Tag Archives: Devotional

Spiritual Health: The Goal of Wisdom by Kim Reisman

Wesleyan Accent
Search
Close this search box.

  

Spiritual Health: The Goal of Wisdom by Kim Reisman

Share the Post:

Scripture Focus:

Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire.

Matthew 18:7-8 (NIV)

 

 

Earlier this month we explored the modern myth that knowledge and wisdom are the same thing. As Christians, we realize that this is not true; rather, we assert that wisdom includes, but also surpasses, knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge coupled with God’s love, presence, and purpose. A second myth is also important for us to explore; the myth that wisdom and knowledge are valuable for their own sake. From the biblical perspective this is completely false. Wisdom, as important as it is in and of itself, and as crucial as it is to the foundation of all the other virtues, is not an end of its own. The end toward which wisdom – and all the virtues – points is relationship with God, and spiritual wholeness and health. Wisdom is the means through which we gain a greater sense of personal wholeness and a restored relationship with our creator. It’s the means through which we redirect ourselves toward our created purpose, goodness.

Jesus was keenly aware of the role of wisdom in regaining our spiritual health. One of the crucial aspects of his message and ministry was to urge people to get smart about their spiritual health. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away!” (Matthew 5:29, NRSV). If you’re going to take the moral life seriously, make sure to surround yourself with good influences; if you value your safety, don’t run with a dangerous crowd. Paul echoed Jesus’ sentiment when he wrote to the Galatians, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” (Galatians 6:7, NRSV). We must be wise about our spiritual health. We must act in ways that protect, not endanger, our moral lives.

The Bible is one of the main tools available for us as we seek to use wisdom to bolster our spiritual health. Thomas Hobbes used the metaphor of a hedge fence to illustrate this. He talked about a highway where the king had planted hedges on either side. These hedges were not meant to stop travelers as they journeyed, but to keep them safely on the path. Jumping the hedge to take a short cut was always a possibility, but if you chose to leave the highway, you traveled at your own risk, taking the hazardous chance of traversing open country without the aid of maps and gambling with the possibility of encountering unforeseen dangers.

The Bible is our hedge as we travel on our spiritual journey. There are many places where the hedge is quite clear: the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the moral teaching throughout the entire book. We can always jump the hedge. But we do so at our own peril because then we enter open country, where there are no maps and many risks. Granted, there are many places where discerning the hedge is difficult because it’s sparse or indistinct. God’s
Word is not always clear, particularly as we attempt to apply it with integrity to our post-modern world. It’s easy to enter uncharted or poorly mapped moral territory. Yet, the existence of moral ambiguity shouldn’t be used as an excuse to jump over the clearly marked and well-defined hedges. Wisdom recognizes that there are moral principles that are always right and breaking them is always wrong.

Wisdom is badly needed in our world today. History has shown that when we rationalize our jumping off the hedges of morality, destruction awaits. Unfortunately, we are destroying the hedges and have made loopholes in God’s word. We have focused on right motive rather than on right behavior, on the love that is “in the heart” rather than on the love that has been shown to the neighbor. We have allowed the ends too often to justify the means; but, unfortunately, no one can accurately calculate all the consequences of our deeds. Wisdom understands that we need more than motives and consequences to guide us; we need hedges and a willingness to follow them.

Reverence for God is the beginning of wisdom. When we move from feeling that we ought to obey God to actually wanting to obey God, we have begun to cultivate wisdom and will begin to see the hedges that will foster our spiritual and moral growth and well-being.

Jesus’ parable about the two men who built houses sums up our discussion of wisdom well (Matthew 7:24-27). There were two men who each built a house. The wise man built his house on rock, but the foolish man built his on the sand. Eventually, storms came and destroyed the house on the sand, but the house built on rock withstood the wind and rain. Jesus tells us that the wise man, the one who built is house on the rocks, is the one who hears and obeys Gods word; and the foolish man is the one who hears but doesn’t obey. Wisdom guides us to build our houses on solid ground, the ground of faith with guidance from God. We must seek that wisdom. Our lives depend upon it.

Think about the hedge metaphor for the guidance available to us. What things or persons or experiences make up the hedges which mark and keep you on your life-path? I pray that you would continue to be aware of those markers and seek to build the house of your life on solid ground.

Share the Post:

Subscribe

Get articles about mission, evangelism, leadership, discipleship and prayer delivered directly to your inbox – for free

   

Greater Than Knowledge by Kim Reisman

  

Greater Than Knowledge by Kim Reisman

Share the Post:

Scripture Focus:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not rely on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)

 

One of the great myths of the modern era is that humanity can experience perpetual, boundless progress through the application of scientific reasoning. If we look back at events of the twentieth century, it’s easy to see how this myth took shape. Electricity, the telephone, automobiles, airplanes, smallpox and polio vaccines, organ transplants, computers, all turned the world into a place where anything seemed possible. Unfortunately, the inadvertent side effect of the remarkable achievements of the last century was the capacity to kill unimaginable numbers of people. As the world became smaller, people were confronted with other perspectives, and cultures began to clash. Only in the twentieth century has the struggle between ideas and convictions been backed up by such advanced weapons as the tank, bomber aircraft, and even nuclear weapons. Countless numbers of people, civilian and military, have been lost in battles of belief.

With all this progress, with all the new technology that seems to be appearing every day, we have not been able to produce a better human being. The myth of limitless progress may be perpetuated by science’s ability to make people better on the outside, but there has been no improvement on the inside. Human beings are still plagued by the age-old problems of hate, anger, jealousy, greed, and a hunger for power.

For some, the modern myth of progress continues to hold sway; but for many in this post-modern era, the continued collapse of this myth has some very compelling lessons to teach us. During this month when we’re focusing on wisdom, one of the most important is that knowledge isn’t enough. We may be able to probe the surface of Mars, to place unfathomable amounts of information on a computer chip smaller than the size of your fingernail, to bring life to the dying through organ transplantation, but we seem unable to bring justice to the oppressed, reconciliation to the estranged, hope to the brokenhearted.

Wisdom begins where knowledge ends. Over the years I’ve heard that wisdom is our intelligence plus God’s love, presence, and purpose. Proverbs says that reverence for the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). True wisdom begins when we recognize the limits of our own human wisdom, when we perceive our need for the sustaining power of God in our lives. It begins when we turn to God in reverence. It flowers when we follow God in obedience.

The mother of a woman in a church I served was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was a serious diagnosis, and she began treatment immediately. Not too long after treatment began, the woman herself was diagnosed with the same cancer. She began her treatment, and her mother continued in hers. Then a remarkable thing took place. The mother, in an act of complete self-giving determined that she would forego the remainder of her treatment in order to be available to nurture and support her daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren through their medical crisis. This was a decision that, when viewed through the lens of knowledge alone, made no sense. We all know there is no guarantee in the treatment of cancer. With treatment we may have a chance, but without it we face certain death. Knowledge alone cannot explain such a choice. Yet this determination was certainly guided by wisdom. No other course so fully embodied the self-emptying love of Jesus Christ. No other course so completely personified the love God feels for each of us. The woman survived her battle with cancer; her mother did not. But the legacy of love, rooted in the wisdom of a courageous choice, lives on.

Wisdom needs knowledge, yes; but wisdom surpasses knowledge. When we open ourselves to God’s direction in our lives, when we follow the urgings God plants in our hearts, when we utilize our knowledge for the sake of love, we come close to living a life of wisdom. That wisdom can then guide us and strengthen us as we seek to incorporate the other virtues in our lives as well.

Spend some time in reflection. Bring to mind an experience of wisdom that transcended human thinking and knowledge. Reflect on the past two or three years, locating occasions and relationships when you were given a wisdom not your own. As you continue to pray and fast, I pray you would be open to God’s direction in your life and his desire to provide you a wisdom that surpasses knowledge.

Share the Post:

Subscribe

Get articles about mission, evangelism, leadership, discipleship and prayer delivered directly to your inbox – for free

   

Trees Which Yield Their Fruit by Kim Reisman

Scripture Focus:

Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do. But not the wicked! They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind. They will be condemned at the time of judgment. Sinners will have no place among the godly. For the Lord watches over the path of the godly, but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.

Psalm 1 (NLT)

 

Many years ago, my grandfather planted six pecan trees on his little farm. I don’t know what happened. Maybe he planted them too close together and my hunch is he probably never fertilized them. Every time we would visit my grandfather, my father would comment about how disappointed he was with those trees. They never fulfilled their purpose. They remain barren to this day.

The bible is full of stories about trees and fruit. Jesus told a parable about a barren fig tree which the master of the vineyard would have cut down had the gardener not convinced him to give him time to work with it, fertilize and cultivate it for one more year (Luke 13:6-9). Then if it did not bear fruit, he would cut it down. In one of Jesus’ most challenging teachings he used the metaphor of trees and fruit. “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush” (Luke 6:43-44). One of Jesus’ harshest acts came one day when he was hungry and sought fruit from a fig tree. Finding nothing but leaves when it should have had figs, Jesus cursed it: “May no fruit ever come from you again!” (Matthew 21:19).

Our Scripture focus provides a challenging metaphor: trees which yield their fruit. The psalmist presents a graphic parallel. The godly person is like a tree planted by the riverbank, which produces fruit each season. The picture of the wicked, the “ungodly,” is in stark contrast. The writer changes the metaphor. They are like “worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.”

The prophet Jeremiah paints a similar contrast.

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:5-8, NLT)

The message is clear in both the psalm and the prophet. There are two choices. Trust in ourselves or trust in God. Those who trust in themselves will be like chaff that’s scattered by the wind, like a stunted shrub in the desert. But the person who trusts in God is like a tree planted by the riverbank that yields its fruit each season.

We’re working through the cardinal and theological virtues defined by the Church as wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, faith, hope, and love. We’ll also look at the fruits of the Spirit which Paul named as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). As we look at all of these, the image of fruit will be important to keep in our minds. As we pursue a life of goodness, as Christians we’re pursuing a life of faith in God and our “delight is in the law of the Lord.” Trusting in God, enable us to be like trees planted by the riverbank. As Jeremiah says, no matter what happens – how much “heat” comes or whether “drought” pervades our lifescape – we’re not anxious and don’t cease to bear fruit.

The classic virtues we’re exploring are disciplines we exercise and ideals we seek in our quest for goodness and the life to which God calls. They are also the fruit that grows as our lives become like trees with roots going down deep into God’s grace.

As you continue in your prayer and fasting routine, think of two people who embody the image of a tree planted by the riverbank. What are their characteristic traits? How do they relate to others? How do they reflect integrity and genuine goodness? How do they earnestly seek to be good? I pray that you might use their example to strengthen you as you seek to become like a tree with roots going deep into the waters of God’s grace.

Wisdom: The Foundation of Virtue by Kim Reisman

Scripture Focus:

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. O simple ones, learn prudence; acquire intelligence, you who lack it. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth… I, wisdom, live with prudence, and I attain knowledge and discretion… I have good advice and sound wisdom; I have insight, I have strength… The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts long ago.”

Proverbs 8:1-7, 12, 14, 22 (NRSV)

 

 

Wisdom has always been the first of the virtues. It holds this distinctive position in part because it grounds all the other virtues. As we’ll see as we move through the year, the virtues are interconnected, each adding and enhancing the value of the others; each needing the others to make it what it is. Yet, while the rest of the virtues work together to deepen the individual meaning of each, wisdom appears to provide a foundation for all of them. Wisdom is the stage upon which the roles of the other virtues are played out. Justice is crucial, but we’re lost as to how to achieve it without wisdom to guide us when interests compete. Courage is laudable, but it’s mere rashness without wisdom to steer it toward a moral cause. Patience is important, but it becomes sabotage without wisdom to help us discern when the time for response is upon us. Love is the more excellent way, but it becomes simple sentiment without wisdom to shepherd us as we seek to put it into action.

When we speak of the virtues, we are speaking of the mystery of goodness. There is much we’ll never be able to comprehend or achieve. Wisdom, however, is the search for the truth in the midst of that mystery. For the Greek philosophers, wisdom was the intellectual virtue of knowing the truth. There are two stumbling blocks to truth: ignorance and ideology. Ignorance is simply not knowing; it’s not having wisdom because we don’t know the truth. In contrast, ideology is the twisting of the truth for the purpose of power; we don’t have wisdom because we’ve altered the truth for our own purposes.

In the biblical sense, there is more to wisdom than simply having knowledge. Thus, while ignorance was a great enemy in Greek philosophy, from the biblical perspective, ideology is the far greater evil. In the Christian sense, you can be wise without a great deal of knowledge; but you will never have wisdom if you seek to twist the truth. Rather than being an intellectual virtue, biblical wisdom contains a distinctly moral component. That component is prudence. We can have intellectual virtue but without the moral component of prudence we will not have wisdom.

Wisdom as prudence is a form of practical and moral reasoning. It’s the art of taking the time necessary to think things through and anticipate what might happen. It’s the common sense virtue of discerning what is true, what is right, and how to live. As we explore the virtues, we’ll discover how badly we need, as individuals and in our various societies, to awaken the virtues. As we seek to awaken them, we must first begin with wisdom. We no longer live in a world where order prevails, where there is one prevailing way and one prevailing truth. We live in a world of chaos, of diversity and competing truths. It’s in this world that we must rediscover wisdom and in so doing approach the mystery of goodness and draw closer to God.

As you pray and fast this month, bring your community to mind. What sort of conflicts exist – warring forces, each claiming to have the truth? Begin making a list of some of them. How might these forces be twisting the truth for the purpose of power? Within your Christian community – local and national – do you see signs of “competing truth” which threaten the unity of the Body of Christ? List those as well.

During the coming weeks, I pray you will become more aware of situations where ignorance and ideology are blocking truth and wisdom, and that you would press on toward a rediscovery of wisdom which moves you closer to the good, whole self God intended you to be.

Virtues Are Habits by Kim Reisman

Scripture Focus:

[God] will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.

Romans 2:6-8

 

Thomas Aquinas was one of the great champions of developing the virtues in our moral life. He described the two sides of virtue: power and habit. We’ve discussed power, now we turn to the idea of habit.

A habit is the fruit of repetition. The more we repeat a certain act, the more it becomes ingrained in us to do it; so that eventually we do it without even thinking about it. Human beings are creatures of habit. If you don’t believe this, take note of your morning and nighttime preparations. Do you do the same things or is each time different? How do you put your clothes on each morning? Do you put the same leg into your pants first every time?

My husband and son are wonderful case studies of habits. Before my husband, John, retired, he had an apple and a cup of coffee each morning before work, rain or shine. During the week, unless there was something special going on, he ate a turkey sandwich for lunch. He’s done these things for as long as I can remember. Not surprisingly, my son takes after his father. When he was young, it was crucial that Nathan wake up at 7:00am each school day. He didn’t need to leave for school until 8:00am and it only took him about 15 minutes to eat and get dressed, but if he overslept, it was not a good thing. I remember one day when he needed help with a knotted soccer cleat, and when John began to help him get it on, he said, “I don’t like putting this shoe on first. Do the other one first.”

Predictability, routine. We may chuckle at our idiosyncrasies, but our habits can provide us with a sense of security and stability. When they’re healthy and not compulsive, our habits can help to bring order and efficiency to our lives. Like all habits, good and bad, virtues develop through repetition and exercise. While God’s power in the virtues is essential, it won’t be effective in our lives unless we’re able to channel that power through disciplined practice. Moral development is much like a runner in training. God may have blessed the runner with the talent and power to run, but he or she won’t be able to compete successfully without hours of dedicated and rigorous practice.

Our use of the virtues is the same. We have the power from God but we won’t be successful unless we devote ourselves to diligent rehearsal. Developing our moral selves, then, is a day-by-day, step-by-step process of determination. It often involves making hard choices and following “the road less traveled.” In order to strengthen our characters, and move toward the good selves God created us to be, we need both the power of God’s grace in the virtues, and our own disciplined exercise of them. When we experience this combination, we encounter the possibility of the habits of virtue becoming second nature, moving us every closer to our created nature.

Virtues Are Gifts Offered to All People by Kim Reisman

Scripture Focus:

For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

Romans 2:13-16 (NLT)

 

In our last discussion, I emphasized that virtues are a source of power for us, not simply a set of moral skills to be developed. Their power lies in the fact that they’re God-given, rather than humanly achieved. This can be a great source of confidence for us. We’re not alone in our quest to be the good selves God created us to be! God desires for us to be whole and is available always to provide us with the power to become complete and full human beings.

Because the virtues are gracious gifts of God that show the power of God’s goodness and love, they’re offered to all people. Each of us, regardless of our background, has access to the power of these virtues. They’re natural graces that are available to us simply because we’re human. They’re available to us because God desires all human beings to be whole and is dedicated to empowering them to be so. This is what Paul was referring to in our Scripture focus – Romans 2:13-16.

From the Christian perspective, the Gentiles are the world. This is a significant point for us. One of the unfortunate side effects of sin is that is causes us to delude ourselves into thinking that we, and we alone, are standing on the moral high ground. Certainly there are times when we’re blessed with insight and are indeed able to stand confidently on that hallowed hill. However, more times than not we’re mistaken; and our mistake is all the more grievous because we believe that we and/or our group is alone in rightfully claiming the moral high ground.

This is being played out vividly in the polarizations that mark so many cultures of our world, and Christians – of all political persuasions – are not immune. Our sin makes us unwilling to entertain the possibility that there might be a basis of legitimate, morally worthy opposition to ourselves. We can’t bring ourselves to admit that the people who disagree with us may have come to their conclusions through deliberate, thoughtful, maybe even prayerful consideration. This is hard for us to do because it makes us aware of the possibility we might be wrong and need to change our minds. It’s much easier and more comfortable to believe the other person is either crazy or stupid, or just not thinking straight. It makes us feel better about ourselves and our opinions, when we convince ourselves that if people just listened to us and tried to understand our point of view, they would change their minds and agree with us.

Paul’s assertion makes it clear that true moral character is not a matter of simply belonging to a particular group or holding a particular viewpoint. God provides all people, Christians and others, with the gracious power of the virtues. God offers them to everyone as a means of moving toward the good selves God created us to be. This means that if we are to take the virtues seriously in our own lives, we must also take them seriously in the lives of others. We must recognize that there may be others who disagree with us or who appear different from us, but who are also seeking to be morally serious in their lives. At the very least, this kind of recognition can open us to the opportunity for dialogue and productivity rather than accusation and acrimony. At its best, it can open us to the possibility of widening the commitment to the moral life that so many our societies so badly need.

The challenging implication is God provides all people, at least potentially, with the gracious power of the virtues. When we encounter others who think differently than we do, our wish should not be that they think like we do, but that they think like God does. That should be our prayer for ourselves, as well – to think like God.

Virtues as Gifts of Power by Kim Reisman

Scripture Focus:

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness.

 

Justification and sanctification are two major aspects of God’s grace; however, they’re not the only manifestations of God’s love for us. There is a sense in which the seven cardinal virtues – wisdom, courage, justice, temperance, faith, hope, and love – are expressions of sanctification, God’s gifts of grace to us. As gifts of grace, they are indications of God’s goodness in our lives. Because they’re gifts of grace, they’re also gifts of power. The English word virtue comes from the Greek word arete. Arete literally means power. Therefore, the virtues are evidence of God’s power of goodness at work within us.

By providing us with these gifts of power, God has given us a means to address the conflict we find ourselves in daily. As we explore these virtues over the course of this year, we need to keep the idea of power firmly in our minds. The virtues are not simply moral skills that we attempt to master, they’re a source of power in developing our character because they’re God’s gifts of grace to us. Therefore, as we seek to be the good selves God created us to be, we don’t have to – in fact we can’t – depend on our own resources. Rather, we have the power of God’s grace to create, guide, and strengthen us.

Years ago, Steven Spielberg won an Academy Award for his powerful movie, Schindler’s List, which was based on the story of Oskar Schindler. Schindler was a German businessman during World War II and as you watch you realize that Schindler is anything but a virtuous person. He was married but kept a German mistress while at the same time having an affair with his Polish secretary. He was a drinker. He initially profited from the German war effort and served as a prison camp director. Despite all that, however, his story is remarkable. Using his position as a German industrialist, and later as the overseer of a prison camp, he was able through shrewd and often underhanded means to save more Jews during any other single person during the war. His story is moving and powerful; yet much of its power comes from the fact that Oskar Schindler was such an ordinary human being. He rose from obscurity before the war and returned to obscurity afterwards. His overall life was not one marked by virtue; yet for a few crucial years, he rose to the challenge before him, acting with courage and wisdom, working for justice, and motivated by love.

The virtue Oskar Schindler exhibited during those difficult years is evidence of the power of God’s grace to act in our lives. Left to our own devices, we continue along a mediocre path. Attuned to the power of God’s grace in our lives, on the other hand, we are provided the means to do great things.

Predicament and Promise by Kim Reisman

Scripture Focus:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son.

Romans 5:6-10

 

From the dawn of time, we humans have been both attracted to and repelled by the idea of goodness. We lift people up as heroes and saviors; yet relish the moment when they’re exposed as having feet of clay. We spend countless dollars on books, videos, programs, and workshops hoping that they will help us “be all that we can be.” Yet we deliberately sabotage those very efforts with bad habits that have infiltrated our daily living. We want to be good, but we aren’t always able. We don’t completely like being bad, but we sometimes don’t mind it. As Paul expressed, there seems to be a battle going on within us between the desire to follow the good and the allure of the evil that surrounds us.

This is the predicament of humankind. We’re all torn between the good and the evil. Recognizing this isn’t a call to wallow in guilt and shame or to throw up our hands in resignation. It’s simply recognizing an objective fact. But it’s an important first step in resolving the conflict.

A second step is to remember that as human beings, we all belong to a God who created each of us as one good, whole self. Our wholeness became marred by fragmentation and estrangement; and our goodness became supremely vulnerable and responsive to the presence of evil. And yet, our freedom to choose has never disappeared. We weren’t created to be puppets or robots. God wants each of us to recognize that we belong to God. God desires us to freely choose relationship, just as God freely chose to create us in the first place. Because of this freedom, we don’t have to give in to our inner responsiveness to evil. We can remember that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31). We are always free to choose to be the good self God created us to be, or to become captivated by the evil that is all around us.

The next step on our journey is to realize that we don’t have to fight this battle alone. God offers hope for us as we seek to find a resolution to our struggle. The foundation of that hope is Jesus Christ, who through his death and resurrection has conquered the power of evil in the world. The witness of Scripture is clear: evil is a conquered foe. Our hope isn’t just in hearing that message, but in actually experiencing that victory in our lives. In any given situation, God’s grace is more powerful than the lure of temptation. As we seek to resolve the struggle within us, that’s where we must begin – with God’s grace.

God’s grace comes in many ways. Two of these are at the heart of Christian faith and experience: justification and sanctification. In our Wesleyan tradition, we use these words to talk about two basic experiences in our lives. Justification is the experience of becoming right with God. Justifying grace is the redemptive, healing recreating love of God that comes to us as a gift. When we recognize our sinfulness, earnestly repent, and accept the pardon that God offers us through Jesus Christ, justifying grace works in our lives to heal our relationship with God. We are reconciled and brought back into relationship with God.

Where justification is something God does for us, sanctification is something God does in us. Sanctifying grace is the grace that remains with us and empowers us as we move through our lives. With each experience we encounter, God’s grace is with us to strengthen us and give us the power to face whatever challenges we may encounter as well as to shape us after the likeness of Christ. It is a process, a life-long experience of spiritual growth empowered by God’s grace.

God has promised us grace and it comes in two specific ways – as the undeserved favor of God for our justification, and as the power of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to live in the ways of God. As we enter the contest between good and evil, we’re armed with the promise and power of God’s grace. It’s a power that has already won the victory. It remains only for us to claim that victory in the everyday living of our lives.

Bearing Fruit by Kim Reisman

Scripture focus:

Oh the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers. But they delight in doing everything the Lord wants, day and night they think about his law. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3, NLT)

 

I believe that as Christians we can do things that indicate to the world that God is at the center of our lives and that we take the witness of Scripture seriously in the choices that we make and the commitments we undertake. These actions make up our moral life. For Christians, there should be little, if any, difference between our “moral”life and our everyday life. The moral values that ground the Christian faith should permeate every aspect of our lives. The Psalms liken this kind of life to trees planted along a riverbank, bearing fruit year after year. That’s a wonderful metaphor for what our lives look like when God is at the center.

I love to garden. I enjoy flowerbeds and containers filled with blooms. Unfortunately, my prowess with indoor plants lags greatly behind my outdoor capabilities. Thankfully I’ve improved substantially and can now actually keep a plant alive within my home.

I have a friend, Phyllis, who, unlike me, has a wonderful green thumb, particularly when it comes to house plants. At any given time you can enter her home and there will be violets, cactus, and other plants, beautifully healthy, many with scads of blossoms. I recall seeing a lovely Christmas cactus in full bloom in her living room. I was amazed because I had a cactus just like it, but without the blooms. I didn’t even realize it could bloom, because mine had never had a single blossom.

Ever since seeing the beauty of Phyllis’s cactus, I have been disappointed in my own. It’s not that my cactus is unattractive. It’s actually quite pretty – a lovely deep green and very healthy. But it has never truly achieved its purpose – it has never bloomed. And thus, every time I look at it, I feel a sense of disappointment.

We were meant to bear fruit in our spiritual lives – not just interior fruit as our faith deepens, but external fruit, fruit that shows itself in the way that we live. If we develop our faith in such away that we are healthy and our spiritual lives are like my cactus, “not unattractive” but have never born fruit or blossoms, there will always be an underlying sense of disappointment. We will not have achieved our entire purpose. James was pointing us toward this truth when he asked, “Dear brothers and sisters, what’s the use of saying you have faith if you don’t prove it by your actions?” (James 1:14, NLT)

We are at our best when we have God’s Word ever before us and live in ways that reflect that. When we “delight in doing everything the Lord wants,” we too become “like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail.”

As you pray and fast this month, reflect on the fruit you are bearing as you journey in faith. What actions make your faith visible to others? How might your faith life bear more fruit? What would you have to change to become more fruitful in your spiritual life? I pray that as you reflect, you will discover more and more ways to put your faith into action.

Praying From The Heart by Kim Reisman

Scripture focus:

And so they reached Jericho. Later, as Jesus and his disciples left town, a great crowd was following. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road as Jesus was going by. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus from Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” “Be quiet!” some of the people yelled at him. But he only shouted louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.” So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said, “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. “Teacher,” the blind man said, “I want to see!” And Jesus said to him, “Go your way. Your faith has healed you.” And instantly the blind man could see! Then he followed Jesus down the road. (Mark 10:46-52, NLT)

 

Prayer is a powerful and productive force in our lives. It allows us to join with God in working not only in our own lives but also in the lives of others. The reverse is true as well. Prayer invites God to join with us in the unfolding of our lives and the lives of those around us. Unfortunately, we often overlook prayer as a connection to God and a source of direction and strength. Instead, we operate as though we were on our own.

It’s certainly true that God isn’t some cosmic waiter standing ready to jump at our beck and call. Our relationship with God is not one where we stand with power and look either across or down at God, making demands at every turn of our whim or fancy. Yet, as we appropriately lift our eyes to God, we will find God waiting with loving anticipation for us to pour out our deepest desires and dreams to him. Even more, we will discover that God longs to respond to those desires and dreams as well.

In The Life of Christian Devotion, William Law wrote,

 

All outward power that we exercise in the things about us is but as a shadow in comparison of that inward power that resides in our will, imagination, and desires… Our desire is not only thus powerful and productive of real effects, but it is always alive, always working and creating in us… And here lies the ground of the great efficacy of prayer, which when it is the prayer of the heart, the prayer of faith, has a kindling and creating power, and forms and transforms the soul into every thing that its desires reach after… It opens, extends, and moves that in us which has its being and motion in and with the divine nature, and so brings us into real union and communion with God.*

 

Law’s language can be difficult, but his message is simple. When we are connected to God through prayer, our wills, our imaginations, our desires can have powerful results. Prayer is a creating power that, when in communion with God, forms and transform us. God desires to answer the prayers of our hearts.

The world would have us believe that we are left to our own devices, with little power beyond ourselves. Society encourages us to look within ourselves. The message is that there is no truth outside our own personal experience or opinion and that should be enough to guide us. Social media encourages us to look to popular culture, to influencers and celebrities for answers to life’s difficult questions. They are the ones who can tell us how to manage the competing demands and commitments of daily life or guide us in determining how our faith fits the larger picture of our lives. The reality, however, is that the ultimate power to face all those issues is right before us, quietly waiting to be invited into the discussion.

When Jesus encountered people in his ministry, frequently he ask them, “What do you want?” Only when they responded with the prayer of their heart – “Teacher, I want to see!” – did he act on their desire. Jesus assured us that God knows our needs before we even ask; and yet, that knowledge never preempts the asking process. If we long to know God, we must be willing to tell God exactly that – I want to know you. Only then we will encounter the kindling and creating power of prayer that will not only draw us into communion with God but will also open us to God’s transforming energy in our lives.

As you pray and fast this month, I encourage you to reflect on the prayers of your heart. I pray that you will make those prayers known to God remembering that when we are connected to God through prayer, our wills, our imaginations, and our desires can have powerful results. Channel that power in the coming days.

 

 

 

*William Law, The Life of Christian Devotion, Abingdon; pp 85-86