Living in Two Worlds -At the Same Time-

Screen Shot 2019-09-27 at 3.39.13 PMIf you have read me for a while, you already know that I love the Puritans and that I have been greatly influenced by their writings. I am a firmly believer that all Christians should always have a book written by a Puritan on their currently-reading pile of books.

This past summer I decided to do something different on the way I would read their books. Instead of reading the Puritans in a random order -as I have done it for years, I would apply myself to study them, first in general, and then dig deeper in the life and writings of a few of them.

Yesterday I finished L. Ryken’s wonderful book, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were.  Every bit of this book was very interesting and of course I found many great gems that were worth sharing here, but alas! life is busy and blogging some (many!) times has to wait! However, I do want to share a few quotes that I loved because of how relevant they are to what I have always wanted this blog to capture: “I’m fully here, where God would want me to be, but fully aware that I’m Daily On My Way to Heaven.”

“Puritanism was inspired by the insight that all life is God’s. The Puritans lived simultaneously in two words -the invisible spiritual world and the physical world of earthly existence. For the Puritans, both worlds were equally real, and there was no cleavage of life into sacred and secular. All of life was sacred.

Thomas Goodwin wrote that when he was converted, “the glory of the great God was set upon my heart, as the square and rule of each and every particular practice.”

“Godliness in every phase of a person’s life was the Puritan goal. One Puritan spoke of Christianity as a “universal habit of grace” in which “the whole creature is resigned… to the obedience of the glory of its maker.” “If God be over us,  wrote Peter Bulkeley, “we must yield him universal obedience in all things. He must not be over us in one thing, and under us in another, but he must be over us in everything.”

“A logical extension of the principal that all of life is God’s was the Puritan emphasis on seeing God in the ordinary events of life. It is one of the Puritan’s most attractive traits. For the Puritans, everything in life became a pointer to God and a carrier of grace. They viewed life through the wide-angle lens of God’s sovereignty over all of life.

The sanctity of the common was a constant Puritan theme. John Bunyan asked in the preface to Grace Abounding, “Have you forgot… the milkhouse, the stable, the barn, and the like where God did visit your soul?”

“In sum there was no place where the Puritans could not potentially find God. They were always open to what Richard Baxter called a “drop of glory” that God might allow to fall upon their souls.”

“The Puritans were people of confidence, even in defeat, because they knew that they were part of something much bigger than themselves.

 

So yes, I’m doing life with the people I love, the joys of the ordinary and the hardship of God’s tailor-made trials for me. I’m blogging at times, reading much, trying to write more, practicing contentment, packing for a big trip,  and in the midst of it all, I find myself catching drops of glory everywhere I turn… and let me tell you, there are already too many buckets of glory and mercy to count! My cup overflows! God is indeed good!

And so I sign again, as I have done for years now,

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

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PC Credit: Samara Doole via Unsplash

God Always Gives Sufficient Grace

We are back from church and ready to face a new week by grace through faith. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring and Jesus explicitly commanded us not to be anxious about it. And yet, we ought be ready for what tomorrow may bring.

J.R. Miller write this devotional that I have found very helpful to help us get ready for worried week-days. I hope you find it helpful too.

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We have only successfully acquired the art of living a Christian life—when we have learned to apply the principles of true religion, and enjoy its help and comfort in our daily life. It is easy to join in devotional exercises, to quote Bible promises, to extol the beauty of the Scriptures; but there are many who do these things—whose religion utterly fails them in the very places and at the very times—when it ought to prove their staff and stay!

All of us must go out from the sweet services of the Sunday—into a week of very real and very commonplace life. We must mingle with people who are not angels. We must pass through experiences that will naturally worry and vex us. Those about us, either wittingly or unwittingly, annoy and try us. We must mingle with those who do not love Christ. We all meet many troubles and worries in ordinary week-day life. There are continual irritations and annoyances.

The problem is to live a beautiful Christian life—in the face of all these hindrances! How can we get through the tangled briers which grow along our path—without having our hands and feet torn by them? How can we live sweetly—amid the vexing and irritating things and the multitude of little worries and frets which infest our way, and which we cannot evade?

It is not enough merely to ‘get along’ in any sort of way, to drag to the close of each long, wearisome day, happy when night comes to end the strife. Life should be a joy—and not a burden. We should live victoriously, ever master of our experiences, and not tossed by them like a leaf on the dashing waves. Every earnest Christian wants to live a truly beautiful life, whatever the circumstances may be.

A little child, when asked ‘what it was to be a Christian,’ replied, “For me, to be a Christian is to live as Jesus would live—and behave as Jesus would behave—if he were a little girl and lived at our house.” No better definition of practical religion could be given. Each one of us is to live just as Jesus would—if he were living out our little life in the midst of its actual environment, standing all day just where we stand, mingling with the same people with whom we must mingle, and exposed to the very annoyances, trials and provocations to which we are exposed. We want to live a life that will please God, and that will bear witness on its face to the genuineness of our piety.

How can we do this? We must first recognize the fact that our life must be lived just in its own circumstances. We cannot at present change our surroundings. Whatever we are to make of our lives—must be made in the midst of our actual experiences. Here we must either win our victories—or suffer our defeats. We may think our lot is especially hard—and may wish it were otherwise. We may wish that we had a life of ease and luxury, amid softer scenes, with no briers or thorns, no worries or provocations. Then we would be always gentle, patient, serene, trustful, happy. How delightful it would be—never to have a care, an irritation, a cross, a single vexing thing!

But meanwhile this fact remains—that our aspiration cannot be realized, and that whatever our life is to be made, beautiful or marred, we must make it just where we are. No restless discontent can change our lot. We cannot get into any ‘paradise’ merely by longing for it. Other people may have other circumstances, possibly more pleasant than ours—but here are ours. We may as well settle this point at once, and accept the battle of life on this field—or else, while we are vainly wishing for a better chance, the opportunity for victory shall have passed.

The next thought is that the place in which we find ourselves is the place in which the Master desires us to live our life.

There is no haphazard in this world. God leads every one of his children by the right way. He knows where and under what influences each particular life will ripen best. One tree grows best in the sheltered valley, another by the water’s edge, another on the bleak mountain-top swept by storms. There is always adaptation in nature. Every tree or plant is found in the locality where the conditions of its growth exist, and does God give more thought to trees and plants than to his own children? He places us amid the circumstances and experiences in which our life will grow and ripen the best. The peculiar discipline to which we are each subjected—is the discipline we each need to bring out in us the beauties and graces of true spiritual character. We are in the right school. We may think that we would ripen more quickly—in a more easy and luxurious life—but God knows what is best; he makes no mistakes.

There is a little fable which says that a primrose growing by itself in a shady corner of the garden, became discontented as it saw the other flowers in their mirthful beds in the sunshine, and begged to be moved to a more conspicuous place. Its prayer was granted. The gardener transplanted it to a more showy and sunny spot. It was greatly pleased—but there came a change over it immediately. Its blossoms lost much of their beauty and became pale and sickly. The hot sun caused them to faint and wither. So it prayed again to be taken back to its old place in the shade. The wise gardener knows best where to plant each flower, and so God, the divine Gardener, knows where His people will best grow into what he would have them to be. Some require the fierce storms, some will only thrive spiritually in the shadow of worldly adversity, and some come to ripeness more sweetly under the soft and gentle influences of prosperity, whose beauty, rough experiences would mar. He knows what is best for each one.

The next thought, is that it is possible to live a beautiful life anywhere. There is no position in this world in the allotment of Providence, in which it is not possible to be a true Christian, exemplifying all the virtues of Christianity. The grace of Christ has in it, potency enough to enable us to live godly, wherever we are called to dwell. When God chooses a home for us—he fits us for its peculiar trials. There is a beautiful law of adaptation that runs through all God’s providence. Animals made to dwell amid Arctic snows are covered with warm furs. The camel’s home is the desert, and a wondrous provision is made by which it can endure long journeys across the hot sands without drink. Birds are fitted for their flights in the air. Animals made to live among the mountain-crags, have feet prepared for climbing over the steep rocks. In all nature this law of special equipment and preparation for allotted places prevails.

And the same is true in spiritual life. God adapts his grace to the peculiarities of each one’s necessity. For rough, flinty paths—he provides shoes of iron. He never sends any one to climb sharp, rugged mountain-sides, wearing silken slippers. He always gives sufficient grace. As the burdens grow heavier—the strength increases. As the difficulties thicken—the angel draws closer. As the trials become sorer—the trusting heart grows calmer. Jesus always sees his disciples, when they are toiling in the waves—and at the right moment comes to deliver them. Thus it becomes possible to live a true and victorious life—in any circumstances. Christ can as easily enable Joseph to remain pure and true, in heathen Egypt—as Benjamin in the shelter of his father’s love. The sharper the temptations, the more of divine grace is granted. There is, therefore, no environment of trial, or difficulty or hardship—in which we cannot live beautiful lives of Christian fidelity and holy conduct.

Instead, then, of yielding to discouragement when trials multiply and it becomes hard to live right, or of being satisfied with a broken peace and a very faulty life—it should be the settled purpose of each one to live, through the grace of God—a patient, gentle and unspotted life—in the place and amid the circumstances He allots to us. The true victory is not found in escaping or evading trials—but in rightly meeting and enduring them. The questions should not be, “How can I get out of these worries? How can I get into a place where there shall be no irritations, nothing to try my temper or put my patience to the test? How can I avoid the distractions that continually harass me?” There is nothing noble in such living. The soldier who flies to the rear when he smells the battle is no hero; he is a coward.

The questions should rather be, “How can I pass through these trying experiences, and not fail as a Christian? How can I endure these struggles, and not suffer defeat? How can I live amid these provocations, these reproaches and testings of my temper, and yet live sweetly, not speaking unadvisedly, bearing injuries meekly, returning gentle answers to insulting words?” This is the true problem of Christian living.

We are at school here. This life is disciplinary. Processes are not important: it is results we want. If a tree grow into majesty and strength, it matters not whether it is in the deep valley or on the cold peak, whether calm or storm nurtures it. If character develops into Christlike symmetry, what does it matter whether it be in ease and luxury—or through hardship? The important matter is not the process—but the result; not the means—but the end; and the end of all Christian nurture is spiritual loveliness. To be made truly noble and godlike—we should be willing to submit to any discipline.

Every obstacle to true living should, then, only nerve us with fresh determination to succeed. We should use each difficulty and hardship, as a leverage to gain some new advantage. We should compel our temptations to minister to us—instead of hindering us. We should regard all our provocations, annoyances and trials, of whatever sort—as practice-lessons in the application of the theories of Christian life. It will be seen in the end—that the hardships and difficulties are by no means the smallest blessings of our lives. Someone compares them to the weights of a clock, without which there could be no steady, orderly life.

The tree that grows where tempests toss its boughs and bend its trunk, often almost to breaking—is more firmly rooted than the tree which grows in the sequestered valley, where no storm ever brings stress or strain. The same is true in life. The grandest character is grown in hardship. Weakness of character, springs out of luxury. The best men the world ever reared—have been brought up in the school of adversity and hardship.

Besides, it is no heroism to live patiently—where there is no provocation, bravely where there is no danger, calmly where there is nothing to perturb. Not the hermit’s cave—but the heart of busy life, tests, as well as makes character. If we can live patiently, lovingly and cheerfully, amid all our frets and irritations day after day, year after year, that is grander heroism than the farthest famed military exploits, for ‘he who rules his own spirit—is better than he who captures a city.’

This is our allotted task. It is no easy one. It can be accomplished only by the most resolute decision, with unwavering purpose and incessant watchfulness.

Nor can it be accomplished without the continual help of Christ. Each one’s battle must be a personal one. We may decline the struggle—but it will be declining also the joy of victory. No one can reach the summit—without climbing the steep mountain-path. We cannot be borne up on any strong shoulder. God does not put features of beauty into our lives—as the jeweler sets gems in clusters in a coronet. The unlovely elements are not magically removed and replaced by lovely ones. Each must win his way through struggles and efforts—to all noble attainments. The help of God is given only in cooperation with human aspiration and energy. While God works in us—we are to work out our own salvation. He who overcomes, shall be a pillar in the temple of God. We should accept the task with quiet joy. We shall fail many times.

Many a night we shall retire to weep at Christ’s feet—over the day’s defeat. In our efforts to follow the copy set for us by our Lord—we shall write many a crooked line, and leave many a blotted page blistered with tears of regret. Yet we must keep through all, a brave heart, an unfaltering purpose, and a calm, joyful confidence in God. Temporary defeat should only cause us to lean on Christ more fully. God is on the side of everyone who is loyally struggling to obey his divine will, and to grow into Christlikeness. And that means assured victory, to everyone whose heart fails not.

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Thanks be to God for the way His grace strengthens our hearts!

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

Thanks to the editor of Grace Gems who encourages all Christians to freely distribute all the content on their website.
Photo by Brett Jordan via Unsplash

Faithful Obedience by Rachel Jankovic

Rachel Jankovic is a friend who has taught me many things. And of the things I’ve learned from her is how obedience, simple obedience looks like on a day to day basis. It looks like a joyful task, and it actually laughs out loud. It smells like bread coming out of the oven. It looks beautiful, like vibrant colorful threads in the loom. It loves to work hard, and never complains about a messy kitchen, little dirty hands, and the  to-do list that never ends but keeps growing. Faithful obedience, she has taught me through her example, is always grounded in the Word of God and grows when it feeds on the perfect obedience of Christ.

The wonderful thing about pursuing this kind of faithful obedience is that, by the the grace of God and with His blessing, it bears loads of fruit. But we know that if we have lots of fruit -even the most delicious and beautiful- sitting in a basket it will rot very quickly. So this kind of obedience gets all the fruit it bears, puts it in many baskets (one is never enough!), and then sets those baskets on the porch, on the corner of the streets, in the church, so that anyone who passes by may freely take all the fruit they want! And as all things that God blesses, the seeds of all this fruit multiplies a thousand times!

So thank you, Rachel, for your friendship, your example, and your willingness to write for the Faithful Obedience series today.

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A statement of faith is a way of communicating what you believe about God and His relationship to man throughout history in a short and succinct way. But it covers creation, the fall, redemption, the mechanism of salvation, and ultimate destiny for mankind. It is simply a way to put a hand hold on the biggest beliefs that we have so that they can be quickly communicated.

A profession of faith is a Christian personally expressing a statement of faith. It is the same words, simply with “I” in front of it. I believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the resurrection of the dead, etc.

But faithfulness is walking through your life holding fast to your profession, and living your statement of faith. Hebrews 10:23 says “Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)”

Faithfulness has to hold fast because life is moving along. We are inevitably carried by the passage of time through many changes and events that will make holding fast necessary.

I remember when I was a young mother of several children realizing that I was being called to live – to actually live – what I had only up until that point believed in the abstract. I believed that children were a blessing. I believed that this was a good thing. I believed that my work was important, that my joy and contentment in it were meaningful. But I was being called to hold fast to that profession through the things that might want to separate me from it. There comes an inevitable moment when if you do not hold fast to your profession you will no longer be professing it. And that is where faithfulness comes in. Holding fast when the storms of life are inviting you to let go.

I was raised in a believing family and have been blessed monumentally by the faithfulness of those ahead of me. I can see with my own eyes what it is to hold fast through so many different phases of life. My Grandfather is finishing his final laps in the Lord – holding fast his profession about what life and death means to a Christian as he approaches the finish line. My parents are living with him to care for him – holding fast their profession that God has called them to honor their father and mother. Those two have walked together through cancer, holding fast their profession that God is faithful, and that He is God even of cancer. They have lived their christian lives in front of us, alongside of us, always joyfully bearing more burdens than us, always rejoicing in the goodness of God with us, always blessing us with their example.

My husband and I are closer to being grandparents now than we are to being newlyweds – and God invites us to hold fast to our profession daily. As we grow older we find we have more opportunities to claim as our own parts of our statement of faith that we had up until this point only believed. Now we must live it. We are surrounded by siblings who are holding fast to their professions through different callings and obstacles and life phases. Holding fast through a brain tumor, through a life that will always be affected by that. Holding fast their profession as they live faithfully whatever God has called them to. And we have our children and our nieces and nephews – some holding fast to their profession as they enter adulthood, some holding fast as they learn to negotiate adolescence and even the three year old – learning what it means to salute Jesus and hold fast.

The Christian life is a life of profession. We profess Christ in whatever situation we are in. And so the work of faithfulness is no different if you are being crushed by the weight of blessing or crushed by the weight of trial. The calling is the same – cling to Christ. Grab hold of your profession, which is found in Jesus Christ. For He that is faithful has promised.

Rachel Jankovic

You can find the table of contents of this series here.
The latest post on the series was about how to cultivate faithful obedience in our own lives.

Live This Week Under the Potent Grace of Christ

J.R. Miller wrote a book entitled Weekday Religion that has many wonderful gems for us. Today I am sharing this excerpt about being Christian on weekdays that I am sure you will find encouraging.

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How to carry our religion into all parts of our life, is the question which perplexes many of us. It is not hard to be good on the quiet Sundays, when all the holy influences of the sanctuary and of the Christian home are about us. It is not hard, in such an atmosphere, to think of God, and to yield ourselves to the impact of the divine Spirit. It is easy then to accept the promises and allow them to entwine themselves about our weakness, like a mother’s arms about feeble infancy. Most of us have little trouble with doubts and fears, or with temptations and trials, while sitting in the peaceful retreats into which the Sunday leads us.

Our trouble is in carrying this sweet, holy, restful life—out into the weekday world of toil, anxiety, strife and pain. Ofttimes with Monday morning—we lose all the Sunday calm, and resume again the old experience of restless distraction. The restraints of godliness lose their power, and the enthusiasm for holy living, so strong yesterday, dies out in the midst of the world’s chilling influences, and we drop back into the old bad habits, and creep along again in the old dusty ways.

The Sunday has lifted us up for a day—but has no power to hold us up in sustained elevation of soul. The duties we saw so clearly, and so firmly determined to do, while sitting in the sanctuary, we do not feel pressing upon us today with half the urgency of yesterday. Our high resolves and our excellent intentions have proved only like the morning cloud and the early dew. So our religion becomes a sort of luxury to us—a bright unreal dream only which for one day in seven, breaks into the worldliness and the self-seeking of our humdrum lives, giving us a period of elevation—but no permanent uplifting.

It is only as when one climbs up out of a valley into the pure air of a mountaintop for one hour, and then creeps down again and toils on as before, amid the mists and in the deep shadows—but carrying none of the mountain’s inspiration or of the mountain’s splendor with him back into the valley.

Yet such a life has missed altogether, the meaning of the religion of Christ—which is not designed to furnish merely a system of Sunday oases across the desert of life, with nothing between but sand and glare. Both its precepts and its blessings—are for all the days. He who worships God only on Sundays, and then ignores him or disobeys him on weekdays—really has no true religion. We are perpetually in danger of bisecting our life, calling one portion of it religious and the other secular. Young people, when they enter the church, are earnestly urged to Christian duty, and the impression made upon them is that Christian duty means reading the Bible and praying every day, attending upon the public means of grace, taking active part in some of the associations, missionary or charitable, which belong to the Church, and in private and personal ways striving to bring others to Christ.

Now, as important as these things are, they are by no means all the religious duties of any young Christian, and it is most fallacious teaching that emphasizes them as though they were all.

Religion recognizes no bisecting into sacred and secular. “Whether therefore you eat, or drink—or whatever you do—do all to the glory of God.” It is just as much a part of Christian duty—to do one’s weekday work well—as it is to pray well. “I must be about my Father’s business,” said Jesus in the dawn of youth; and what do we find him doing after this recognition of his duty? Not preaching nor teaching—but taking up the common duties of common life and putting all his soul into them! He found the Father’s business in his earthly home, in being a dutiful child subject to his parents, in being a diligent pupil in the village school, and later in being a conscientious carpenter. He did not find religion too spiritual, too transcendental, for weekdays. His devotion to God—did not take him out of his natural human relationships into any realm of mere sentiment; it only made him all the more loyal to the duties of his place in life.

We ought to learn the lesson. True religion is intensely practical. Only so far as it dominates one’s life—is it real. We must get the commandments down from the Sinaitic glory amid which they were first engraved on stone by the finger of God—and give them a place in the hard, dusty paths of earthly toil and struggle. We must get them off the tables of stone—and have them written on the walls of our own hearts! We must bring the Golden Rule down from its bright setting in the teaching of our Lord—and get it wrought into our daily, actual life.

We say in creed, confession and prayer—that we love God; and he tells us, if we do—to show it by loving our fellow-men, since professed love to God which is not thus manifested, is not love at all. We talk about our consecration; if there is anything genuine in consecration, it bends our wills to God’s, it leads us to loyalty that costs, it draws our lives to lowly ministry.

“One secret act of self-denial,” says a thoughtful writer, “one sacrifice of selfish inclination to duty—is worth all the mere good thoughts, warm feelings, passionate prayers, in which idle people indulge themselves.”

We are too apt to imagine, that holiness consists in mere good feeling toward God. It does not! It consists in obedience in heart and life to the divine requirements. To be holy is, first, to be set apart for God and devoted to God’s service: “The Lord has set apart him who is godly for himself.” But if we are set apart for God in this sense, it necessarily follows that we must live for God. We belong wholly to him, and any use of our life in any other service—is sacrilege, as if one would rob the very altar of its smoking sacrifice to gratify one’s common hunger. Our hands are God’s—and can fitly be used only in doing his work; our feet are God’s—and may be employed only in walking in his ways and running his errands; our lips are God’s—and should speak words only that honor him and bless others; our hearts are God’s—and must not be profaned by thoughts and affections that are not pure.

True holiness is no vague sentiment—it is intensely practical. It is nothing less than the bringing of every thought and feeling and act—into obedience to Christ! We are quite in danger of leaving out the element of obedience, in our conception of Christian living. If we do this, our religion loses its strength and grandeur—and becomes weak, nerveless and forceless. As one has said, “Let us be careful how we cull from the gospel such portions as are congenial, forge God’s signature to the excerpt, and apply the fiction as a delusive drug to our violated consciences. The beauties and graces of the gospel are all flung upon a background of requirements as inflexible as Sinai, and the granite. Christ built even his glory, out of obedience.”

Now, it is the weekday life, under the stress and the strain of temptation; far more than the Sunday life, beneath the gentle warmth of its favoring conditions—which really puts our religion to the test and shows what power there is in it. Not how well we sing and pray, nor how devoutly we worship on Sunday—but how well we live, how loyally we obey the commandments, how faithfully we attend to all our duties, on the other days—tell what manner of Christians we really are.

Nor can we be faithful toward God and ignore our human relationships. “It is impossible,” says one, “for us to live in fellowship with God—without holiness in all the duties of life. These things act and react on each other. Without a diligent and faithful obedience to the calls and claims of others upon us—our religious profession is simply dead! We cannot go from strife, breaches and angry words—to God. Selfishness, an imperious will, lack of sympathy with the sufferings and sorrows of other men, neglect of charitable offices, suspicions, hard censures of those with whom our lot is cast—will miserably darken our own hearts, and hide the face of God from us.”

The one word which defines and describes all relative duties is the word LOVE. Many people understand religion to include honesty, truthfulness, justice, purity—but do not think of it as including just as peremptorily: unselfishness, thoughtfulness, kindness, patience, good temper and courtesy. We are commanded to put away lying—but in the same paragraph, and with equal urgency, we are enjoined to let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil-speaking be put away, and to be kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another. The law of love in all its most delicate shades of application— to attitude, word, act and manner—is the law of all true Christian living.

Thus the religion of the Sunday, like a precious perfume, must pervade all the days of the week. Its spirit of holiness and reverence, must flow down into all the paths of every-day life. Its voices of hope and joy, must become inspirations in all our cares and toils. Its exhortations, must be the guide of hand and foot and finger, in the midst of all trial and temptation. Its words of comfort,, must be as lamps to burn and shine in sick-rooms and in the chambers of sorrow. Its visions of spiritual beauty, must be translated into reality in conduct and character.

So, in all our life, the Sunday’s lessons—must be lived out during the week! The patterns of heavenly things shown in the mount—must be wrought into forms of reality and act and disposition and character. The love of God which so warms our hearts as we think of it—must flow out in love to men. We must be Christians on Monday—as well as on the Sunday. Our religion must touch every part of our life—and transform it all into the beauty of holiness.

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May the potent grace of Christ sustain us each day of this coming week.

Under His Sun and by His grace,

Becky Pliego

Thanks to the editor of Grace Gems who encourages all Christians to freely distribute all the content on their website.
Photo by Jisu Han via Unspalsh

Before Doing the Next Thing

“Just do the thing in front of you” Elisabeth Elliot said, and I have always believed that statement to be true, but now I am on a different place and I’m seeing things from a different angle. Yes, doing the next thing God calls us to do is mandatory, but sitting still for a while before moving towards the next thing is as important as moving forward. Finding a quiet time is, many times the next thing we ought to do. Especially for those of us who are prone to move.

Our second son just got married, and we are very grateful for the new daughter that we now have. We love her deeply. We are grateful for the many, many prayers we have prayed before our Father who hears us for our son and this wife; we are grateful for the gift of seeing them start their new family with prayer, anchored in the Word. I am truly grateful and very happy. But it is still a hard thing to let your son go. Doing the next thing for me now looks like slowing down and reading my Bible more and making more room for prayer.

My dear friend and I had this conversation a few days ago, that made me think more on what it means to feel this void in the heart that is very hard to explain because, paradoxically, my heart is more full now. She said that when we marry a child we finish a job, and finishing a job is always something solemn and sober that calls for reflection. How I agree with her!

You know, Friend, turning the page quickly to the new chapter of your life sometimes cannot be done quickly. Sometimes it is good and important to take the time to reflect and pray before doing the next thing. To recall the many prayers you have prayed, the answers God has given, the promises that have sustained you is a good thing to do. Morbid introspection has no place here. It is not about us, remember, it is about God’s glory and His promises, it is about His perfect and sovereign plan and us becoming more like Christ. Doing the next thing many times is not necessarily moving forward, but  slowing down and praying more, asking God to give you a promise that you can hold unto in the days and months to come.

Some days and life events should look more like your favorite book: you finish a chapter and you love it so much that instead of not wanting to put your book down to see what comes next, you close it and want to linger on it a bit more. It is so good, so rich, that moving quickly to the next chapter is not a good idea. You need to let the story sink down. And then, when you turn the page, you understand the story better and love it even more.

We are so quick to move, to do the next thing right away that we end up living an unexamined life, and Socrates got it right, an unexamined life is not worth living.

So yes, let’s do the next thing, but first let’s take time to slow down and consider Christ and the work of His Spirit in our own lives.

Under His sun and by His grace,

Becky

Are we Busy or Distracted?

Christ in the House of Martha and Mary by Diego Rodriguez DaSilva y Velázquez

 

“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” Luke 10: 38-42

Wait. Read that passage again. Two more times, maybe?

I have been mediating on this passage and it came to my attention that Martha’s problem was not necessarily being busy, it was something else.

Martha was busy at her home, and she understood that hospitality is a big word that implies big work. She got that part and that is good. But keep reading. Her problem was not that she was busy doing what needed to be done, hers was a heart problem that is seen as follows:

1. Martha was distracted by much serving. Much serving was not the problem, having a house full of guests, or littles at home to feed or grown-ups to listen to, or having to make extra soup for a friend in need, or classes and papers to grade, and doctors’ appointments to make, and laundry and exams, and a husband to embrace and a friend in need to listen to are not the real problem. The problem is how that busyness, how that much serving can distract our hearts and draw our attention to something else that will destroy our relationship with God and others.

Jeremiah Burroughs in his book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, says that Christian contentment is “opposed to an unsettled and unstable spirit, whereby the heart is distracted from the present duty that God requires in our several relationships towards God, ourselves and others.

This is exactly what I see in the passage. Martha’s heart got distracted and her heart became unsettled and unstable. Instead of looking at Jesus, the object of her service, she looked at herself and in turn, her eyes veered to her sister in comparison.

2.  Notice that after Martha’s heart is distracted, she turns to Jesus, but not to listen to Him. He looks to Him in order to complain. How could He have missed the fact that she was doing more than Mary? How could He not see her diligent service and her sister’s poor attitude towards their duties?

Jesus’ answer goes directly to the heart of the matter. He does not address the “how-much-I-am-doing vs. the-how-much-she-is-not-doing” argument (that we moms have heard from our children too often, just like our Heavenly Father has heard from his children more than often!). Martha’s problem was anxiousness, a troubled heart -not busy hands, and also the fact that she started comparing herself with her own sister. She wanted Jesus to make her an example before Mary. Martha clearly had not learned contentment in the midst of a busy day.

Again we read Jeremiah Burroughs’ wise words: “[Christan contentment] is opposed to murmuring and repining at the hand of God…” and “Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

How challenging and fitting it is for us to read this passage. Many of us are in a season in which our lives are full, trying to do less is what we dream of, but in reality we just can’t.  But we can do one important thing: check the attitude of our heart in the midst of all those busy moments. In doing so, we will be choosing “the good portion” that Jesus wants us to choose.

So let’s check our own heart: Am I continually and quietly murmuring and complaining -even in prayer? Is it my tendency to be distracted in my heart only to find myself comparing my days with those of my neighbor? Can I see my present condition and my hands full, and praise God and see Him and listen to Him as I come and go? Or am I using this busy season in my life only as an excuse to not come to Jesus to worship Him?

“A Christian knows that he should not be diverted by small matters, but should answer every distraction, and resist every temptation.” Jeremiah Burroughs.

Grace upon grace,

Becky