“Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord.” - Romans 12:11
Half-heartedness is the curse of mediocrity. It is the spirit of lukewarm faith that so offended Jesus about the church of Laodicea in the book of Revelation. It is the polar opposite of the wholehearted worship, devotion, and service that is called for among people who know and love God.
In a recent sermon, I used a word that may or may not exist: "pyrocardia," a heart on fire. That is what Paul is talking about as he describes the red hot spirit of the believer serving the Lord. It is energized, vitalized, and emblazoned with passion. That passion ignites every dimension of the Christian’s life so that he or she is doing everything as service to the Lord.
Romans 12:11 lays it out and can be translated, “never short on zeal, always abounding in spiritual fervor, serving the Lord."
Lacking in zeal is literally getting a case of the "slows." Spiritual fervor is "heat." Some have pointed out textual variations for “serving the Lord” so that some translations render it, “serving the time.” Most scholars agree that the best texts render it “serving the Lord,” it is not difficult to see how a few scribes might have gotten confused. All of our service to God is in time and space and requires seizing opportunities. To understand that time is fleeting is to light a fire beneath our feet. To serve God is to serve time as well.
Energized Christian service with an eye on the clock is contagious and significant. The passionate devotion of one man or woman can light a fire that cannot be extinguished by discouragement or hardship. One person set afire by the Holy Spirit can inflame an entire community for Christ.
Half-hearted service will simply maintain. Whole-hearted service will affect transformation.
As we come to common table of the Christian experience in the church, may we catch and pass on a good case of “pyrocardia.”
The Triple Threat to Discouragement - Part 1– The Forward View
"Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer." - Romans 12:12
Discouragement has met its match. Romans 12:12 has a devastating affect on discouragement by wielding a weapon I call "The Triple Threat." It is a formula and I am generally suspicious of formulas. However, this one is built upon core realities and it not only works, but it propels us to the next level of maturity, preparing us for challenges yet to come. They can be summarized as:
Rejoice in hope.
Be patient in affliction.
Be persistent in prayer.
In these three statements, our brother, Paul summarizes the essentials for overcoming obstacles that are ever-present in our lives by taking three views of reality: the forward view, the inward view, and the upward view.
The forward view defies stagnation in the bleak present of immediate circumstances. "Be joyful in hope," is the rallying cry of the Christian optimist. We gravitate toward poles like the twins in Ronald Reagan's favorite joke. The pessimistic brother was despondent as he gazed upon the multiple gifts he received for his birthday, prophesying that they would all soon be broken. The optimistic twin, however, was exhilarated by a room full of hay, exclaiming to his friends that with all that straw, there must be a pony in there.
We see everything through the eyes of hope and we process everything we see in the spirit of joy.
Hope is always unrealized potential. It is always visualized with something other than physical eyes and it is always a matter of choice. Hope can be unrequited, but the hopeful person is never bereft of all benefit because hope is its own reward. It wakes us up in the morning and gets us on our way. It is futuristic and positive.
The spirit of joy is rooted in the essential nature of its linguistic cousin, grace. The gracious giddiness of a hopeful soul is contagious and compelling. We have no need to engage in a grand cover-up of our foibles and failures, because God loves and accepts us with our warts and widgets. Therefore, we can chuckle at the prospects of whatever lies ahead. We're moving on and the destination is wonderful!
The Triple Threat to Discouragement - Part 2– The Inward View
" … patient in tribulation …" - Romans 12:12b
The forward view teaches us to rejoice. The inward view is our companion through the common experience of pain and hardship. No human being is exempt from affliction. One day, one of those afflictions will escort us from this waiting room we call life into a wider place of grace we call eternity. Then eternity will redefine life. Until then, we suffer - some more, some less, all some. Patience is our guide through this process. It is the little voice that reminds us that we are people of hope and that we can face this trial with God's help.
We are not blind to the trouble. As we practice patience, two truths balance our inward view to create a whole picture. First, we are aware of the realities that surround us. Second, we are stabilized by the roots that ground us.
The realities that surround us are what they are. What is ... is. We are not Pollyanna imitators - although, I must admit that a fresh look at the much maligned little girl's character in film left me more on her side than on that of her critics. Pollyanna was on to something. She wasn't oblivious to the pain; she transcended it. Nor are we, as Christians, called to an opaque window through which we might gaze upon a glossed over concept of all that is. We see the tribulation around us, acknowledge it, engage with those caught in it, and seek to make a difference.
At the same time, we balance it all with the roots that ground us. Because we believe in purpose through divine providence, we know that "it doth not yet appear what we shall be." We likewise know that faith is substance and evidence and that the evidence points to an unseen reality that is as real and far more substantive than what we can quantify in the world around us. We are grounded by revealed truth and heavenly hope. Patience builds upon hope, the inward view upon the forward view.
The Triple Threat to Discouragement - Part 3– The Upward View
“… continuing instant in prayer.” Romans 12:12c
We have looked at the forward view of rejoicing as a fatal blow to discouragement, especially when accompanied by the inward view of patience in the midst of tribulation. We come, then, to the upward view. It is the energizing and guiding force behind the first two. It is prayer. E.M. Bounds said, of preachers, but it is equally true for all, that "we need real, live, heart praying by the power of the Spirit."
He went on to describe that needed prayer as direct, specific, ardent, and simple. Two observations that reflect an overcomer's prayer, powerful enough to fuel the weapons of our arsenal battling discouragement are that true prayer is a partnership and that it is expressed in persistence. Paul says that we are to persist in prayer.
That prayer is partnership is a matter of definition. A wide angle view of prayer in the scripture will unveil a tapestry of dialog between man and God where each opens his heart to the other and where silence is often as powerful as words. Romans 8 teaches us about groanings that cannot be uttered which are sung by the Holy Spirit within us. Prayer brings us into a life long partnership with God where we can begin to breathe together in an ever deepening love relationship in which no subject is off limits and no time is the wrong time to pray.
It is, therefore, persistent. We don't stop. Quitting is not an option. There will be ebbs and flows as the tides of our lives and moods mingle with the challenges of our times, but we keep praying and we do not lose heart. We pray as individuals and as a community. It is the strength of our praying that will inform our hope and infuse our joy. It is the persistence of our prayer lives that will bolster our patience in the inevitable struggles of our lives.
Discouragement has met the triple threat of three broader views of life. It has no hope. We do.