Saturday, June 13, 2009

Be Diligently Vigilant

I heard a story a long time ago about a guy, we'll call him Bob [his name was NOT Bob :) ] that was crossing the street, when all of the sudden, he was shoved in the back by a stranger. Knocked down by the incident, he furiously got up and found his assailant. This man, obviously winded, asked, "Are you okay?" Puzzled, Bob retorted, "Not after you knocked me down!! What were you thinking?!" The other man, obviously taken aback by this comment, replied, "You were almost hit by a speeding car! Crazy drivers these days!" "But I didn't see any car," Bob muttered, confused himself. "Well," the man said with a smile on his face, "I don't suppose you do see the car that hits you most times, do you?"

I remembered that story after thinking about getting caught off guard by sudden frustrations and temptations in my life. Wondering what to do about these problems as they catch me unaware along with the resulting filth I produce reminded me of I Peter 5:8-9. It states, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith..." I've heard and read this passage what seems to be hundreds of times, and occasionally, a fuller picture of what this scripture is really stating stikes me. However, recently, events have caused this and other passages like it to hit me more like a ton of bricks.

See, normally, I'm focused on the "your adversary the devil" part, and honestly, I think I look out for the more obvious evil attitudes or actions that would come from him. However, after analyzing myself and situations I frequently get myself into, I've realized more and more that we are to be vigilant against the far more subtle everyday occurrences influenced by the attitudes and confusion that Satan unleashes on this world.

Quick aside: Now, some of you (or the one person that may actually read this blog (thanks!!)) may be stating, "Duh." But epiphanies sometime hit us emotionally more than intellectually, and this is one of those occasions for me. When things strike at my person or emotional base, it causes me to seriously dig deep with real questions and begin a process of change. Whereas when I just intellectually understand something, it's generally more like, "That's such a cool idea! Ooh, look! A pretty bird!" And my mind is onto the next distraction, ala James 1:22-24 (the mirror passage).

But this whole concept much deeper than that to me, so I'll attempt to go into the line of thinking that led me to it (feel free to follow along if you'd like). It started out by analyzing some of the sins I've been having serious trouble overcoming. One thing I've learned from meditating on these sins is that knowledge helps us understand why we do things, but it doesn't necessarily help us to stop. So once I was satisfied with the fact that I had mostly understood why I was committing these sins repeatedly, the effects of them on me, my loved ones, and God, the spiritual fruits and gifts required to overcome them and even how those fruits helped and blended with God's other fruits and gifts to make life so much easier... (I'll take a deep breath now from this run-on sentence...) ...I started to look for the solution on how to actually stop committing them.

But upon trying to stop several times, I was led to understand that really didn't want to overcome these sins. I mean, I knew I needed to, and I know God requires us to act on what we know, otherwise it's sin to us. Yet I was being completely stubborn.

So I figured the way to gaining back this desire to change for the better was to study how to overcome stubbornness. I mean, the Bible has the answer for all of these kinds of questions, right? What I found shouldn't have surprised me, but it did... The Bible merely points out that people are stubborn and foolish, similar to the way it points out that people are prideful, arrogant, liars, fornicators, drunkards, idolators, etc. There was no way to "ease" out of being stubborn, no mantra I had to chant umpteen-thousand times, and asking God to "change me" over and over again, ala the persistent widow, wasn't going to work quite the way I hoped... <*sigh*> All it points out is the same solution for each and every one of our problems: humble yourself to God, allow Jesus Christ to work within you and, finally, simply DO what He tells us to do, wherever we learn it. I had to just man up and do it. A great quote that goes with this concept is given to us by Master Yoda, "Do or do not. There is no try."

I always take my advice from Muppets, don't you?

A physical example of this could be the day some of us look in the mirror or look down at our gut and say, "Wow, I need to exercise." And that thought quickly passes as we head to the fridge. Then a few weeks down the road, we finally get really sick of it and we might attempt a few sit-ups or take a long walk. But the follow-up is lacking. Finally, we realize that we need to get into a routine of exercise. Once again, it lasts for a while, but busy-ness, distractions, stress and just being utterly tired get in the way. Besides, that cheeseburger looked waaaay too good. But we learned how much better we could feel by trying...

Then it finally hits some of us. Real change can only take place when we notice that it's our entire lifestyle that needs to change. The kind of food we eat, the amount of sleep we get, the kind of exercise we do, the stresses we have, even the people we spend time with... It's at this point that it all becomes clear, and yet we have to make a choice: Am I really going to change my whole lifestyle, or am I going to go back and just be satisfied with what annoyed me so much before?

I give this example because it demonstrates that physical and spiritual problems can be viewed - and resolved - in much in the same way. The moment I realized I had to go all out kind of scared me, and yet it gave me clarity that I needed to go forward with the Just Do It attitude. There is no try over the long run...

So how in the world, after doing whatever bad habits we've done for who-knows-how-long (hence why Paul calls it the OLD man) do we suddenly change everything surrounding an issue? I mean, sure, if I did every right and good thing at once, it would be wonderful. But the initial inclination to stop at the first sign of any inconvenience is ridiculously high. It takes a ton of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy to get this fully-loaded cargo ship turned around in rough seas!

It was going to take all the will power I had, obviously. And then something else hit me... I was reading some old sermon notes how Jesus Christ had to constantly guard against evil in His life. Think for a moment about how difficult His job was. Sure, He had a ton of wisdom, experience and help. Yet if He messed up even once, ONCE, it ruined everything. How did He do it? By constantly having his guard up and being ready for anything. He never once let down, even while relaxing with His best buds over a glass of wine.

Coincidentally, I have said some of the meanest things to my friends over a glass of wine. I noticed that because of my comfort level, I felt I could say anything to them or about others and they would understand. Yet I keep finding out that harsh words from a good friend are like arrows shot through the heart. And looking back, those statements were rarely necessary. It's funny how, at least in my life, I treat perfect strangers better than I do my own family and friends a lot of times.

I finally saw that I, too, had to begin to get my guard up in all situations. I had to turn on my active sonar and begin scanning the world around me for possible tripping points. I had to anticipate what to do in case something happened. If I am particularly susceptible to some problem, then I need to have thought about how to stop it before it has an opportunity to present itself. Then when it occurs, I need to immediately act upon that!

When driving, most of us have learned to be defensive drivers. I've had cars come out of nowhere into my lane before when I didn't even have an inclination that they might. Similarly, I've had the most innocent situations erupt into a temper tantrum or a sin-fest. If I'm going to go all out, I have to be vigilant and always ready to counter temptation, no matter what shape it comes in. For example, I heard one minister say that we have to be in a constant state of forgiveness just in case somebody offends us.

Perhaps I should permanently keep my foot in my mouth so I stop myself from re-inserting it.

And of course, Jesus, in His off-time, went and prayed, sometimes entire nights. He never strayed from His Father in order that He would be guarding against those things that were really a problem, not just man-made ideas about what's bad. He was intimately familiar with the Scriptures (seeing as how He inspired them, Himself) so He wouldn't counter with the wrong words or actions. And if He knew to do something, He always did it.

I, who started this life as a mere mortal, get access to the same resources, too. However, I have to gain understanding and habits gradually over time by experience, advice, embarrassment and more embarrassment until we're finally sick of whatever we've become. Or we can choose to do what we're told in the same spirit as that of a child. Unfortunately, the older I get, the more stubborn I seem to become. Or as a friend recently put it, my conscience has become that much more seared from habitually choosing the wrong thing, and it is far more difficult to find out what's wrong with me, much less change. I guess it's in my best interest to make sure I'm in the right mold before the cement completely dries, so to speak. Otherwise, God will have to get out his trusty pick axe.

So I finally got back around to our opening scripture in I Peter 5. Be SOBER. Be VIGILANT! Sober (or nepho in Greek) means to abstain, be discreet or watchful. Vigilant (or gregorgeuo) means to keep awake, or also watchful. Satan is constantly throwing stumbling blocks into our path in obvious and sometimes completely obscured places to us. What may be obvious to a friend, we are blind to. We must, at all times, be in a state of awareness of what's going on around us regardless if we're amongst hungry lions or sleeping lambs (isn't that where it's easiest for hungry lions to attack?). Satan is always on the prowl regardless of how much we let our guard down.

I found another scripture that talks about being sober-minded: the qualifications of an elder in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. It's interesting how the job of a shepherd requires constant watchfulness. They are having to watch out vigilantly to defend their flock from outsiders trying to destroy or chase off members. Ministers must not be given to wine or quarrelsome, yet be gentle, hospitable, unmaterialistic and filled with self-control. These qualifications are to keep the overseer, himself, from doing damage to the flock. That said, the responsibility on the shoulders of each minister is that much heavier than that which is on us laymembers. And God even states that teachers are held to a stricter judgment (James 3:1) in a similar way that Jesus was held to the highest standard possible. Any falter would have greater consequences on God's people. Yet ministers are generally more humble, teachable, serving and loving than I have ever hoped to be. Why? I believe it's because they see the tremendous amount of responsibility placed on their shoulders and the seriousness of their role causes them to remain on high alert as Christ did.

These are the men responsible for actually living up to the "true religion" James points out in his epistle. Their job requires them to get to know all the members, visit the elderly and those in prison, go and annoint those who may be on their death bed, and in some cases, watch them die. They assist people with counseling and carry the burden of each person's issues in confidence without being able to "vent" to others about it. And they have to deal with troublemakers and make tough decisions on how to deal with such individuals. Yikes! Oh, and they speak and write and plan activities, camps and Feast sites from time to time, too.

How about me? Does my life carry the same kind of weight? Do I have a great deal of responsibility placed on my shoulders, too?

I believe the way we individually answer that question will guide how much we're vigilantly anticipating each word or action that comes our way. Heroes and champions have a way of rising to the challenge and God is making champions today. The weapons of God's warriors can be found in Ephesians 6:13-18 and other places. Will we bend our will towards him so He can bend us straight? Will we ask Him to show us what we need to see?

How clearly do I want to see? On one hand, the less blinded I am, the more vigilant, the more responsibile and the more accountable I'm expected to be, which requires more work and diligence. On the other hand, we are to be promoted by God to a position far higher than earthly ministers. And we are to let Christ live in us. If He is truly living in us, then He will cause us to walk as circumspectly as He did.

It's a tall order. I already have that uneasy feeling like there's no way I can maintain it for all that long. And yet, like a muscle being exercised, the pain will subside and we will grow stronger. And like a healthy person, I know I won't look at junk in the same way I did before. God wants us in His Kingdom and He'll stop at nothing to get us there. But it's we that have to be willing to ACT on what God is teaching us today along with tireless, ceaseless anticipation for what this world has to throw at us next.

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