I mean, that Paul is something, isn't he?
Passionate, fiery, stubborn, steadfast, loyal, unwavering, unapologetic, uncompromising, and incapable of sugar-coating, he might also be the most loving character in all of scripture short of Christ himself. Which seems like a weird thought since his words many times come across as not loving at all; certainly not "sweet". But I say this because I believe whole-heartedly that it is his very love of Christ, his love of the gospel and his love of people and desire for them to know the gospel that fueled all of those other characteristics in him. He loved. Therefore, he couldn't bear the thought of a world without the gospel. And therefore, he let people know in no uncertain terms what might become of them without the gospel. It was his sole purpose for living.
Rich gospel teaching and challenging life lessons permeated the entire study, and I am left with an endless well of truth to reflect on and dig deeper into in the coming weeks as I continue to process all that we learned. What a treasure!
In the meantime, one of the things that has been fixed in my mind for several days now is this idea of writing letters for the sake of the gospel. I mean, that's exactly what Paul did for much of his life. When he wasn't traveling or physically present with people ministering to them in person, he was writing letters either to remind them of what he had already taught them, to prepare them for what he was coming to teach them, or simply to teach them through his written words if he couldn't be physically present with them. Letters. To the Corinthians. To the Galatians. To the Ephesians. To the Colossians. To Timothy. To Titus. To Philemon. And so forth. You get the picture.
And as I think of all those letters, my mind is fixed on this-- What would I write? If I had one chance via letter to capture the attention of a group of people and offer them the single most important message I could think of, what would it be? Hmmmm. . . .
Well, I've come to the conclusion that there's a reason Paul was Paul and I am not. :-D Nevertheless, I feel the need to work this out and see what I come up with. My hope is that each time I try this again in the future, the letter will reflect a deeper maturity in the gospel, a richer love for my Jesus, and a greater passion for drawing people to him. But for now, this is what I got--
Dear friends and fellow seekers of the Gospel--
I am writing with hope that this letter finds you chasing after Christ with your whole hearts. I am learning daily that this is truly the only way to live abundantly. So many distractions tempt and taunt me away from that focus regularly, but the satisfaction they bring is so shallow and so brief, it never even remotely compares to the deep fulfillment I find in Christ. He is everything. Absolutely everything.
Life throws challenges at me every single day, some easily manageable and others not so much. I'm sure you face this reality as well. But I'm learning that none of it is ever a surprise to our Almighty God. Not only is he fully aware of all that I am facing, he is in fact fully in control of it. All of it. This brings me so much comfort and freedom. The less I try to control my life, the more I find rest and peace and joy and contentment in fellowship with Christ. This is a difficult lesson, especially for "planners" like me. Sometimes it's so hard to let go. It's even more difficult to understand where to draw the line between just not doing anything and trying to do it all. Where is that line? How do you know when to work and when to sit still?
I think this is something you understand better through a daily walk and a daily dialog with Christ. It's all about communication. If you need guidance, ask for it. Talk to your Father. He delights in your voice. And in the meantime, go ahead and make smart decisions. God gave you a mind for a reason. If they are not sinful and do not conflict with scripture, go ahead and pursue your plans. HOWEVER, ALWAYS hold them loosely with an open hand so that the Lord might reach in and add, remove or rearrange whatever he chooses. And when he does, don't behave as though he has inconvenienced or punished you in some way. Be grateful for his intervention. His plans are better than yours. I promise.
Learn to realize that anything that captures more of your heart than Christ is an idol. Christ and Christ alone should be foremost in your heart. This doesn't mean that you can't enjoy other things. By all means-- eat, drink and be merry. Kiss your spouse and hug your children. Delight in the sound of a baby laughing and the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. Be overwhelmed by the sight of a sunset in the mountains. These are all gifts from God, but give them their due attention and move on. Don't worship them. Nothing should hold more of your devotion than Jesus. Nothing. Even seemingly "good" things like studying scripture and serving at your church. These things are good and necessary, but even these are not more important than your ongoing love for and fellowship with Christ. Make him the treasure of your life. I can assure you there is nothing more valuable in all the world, and what is so special is that you'll find that the more you treasure him, the healthier your perspective will become toward your potential idols. You will learn to love them appropriately rather than depend on them for your happiness. You'll enjoy your spouse rather than wondering why he or she can't read your mind and fulfill your needs perfectly. You'll delight in your children rather than feeling burdened by all that they need from you but rarely have the ability to give back. You'll see your talents and gifts as something to be shared rather than something to use for personal gain and attention. The list goes on and on.
This is not to say that life will be an easy and effortless float through the clouds. It won't. God himself promises through scripture that this world will bring trouble, but he also promises never to leave or forsake us. This is key. A much smarter person than me (who I happen to be gratefully married to) once wrote, "Brokenness will find you. Be holding hands with Christ when it does." Oh, how I love that phrase! This is the answer to everything, isn't it? Life is hard. But God is good. Life will break your heart. But Christ will heal it. Life will burden you. But Christ will free you. So walk with him, talk with him, learn to hear his voice, find fellowship with him in any and every way you can. And once you have found him, you will know and believe that He is bigger, stronger, more gloriously satisfying and more breathtakingly real than anything this fallen world has to offer. Cling to him with all that you have. He will prove himself worthy of your devotion over and over again.
May you find blessings in the gospel and hope and healing in his embrace today and always,