Chapter 14 – An Attitude of Virtue – Peace, Prayerful Abiding, Stillness and Hope

 

Peace:  being content as opposed to being driven by passions; having a desire for God that is being satisfied as opposed to having unquenchable worldly desires and insatiable lusts.   An absence of anxiety, consternation, confusion and inner turmoil; a relationship with God based on knowing His total acceptance of us that is a result of righteousness in Christ; the absence of shame, remorse, guilt, insecurity, spiritual unfitness, or any aversion to coming into His presence; the harmonious relations with others that result from being at peace with God

 

Prayerful Abiding:  continual communion with God in prayer; intentional and uninterrupted state of surrendering the human will to the divine

 

Stillness:  being at peace with God; quietude, without movement, having all mental activity focused on God as opposed to the senses.  The absence of thoughts and desires contrary to the will of God; the comfort and security that results from being wholly absorbed in His presence; tranquil and prayerful; constant communion with God, being open to God and listening for the prompting of the Holy Spirit; the absence of passions and worldly anxieties.

 

Hope:  knowledge, trust, and remembrance of His providential care at all times and in all circumstances; the believer’s assurance of right standing before God; actively anticipating being in the fullness of His eternal presence by living presently as if in Heaven.  The anticipation of the second coming of Christ; Christ’s victory over the evil of this world and His promise that we can do the same; the power that enables a believer to live each moment in His eternal presence rather than seeking satisfaction in temporal gratifications

 

In our pursuit of virtue, maintaining a godly attitude is as important as balance is to walking.  Likewise, a godly disposition should begin to feel more normal and natural as we grow spiritually, and only become a conscious necessity when there is risk of losing it.  Our identity as children of God means we have all the goodness of God within us by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Just like cows don’t quack and ducks don’t moo, ungodliness is not part of our identity.  As Christians, we forsake any identity or self-image based on the flesh along with their resulting ungodly behaviors. Therefore, it is only natural to let our mental state and physical actions reflect the truth of our identity; we are the holy and beloved children of God (1Cor.6:19-20).  Spiritual growth, the pursuit of virtue, is the attempt to bring our bodies and souls into alignment with the truth of our spiritual identity.

 

At this juncture, let’s bring to mind St. Paul’s instruction to “take every thought captive” (2Cor.10:3-7) and that in Christ, we are new creatures, and are no longer to derive our identities from the flesh (2Cor.5:16-21).  Our identity is determined by birth not activity.  Being a Christian means being born anew in spirit and becoming a child of God (Jn.1:12, 3:1-6).  In the flesh, we are our parent’s child, but the flesh also tempts us to adopt false identities as determined by such things as occupations, education, income, social status, physical abilities, appearances, traditions, past actions, nicknames or organizations (Phil.3:2-10).  Life foundations based on something other than Christ are temporary; we are assured of losing them someday; nothing of the flesh goes with us to Heaven.  When we allow our identity to be determined by something other than our spiritual rebirth, we set ourselves up for mental and emotional devastation when they expire.  Learning to cope with these transitions apart from Christ only serves to strengthen our flesh and deny our spirit.  Losing a job or retiring, growing old and losing mental and physical abilities, going from being popular to being unpopular, losing material possessions or physical beauty, these are all potentially devastating but normal life events.  However, when our identity is firmly based on the eternal instead of the temporal, we may be disturbed for a season but our life foundations remain intact.

 

Now, let us also address our feelings.  We can read books, look up the scriptures, and learn of our perfect righteousness in Christ.  We can know that in Christ we are totally acceptable before God, forgiven of our sins, that God loves us and actively cares for us, and that we are sacred temples of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, we all have the potential for feeling dirty, unworthy, unforgiven, unloved, abandoned, fretful or insecure, and because such feelings exist, many of us are prone to giving them credence while ignoring the Truth.  If or when this happens, it needs to stop.  To be free of these ungodly emotions, we need to understand that though certain feelings do indeed exist, they are not the Truth.

 

Feelings are the result of perceptions.  Our perceptions are formed from our thoughts, and our thoughts are based on our beliefs.  To clarify, the chain of events is; 1) beliefs, 2) thoughts, perceptions and interpretations of events based on beliefs, 3) decisions and actions, and 4) feelings (see “The Four Spiritual Laws” by Bill Bright, © 1965, 1995 Campus Crusade for Christ at http://4laws.com/laws/english/flash/ and http://www.campuscrusade.com/fourlawseng.htm to http://www.campuscrusade.com/Now-That-You-Have-Received-Christ.html). When our feelings are contrary to what we know about our life in Christ, we need to reexamine our beliefs and discern whether or not we truly believe what we have learned from scripture.  We must ensure we are not just giving His Word an intellectual nod of affirmation without making Truth an integral component of our personal belief system.  Scripture must be foundational to all our thought processes and intentionally used to override contrary worldly input in order to experience righteous feelings.

 

To align our feelings with the Truth, we need to be willing to take every thought captive, compare it to scripture, then discard the rubbish and hold fast to the Truth.  It takes practice, and initially it can be a constant struggle to weed the impurities out of our thoughts.  The effort requires much faith and courage, for old thoughts are like old friends; we tend to lean on them like crutches and look to them for comfort.  These fleshly thought patterns keep us in familiar habits and routines while deterring us from vaulting out into the unexplored realms of greater faith and reliance upon God.  However, if we are to have the peace of the Lord in our hearts, we must apply Truth tenaciously and actively eradicate the contradictions that bind our godly spirit to our worldly flesh (please read Heb.4:11-12).  We do this by maintaining an attitude of hope, by abiding in prayer, and learning to be still, being sure of our acceptance before Him such that we are unperturbed by distractions or difficulties.

 

Peace

 

Jesus says the peace of our Lord is unlike the peace the world seeks (Jn.14:27); the virtue of peace is not merely the absence of external conflict between nations or individuals.  The peace of our Lord is an internal peace that comes from knowing His Word and His promise, from knowing that no matter what may come during our day, He loves and cares for us.  Even when we breathe our last, we will continue to be with Him.  The peace of our Lord is built upon our secure standing as His children.  It is the absence of doubt, condemnation, and confusion in our relationship with God.  The consternation of doubt is replaced by singularly trusting in His Word as Truth and exercising faith in our beliefs by acting upon them courageously.  The anxiety of condemnation is replaced by our assurance of our right standing before God in Christ Jesus, an unwavering hope in our eternal communion with Him.  All confusion and chaos resulting from the multiplicity, duplicity and relativity of secular ways, leaves us as we learn to subordinate our human will to His divine will for us, and learn to walk according to His ways in our pursuit of virtue.  When we hold fast to these thoughts, we will know the peace of our Lord.

 

We can learn of God by determining what He is not.  An example of the positive approach is to say, “God is good”, and by so doing, we limit our knowledge of God to our concept of goodness.  The negative approach is to say, “There is no evil in God”; whereby we eliminate evil characteristics and leave our understanding of His goodness open to infinite possibilities (see Chapter 2 Definitions of “cataphatic” and “apophatic”).  We can likewise understand the peace of the Lord by delineating what it is not, or what is absent when His peace is present.  There is the absence of the anxiety of guilt and condemnation because we know Christ forgives our sins.  There is the absence of fears and anxieties associated with our mortality because we know Christ prepares us a home in Heaven (Jn.14:2).  There is the absence of turmoil from the consequences of sin because we choose to live righteously.  There is the absence of nagging insecurities associated with feelings of inferiority or worthlessness because we know that we are His children, precious to Him and loved unconditionally.  There is the absence of worries and apprehensions that come from not knowing what the future brings because we trust in His providential care and firmly believe that He makes all things work to the good for those who love Him.  There is the absence of frustration and futility from attempting to control situations and people because we have peace in knowing that God is Lord of all.  There is the absence of life draining negativity and pessimism because we know that Christ has overcome all the evil in the world and in Him, we will too.  As His children, we rejoice in our salvation.  Glory be to God!  Amen.

 

Continuing, in our personal relationships with other souls, the peace of the Lord is marked by the absence of various hostile, violent activities or feelings.  Our love of God, love for His creation, and acceptance of the fact that every soul is precious to God, all keep us from baselessly being abusive toward others.  Instead, we share with them the peace and love of God.  Also, since we have been taught to follow the example of Christ and forgive others, our peace in the Lord is marked by the absence of roiling desires for vengeance, the constant snarling of bitterness and resentment, and without the petulance of demanding that others treat us in a particular way.

 

As difficult as obtaining the peace of God may sound in the preceding paragraphs, it isn’t so much something we strive after, as it is the result of a life of abiding prayer.  A life marked by continuous prayer, of ever acknowledging our presence before our Lord and our ongoing conversational communion with Him.  It is a life lived in submission to His Lordship; a life of remembrance, being ever mindful of His powerful and unfailing love for us as demonstrated by the cross of Christ.  Ours is a life of intentional gratitude for the many blessings He has bestowed upon us, emphasizing forgiveness, righteousness, justification and salvation that are ours in Christ.   When our thoughts are consumed by all the goodness of God that surrounds us, we can quit striving after what is already ours in Him, and be at ease sharing His peace with those around us.

 

Prayerful Abiding

 

Abiding requires keeping an open ear to God as well as maintaining a state of total surrender of the human will to the divine.  Jesus used the parable of a vine and branches to illustrate how we are to abide in Him (Jn.15:1-11).  Jesus is the vine that supplies life to the branches.  Our human souls are the branches that need His life in order to live.  When we are alive in Him and He in us, we bear the fruit of the vine, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and among these many fruits is the on-going, abiding peace of our Lord (Jn.14:24-26).  This abiding, as the parable suggests, it is a natural outgrowth of our relationship with Him and is a virtually effortless activity, one that with practice, can become a prevailing attitude lived out daily with minimal conscious effort.  However, let us not underestimate the activity of the demons that seek to divert our focus from God.  They manifest themselves in our thoughts and in the words or actions of others with the diabolic intent of cutting off our communion with God.  If we fail to practice watchfulness, our peace and our abiding prayer can end with outbursts from our flesh, and do so with a potential rippling effect that disturbs the peace of those around us.

 

Stillness

Stillness can be described as both a life lived in abiding prayer and a state of serene beauty arrived at by practicing prayerful meditation.  A life of stillness is characterized by the absence of manifestations of the flesh (Gal.5:19-21), instead, thoughts, words and deeds are all expressions of His goodness alive within us.  Stillness comes when there is nothing hostile toward God within us, nothing to disturb or grieve the Holy Spirit.  Stillness is continuity of faith from one moment to the next, one situation to the next, regardless of the external circumstances.  Stillness occurs when the prayerful praise and worship of a life lived in submission to His lordship persists without interruption.  Like the peace of our Lord, stillness can be the result of abiding in prayer.  The peace of the Lord is our serenity while the soul tends to the events of the day, whereas stillness is focusing the soul on the spirit and is an expression meant for God alone.  As such, stillness requires conscious effort to keep the mind free of invasive thoughts pertaining to our physical state and external circumstances.  It is our “quiet time”, being alone with God and giving Him our pure, undiluted attention.  Such singular focus does indeed require practice, and our lessons on remembrance and watchfulness should prove useful in the pursuit of stillness.

 

There are many ways to pray and we will not delve into the variety of styles or merits of each since such things are closely tied to our previous religious training and background.  However, a study of stillness would not be complete without mentioning one particular prayer known as “The Jesus Prayer”.  The words to the prayer are, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” (variations allowed), and it is meant to be prayed in repetition.  Some speak of repeating it silently and continuously during all their waking hours, of using this manner prayer to maintain a prayerful state and remaining focused on God.  Of course, these monks did not engage in secular occupations or have homes with children.  However, such prayers can be in the background of our thoughts like a song being unconsciously replayed in the mind.  From these wise teachers we learn that by continually calling upon the name of Jesus (Rom.10:13), worshipping Him by acknowledging Him as the Son of God (Jn.3:16-21), and pleading for His mercy (Jude 1:20-21), we have the hope to be saved from the turmoil of this world, knowing both the peace of our Lord and stillness.  Jesus teaches persistence in prayer and prayers of singular intent in Luke 11:5-10 and in the parable on prayer in Luke 18:1-7.   Praying for the mercy of God is most appropriate at all times and in all circumstances, for God already knows our situation, our needs and our desires, and the Holy Spirit ever intercedes on our behalf to compensate for any deficiencies in our prayers (Rom. 8:26-27).  Those who humbly plead for the mercy of our Lord are abundantly blessed (Mt.15:22-28, 17:14-18, 20:29-34).  Jesus likewise instructs us to be watchful and attentive when we pray (Mt.26:40-41), the practice of stillness is not meant to be a prelude to sleep; it is a pathway to greater intimacy with God.

 

 

Hope

 

St. Paul reminds us that today we see in a mirror dimly, and that a day will come when we see the fullness of His revelation face to face (1Cor.13:9-13).  This is the hope that we are to carry with us through all our circumstances, regardless of whether our day is filled with pleasantness or sorrows, for we will one day be wholly with God and share in the wonders of His glory.  Contemplation of His glory, such extreme magnificence and overwhelming holiness and power, boggles the mind with wonder and awe as we approach the fringes of His infinitude.  In the story of Job, despite all his grievous loses and interminable sufferings and miseries, it was being in the presence of God that consoled Job, enlightened his diminished perspective, restored his attitude to one of reverence for God and his appreciation for the eternal (Job 38-42).  In Heaven, there is no evil and no dying.  Whereas on Earth, there is plenty of both and none of us is immune to them.  There is no safety net to prevent us from experiencing pain and loss; instead, God has given us the hope of being with Him, and the many unknowns we face here can become part of the adventure we know as the abundant life in Christ.  He is with us always (Mt.28:20).  He makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28).  We are ever in His caring hands, none will be snatched from His hand (Jn.10:27-29).  Though tribulations tempt us to narrow our focus such that all we see is our immediate situation, with watchfulness and remembrance, our joy can be restored because in Christ we have hope.  By leaning on Him in this way (life under Heaven), we can likewise overcome the potential for adverse reactions to the many trials we all experience in this life in the flesh that is “under the sun” (Eccl.1-3).  Christ has promised to return and has given us instruction to pray and to keep our faith strong in the interim (Lk.21:34-36), therefore we are motivated to maintain an attitude of goodness and continue in the work of the Lord joyfully in light of our hope in Him.

 

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Peace:

Ps.4:8, we rest without anxieties knowing we are blest and secure in His providential care

Ps.85:9-10, fear of the Lord brings the saving grace of God, resulting in peace

Pr.16:7, by pleasing God we can mend adversarial relationships and live in peace

Is.32:17, abiding in righteousness results in peace

Is.57:2, being at peace and restful sleeping are the result of walking in His ways

Lk.2:29-32, the salvation found only by receiving Christ into our lives, brings us peace

Jn.14:27, Jesus says He gives us peace

Jn.16:33, in the world we have tribulation; in Him we have peace and overcome trials

Rom.5:1-5, knowing our right standing before God in Christ gives us peace and hope

Rom.8:5-8, life lived in the fullness of the Holy Spirit is one of peace

Rom.14:16-18, the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit

Gal.5:17-25, life in the Holy Spirit produces peace

Eph.2:11-18, in Christ we have peace and communion with God the Father

Col.1:19-23, in Christ we are reconciled to God that we might have peace in Him

2Tim.2:22-26, the pursuit of virtues as opposed to seeking to satisfy lusts, brings us peace

Jas.3:13-18, abiding in the wisdom of God instead of the ways of the world brings peace

 

Prayerful Abiding:

Jn.15:4-10, Jesus says to abide in Him as branches draw their life from the main vine

1Thes.5:16-18, pray without ceasing, rejoice in the Lord and be thankful always

Col.2:6-7, St. Paul instructs us to walk in the Lord, to be in Him as we go about our day

1Jn.2:24-27, St. John tells us to abide in the Word of God, in His eternal life

 

Stillness:

Ps.37:7, rest in the Lord and do not to fret over other’s ill-gotten gains or sinful pleasures

Ps.46:10, trust in the power of the Almighty and have no anxieties for He is Lord of all

Ps.116:7, remember the many blessing He has bestowed upon us and let our souls be still

Ps.131, instruction to rest securely in the Lord as young children cling to their mothers

Mt.6:28-34, do not fret over food or clothes, instead seek God first and He will supply

Gal.5:24, our crucifixion in Christ stills the passions and anxieties of the flesh

1Thes.5:16-18, instruction to be constant in our praise and worship

Heb.12:12-17, root out all ungodliness in order to be free of defiling troubles

 

Hope: 

Ps.40:1-4, we are blest by God when we look to Him to hear our pleas

Ps.94:19, beseeching God in our distress and being consoled

Ps.130:7, our hope is in our Lord who loves and redeems us

Rom.5:1-5, we have been justified before God, we exult in the hope of the glory of God

Rom.8:22-25, hope as the expectation of redemption that is to come

Rom.12:10-13, instruction from St. Paul to rejoice in the hope of things to come

Rom.15:12-13, hope is in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit

Col.1:24-27, Christ in us is the hope of glory

1Tim.6:17, instruction not to put our hopes in the things of this world

Titus 2:11-15, our hope is in the coming of Christ, motivating us to purity and good deeds

1Pe.1:13-21, keep hope focused on the coming of our Lord and be holy; abstain from lust

1Jn.3:1-3, we have the hope of seeing Him and being like Him, undefiled and pure

 

Commentaries:

 

Peace: 

“He who through practice of the virtues has succeeded in mortifying whatever is earthly in him (cf. Col.3:5), and who by fulfilling the commandments has triumphed over the world of the passions within him, will experience no more affliction; for he will have already left the world and come to be in Christ, the conqueror of the world of the passions and the source of all peace.  He who has not severed his attachment to material things will always experience affliction, since his state of mind depends on things that are naturally changeable, and so it alters when they do.  But he who has come to be in Christ will be totally impervious to such material change.  That is why the Lord says, ‘I have said these things to you, so that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will experience affliction; but have courage, for I have overcome the world’ (John 16:33).  In other words, ‘In Me, the Logos of virtue, you have peace, for you have been released from the swirl and turmoil of material passions and objects; in the world – that is, in a state of attachment to material things – you are afflicted because of the successive changes of these things.’  For both he who practices the virtues and he who loves the world experience affliction, the first because of the toil which such practice entails and the second because of the futility of material things.  But the affliction of the first is salutary, that of the second corrupting and destructive.  The Lord gives release to both:  in the case of the first He allays the toil of ascetic practice with the contemplation attained through dispassion, and in the case of the second He rescinds attachment to corrupted things by means of repentance.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 162 #95

“In a similar way each of us faithful is attacked and led astray by the passions; but if he is at peace with God and with his neighbor he overcomes them all.  These passions are the ‘world’ which St. John the Theologian told us to hate (cf. 1 John 2:15), meaning that we are to hate, not God’s creatures, but the worldly desires.  The soul is at peace with God when it is at peace with itself and has become wholly deiform [godly, Christ-like].  It is also at peace with God when it is at peace with all men, even if it suffers terrible things at their hands.  Because of its forbearance it is not perturbed, but bears all things (cf. 1Cor.13:7), wishes good to all, loves all, both for God’s sake and for the sake of their own nature.  It grieves for unbelievers because they are destroying themselves, as our Lord and the apostles grieved for them.  It prays for the faithful and labors on their behalf, and in this way its own thoughts are filled with peace and it lives in a state of noetic contemplation and pure prayer to God.  To Him be glory through all the ages.  Amen.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 260

 

Abiding Prayer:

“Prayer is called a virtue, but in reality it is the mother of all virtues:  for it gives birth to them through union with Christ.”

St. Mark the Ascetic (5th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 128 #35

“It is through unceasing prayer that the mind is cleansed of the dark clouds, the tempest of the demons.”

St. Hesychios the Priest (9th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 193

 

“‘Pray without ceasing’ [cf 1Thes.5:17], that is, be mindful of God at all times, in all places, and in every circumstance.  For no matter what you do, you should keep in mind the Creator of all things.  When you see the light, do not forget Him who gave it to you; when you see the sky, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, marvel at these things and glorify their Creator; when you put on clothing, acknowledge whose gift it is and praise Him who in His providence has given you life.  In short, if everything you do becomes for you an occasion for glorifying God, you will be praying unceasingly.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 173

 

“Abiding in Jesus is not a work that needs each moment the mind to be engaged, or the affections to be directly and actively occupied with it.  It is an entrusting of oneself to the keeping of the Eternal Love, in the faith that it will abide near us, and with its holy presence watch over us and ward off the evil, even when we have to be most intently occupied with other things.”

“Abide In Christ” by Andrew Murray © 1979 Whitaker House pg. 88-89

 

Stillness:

“…a state of inner tranquility or mental quietude and concentration which arises in conjunction with, and is deepened by, the practice of pure prayer and the guarding of the heart and intellect.  Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him”.

The Philokalia Glossary

“Stillness and prayer are the greatest weapons of virtue, for they purify the intellect and confer upon it spiritual insight.”

St. Thalassios (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 311 #67

“Stillness is an undisturbed state of the intellect, the calm of a free and joyful soul, the tranquil unwavering stability of the heart in God, the contemplation of light, the knowledge of the mysteries of God, consciousness of wisdom by virtue of a pure mind, the abyss of divine intellections, the rapture of the intellect, intercourse with God, an unsleeping watchfulness, spiritual prayer, untroubled repose in the midst of great hardship and, finally, solidarity and union with God.”

Nikitas Stithatos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg. 125 #64

 

Hope:

“Hope is the strength of the two pre-eminent gifts of love and faith, since hope gives us glimpses both of that in which we believe and of that for which we long, and teaches us to make our way towards our goal.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 170 #26

 

“Hope is the intellect’s surest pledge of divine help and promises the destruction of hostile powers”.

ibid. pg. 201 #68

 

“The return to God clearly implies the fullest affirmation of hope in Him, for without this nobody can accept God in any way at all.  For it is characteristic of hope that it brings future things before us as if they were present, and so it assures those who are attacked by hostile powers that God, in whose name and for whose sake the saints go into battle, protects them and is in no way absent.  For without some expectation, pleasant or unpleasant, no one can ever undertake a return to the divine.”

ibid. pg. 202 #71

 

“He who wishes to inherit the kingdom of heaven, yet does not patiently endure what befalls him, shows himself even more ungrateful than such a child.  For he was created by God’s grace, has received all things of this world, awaits what is to come, and has been called to reign eternally with Christ, who has honored him, in spite of his nothingness, with such great gifts, visible and invisible, to the extent even of shedding His most precious blood for him, not asking anything at all except that he should choose to receive His blessings.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 226

 

 

 

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One thought on “Chapter 14 – An Attitude of Virtue – Peace, Prayerful Abiding, Stillness and Hope

  1. Pingback: A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians | A Primer on Virtue

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