Christian Life ...

Christian Life ...
Christian life is meant to be a life of bearing much fruit. What does that look like? How do we get there? This blog will record thoughts and meditations about living a life striving to be a fruitful branch.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Higher

For my daily (at least in theory) spiritual disciplines, I aim to do five different things: thanksgiving, intersession, scripture study, personal devotional and a family devotional or group devotional. I want to do at least four of them in a day. It used to be troublesome for me to have a lot of spiritual disciplines on my schedule. I used my journal like a mad man and at times behaved as if it was my spiritual magical wand.

Truth is, the disciplines do not call me higher. It's the relationship that does it. God calls us higher. About a week ago I was reading one of the books I use for personal devotional. (I hate to even use that word devotional because it's such Christianese word. To me this is hearing a testimony or experiencing something that leads to some prepared questions surrounding spiritual truth.) The book is called My Utmost for His Highest.

My Utmost for His Highest was written by a man named Oswald Chambers and the whole work can be found and worked through daily at utmost.org. As a disclaimer, this is really intellectual Christian study. Many of the daily devotionals are so deep and convicting that they can almost hurt a little bit. So it may not be the greatest entry level daily devotional reading.

Back on March 27th I pulled up utmost.org and this is what I saw:



Spiritual Vision Through Personal Character


Spiritual Vision Through Personal Character

A higher state of mind and spiritual vision can only be achieved through the higher practice of personal character. If you live up to the highest and best that you know in the outer level of your life, God will continually say to you, “Friend, come up even higher.” There is also a continuing rule in temptation which calls you to go higher; but when you do, you only encounter other temptations and character traits. Both God and Satan use the strategy of elevation, but Satan uses it in temptation, and the effect is quite different. When the devil elevates you to a certain place, he causes you to fasten your idea of what holiness is far beyond what flesh and blood could ever bear or achieve. Your life becomes a spiritual acrobatic performance high atop a steeple. You cling to it, trying to maintain your balance and daring not to move. But when God elevates you by His grace into heavenly places, you find a vast plateau where you can move about with ease.

Compare this week in your spiritual life with the same week last year to see how God has called you to a higher level. We have all been brought to see from a higher viewpoint. Never allow God to show you a truth which you do not instantly begin to live up to, applying it to your life. Always work through it, staying in its light.

Your growth in grace is not measured by the fact that you haven’t turned back, but that you have an insight and understanding into where you are spiritually. Have you heard God say, “Come up higher,” not audibly on the outer level, but to the innermost part of your character?

“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing…?” (Genesis 18:17). God has to hide from us what He does, until, due to the growth of our personal character, we get to the level where He is then able to reveal it.

After reading this I was reminded about a few things. I read it at my break time at work after an especially trying morning. Things did not go as I expected, and my attitude was poor. Right away the title of the days reading hit me hard. Here I was, partially thinking as I did back in college, that my spiritual disciplines would help me feel better in my personal work day, and the title completely flipped that around.

Chambers says "If you live up to the highest and best that you know in the outer level of your life, God will continually say to you, 'Friend, come up even higher'", and living up to the highest is this continuous sharpening of character. This is our responsibility. What I put in I get out. The cliche you reap what you sow rings true here. Chambers always seems to hit on some kind of resounding truths.

I have experienced this directly. So much of my life has been spent crying out to God why things are a certain way, but these were things I simply hadn't done anything about. Complaining isn't going to help us take the next step higher or find any advancement. We do have the right to lament and cry out, but doing helps. Character is about what we do. And growing takes hard work and action.



I can look back at my life and see it like a terraced mountain. I started as a child on the bottom and as I grew I look up and called out to God, "I want to be up there!" not down here. Or why is everyone else able to be at that place in life while I'm still here? I always felt behind and mad about it. Eventually I just learned that in order to move up you have to ... move up.

Spiritually, we are in control of our growth. Philippians 2 is a great example of this. There Paul tells his readers to "...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose." This means that while we have work to do, we have been given means. 



I find this last sentence extremely fascinating and honestly, it's a pretty astonishing statement for Paul to make. But if anyone is an expert in the matter, isn't it Paul? Saul of Tarsus and his remarkable repentance followed by his selfless and diligent efforts to spread the Gospel, is probably the best witness of the character and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. This guy, says that the Spirit enables us to desire and to work out God's good purpose. What does that mean? I say it means that because we are God creations, he made us with a good purpose in mind and when we do the kind of things that Chambers is talking about, we find our desires aligned with his way.



I think that's pretty cool.


Still, it's convicting. "Never allow God to show you a truth which you do not instantly begin to live up to, applying it to your life. Always work through it, staying in its light." I read these words directly after working an entire morning with a childish self centered attitude. Honest, it felt pretty terrible. Having just finished a post about selflessly putting the desires for others and then having an bad attitude through three straight hours of work. It's not exactly living up to a truth God has shown me.

But nonetheless, but when I look back at this week last year and the year before that and the year before that, I've climbed quite a few terraces up that metaphorical mountain like pictured above. But I want to climb more, I want to "boast in the day of Christ that I didn’t run or labor for nothing." That is what we have to do to be a fruitful branch. We have to keep sharpening our character and more quick to turn the nudgings we get from the spirit into life application. That way we can continue to keep being called higher and higher and higher.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

More Than the Golden Rule

Back in the day, as a kid I remember hearing people talk about the golden rule. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. I bought it mostly.  I shouldn't punch people in the face because I don't like being punched in the face. But what about more complex matters? Does it really mean enough?

It's a fact of life that we are not all a like. Because of that, we have different desires for how we are to be treated. In Romans 14, Paul hits on this concept a little bit. His words are directed to the micro-context of theRoman Church he was writing to, but I feel like there are some clear applications for Christians of this day and age too.

Romans 14 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

The Law of Liberty

14 Accept anyone who is weak in faith,[a] but don’t argue about doubtful issues. One person believes he may eat anything, but one who is weak eats only vegetables. One who eats must not look down on one who does not eat, and one who does not eat must not criticize one who does, because God has accepted him. Who are you to criticize another’s household slave? Before his own Lord he stands or falls. And he will stand. For the Lord is able[b] to make him stand.
One person considers one day to be above another day.Someone else considers every day to be the same. Each one must be fully convinced in his own mind. Whoever observes the day, observes it for the honor of the Lord.[c] Whoever eats, eats for the Lord, since he gives thanks to God; and whoever does not eat, it is for the Lord that he does not eat it, yet he thanks God. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and came to life for this: that He might rule over both the dead and the living.10 But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God.[d] 11 For it is written:
As I live, says the Lord,
every knee will bow to Me,
and every tongue will give praise to God.[e]
12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

The Law of Love

13 Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. 14 (I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.) 15 For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat. 16 Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.
19 So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. 20 Do not tear down God’s work because of food. Everything is clean, but it is wrong for a man to cause stumbling by what he eats. 21 It is a noble thing not to eat meat, or drink wine, or do anything that makes your brother stumble.[f] 22 Do you have a conviction?[g] Keep it to yourself before God. The man who does not condemn himself by what he approves is blessed. 23 But whoever doubts stands condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from a conviction,[h] and everything that is not from a conviction[i] is sin.

When Paul writes to the church, it's interesting to think about the structure of these churches at the time. They were gatherings of small groups, mostly of Jews, who have learned of Christ and have altered their customs to accommodate the idea that they now live in a post messianic age, awaiting Christ's kingdom-comin'-down return. It was extremely new, counter cultural and edgy. It was also laid out in this new theology, in the words of Christ and by the authority of the Apostles, that Gentiles are meant to know the goodness this Messiah brings. So naturally, these are with people who live and act differently. Some Christians still wished to practice certain rituals of the Jewish faith. While the teaching of the new Christian doctrine clearly states that nothing that we put in us can make us unclean, Paul's words are encouraging the church to not make mountains out of mole hills. People feel differently, and Paul says Christians aight to back to respect that in a way that almost radical.

Put yourself in the shoes of a first century Jew. You have heard the good news of Christ crucified and resurrected and have bought into the idea that this odd man from Nazareth was truly the son of God and the savior of the world. You're cool with that. You've changed your life, and joined a group of apparent misfits who are in peril from multiple sides. Rome doesn't  like you because you worship a crowned king with divine claims and the Jews don't like you anymore because you're part of a dangerous heretical sect. All this considered, you go to meet up with your new religious radical comrades and they serve up a dinner of pork chops and oysters. For your whole life, the things in front of you on the table are as out of place and retched as fecal matter and tainted blood. That'd make a person a bit uncomfortable.

This is what Paul is talking about. If the wishes and the feeling of a guest are not taken into account the host is out of touch. There are multiple levels to this too. Consider you want to host a dinner party with some of your friends and neighbors, but you learn the new family next door who you want to invite is vegan. You may want to serve steaks, but if you want to begin on the right foot you aught to at least have an alternative available. The next step, and likely the better step to get off on the right foot with your new neighbors , would be to choose to serve a vegan meal.

 
These are little choices that could really have a big impact. As Christians we are called to take up our cross and follow Christ. To me this means to set aside what we desire and to go where God calls us and to live, to the best of our ability, as Christ lived. Christ gave up all the rights imaginable. He gave up heaven to die violently on earth. The literal least we can do is learn to set aside personal preference.

A few years ago I went to a cultural competency training and left with the words: "treat others the way they would like to be treated" ringing in my ears. It's what is referred to as the "Platinum Rule". By the golden rule "treat others as you would like to be treated" I could set a medium rare steak in front of my vegan neighbor and say, "here's dinner, look how nice I'm being, I'm giving you what I would like to be given", but that wouldn't be right. It would be at very least be and awkward conversation. To me this platinum rule is a much better way to think about relating to others because spiritual fellowship or encouragement doesn't go well with a side of ugly misunderstandings. Neither does the sharing of the Gospel. 
"...So then, we must pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another..."
Paul states that peace is what we should pursue. This ridiculously simple phrase is key to any Christian ministry that is to promote the sharing of the Gospel and/or the spiritual growth of individuals. We must always build up and of we ever tear down we must always ask for forgiveness. 

In Romans 14, Paul is begging his new Christian brothers and sisters to be humble and to not slap people across the face with their convictions. The concept of being plated something at the dinner table that makes someone uncomfortable is only the tip of what Paul is highlighting here. What would be worse than serving someone  a plate of food they have always understood to be unclean, is to then look at them and tell them that they are stupid or wrong for feeling as if it is unclean, or give them any suggestion that you think that.

This leads to a word in the heading of this passage that catches my eye. Liberty is a word that can be completely misconstrued. Our country for instance lifts the concept of liberty extremely highly, but spoke of is as "for all" when for so many people it simply didn't apply. What Paul is saying, is that each person has the Liberty to decide what is appropriate for them. We have the liberty to have different convictions and preferences. This is part of God's created order. Humanity can choose God or not God. They are at liberty to make that choice. People have the liberty now days to prefer a liturgical church services lead by a priest, or a church in which worship is based on hymns and intellectual scripture study. Another may prefer a house church with less structure and more open discussion and interactivity. These are some of the differences that today Paul could refer as "doubtful issues" which is encourages his readers to avoid debating.

This is when I'm called back to the "take up your cross and follow me idea". Christians who aim to follow this prayerfully will consult the spirit of God with their liberty. They use their liberty to give up their liberty. We defer our desires, for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Do we always do this well? I know I don't. We are imperfect in our attempts because we are sinful. But in order to be in right relationship with others, family, spouses, children, friends, neighbors, strangers, other believers and non believers alike we have to fall back on this idea of loosening the strangle hold we can have on our convictions. It's not letting go of these convictions or counting them to be meaningless, but prioritizing living with others rightly.

After reading Romans 14, I continued and read through the end of the book. I was struck by the personal nature of Paul's shout outs. He listed individuals, men and women, by name and by their accomplishments. He greeted them not as a superior but as a friend. This to me is remarkable. In the grand scheme of things the Apostle Paul is a gigantic figure, and he's constantly on the move. The idea that Paul would be this relational in nature is challenging. He remembered countless individuals. This shows that even though Paul was as busy as he was he wasn't just talking about relational correctness, he lived it. 

This is part of what it takes to be a fruitful branch. It's more than the golden rule. It's living with liberty to give up liberty a heart of love. We have to seek peace with people. We must seek relational correctness. It is only by relationship that the spirit takes hold of a human heart. It's the only way we grow as people, and they only way that people come to understand the Gospel. Let us live lives as people of love, who are willing to set aside some of the things we desire and prefer in order to relate to people of different cultures practices and beliefs. Within these relationships we can show others the sacrificial love of Christ. To do this we must be alert. As Paul says in Ephesians 6, we aught to "fit our feet with readiness". and what do you need to use some ready and able feet? A open mind, a self-less heart, and eyes that are alert to the people and the needs around you.






Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Spirit of the Thief

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy" -John 10:10a


This ever-frequently shared tiny bible fragment is so poignant with meaning. But the idea on a literal sense is some what odd. What does it really mean to be a thief? What does it mean to kill? And what is destruction? Is this thief a real person? This is what happens with Christ's teachings. His use of parables, images, metaphor and stories rarely provide concrete answers but instead direct his students/listeners/readers/followers to think about and ask more questions. But with these word, the first thing I thought about was complete devastation. The thief's action encompasses the idea of the image of physical, violent loss, death and destruction that is shown above. The thief's actions if unchecked would lead to complete ruin... Still, it goes deeper than rubble like in the picture above.


In John 10, Jesus also uses the Good Shepherd metaphor. It's a Bible passage I always seem to come back to, because the idea that God would choose to be like shepard is astounding. He could be a king and he chose to be like a shepherd. Shepherding sounds like an awful job. Sheep smell bad, they can't defend themselves and some breeds of sheep literally need to be sheered or they fail to function properly. The weight of John 10 is found in the juxtaposition of the thief and the shepherd. Their attitudes reside on opposite poles of perspective.

Still, what triggered this thought-scape was the idea that there are simple facts of life that are the embodiment of this metaphorical thief. First, back in December I stumbled jogging into work at hit my head on the concrete. It wasn't terrible, but  I was diagnosed with a minor concussion and missed a day of work. Nonetheless, brain injuries, however small, can be life changing and are always to be taken seriously. Second, my brother in law recently received another all clear after his battle with cancer. He's been cancer free and well for quite sometime now, but it was still a striking reminder of how a healthy person could suddenly become so inexplicably ill.

There's a concept in Christian thought that the truly awful things of this world: pure evil, natural disaster, cancer, traumatic brain injuries, sickness and ... sometimes anything that may make some individual Christians uncomfortable... are the direct results of sin in the world. To say the least, this isn't my favorite way of thinking about bad things, because it's frequently followed by a sins of the fathers type idea, or statements like "this hurricane is happening because society is veering away from traditionally Christian morals". In my assessment, Christians shouldn't be saying these things because they could be down right, flat out, and our right false. Instead of theorizing about what evil deed resulted in a specific bad thing, I posit that diseases, injury, natural disasters and bad stuff, are all about good things having become twisted. These things are evidence that God's "Garden of Eden" created order has been stolen away, that pure and right relationships have been killed, and that perfectly good creation has been subject to destruction. Bad stuff happens because bad stuff happens. The fall happened. There was Eve, there was free will, and their was a serpent...

So there appears another common explanation in Christian thought for why bad things happen. Some equate them to the tangible acts of Satan upon the world. While it's not theologically false per-say, I think I've found a much more life guiding and productive way to think about it. Sometimes, if we think of the bad things, the evil things, or the ugly things of this world, as the work of Satan (or as previously mentioned, as consequences for the past sins of humanity) it suggests that its all of our hands. We can't free ourselves from sin. We can't dodge evil or bad things. This is true, but that doesn't mean confront them or mobilize against the phenomena. For that reason I find it more helpful to think of the evil, and bad things of the world as evidence of the spirit of the thief. This allows us to think of how we can combat that spirit. We can defend ourselves from the spirit of the thief and work in the Holy Spirit to fight against it. Since, the work of this thief is so at work in everyday life on earth, we as Christians must resolutely reject the spirit of the thief. Humans are sinful and have evil thoughts, that is not be argued against. But Christ has also one the war against sin, death and Satan and we have His Spirit within us to guide us and help us live a life in His strength where we are fruitful by His design for His purposes. To be a fruitful branch, the implication means we must reject the ways we choose to steal, kill and destroy and instead aim to do the opposite.

So that brings us back to that shepherd. Jesus, who is traditionally said to be the good sheperd incarnate. says in Matthew 5:22 "but I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Fool!' will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, You moron!' will be subject to hellfire." This of course comes right after Christ upholds the law as governing, saying of course it is wrong to murder. Still, with this quote Jesus brings to light a higher standard. It's not only our actions point to our but our attitude. So it's not only our actions in the spirit of the thief we have to avoid but our attitudes as well

The attitudes behind stealing are vast. I hit on one idea here on this blog in the post Stealing from Our Creator. The idea being, by personally neglecting our spiritual growth we are stealing from God, because he has promised us that he will equip us for work in the kingdom. So an attitude of worry or selfishness or laziness could create the spirit of the thief. I think of work too. I once read a lent devotional by Dietrich Bonheoffer where he attested that there is a time for work and a time for prayer. Many time I find myself distracting myself from work by taking time to pray. This is a spirit of stealing from my work. This issue also applies to relationships. When we prioritize self or isolate ourselves, we are not only stealing from our own social well being but that of our friends and family.

Christ's words in the fifth chapter of Matthew hit directly on how the idea of killing can be extrapolated into the realm of attitude. When we curse others, wish them harm or experience rage, it's not much different. Curses, and anger directed at someone are as good as murder by Christ's explanation of the law. This attitude could also be extrapolated to other facets of life. Killing productivity, cutting off productive conversations, the concept is almost endlessly applicable. The attitude of destruction follows suit. We can sabotage, or tear down the work we are doing in the Kingdom with destructive attitudes. In short the thief steals away fruitfulness, kills our livelihood (spiritual or otherwise), works to destroy whatever we have built. These attitudes can be directed at ourselves, at God, or at others, and do nothing but inhibit our efforts toward sanctification and the advancement of the Kingdom of God on earth.

The attitudes of the thief are completely anti-kingdom. We all face them daily, if not ever few minutes, and we must be mindful to catch them before lead to actions. There is a sickeningly pleasant feeling that we can get when we get wrapped up in the attitudes of the thief. These attitudes taste sweet to us. When we indulge in these attitudes it can fill us up, we think only of ourselves and our desire, we feel powerful, we feel rich. Christ never thought of himself once. He laid down his life. All the time he was looking away from his self interest. He looked only to God and only to his fellow humans. When he did feel the fear and the weight of death in the garden of Gethsemane he feel on his knees in prayer, again looking only to God. Christ lifted petition to God in the garden of Gethsemane, but it was still in the heart of submission not out of self interest.

Let us remember the selfless work of the shepherd. The down and dirty effort to care for the flock. Let us not savor the sweet taste of the attitudes of the thief, but spit them out when they touch our tongues. The world holds enough of that attitude within itself to allow it inside of us. This year, as a type of new year's resolution, I aimed to make an effort to be more mindful. That can be a touchy subject in Christian circles because some mindfulness techniques are based off of eastern meditation, or new age theory. Still, I am a firm believer that humanity can teach us a lot about how, as Christians, we can relate to God. It's helped me. Simply making an effort to be more aware of what I feel is key to knowing what's really going on inside of me. It has seriously helped shorten the effects of the bad attitudes I get trapped within.

But now as a month and a half have gone by, I need more. I need more than just to be mindful. I need to be prayerful. I need to be aware of what I feel and be bringing it constantly to God. How can we be like the good shepherd and combat the attitudes of the thief? We must seek the source of all good in the world. We must be alert to the spirit inside of us and be mindful not only of our emotions, sensations and actions, but also our attitudes. From that mindfulness, we must practice to turn it into prayer. With this mindful+plus+prayerful attitude, we can open ourselves up to hearing from God and relating to God more like Jesus did. Without it, we are constantly susceptible to the ways of the thief who wriggles and worms his way into our process to steal, kill and destroy. With it we can do the opposite. We can provide for people, share, heal, encourage, build up and cultivate. This can help us to become a fruitful branch.



Monday, November 5, 2018

Sword and Shield

Spiritual life is filled with us and downs. The trials and triumphs are a part of humanity. We all feel the weight of life and the effects of sin in the world to some extent or another. But one of the most visceral and universal of it's effects of this on any individual soul, is self defense. Human nature tells us we fight for what we have. Then we defend what we have and what we do. The idea that we are self made. It's what makes us fight and why countries start wars with each other.

A general review of the Old Testament reveals God trying to instill the fact that He is in control into the consciousness of his people. One of the best examples of this is the story in Exodus 17 when the Israelite's were fighting against the Amalekites and only when Moses kept his hands in the air did the Israelites did they even stand a chance. They may have been the people fighting, but God was defending them. If Moses set aside his prayerful posture the homeless wandering travelers he was leading, predictably, did not fare well against an army. But Moses lifting his hands held high to God (which he even needed help with) was enough for the Israel to overcome the Amalekite forces.

From this story I pull some applications. As a child of God, he is in control. While I am not personally fighting a war, I can still know God as my defender. At least, I can know that He will continue defend the me that He created, that is to say the me that is in right relationship with Him.

As a Christian I find myself constantly drifting a little bit here and there from my avenue of growth to becoming my-heavenly-self. While, I'm not fighting for my life or wandering through the desert, that sometimes does sound like a pretty good metaphor for my faith journey. While the Israelites grumbled because they didn't know where they were going and they didn't fit in anywhere, I grumble mostly because a deep-seeded desire to be understood. Frequently, when I feel misunderstood I get defensive.

One summer, I gifted a Catholic Miraculous medal at a inter-denominational church camp. A young Catholic man had just shared his testimony of God's faithfulness and he gave them out in handfuls to everyone who attended his seminar. This challenged me. Hearing truth about God from a from a theological point of view that differs from one's own is always challenging. Simply put the medal was almost too much. If you don't know a miraculous medal is a charm to be worn as a necklace. It has been, for lack of a better term, baptized by Catholic priests in different bodies of water and prayed over, so that the one who wears it would carry with them prayers of safety and well being. I wear it most days now not as a miraculous charm that will keep me safe and well, but as a symbol of the power of faith and prayer. and a reminder of my safety and security in Christ.

These days I wear this on the same string as an old cross necklace formed in the general shape of a sword. This specific charm was given to me by my aunt and, by her report, could date back to 16th Century England. It's really dense and heavy. I first started wearing a cross in the shape of sword years ago. The charm was store bought and cheep and look more like a sword. At that time it represented the sword of the spirit from Ephesians, where Paul uses the metaphor of the armor of God and in it the sword, the offensive weapon represents the spirit and Word of God. I saw the cross in the shop and thought of that passage and what it would mean to where a symbol of my savior, his identity and words around my neck and resting against my heart and it was really compelling.


It's somewhat funny that even though I know the symbolism of these charms around my neck and put them on almost daily that, recently, I have failed to live my life taking their sentiments to heart. I don't believe that a symbol can magically make me well or defend me, or compel me to think in any special way, but I'd forgotten the purpose of wearing the necklace. It's internal. It's the way I think. It's they way that I posture myself. It's my attitude.

Fear and anger are constants for everyone. They frequently, one way or another, go hand and hand. The Israelites were scared as lonely desert wanderers and because of that, they got mad at God. When I become afraid that I'm misunderstood, or for some reason un-understandable, I put up my defenses. I raise my sword and shield. When we as humans feel afraid, we react to attack, defend or isolate. In my own daily life, I battle the choice to grumble and revolt. I want to clench my fists and fight more than I'm proud to admit. I hate when people are in pain. I hate when I feel that passion is being misconstrued or that I am being misunderstood. I raise my shield and draw my sword. I close myself in isolation and I push people away. These attitudes are like poison to the idea of being a fruitful branch.

Like the Israelites in the wilderness, I am not my own defender. I am not meant to fight all of the battles in the world. I shouldn't fear misunderstanding, but simply do my work and live my life with integrity, as a follower of Jesus. God is my defender. He is my sword and shield.

Lord, help me to take my place as Your servant. Help me to see as You see. Help me to serve the people I meet. Lord, help me to forget defensiveness and aggressiveness as a reaction to fear or frustration. Instead, give me wisdom, Lord, to find the right words to speak and the right steps to take. You are my shield and defender. I lay down my emotional desire to fight and life my hands to You. Amen.