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.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

IF: THEN; Meditations on the Song If I Stand

In my last post I focused on Romans 12 and the idea of renewing the mind. If you have a moment, and have not already done so, I would suggest taking a look at that post, as themes from it carry over into this one. In that post, I acknowledged that God calls us to do, not to over think but to act, knowing that God, in his Spirit has endorsed our actions of people of his Kingdom. To do this, Paul compels us to the renewal of our minds.

In the past whenever I have tried to facilitate some mental renewal in my life, I make efforts fill  my mind with positive stimulus. By that I mean seeking out some encouraging words or conversation, try to start some productive or creative activity, or simply taking sometime to do something that I enjoy. It's not an exact science and sometimes it results in passivity: things like video games or netfix. One of these practices that I think is very positive for my mental renewal, is dwelling on the words of a song. Music has power, and music tells a story. In my mind, stories always have something to teach. This week, a song showed me that some of my assumptions of mental renewal were wrong.

This week, I have chosen to use the song "If I Stand", written by the late Rich Mullins and most recently recorded by "Jars of Clay", as my alarm clock tone. My plan was to aim for the ideal morning. One where I'd wake up refreshed and ready for my workday. With the clock reading 5:10, I'd breath in the fresh morning air in my non-cluttered room, sit down at my non cluttered desk and, inspired by the beautiful lyrics and melodies of this song, begin my daily routine of reading out of Gospel of John, with subsequent journaling. Fifteen to twenty minutes later, I'd fire up my laptop and flow seamlessly into a rhythmic wave of inspired writing, where captivating scene after captivating scene would come pouring out of my subconscious, shooting through my arms and fingers, until they land in a Microsoft Word doc in the form of a fully edited novel draft.

Either that, or I'd move my attentions straight into the blogosphere, and whip out a post each morning. That's how I'd like to start my day: to begin by intentional spiritual and vocational training. I figured the encouraging words of this song could be just the positive stimulus I needed.. But this week, I never came close to the ideal morning. And that was okay. Instead, I would wake up to the lyrics of this great song: 
"There's more that rises in the morning than the sun, and more that shines on the night than just the moon. There's more than just this fire here that keeps me warm, in a shelter that is larger than this room..."
By that time, I find myself debating between buttons pertaining to thirty, twenty, fifteen, ten, five or three minutes. After tapping an option, I lay back down, falling into some sorry state between sleep and consciousness, only to be awoken again:
"There's more that rises in the morning than the sun..."
Ironic right?

First of all, the sun hasn't risen yet. And so, there in the dark, I find my ideal morning to be far less valuable that a few more minutes of bad sleep. Add the fact, that at this point, whatever light that's shining other than the moon (i.e. what is probably my neighbors bedside light peeking through our respective blinds, a streetlamp, alien space craft, or God knows what) is far more irritating than inspiring. It practically forces  my face deeper into my pillows and compels my sheets, blankets and comforter to be pulled further over my eyes.

Thus begins the chain of snooze buttons:
"There's more that rises in the morning..."

"There's more that ..."
You get the idea. 

However, even in this less than ideal morning ritual, I'm still learning. Thankfully, my sponge of a brain allows me to recall the whole song once I gain complete consciousness. I hear the full arrangement of instrumentation and artful harmonies that "Jars of Clay" used in their production. And then, there in my brain, as I walk the final block and a half from bus stop to work, the chorus rings out clearer than ever.
"If I stand, let me stand on the promise, you will pull me through. But if I can't let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you. And if I sing let me sing for the joy, that has born in be these songs. But if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home."
This is when the  "IF: THEN" idea hit me really hard. The thought process is a bit obscure but I hope to smooth out the odd jumps my brain makes to come to this conclusion. If we go back to the very first idea in this post, it shows that my idea of mental renewal, somehow got stuck upon trying to create positive stimuli. I'm trying to control my circumstance. The "IF: THEN" idea alerted me to a few different realities.

First, this tells me that on one level, the control that I have is not within the "IFs" of the world: that is to say external circumstances. Things happen that cannot be controlled: illness, injury, natural disasters, so on and so forth. What the human mind has an ability to control is the "THEN".

Second, the "IF: THEN" idea alerted me that there is always a moment between circumstance and reaction. A space of either deliberation or discernment. In my current mental state, the space between the "IF" and the "THEN" trends in the direction of self doubt, deliberation and the dragging of feet. In that space, in that state, I find myself further away from any possible positive "THEN".

Third, "THENs" become "IFs". That is to say reactions to circumstances will create circumstances that are, at least in some sense, controllable. If someone links together a lot of bad reactions to circumstances, more bad circumstances are bound to follow. You could say the same thing for the effect of good responses. This is an extremely simple idea.

Keep in mind, the prayer in this chorus does not only talk about "if I stand" but also "if I can't". It mentions "if I sing" and "if I weep". This reminds me that there are faithful ways for me to weep and to fall on one's knees. This reminds me, that in response to the world's "IFs" God does not demand from us strength or constant gladness. There are faithful and unfaithful ways to stand, just as there are faithful and unfaithful ways to fall, to sing or to weep. If this makes sense. that means there are faithful ways to fail. In my perfectionism, I deliberate over making the perfect choice. Many times there isn't a perfect reaction to a circumstance, but their is always a faithful one.

This also brings to mind Galatians 6:14:
But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.
If I stand (that is to say, if I am physically standing, or if I take a stand about something, if I stand up for myself, if I withstand persecution, or even just simple irritation ... etc.) I must stand upon the promises of God. I will not boast in anything else. It is not by human strength that the Kingdom comes.

Leading up to this beautiful prayerful chorus, the song refers to the divine truth that there is more to this world than just what we can sense. This "more than" essence in Christian epistemology, is the death defeating, sin shattering, sacrificial love of our Father and creator, that has been churning and swirling through the course of all history, in the ultimate direction of universal renewal. This is God's promise. Dwelling upon it, allows for more faithful "THENs" to go with any "IF". That is the promise that I want to stand on.

This song, even though it's role as an inspiration to my ideal morning has not come to fruition, it has directed me towards faithful thoughts. Truly:
"There's more that dances on the prairies than the wind, and more that pulses in the ocean than the tide. There's a love that fiercer than the love between friends, more gentle then a mother's when her baby's at her side. And there's a loyalty that's deeper than mere sentiment, and a music higher than the songs that I can sing. The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance. I owe only to the giver of all good things."
It reminds me that my primary allegiance goes to Christ, anything else is secondary. I will cling to the mystery of his gospel and see the world, even it's mundane and simple things, in light of Christ's coming Kingdom.

People can get this all twisted. Having Kingdom focus is an underlying aspect of life in Christ. There is nothing dissociative about it. It's not saying that the world is less. It's not discounting the experience. Saying there's more that dances on the prairies than the wind, is not diminishing the beauty of the wind that makes the prairie dance. To say there's a love that's more gentle that that of a mother for her child is not discounting the wonderful thing that is motherly love. Neither is it  saying "to heck with my life on earth, I don't have to bother with this world, because I'm heaven bound". It's, as a person of faith, acknowledging the presence of the divine in the world. It's acknowledging that presence, which is perpetually inclined towards the renewal of the universe, as the base of my actions within the world. It's standing upon the promises of God, and doing good works of love for the good of people. It's weeping alongside those who weep because the Kingdom is not here yet. It's standing up against oppression or weeping for those who have not yet glimpsed the goodness of the Kingdom of God.

The world is a broken and beautiful place. It is terrible and terrific. It is awesome in awe-inspiration and awesome in its awful things. But do not get it twisted. We must not live with our minds rapped up in pity parties about the state of the world. Nor can we find ourselves building up walls against our worries, or designing defenses against that with which we do not agree.

IF: THEN is a very simple idea. IF: THEN is about action after a pause. It's about briefly minding that punctuation. One of the grammatical purposes of a colon is to precede and explanation. Within those two vertical dots there is energy. After any "IF" there must be a conscious moment of discernment. For me, I'm learning that I want Kingdom discernment to reside in that space between "IF" and "THEN".

While there is technically nothing wrong with choosing to fill my schedule with positive stimulus, that's only part of the equation. Real mental renewal doesn't occur by creating good circumstances, but by discerning positive responses. In an effort to be a man of God, I know that positive responses are those that run parallel to the Kingdom of God.

This is my prayer:,
Help me, Lord, to mind the middle between "IF" and "THEN". In your mercy give me clarity of mind, so I may discern what is right. I resolve to dwell upon your word and truth so that no matter what the "IF", I may discern a faithful "THEN". Lord, help me to let my roots dig down deep into your divine presence in this world. If I stand, help me stand on the promise, that there is more to this world than my circumstances. If I can't let, me fall upon your beautiful grace. Help me Lord to be a fruitful branch on your vine: to live in this world but not of it. Let me recognize, that with any circumstance You, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, have given me the ability to choose to act as a messenger and a carrier of your Kingdom. Amen. 

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