withhold many things that look attractive to us. It is His mercy to withhold them. Shall we accuse Him of failure to get “His act” together or shall we echo the psalmist’s word, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27: 13 – 14).
His promise of guidance may be fully counted upon. Does it make sense to believe that the Shepherd would care less about getting His sheep where He wants them to go than they care about getting there? - Elisabeth Elliot

“When the will of God crosses the will of man,” Addison Leitch said, “somebody has to die.” Life requires countless “little” deaths – occasions when we are given the chance to say no to self and yes to God. The Apostle Paul said, “For continually, while still alive, we are being surrendered into the hands of death, for Jesus’ sake…” It is not that everything that has anything to do with ourselves is in itself wicked and deserving of death. It did not mean that when Jesus said, “Not my will…” There could not have been even the smallest part of His will that was wicked. It was a choice to lay down everything – the good He had done and the good He might do if He was permitted to live – for the love of God.
….little deaths have to be died just as great ones do. Every reminder that aroused a longing had to be offered up.
There is a big however. It is this: We are not meant to die merely in order to be dead. God could not want that for the creatures to whom He has given the breath of life. We die in order to live.
A seed falls into the dark earth and dies. Out of its death comes multiplied life. As Saint Francis prayed, “It is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
It takes faith to believe this, as it takes faith for a farmer to plant a seed. It takes faith to live by it, faith to act on it, faith to keep looking at the joyful end of it all. A failure of faith here leads certainly to resentment and then to depression. The destruction will go on and on.
- Elisabeth Elliot

Lord, don’t let us fall away. Help us to walk the entire path before us and not just part of it. Help us to give all ourselves and not just bits and pieces.
Part 2 will deal even more with the most emotional parts of this kind of living/season: the loneliness, the longing, and the battle between flesh and spirit.
God Bless,

The books that I’ve quote from are below. All are amazing and soaking in the Spirit of Christ.
Elliot, Elisabeth (Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Passion & Purity, Quest for Love)
Ludy, Leslie (Authentic Beauty)
Piper, John (Battling Unbelief, What is the Difference? Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood)