Chapter 16 – The Pleasure of Virtue – Joy, Thankfulness, and Praise

Joy:  the elation that overcomes the soul when the spirit acknowledges being in the presence of God; being full of praise for God; being filled with the Holy Spirit; the pleasurable state of being resulting from right relations with God and being forgiven by God

Thankfulness:  expressing appreciation to God for all aspects of one’s life; neither taking one’s blessings nor disciplinary learning circumstances for granted or with indifference; absence of disdain for any aspect of life; continual remembrance and mindfulness of indebtedness to God for His mercy, His provision and His gifts

Praise:  worship; acknowledging God as God, as Lord of all, with adoration, reverence, awe, thanksgiving, joy, remembrance, longing, zeal, glory, exaltation, psalmody, giving, sharing, and submission; all things done while abiding in a state of grace; that which is done specifically in service to our Lord such as evangelization, counsel, participation, teaching, nurturing, caring, helps, and the like

The Christian life is not meant to be devoid of pleasure, it is meant to be lived knowing the pleasures of joy.  Our Lord has given us ample cause for having a heart full of joy through all our days.  There is even joy in sorrow when we learn to be more thankful for His blessings rather than being consumed by the grief of impoverishment when suffering a loss.  There is a season for everything during our life under the sun (Eccl.3:1-8).  In remembrance of His merciful grace, we can have joy simply in life itself, even when pain is pervasive, because we can be thankful for the full spectrum of emotions and sensations God has wondrously created for us to experience.  We can learn to be wholly thankful for our blessings rather than succumbing to bitterness and rage when they pass.  It is because of the awesome beauty and immense pleasure of His blessings that make their loss so painful in the first place.  Nothing that is physical lasts forever, therefore we should learn to appreciate the eternal, the spiritual, and remember God as the source and creator of all our blessings.  Our pleasure in His blessings correlates to the pleasure we will have when we enter fully into His presence.  Likewise, in the passing of His blessings, the end of one season and the beginning of the next, we experience death, the absence of His presence.  From death, we learn an even greater appreciation for His blessings and come to comprehend the implications of an eternally lost soul more fully.  Our life on Earth is often allegory to the eternal, and yet we now see only in a mirror dimly (1Cor.13:12).  To comprehend the immensity of joy in Heaven, and conversely, the agony of Hell, we can only speculate using our imagination.  However, when we are immersed in the virtues of joy, thankfulness and praise, we bring Heaven to Earth and get a taste for the blessedness of the divine pleasures to come.

Joy

 

            If not for sin, life on Earth would be one of pure pleasure in the presence of God.  If we were capable of only partaking of what is good, we would know only the joy of His presence.  However, the flesh is ever stained with sin and therefore we must pursue God primarily and let pleasure be the result not the objective.  As we progress in virtue, we learn of goodness, we learn to forsake evil for good, and we learn the pleasures of goodness that is the abundant and joyful life in Christ (Jn.10:10, 15:10-11).  The emphasis in life on obtaining pleasure while avoiding pain often equates to one of good versus evil.  Only God is good, and there is pleasure in the goodness that pleases Him.  Conversely, we invite pain when we choose the evil that is contrary to God.  However, as long as we have the capacity to derive superficial and perverse pleasures from evil, we cannot simply equate pleasure with goodness.  Likewise, the dearth of sin that surrounds us prevents associating a specific pain with a particular transgression one to one for all occasions with absolute certainty.  We should first recognize goodness before allowing ourselves to take pleasure, and we are supposed to take pleasure in the wealth of goodness God has provided us in all His creation.  It is how life was meant to be in the Garden of Eden (Gen.1:26-31).  We express gratitude for His blessings when we partake of the gifts God provides for our pleasure.  Enjoying the goodness of life and the fruits from His garden is likewise a manner of praising Him as we acknowledge the Giver and are thankful.

It is certainly by design that joy, thankfulness and praise are so intricately intertwined, for the cord they form is the pleasure used to bind us to God and to His way for us.  If beholding God were painful instead of a pleasure, we’d all be running for Hell in a self-deprecating, self-destructing mode.  Sadly, this is exactly what happens to many abused or gospel-ignorant souls whose vision of God has been warped by misattributing to God the evil cruelty mankind collectively commits or otherwise permits without redress.  In the scripture passages below, it is important to note how frequently these virtues are paired together.  Here we see that there can be little joy in our lives if we fail to praise God with thanksgiving.  The greatest joy we can ever know is being fully in the presence of God.  God created us to know Him; Adam and Eve were fully in His presence before the fall from grace.  God has since provided the means to restore human souls to a similar pre-fallen state of grace, restoring mankind’s ability to be in His presence.  His provision, our salvation, is Christ Jesus; we come to Him initially offering confession and repentance, seeking forgiveness for our sin.  By His redemptive and atoning work on the cross, we have forgiveness of our sins, our rightness before God restored.  Being free of our sin is certainly a cause for joy in itself, but the result of our cleansing process also allows us to approach God and taste the pleasure of being in His presence.  The joy of our restoration is reason to praise God and be thankful, and doing so in turn brings joy.  However, we are also to have empathy for the sorrows of our Lord and be acquainted with His grief caused by the sins of mankind.  We are not to turn a blind eye towards the ugliness of sin, nor wag a finger or tongue in an expression of disgust towards those whose lives are consumed by sin.  To have the mind of Christ, we must also experience the pain of knowing a precious human soul is lost and condemned (Jn.3:17-19).  Then regardless of circumstances, be willing to testify to the truth of the gospel in word and deed, and pray that our humble efforts might help return the lost sheep to the Shepherd, turning our sorrows again into joy.

Our joy in our Lord is one of thankfulness for the many blessings He bestows.  Our joy is the warmth and comfort that fills our souls when we praise the Almighty in all His magnificent glory.  Our joy is the sense of elation and spiritual uplifting that comes from right relations with God and having unhindered access to our heavenly Father.  Our joy is the sense of peace we have from knowing we are in His hands; that He loves us, provides for us, and tends to our well-being in all our circumstances.  Our joy is the stability we know by basing the foundation of our lives on His everlasting Word, of having our identity resolutely ensconced as children of God and knowing our names are eternally written in His book of life (Rev.20:15).  Our joy is the sense of purpose that comes with abiding in Truth and knowing that our lives are precious to God.  Our joy is the wonder of His revelation and the ability to behold the beauty of all His creation.  Our joy is the life of Christ in us, and our life in Him, for He saves us from death and the depravity of sin.

Our joy is also the absence of the many agonizing situations sin produces that righteous living totally negates.  The unpleasant consequences of living after the flesh are replaced by the pleasures that come with bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal.5:16-26).  The reverse of the joys listed in the previous paragraph is what robs a life of joy.  Neither the ingrate nor the fearful, neither the unrighteous nor the hostile, neither the unstable nor the fatalist, neither the blasphemer nor the spiritually blind, will ever know the pleasure of life that is the joy of living in the presence of our Lord.  Likewise, we as children of God need not know the feelings the ungodly are intimately acquainted with due to their state of sin and resulting sinful lifestyles.  Futility and frustrations, purposelessness and insignificance, wantonness and insecurity, are all states of being contrary to life as children of God. Though it isn’t necessarily unusual for us to experience these feelings temporarily, we have recourse in Christ and the provision of God to be free of them and have joy instead.  We should likewise be thankful for the many unpleasant circumstances and corresponding ugliness we are spared from experiencing because we walk with Him instead of with evil.  The painful consequences of sin, the guilt and recriminations, the wrecked relationships and ruined gifts, the wasted talents, the pain inflicted and returned, are all things that squelch the joy out of life and need not permeate the lives of His children.

Thankfulness

To live a life of joy, all we need do is learn to be thankful and to praise God regularly.  Sounds simple enough, but the pervasiveness of the flesh presents us with a myriad of potential pitfalls capable of diminishing our willingness to do so.  Taking an exhaustive inventory of our blessings can help keep us from becoming ungrateful or taking them for granted.  This list can also be used as a prayerful reminder when difficult circumstances narrow our vision.  The intent here is not to trivialize anyone’s suffering or pain, nor short-thrift anyone’s legitimate grieving processes following losses, but rather, through it all, be willing to remember the bottom line; we are spiritual beings, all things of this world will pass, and we will one day be with God in Heaven wholly and eternally.  In time, the magnitude of His saving grace will help us rise above the circumstances that impugn our ability to be grateful, and we can then return to praising God with thanksgiving, restoring our joy in our Lord.

Praise

Praise has many forms.  In the broadest sense, all activity done while our will is fully surrendered to His divine will can be considered praise.  In a narrower sense, praise can be equated with worship, the more formal, traditional, and intentional acts instituted by God for us to express reverence and adoration for Him.  Praise is born of acknowledgment of Truth, that our Creator is Lord of all.  Praise is likewise acknowledging the ultimate and infinite attributes of God; His eternal and inexhaustible power and love.  Praise is to be pure, so we should free ourselves of sinful impurities before seeking to praise God (Mt.5:23-24).  Praise is expressed with thanksgiving, so we need to learn to be thankful for all things in order to praise God rightly.  We praise God by building churches, preaching His gospel, being godly parents, and serving others in the name of our Lord.  We praise God by loyally upholding His Word, keeping His commandments, and being obedient to His call.  Praise is raising our arms high in the air as we exalt His name and surrender our souls.  As His servants, we praise Him with the attitude of our body by bowing, kneeling or prostrating appropriately before the Lord God Almighty. Praise expresses the joy we have from knowing God, and brings us more fully into His presence that we might know a greater joy.  Praise is the speaking, singing, cheering, laughing, listening, giving, dancing and the praying that we do to honor and celebrate our Lord.  Praise is the ongoing melody of life in the Holy Spirit.

Scriptural References:

 

Joy:

Ps.16:11, acknowledging the joy of being in the presence of God

Ps.21:1-6, an expression of joy and thankfulness for the blessings of God

Ps.51, joyful praise following repentance and receiving the forgiveness of God

Ps.94:19, recognizing and receiving the providential care of God brings joy amidst angst

Ps.100, joyful thanksgiving and praise for all the goodness our Lord bestows

Pr.10:28, there is joyful hope for the righteous ones of God

Pr.12:20, those who know and teach the peace of our Lord have joy as their reward

Mt.13:44, the joy of heaven is worth giving up all our worldly wealth to attain

Lk.1:11-17, preaching the gospel of Christ in the Holy Spirit brings joy

Lk.2:8-12, the presence of our Lord is cause for joy

Jn.15:9-12, the joy of our Lord comes from obediently abiding in His love

Jn.17:13, Jesus reveals that His message brings joy to the world

Ac.13:46-52, preaching the gospel brings joy to those who speak and to those who hear

Rom.1:18-32, contrasting the results of ungodliness to the joy of being with our Lord

Rom.14:16-18, those who partake of the goodness of God have joy in the Holy Spirit

Rom.15:13, our faithful hope in God brings joy in the Holy Spirit

Gal.5:19-23, contrasting life in the flesh against the joys of being filled with the Holy Spirit

Heb.12:1-3, Christ endured the cross for the joy to come

Jas.1:2-4, the testing of our faith is cause for joy in that it helps us to grow

3Jn.1:4, the joy of St. John is to see the children of God walking according to Truth

Rev.19:4-9, a vision of our eternal joy rejoicing in the activity of Heaven

Thanksgiving:

Ps.9:1-2, giving thanks to God

Ps.69:30, praising God with thanksgiving

Ps.98, thankful praise for everything our Lord does for His children

Ps.105:1-7, thanksgiving in remembrance of what our Lord has done for His people

Ps.107:15-22, giving thanks for the mighty and wondrous deeds He does for His children

Ps.136:1-9, giving thanks to God for the everlasting love and mercy He bestows upon us

Mt.15:32-38, Jesus teaches us to thank God for all our blessing that we may remain blest

Mt.18:9-14, a parable to teach proper thanksgiving for His mercy and our forgiveness

Mt.26:26-28, Jesus teaches thankfulness for His body and His blood

Rom.1:8, St. Paul’s example to be thankful for the furtherance of the gospel

Eph.5:1-12, be thankful for His grace instead of indulging in frivolity or filth

Eph.5:15-21, be wise not foolish, be filled with the Holy Spirit, give praise and thanks

Col.1:9-14, in remembrance of our redemption, walk worthily with joy, praise and thanks

Col.2:5-12, in Christ we are made whole, our faith in Him is expressed with gratitude

Col.4:2, St. Paul instructs us to be devoted in prayer with watchfulness and thanksgiving

1Thes.3:6-12, in joyful prayer we are to be thankful for our brothers and sisters in Christ

1Thes.5:16-18, forever rejoicing and thanking God is His will for us

Rev.7:11-12, a vision of the eternal thanksgiving before God

Praise:

Ps.28:7, praise expressed in thankfulness

Ps.68:3-4, praising and rejoicing in appreciation of righteousness

Ps.95:1-7, joyful praise and thanksgiving for the awesome power and glory of our Lord

Ps.106:1-5, discerning souls praise God for His goodness and His gifts

Lk.10:17-21, praising God for our place in Heaven and our powers in Christ

Lk.19:35-40, the coming of our Lord is cause for irrepressible praise

Lk.24:44-53, praising God for the completed work of Christ on the cross

Rom.12:9-13, St. Paul teaches that we are to rejoice (give praise) for our hope in our Lord

2Cor.1:8-11, St. Paul’s praise (thanksgiving) in blessed service to our Lord despite hardships

2Cor.8:1-2, the praise of giving results in a joy that leads to even greater giving

Phil.4:4-7, praise God always; allow all to see our joy, peace and thankfulness

Col.3:12-17, praising God by living as Jesus taught with songs and thankfulness

Rev.4:5-11, a vision of the eternal praise (worship) for our Creator

 

 

Commentaries:

Joy:

“…when the intellect is gladdened by the remembrance of God, then it forgets the afflictions of this world, places its hope in Him, and is no longer troubled or anxious.  Freedom from anxiety makes it rejoice and give thanks; and the grateful offering of thanks augments the gifts of grace it has received.  And as the blessings increase, so does the thankfulness, and so does the pure prayer offered with tears of joy.

Slowly the man emerges from the tears of distress and from the passions, and enters fully into the state of spiritual joy.  Through the things that bring him pleasure, he is made humble and grateful; through trials and temptations his hope in the world to come is consolidated; in both he rejoices, and naturally and spontaneously he loves God and all men as his benefactors.  He finds nothing in the whole of creation that can harm him.  Illumined by the knowledge of the God he rejoices in the Lord on account of all the things that He has created, marveling at the care He shows for His creatures.  The person who has attained spiritual knowledge not only marvels at visible things, but also is astounded by his perception of many essential things invisible to those who lack experience of this knowledge.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 261

Thankfulness:

“Providence has planted a divine standard or law in created beings, and in accordance with this law when we are ungrateful for spiritual blessings we are schooled in gratitude by adversity, and brought to recognize through this experience that all such blessings are produced through the workings of divine power.  This is to prevent us from becoming irrepressibly conceited, and from thinking in our arrogance that we possess virtue and spiritual knowledge by nature and not by grace.  If we did this we would be using what is good to produce what is evil:  the very things which should establish knowledge of God unshaken within us will instead be making us ignorant of Him.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 212 #12

 

“God has done all things for our benefit.  We are guarded and taught by the angels; we are tempted by the demons so that we may be humbled and have recourse to God, thus being saved from self-elation and delivered from negligence.  On the one hand, we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean health, prosperity, strength, rest, joy, light, spiritual knowledge, riches, progress in all things [productivity], a peaceful life, the enjoyment of honors, authority, abundance and all the other supposed blessings of this life.  We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger.  On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessing in the age to be; and by these so called hardships I mean such things as illness, discomfort, tribulation, weakness, unsought distress, darkness, ignorance, poverty, general misfortune, the fear of loss, dishonor, affliction, indigence, and so on.  Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.

Thus God in His unutterable goodness has arranged all things in a marvelous way for us: and if you want to understand this and to be as you should, you must struggle to acquire the virtues so as to be able to accept with gratitude everything that comes, whether it is good or whether it appears to be bad, and to remain undisturbed in all things.  And even when the demons suggest some pride-provoking thought in order to fill you with self-elation, you should remember the shameful things they have said to you in the past and should reject this thought and become humble.  And when they again suggest to you something shameful, you should remember that pride-provoking thought and so reject this new suggestion. Thus through the cooperation of grace and by means of recollection, you make the demons cast out the demons, and are not brought to despair because of their shameful suggestions, or driven out of your mind because of your own conceit.  On the contrary, when your intellect is exalted, you take refuge in humility; and when your enemies humble you before God, you are raised up through hope.  In this way until your last breath you will never become confused and fall, or through fear succumb to despair.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 173-174

Praise:

“What is meant by the worship of God?  It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect when we are praying to Him: neither sensual pleasure as we bless Him, nor malice as we sing His praise, nor hatred as we exalt Him, nor jealousy to hinder us as we speak to Him and call Him to mind.  For all these things are full of darkness; they are a wall imprisoning our wretched soul, and if the soul has them in itself it cannot worship God with purity.  They obstruct its ascent and prevent it from meeting God; they hinder it from blessing Him inwardly and praying to Him with sweetness of heart, and so receiving His illumination.  As a result the intellect is always shrouded in darkness and cannot advance in holiness, because it does not make the effort to uproot these thoughts by means of spiritual knowledge.”

St. Isaiah The Solitary (4th or 5th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 24-25 #13

“In reverence, man refrains from doing what he usually likes to do, which is to take possession of and use something for his own purposes.  Instead he steps back and keeps his distance.  This creates a spiritual space in which that which deserves reverence can stand erect, detached, and free, in all its splendor.  The more lofty an object, the more the feeling of value which it awakens is bound up with this keeping one’s distance.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 58; Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

“The basic act of this reverence is the adoration of God.  It expresses the true nature of man most perfectly, especially if the body also performs the act in bowing.  It must give us pause to note that this attitude is so very inconspicuous in religions life.  Usually we find only petition or thanks, and less frequently, praise; adoration scarcely ever appears.  And yet it is so essential.  ‘I adore God’ means I am aware that He is and that I stand before Him; that He is the one who essentially is, the Creator, and that I am His creature; that He is holy and I am not, and that I adapt myself with heart and mind to the Holy One who confronts me.  Adoration is truth in act.”

ibid. pg. 64

“Praise God, from whom all blessing flow;

Praise Him, all creatures here below;

Praise Him above, ye heav’nly host;

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen”

Thomas Ken (1637-1711) as quoted in “The Baptist Hymnal” #253,

Convention Press © 1991

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Chapter 15 – Perpetuating Virtue – Purity, Simplicity, Honesty, and Integrity

Purity:  clarity of vision in pursuing God who is holy and pure; the total absence of any adulteration of the indwelling Holy Spirit; absolute cleanliness and absolute goodness; godly perfection; communicating the Word of God without dilution, pollution, or compromise

Simplicity:  having only the single desire to please God as one’s motivation

Honesty:  knowing and pursuing Truth; communicating Truth in word and deed; being just and fair in interactions and dealing with others so as to affirm their dignity; the absence of deceit

Integrity:  steadfast commitment to honesty and Truth; uprightness; consistently being fair and just; devout, devoted

Upright:  continual commitment to living a virtuous life in the presence of God

Steadfast: firm loyalty to the ways of God, an unchanging desire to be with God; fortitude

 

The further along we proceed in our pursuit of virtues, we should see more overlap in their expression, and more intricacy in their interdependence.  Let us pray now neither to lose attentiveness nor become weary in our pursuit as we experience repeated thoughts cast only in new shades of meaning.  Let us continue without contempt for redundancy, for the portrait yet lacks many brush strokes; there is a variety of colors yet missing.  The circle representing our pursuit of virtue is still just an open loop; our first revolution is incomplete and there is much left to cover before encompassing an understanding of the love of God.

 

Chapter 12 on faith and courage used the analogy of being the wheels on which our pursuit of virtue rolls; similarly, this chapter can be seen as the lubricant on the axels that allows those wheels to spin in perpetuity.  Some virtues seem to have their moments; others seem to be constants.  Though infinite in nature, some we seem able to grasp, or at least be at peace with our progress for a season, while others always seem to leave us grasping.  Need it be said that we should neither be wholly satisfied with our progress nor should we fail to celebrate our successes with joy and thankfulness.  Although our individual experiences in pursuit of virtue need not be the same, when the virtues of purity, simplicity, honesty and integrity are spoken of collectively, the fact that this pursuit is never ending becomes a comforting thought rather than having a laborious or futile tone as when first introduced as a journey without end.  While we contemplate the holiness of God and the example of Jesus while in this body of flesh, then add these virtues to the list of characteristics we as children of God are to possess, the road ahead no doubt seems long.  However, the beauty along the way gives our trek a warm and inviting presence, arousing our desire to draw nearer to the visions we now behold of an abundant and virtuous life.

 

Purity is dependent upon a right relationship with God made possible through Christ Jesus and allows us to see beautiful visions of God that keep us wanting to grow nearer to Him.  Simplicity keeps us focused on God.  Honesty simplifies our thoughts so that we do not lose our focus on His priorities.  Being cognizant of integrity binds our efforts together into a cohesive, continuous whole which helps prevent compromising our virtues.

 

Purity

 

In our pursuit of virtue, our movement toward greater intimacy with God and our spiritual growth, though there are many contributing elements, purity is what best encapsulates all that is needed to grow nearer to God.  With purity, the stumbling blocks impeding our way are removed so that we might progress toward Him.  With purity, the fog that clouds our eyes and befuddles our thoughts begins to dissipate such that we begin to see God more clearly.  With purity, the din of distractions is quieted, allowing the Word of God to be easily absorbed into our souls.  With purity, the aromas of the goodness of God and the wondrous joys of His presence are partaken of more freely.  However, for all the picturesque language used here to illustrate purity, the means of obtaining it are rather direct and concrete, and have been listed previously in chapter 10.  Item number six from the list, regular housecleaning, is of particular importance.  Learning to recognize our own shortcomings, the willingness to claim them followed by the desire to be free of them, is what is most needed to pursue purity.  In other words, practice confession and repentance, perform any necessary restitution, and humbly learn the way of forgiveness, both receiving forgiveness and extending forgiveness to others.  A habit of dispelling ungodly temptations is likewise needed.  A pitfall to be wary of as we progress in the ways of purity is to become disproportionately sensitive to the shortcomings of others and proudly take it upon ourselves to point out the faults of those around us.  Jesus instructs us to be clean ourselves before attempting to help others with their shortcomings (Mt.7:1-5).  We should be motivated by compassion for another’s well being, not on a crusade to eliminate another’s sin while overlooking our own shortcomings.  Similarly, St. Paul teaches us to bear one another’s burdens and gently help restore our brother or sister who succumbs to temptation only after examining ourselves (Gal.6.1-5).  For every occasion that the Lord calls us to assist another with their failings, there may well be a thousand different convictions from the Holy Spirit we are to address in ourselves first.  Anyone who spends more time addressing another’s failings than their own has succumbed to the pitfalls of self-righteous pride and false piety, and instead of being virtuous, has become a trivially trite and pesky meddler.

 

Purity is an internal quality of cleanliness and holiness, a godliness that originates only from the presence of the Holy Spirit within us, emanating an aura of goodness that is recognizable to both the godly and ungodly alike.  To the godly, such visions create longings to be closer to God and have greater possession of His goodness.  To the ungodly, it stirs a maddening lust as the contrast between purity and filth becomes unbearably obvious, rousing the unfettered demons and provoking an insatiable desire to mar and sully that which exposes their ugliness.  It is a venomous jealousy that rationalizes soiling another in an attempt to improve one’s perception of self (Jn.3:19-21, Ac.5:16-18, Jas.4:1-10, 1Pe.5:8, 1Jn.3:1-13). Therefore, purity must be protected wherever it exists, and nurtured to maturity wherever its seeds have been planted (Mt.7:6, 1Cor.6:15-20).

 

Purity gives the children of God visions of the Eternal that the ungodly can neither see nor comprehend.  Such visions color our world with fullness and beauty, with rightness and understanding, and with warmth and comfort.  Glimpses of the hand of God in everyday situations and events occur with greater frequency as we progress in our pursuit of purity.  The hand of God, the handiwork of His providential care, becomes more evident more often as purity clears the fog of the flesh and godly discernment begins to govern our perceptions.  When a heart is pure, the Word of God will come to life as part of our understanding of the world around us.  Children are no longer just kids, but a wealth of scripture verses instructing us in their precious care and remembrances of our own relationship with our Father in Heaven.  The people around us become our brothers and sisters in Christ, equally loved by God and our eternal cohabitants in Heaven.  Similarly, our eyes will see illustrations of the Word of God coming to life in events, circumstances and relationships.  We will see the lessons of biblical stories relived in our daily lives.  However, our observance of His Living Word is not to be passive, but interactive.  We are called upon to live out what we have learned and interject His Word back into our surroundings by taking action in accordance with the Truth.  By acting on faith in this way, our own actions become experiential lessons that reinforce our trust in His Word.  When we humbly submit to His Lordship, we step into His presence and become united with God.

 

Preserving our purity causes otherwise mundane interactions to become an occasion to experience the ecstasy of being in His magnificent presence.  However, the pursuit of purity also puts us in the arena of spiritual warfare as combatants.  Our displays of goodness stir the demons to spew their foul bile upon our godly intentions, but our desire for purity should motivate us not to return evil for evil.  Instead, we choose to maintain our vision of God by infusing His goodness into all our circumstances, defeating the wicked demons and causing them to flee in fear and humiliation.

 

Simplicity

            To most of us, trying to remember everything scripture teaches us at any given moment would be a daunting and laborious chore, and the large volume of mental activity could potentially paralyze us into inactivity.  Furthermore, due to the corruption of our flesh that seeks to sate personal preferences and selfish desires, we’re so prone to jumbling priorities and misapplying lessons that our expressions of true virtue are ever in danger of disappearing altogether.  However, God knows us and is well aware of our propensity for complication and losing focus.  As timely as the teachings of Jesus concerning simplicity were in His day (Lk.10:38-42), the need for simplicity in the lives of all the children of God is never outdated, and very likely intensifies as we take on the weightier issues of world around us today.  The Law of God and the gospel of Christ Jesus clearly teach us that we are to love God first and foremost, and as a corollary, love our neighbors as ourselves (Deut.6:5, Lev.19:17-18, Mt.22:36-40).  We are to love others as God loves us and as an expression of our love for God and for all His creation.  When we recall that Jesus taught us that the Law of God depends solely upon loving God and others as ourselves, and when we allow its application to override all other considerations that we are prone to contrive, we practice the virtue of simplicity.  Should we ever get lost along our way or otherwise become unable to discern the Word of God in a particular situation, simplicity is the virtue that will restore our spiritual senses so that we may again see His hand and hear His voice. All we need do is search our hearts, examine our motivations, remove all the selfish and unclean thoughts, and then beseech God in prayerful remembrance of the example of Christ, asking how we might express His love in the moment.

 

Honesty

 

Self-examination requires the virtue of honesty.  Honesty is the awareness of Truth and adherence to truth combined with the absence of the intent to deceive.  It is very easy to lie to ourselves for the sake of protecting a favorable self-image, telling ourselves we are things we are not simply for the sake of feeling good about ourselves.  However, God sets the standard and God is the judge, and we are to subject our opinions of ourselves to the Truth of God.  The truth is, we all have shortcomings and there is always room for improvement (Rom.3:23).  Just to give this thought a quick nod of affirmation without delineating our shortcomings is contrary to the pursuit of virtue.  If we fail to be honest with ourselves, we lose our credibility, essentially nullifying any potential to be a witness for godly virtue.

 

There are two categories for being honest to be discussed here.  The first is adherence to Truth, abiding in the Word of God.  The second is adherence to truth, correctly relating facts and abstaining from intentional deception.  Being honest with the Truth is to bring our perceptions in line with the Word of God, forsaking fantasies and imaginations in order to be free of ungodly delusions.  A teaching on being honest with Truth comes from 1 John 1:8, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us”.  In addition, if we believe we are of greater worth to God than other souls, we are harboring a belief contrary to scripture (Rom.5:8).  If we believe that someone doesn’t deserve to be shown the love of God because of some shortcoming we may perceive in them, our belief is again contrary to scripture (Jn.3:16).  If we attempt to discount our own shortcomings because they somehow seem less offensive than the ones we discern in others, we partake in lies and deceptions that are likewise contrary to the Word of God (Jn.8:1-11).  To overcome these failings, we pray for the willingness to learn the ways of self-examination and to have the ability to accept the Truth of God as it pertains to each of us individually.

 

Adherence to truth means being honest with people, doing so affirms their dignity and simplifies the interactions of relationships.  Despite the variety of selfish and self-serving reasons we may use to deprive others of the truth, contriving stories complicates matters and is a way of conveying the message that someone is unworthy of the truth.  Unworthy in that the decision has been made for them that they can’t handle the truth, or do not deserve to know it.  The complications arise when we attempt to manipulate other’s thoughts and actions; one lie requires more lies to sustain it.  Also, covering up the truth with stories may require telling different people different things, and puts a person in a position to have to remember every version of every story they ever told and who it was told to.  Manipulating others with stories and lies is contrary to faith, primarily because dishonesty is ungodly, but also because it is an attempt to usurp the providence of God by arrogantly attempting to impose one’s will upon others.  However, let’s not deny that there are situations where withholding facts may be more loving than inflicting the pain that accompanies them.  Navigating our way through these situations is best done with the assistance of a trusted guide since we are apt to be blinded to our own underlying motivations, especially if we are likewise experiencing pain and are seeking a means of alleviating it.  The greater our vested interest in a situation, the greater the potential for improperly discerning our true motivations.  Should we find ourselves in a situation where our honesty seems compromised, our perception of His will for us is likely to appear muddled and clouded with fog, but this is not cause to proceed in a muddled fog.  The way of God is light, if we lose sight of His way all we need do is hold our ground, remain mindful of His Word, seek prayerful guidance, practice simplicity, seek counsel from a trusted confidant, and be patient until the fog clears.  When it does, we can then proceed with a clear conscience.

 

Integrity

 

Integrity fosters trust from those around us as we become known for our honesty and fairness.  Integrity is the virtue that enables a soul to be a trusted servant of God.  Integrity is born of our internal purity while its external expression in turn preserves purity.  Integrity is the constancy of honesty and Truth, uprightness in demeanor and steadfast steps in the ways of our Lord.  Integrity is our living loyalty to the gospel message despite the tolls exacted by the many antagonists who seek to persecute Christ and those influenced by His goodness.  Integrity requires perseverance and courage, and this strength of character can only be attributed to the grace of God.  It is a grace bestowed when we are willing to do our part and take a stand against the scourge of ungodliness.  Such willingness comes when we decide to make the love of God our first priority with full knowledge that it costs us everything we would otherwise claim to be ours alone.  All our possessions must be surrendered to the care and governance of God.  Not merely material possessions or wealth, but also our loved ones, our thoughts, our actions, and our inalienable rights.  When we choose obedience to God over self-interests, we surrender everything pertaining to our lives.  To illustrate, if we feel a need to defend our dignity when persecuted with insults, we are choosing self-interest over the expression of love of God if we do so without concern for the perpetrators or respond to them with any form of ungodliness.  Likewise, we may be called upon to sacrifice our right to life in defense of others when evil is moved to violence against the children of God.  Integrity is not blind or mindless obedience.  Integrity sees both the evil and the good, and the consequences of each is understood when decisions are made.  However, choosing goodness and righteousness is always the foregone conclusion when pursuing the virtue of integrity.

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Purity

Ps.18:26, our purity allows us to see the purity of God

Ps.19:9, purity comes from fear of the Lord and lasts eternally

Ps.24:3-5, purity allows us to enter the presence of God and brings His blessings

Ps.51:7-14, as God cleanses us of sin and ungodliness, we learn the joy of His salvation

Ps.73:1, a pure heart brings the goodness of God into our lives

Ps.119:9, instruction from the Word of God guides us in keeping our ways pure

Pr.21:8, the conduct of the pure is upright

Mt.5:8, purity gives us visions of God

Mt.5:48, purity as all encompassing perfection in the Lord

1Cor.4:2-5, purity as a clear conscience that avails itself to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit

2Cor.6:1-10, purity is required for an unblemished ministry

2Cor.7:1, be free of all defilements, perfecting holiness in the fear of God

Php.1:9-11, knowledge and discernment are required in order to be pure (blameless)

Php.2:14-16, grumbling and arguing compromise the purity of our service to our Lord

Php.4:8-9, maintaining our purity brings the peace of the Lord

1Tim.1:5, St. Paul teaches that the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart

2Tim.2:20-23, purity allows us to be useful in our service to our Lord

Heb.10:19-25, cleansed by the blood of Christ we may draw near to God in purity

1Jn.1:8-10, first acknowledge sinfulness before confession and being cleansed

 

Simplicity:

Lev.19:18, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves

Deut.6:5, we are to love God with all our heart and soul

Mt.6:28-34, Jesus teaches to seek God first and trust Him to provide

Mt.22:35-40, Jesus teaches that loving God is most important, followed by loving others

Lk.10:38-42, Jesus tells Martha, despite all her activities, that only one thing is necessary

Jn.5:30, Jesus explains that He seeks solely to do the will of the Father

1Cor.13:13, St. Paul teaches that love is the greatest virtue

 

Honesty:

Lev.19:35-36, the Law of God instructs us to be honest in our business practices

Deut.25:15-16, unfair business practices are an abomination with ungodly consequences Zech.8:16-17, the Law commands us to speak the truth; He hates dishonesty and perjury

Mt.5:37, Jesus teaches us to answer with either a “yes” or a “no”

2Cor.10:5, St. Paul teaches us to be free of fantasies for they are contrary to Truth

Col.3:9, St. Paul teaches us not to partake of the evil practice of telling lies

Jas.5:12, do not swear by Heaven or Earth, but answer with “yes” or “no”

 

Integrity:  

Pr.10:9, integrity secures our ways while those who pervert His ways can’t hide

Pr.11:3, integrity is a guide, dishonesty and treachery destroy those who practice them

Mt.22:16, Jesus sets example of being true to God and impartial towards men

2Cor.1:12, the witness of St. Paul includes his integrity

Titus 2:6-8, uphold sound doctrine, practice virtue, and be an example above reproach

 

Uprightness:

Ps.7:10, God protects the upright and holds them dearly

Ps.119:7, uprightness is an expression of gratitude as we learn of the goodness of God

Ps.140:13, uprightness is being mindful of being in His presence with thankfulness

Pr.2:7-9, God provides the upright with wisdom and discernment and protects the godly

Pr.3:31-32, uprightness leads to intimacy with God

Pr.11:6, uprightness spares us the calamities of sinfulness

Pr.14:11, the upright will flourish, the wicked will be destroyed

Pr.15:8, God enjoys the prayers of the upright, false worship is an abomination to Him

Pr.15:19, the way of the lazy has many barriers, the path of the upright is clear

Pr.21:8, purity is foundational to upright behavior

Pr.21:29, uprightness leads to confidence in our ways before our Lord

Is.26:7-10, uprightness born of remembrance of the majesty of God

Is.57:1-2, uprightness brings the peace of our Lord

Titus 1:7-9, St. Paul lists the necessary qualifications of the upright (just) church elder

Titus 2:11-12, by the grace of God we live uprightly, in remembrance and in hope

 

Steadfastness:

Ps.51:10-12, steadfastness born of longing to be in His presence; willingness to repent

Ps.112:5-7, steadfastness as trusting in God and not succumbing to worldly fears

Ps.119:5-6, steadfastness spares us the shame of disobedience

Is.26.3, steadfastness brings the peace of our Lord

1Cor.15:56-58, our victory in Christ over death enables us to be steadfast and faithful

Col.1:19-23, being steadfast in our hope in Christ and His Word keeps us upright

Heb.6:16-20, our steadfastness has God as its surety

1Pet.5:9-11, steadfastness as having well-established habits in the ways of our Lord

 

Commentaries:

 

Purity:

“We should zealously cultivate watchfulness, my brethren; and when – our mind purified in Christ Jesus – we are exalted by the vision it confers, we should review our sins and our former life, so that shattered and humbled at the thought of them we may never lose the help of Jesus Christ our God in the invisible battle.  If because of pride, self-esteem [elevated sense of self-worth], or self-love [narcissism] we are deprived of Jesus’ help, we shall lose that purity of heart through which God is known to man.  For, as the Beatitude states, purity of heart is the ground for the vision of God (cf. Mt. 5:8).”

St. Hesychios the Priest (9th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg.171 #52

 

 

“If we preserve, as we should, that purity of heart or watch and guard of the intellect whose image is the New Testament, this will not only uproot all passions and evils from our hearts; it will also introduce joy, hopefulness, compunction, sorrow, tears, an understanding of ourselves and of our sins, mindfulness of death, true humility, unlimited love of God and man, and an intense and heartfelt longing for the divine.”

ibid. pg. 181 #113

 

 

“Purification of heart, through which we acquire humility and every blessing that comes from above, consists simply in our not letting evil thoughts enter the soul.”

ibid. pg. 196 #193

Simplicity:

…simplicity is nothing more than an act of pure and simply charity, having only one aim and end, which is to acquire the love of God; and our soul is simple when we have no other aim in all that we do or desire.”

St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622); “The Art of Loving God” pg. 105;

 Sophia Inst. Press © 1986

 

Honesty:

“All relations of men with each other, the whole life of the community, depend on faithfulness to truth.

 

“What forms the bridge [the bonding of souls in a trusting relationship]?  The facial expression and gestures, the bearing and actions, but, above all, the word.  The more reliable the word, the more secure and fruitful the communication is.”

 

“…we have two elements which must accompany the desire for truth if the complete virtue is to develop:  consideration for the person addressed and courage when truth-telling becomes difficult.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 16, 17;

 Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

Integrity:

“…a person of integrity [does not] take advantage of people.  Integrity shares knowledge with others rather than hoarding it for personal gain.”

James S. Bell Jr. and Stan Campbell; “A Return to Virtue” pg. 122,

Northfield Publishing © 1995

“When we think of integrity, we think of someone who is honorable and trustworthy – a person who keeps their word and guards their reputation.  To be called a man or woman of integrity is a high compliment.  Such a person knows the difference between right and wrong and diligently pursues doing right, no matter what the obstacles.  Jesus provides the best example of a man of integrity; He was not swayed by outer influences but lived a life above reproach.  Integrity comes not just from the pursuit of right living, but the pursuit of God, which leads to right living.”

Elaine Wright Colvin and Elaine Creasman;

“Treasury of God’s Virtues” pg 155, Publications International, Ltd. © 1999

 

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

 

 

 

Chapter 13 – Recognizing Virtue – Discernment, Remembrance, and Watchfulness

Discernment: (or “discrimination”) the spiritual gift that gives the ability to determine what is from God from what is not

Remembrance:  to remember God and the wondrous things He has done, especially the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; keeping the mind focused on the eternal and heavenly places, not just the temporal

 

Watchfulness:  spiritual alertness and sobriety, vigilance and attentiveness towards one’s thoughts and imaginings, consciously embracing all virtues and ever being mindful of Truth; an attitude of continually learning godliness to foster spiritual maturity and steadfastness

 

Some may find it odd that the chapter on discernment is placed after wisdom and before humility, for there is no wisdom without discernment, and discernment is born of humility.  Again, the reader is asked to see the pursuit of virtue as circular in nature, having no definitive starting point and having no end.  However, unlike just going in circles as a dog futilely chases his tail, each revolution in our pursuit adds to the depth and breadth of our understanding as we grow and mature spiritually.  Though it is hard not to see these chapters as sequential building blocks, these three virtues that enable us to perceive the goodness of God are placed as near to the front as possible so that we might better comprehend the lessons to come, then as we proceed, hopefully we will have enough exposure to the overall concept of virtue to be able to appreciate the topics at hand in greater depth.  Together, the three virtues of this chapter cover the expanse of time and intersect the eternal.  Remembrance recalls past teachings, events and experiences to remind us of what we need to know in the moment.  Watchfulness looks forward to ensure that our present steps inspire a godly future.  Discernment launches our thoughts into the heavenly realms and brings to bear the eternal Truth of God into the moment.

 

Discernment

 

Simply to say discernment is the ability to determine what is from God and what is not belies the magnificence of this virtue.  Discernment has boundless applications for it’s at the core of every virtue, of every right thought and every right action.  It is powerful in that it gives a soul the ability to spot the enemy, to shine the light of God into the otherwise hidden recesses where the demons lurk, rooting them out and dispelling their influence.  It enables us to transcend the natural world and see objects, events and ideas from an eternal perspective.  With discernment, we develop keen ears that are attuned to the voice of God in any given circumstance, in any discussion or debate.  Its application is wisdom, transcending time through the ability to connect consequences with actions be they virtuous, valorous, vain, vulgar or vice.

 

In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul speaks of discernment as a gift of the Holy Spirit, as a manifestation of His presence in the ministry of the church body, and of different members being blest with particular gifts for the common good.  Though he says each member has a different function, the chapter concludes with him saying that we are to “desire the greater gifts”, dispelling any notion that might arise that suggests discernment is not for everyone.  As a gift, its abilities are extraordinary, making wise the simple.   As a virtue, we cultivate His presence and abide in the Holy Spirit.  Our pursuit of knowledge of God leads us to Him.  Saturating our souls with the revelation of His Word gives clarity to our perceptions of God.  Our continual obedience fosters His ongoing presence in our lives, developing within us a wholesome familiarity with God and purity.  By abiding in the Holy Spirit, we enhance our ability to recognize where He is and where He wants us to be.  Discernment requires the fear of God and the willingness to subject all our thoughts and all our ways to the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit.  We must be willing to expel all thoughts contrary to Him in deference to, and in reverence of, the Almighty.  Only by humbly bowing before the King, surrendering all that comprises our lives to Him, do we begin to be blessed with the perceptive powers of discernment, leaving the linear plane of the senses and commingling aloft with the heavenly host.

 

Remembrance

 

Both remembrance and watchfulness accompany godly discernment.  Remembrance is the background setting from which the dramas of our lives unfold, while watchfulness is attentively waiting for the cues that determine our next action.  As we read these words, the setting of our life is very likely a comfortable chair in the home.  As we go about the business of our day, situations and people come and go, and our physical setting changes regularly as we move about the world.  However, St. Paul informs us in Ephesians 2:4-7 that God has “…made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” Therefore, for the children of God, He is in us and we are in Him and He is in Heaven, so in Truth the setting for our lives is always Heaven.  The backdrop of our lives is ever the glory of God and the company of all the heavenly hosts.  Remembrance brings to mind all we know about the Eternal and the moments in time when the Eternal interceded in history, especially of Jesus and the sacrifices of His life and death.  Remembrance is a virtue that softens our hearts and enables us to make similar sacrifices for others by recalling the mercy and love God has shown us in Christ Jesus.  When we remember the example of Jesus and are truly thankful for the gifts of revelation, forgiveness, redemption, sanctification, righteousness, and salvation that are ours through Him, we are more inclined to be willing to be patient, kind and compassionate towards those whose life direction intersects with ours.  With remembrance, we are motivated to show others the life of Christ with our words and deeds, to love them sacrificially so that they might be likewise blessed with the goodness of God through us.  With remembrance comes the courage to act righteously, knowing that we are securely in Him and mindful of His providential care for His children.  With remembrance, we are humbled before God and correctly ascribe to Him all that is His, keeping us from displays of selfish pride, foul lust, or irreverent idolatry.

 

Watchfulness

 

Watchfulness, in a complementary way with remembrance, is the virtue we use to keep ourselves under the direction of our Lord.  Acting as our own sentry and listening for further instruction from the Holy Spirit, we guard our hearts from all that is contrary to Truth, disallowing any manifestation of evil to enter into our lives.  We are to be ever on alert, watching out for the wiles of the devil that “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pe.5:8).  If we are not on guard, the demons will pollute our thoughts and turn our devotions into mindless ritualistic practices of self-indulgence that serve no purpose other than to make us feel good about ourselves.  Legalism creeps in whenever we act on our own instead of in humble submission before God.  Watchfulness helps us prevent beliefs contrary to Christ from entering into our lives by keeping His Word in our conscious thought processes.  When we are soberly alert to the Holy Spirit, temptations that serve to distract us from the way of God can be quickly identified and dismissed rather than being allowed to fester, grow and become sin.

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Discernment:

Deut.1:9-18, discernment is a necessary virtue of leadership and wise counsel

Deut.32:20-39, discernment enables a soul to see the consequences of their actions

1Sam.3:7-9, discernment is being able to recognize the voice of our Lord

1Sam.25:2-38, discernment knows what is ours to do from what is the province of God

2Sam.14:17, discernment is the ability to determine what is good from what is evil

1Ki.3:6-15, discernment is a necessary virtue for being a judge, for administering justice

1Ki.4:29-30, discernment as an integral component of wisdom

Ps.119:65-67, discernment comes from obedience to God

Pr.1:2-7, discernment provides understanding and further development of virtues

Pr.2:1-8, discernment leads to a virtuous life that God protects

Pr.10:9-14, discernment as perceptiveness that prevents folly and its consequences

Ezk.44:23, instruction to teach discernment so as to tell the holy from the profane

Dan.5: the power of discernment enables Daniel to read the writing on the wall

Mt.16:2-4, Jesus instructs us to use discernment to recognize signs from God

1Cor.12, discernment (distinguishing spirits) as a gift of the Holy Spirit

Phil.1:9-10, discernment necessary for being clean and pure

Heb.5:13-14, spiritual maturity accompanies discernment

1Jn.4:1-6, St. John teaches us how to test the spirits to discern if they are from God

 

Remembrance:

Deut.7:12-19, remembrance of God, and what He has done, allays our paralyzing fears

Deut.8:1-14, remembrance as thanksgiving for His blessings and as a deterrent to pride

Deut.9:7-8, remembrance of God discourages sinful ways

Deut.24:17-19, remembrance of God and His blessings as the basis for being virtuous

Judg.8:33-35, failure to remember God leads to idolatry and lack of virtue

Neh.9:16-17, lack of remembrance leads to stubbornness and arrogance amid ungodliness

Ps.77, remembrance is a source of conviction leading to repentance and His security

Ps.103, a song of remembrance, thanking God for blessings and a vigorous, full life

Eccl.12:1, remembrance of God in our youth prevents regrets in our later years

Is.17:10-11, lack of remembrance reaps grief

Is.46:8-13, remembrance of God is to rest assuredly (have peace) in His omnipotence

Jer.23:35-36, lack of remembrance leads to trusting in the words of men instead of God

Ezek.16:42-43, lack of remembrance displeases and angers God; precedes His discipline

Lk.22:19, Jesus instructs us to remember Him and His works with the breaking of bread

Jn.14:25-26, Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit of God will bring us to remembrance

 

Watchfulness:

Ex.34:12-16, be on guard against concessions to the idolatrous, secular mind

Deut.4:23-28, lack of attentiveness leads to idolatry, destroying souls and nations

Deut.6:10-19, be mindful of Him and His blessings; possess goodness by destroying evil

Deut.15:7-10, instruction to look for opportunities to share His blessing with others

Ps.59:9, to be strong, keep watching for the Lord

Pr.4:10-15, watchfulness keeps us in the ways of God, avoiding the calamities of iniquity

Pr.4:18-23, watchfulness brings fullness of life and steadfastness in His ways

Pr.7, being inattentive to the Word of God leads to falling victim to the snares of sin

Pr.8:30-36, watchfulness moves us closer to God and brings fullness from His blessings

Jer.17:21-22, command from God to be mindful of caring for that which is sacred

Hab.2:1, watchfulness is minding the promptings and conviction of the Holy Spirit

Mt.16:6, Jesus instructs us to keep a watch out for legalism and false worship

Mt.26:40-41, Jesus instructs us to remain on watch in prayer to avoid temptations

Lk.11:34-36, to avoid darkness, watchfulness is needed to see things in His light

Ac.20:28-31, St. Paul says to be on guard against those who pervert the Word of God

2Pe.3:1-9, remember the Word of God and uphold Truth until His coming

2Jn.1:8, watchfulness is needed to avoid digressing in the ways of our Lord

 

 

Commentaries:

 

Discernment:

“Discrimination:  a spiritual gift permitting one to discriminate between the types of thought that enter into one’s mind, to assess them accurately and to treat them accordingly.  Through this fight one gains ‘discernment of spirits’ – that is, the ability to distinguish between the thoughts or visions inspired by God and the suggestions or fantasies coming from the devil.  It is a kind of eye or lantern of the soul (Mt.6:22-23) by which man finds his way along the spiritual path without falling into extremes; thus it includes the idea of discretion”

The Philokalia Glossary

 

“…the gift of discrimination [discernment] is nothing worldly or insignificant. It is the greatest gift of God’s grace.  A [Christian] must seek this gift with all his strength and diligence, and acquire the ability to discriminate between the spirits that enter him and to assess them accurately.  Otherwise he will not only fall into the foulest pits of wickedness as he wanders about in the dark, but even stumble when his path is smooth and straight.”

St. John Cassian (360-435); The Philokalia, Vol. I, pg.98

 

“Everything, however, demands discrimination [discernment] if it is to be used for the good; without discrimination we are ignorant of the true nature of things.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 119

 

 

“Discrimination [discernment] is characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does.  Spiritual insight is characterized, first, by awareness of one’s own failings before they issue in outward actions, as well as of the stealthy tricks of the demons; and, second, by knowledge of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in sensible creation.”

ibid. pg. 158-159

 

“For without discrimination [discernment] nothing good is ever done, even though to the ignorant it appears to be altogether good; for what is done without discrimination will be either untimely, or profitless, or disproportionate, or beyond the strength and knowledge of the person doing it, or faulty in some other way.”

ibid. pg. 234

 

“To study and recognize the power, action and special flavor of each virtue and vice is not within the competence of everyone who wishes to do so; it is the prerogative of those who practice and experience the virtues actively and consciously and who receive from the Holy Spirit the gifts of cognitive insight and discrimination [discernment].”

St. Gregory of Sinai (14th C.); The Philokalia Vol. IV, pg. 231 #91

 

 

Remembrance:  

“…when remembrance of God is absent, there is a tumult of the passions within us.”

St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic (9th C. ?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 34 #92

 

“The blessed remembrance of God – which is the very presence of Jesus – with a heart full of wrath and a saving animosity against the demons, dissolves all trickeries of thought, plots, argumentation, fantasies, obscure conjectures and, in short, everything with which the destroyer arms himself and which he insolently deploys in his attempt to swallow our souls.  When Jesus is invoked, He promptly burns up everything.  For our salvation lies in Christ Jesus alone.  The Saviour Himself made this clear when He said: ‘Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #22

 

Watchfulness:

“Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart.  In this way predatory and murderous thoughts are marked down as they approach and what they say and do is noted; and we can see in what specious and delusive form the demons are trying to deceive the intellect.  If we are conscientious in this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare.”

St. Hesychios the Priest (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 163 #6

 

“Watchfulness cleanses the conscience and makes it lucid.  Thus cleansed, it immediately shines out like a light that has been uncovered, banishing much darkness.  Once this darkness has been banished through constant and genuine watchfulness, the conscience then reveals things hidden from us.  Through the intellect it teaches us how to fight the unseen war and the mental battle by means of watchfulness, how we must throw spears when engaged in single combat and strike with well-aimed lances of thought, and how the intellect must escape being hit and avoid the noxious darkness by hiding itself in Christ, the light for which it longs.”

St. Philotheos of Sinai (10th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 25 #24

 

 

 

Discerning Truth

 

The “D” Test for Discerning Goodness from Evil

 

This list is provided as a learning tool to help us grasp the basics of discernment.  Always think spiritually first, soulful (mind, emotions, will) second, and physically last.  This list is not meant to be all-inclusive, for God is infinite and His creation vast.

 

 

“D” words for testing positive, as being from God

 

Dear:  precious, heart felt, affirming dignity (Ps.116:15, 139:17, Mt.13:45-46)

Decisive: serves to settle dispute (1Chr.17:14, Eze.13:1-11)

Deep: profound understanding of Truth (Ps.92:5,107:24, Is.55:8-9)

Definitive: conclusive, final, serving to define (Gen.1, Rev.4:11)

Delight:  joyful pleasure (Ps.37:4-11, 94:19)

Devoted: consecrated unto the Lord, loyal, committed (Lk.6:13, Ac.6:4, Rm.12:10)

Dignified:  affirms the worth God gives every soul (Jn.3:16)

Direct: straight, clear and without dilution (Is.40:3-5, Mt.5:37, Lk.3:4-5)

Discipleship:  instruction in the ways of our Lord (Pr.8:33, 1Tim.4:6-11, 6:18)

Divine: godly in nature (2Pe.1:1-11)

 

“D” words for testing negative, or not of God

 

Deceptive:  misleading, lack of honesty

Defaming:  slander or libel, absence of integrity

Defeatist:  resigned to lose, absence of courage

Defiant:  challenging the ordained authority of God, failure to fear the Lord

Defiling:  to corrupt or make foul, absence of purity

Defraud:  to cheat or swindle, lack of integrity and justice

Delinquent: neglecting responsibilities, lacking watchfulness

Delusion:  having beliefs contrary to Truth, the absence of wisdom

Demeaning:  insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Demented:   false perceptions, lack of knowledge

Demonic:  of demons, fiendish, having an evil nature, contrary to goodness

Denial:  refusal to acknowledge Truth or facts, lacking discernment

Depravity:  moral corruption, absence of goodness

Depreciating:  to devalue someone, lacking dignity and justice

Depressing:  causing gloom, an absence of joy and hope

Derisive:  ridicule, mocking, lacking mercy, kindness and compassion

Derogatory:   to belittle or slight, insulting, failure to uphold dignity

Desecrating:   disrespect or abuse toward sacred things, failure to fear the Lord

Desperate:  hopelessness, recklessness, motivated by despair, lack of hope

Despising:  to regard with contempt, absence of forgiveness and peace

Destructive:   motivated to destroy or ruin people or things, lacking compassion

Desultory: aimless, without purpose, lack of remembrance

Detrimental:  harmful, causing injury, hurtful, lacking selflessness

Devious: underhanded, indirect, lacking honesty and integrity

Diabolic:  satanic, wicked, evil, cruel, absence of goodness and kindness

Dirty:  unholy, unclean, the absence of purity

Disdainful:  to reject with scorn, lacking compassion

Distorted:  warped, misshapen or perverted, lacking knowledge and wisdom

Distracting:  to lose original focus or to divert, lacking watchfulness

Distraught:  harried, worried, anxious, crazed, absence of hope, joy and peace

Divisive:  creating discord or dissension, absence of faith

Dreadful:  distasteful, shocking, lacking gentleness

Dreamy:   prone to fantasy, absence of self-control

Driveling:  senseless chatter, absence of watchfulness and wisdom

Dubious:  to cause doubt, lacking in faith

Duplicitous:  deliberate absence of clarity and honesty, lacking simplicity

 

 

Chapter 12 – The Pursuit of Virtue – Faith and Courage

Faith:  believing the Word of God as the basis for action; having a fear of our Lord that is greater than the fear of the world; an all-embracing relationship with God based on trust, placing all cares into His hands as the way to overcoming worldliness

Courage:  willingness to act on faith regardless of deterrents; having faithful strength, perseverance, persistence, and willing obedience in times of sufferings, trials, temptations or peril

 

Faith isn’t mere belief; it is acting upon belief.  Courage is the degree to which we are willing to act upon our faith in God.  Together, they are the dynamics of a growing intimacy with God, the wheels on which we roll in our pursuit of virtue.  It is one thing to know the good news of the coming of Christ, and quite another to base all of our life’s decisions upon the gospel teachings.  Knowledge is a beginning, the realization that there is a need to be moving toward God, faith is each step we take toward Him.  The first step of faith is widely referred to as a “leap” because it moves a soul from the familiar, physical realm, into the yet unknown realm of the spirit.  For those who now choose to continue to grow, this is normally followed by many wobbly steps as we learn experientially that God is trustworthy, that His Word is Truth and His promises secure.  It helps to know that God makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rom.8:28), but it requires faith to put this knowledge into action, and then courage to remain faithful through adversity.

 

Faith

 

Faith has as many applications as our life has moments.  A veritable list of faithful champions is found in the book of Hebrews chapter 11.  It tells of many great deeds from the Old Testament and teaches what is possible when living by faith.  We are likewise called to put our beliefs into action, but this is as much an internal exercise as it is one that produces visible, external acts.  We are taught that God loves and cares for us (Jn.3:16, 1Jn.4:10), that Christ Jesus is the propitiation for our sins (Rom.3:21-26, Heb.2:16-17, 1Jn.2:1-3), and that in Christ we have the righteousness of God and are wholly acceptable to Him (Rom.15:15-17, 1Pe.2:4-10).  It is a matter of faith to put these beliefs into action by freeing our minds of all condemning thoughts that suggest we are 1) unworthy of His blessings or unqualified for service, 2) that our sins are so bad that we are unforgivable, 3) or that we are so wretched that we are unlovable even to God.  It is faith that calls us to identify ourselves as children of God as opposed to how we might otherwise see ourselves according to the flesh.  We exercise faith as we search ourselves for all ungodly thoughts and habits for the purpose of repentance, allowing the ways of God to be expressed through us, unhindered and unimpeded.  Faith should likewise enable us to forgive others and be free of any seeds of bitterness that prevent us from loving others as God loves us.

 

Courage

 

In our obedience to God, we carry out His will for us in both our normal routines as well as in answering specific callings.  Courage is required to part with old, familiar ways while learning the new, sometimes discomforting, ways of God.  Courage is also required when God calls us to act but our base instincts start squealing and screaming that such action is contrary to both our well-being and best interest.  Courage is the willingness to trust God firmly with sure knowledge that His ways are right and best.  Courage is the virtue that allows us to express our love for God and His ways in the face of adversity.  Courage is what enables us to keep our wits about us and pursue a righteous course of action even when the body trembles.  Courage is born of conviction; it grows with experience from intimate encounters with God that teach us He is trustworthy, that what we do in obedience to Him is truly right and best for all concerned.  Courage requires resolute affirmation that the eternal implications of the moment are of greater importance and worth than any immediate, temporal trauma.  Courage also enables us to sacrifice the status quo in order to introduce the potential for greater goodness.

 

If there is a rarity of courage, it may be because we perceive it to require dire external circumstances in order to be manifest.  This is not necessarily so, courage is required to address many internal issues as well.  Consider a painful event from the past whose wound still festers, or owning up to an addiction or sinful habit, or anything about ourselves or our lives that we prefer to avoid because thinking about it causes pain or discomfort.  These are all areas where courage is needed to redress our life’s issues in accord with the ways of God.  After deciding to address our personal issues, it is best to work with another Christian more experienced in the ways of spiritual growth.  An effective way to cultivate courage when dealing with our personal issues is to begin with a smaller, less potent demon, then use this experience to ensure our steps are sure in the ways of our Lord before proceeding to larger ones.  For those whose ungodly desires were removed by God all at once, the process of learning virtue should begin immediately lest the demons return sevenfold on account of the new believer’s lack of experience.  A firm foundation in Christ prevents making a difficult situation worse due to a believer’s lack of knowledge or understanding (Mt.12:43-45).  Exuberance accompanied with false bravado, incompetence from inexperience, and trepidation from lack of preparation, are a few human failings the demons exploit with jeer in their attempt to frustrate our good intentions.  Instead of this, we are to trust God, allowing Him to determine both the proper time and priorities, while maintaining an ear anxious to listen for His guidance.

 

Exercising courage exposes our human vulnerabilities.  Therefore, we must be practiced at drawing upon the strength of God to endure, to uphold us when our frailties would otherwise leave us wounded, struggling, and thrashing about for our own survival.  To make a stand for Christ, to thwart evil with goodness, to put ourselves at risk coming to the aid of another, all require that we be well versed in the ways of our Lord and that our identity be resolutely entrenched in our standing as children of God.  Without these, we may be putting ourselves at risk needlessly, or worse, doing so outside the will of God.  To prevent this, we allow the inspiration of God to be the sole motivator and instigator of our actions.  We must be willing to act as the Holy Spirit leads and empowers us, and then be prepared to faithfully endure whatever circumstances arise from answering His call.  We must also remain open to feedback and further instruction from the Holy Spirit.  The spirit of God within us is powerful, not timid.  May our actions be bold and our resolve everlasting, for our faith is in God, not ourselves.

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Faith:

Rom.10:17, faith is born of hearing and learning the Word of God

2Cor.5:1-9, instruction to make decisions based on eternal truths and promises of God

Heb.11:1, faith is assurance of the grace of God, deeds based on being in His presence

Heb.11:4-5, examples of faith as action and not mere belief

Heb.11:6, without faith it is impossible to please God

Heb.11:7-33, more examples of faith as action and not mere belief

Jas.2:17, belief alone is not faith, faith is acting in accordance with our beliefs

1Jn.5:3-5, faith is learning to live according to His ways and parting with worldly ways

 

Courage:

Deut.31:3-9, courage as fearlessly trusting God; overcome through obedience

1Sam.17, faith and courage personified in David’s confrontation with Goliath

1Chr.28:9-10, 20, courage is necessary to act in obedience to God

2Chr.15:1-9, courage is needed to root out evil

Ps.27:14, courage as perseverance, waiting patiently to see the hand of God at work

Mic.3:7-9, courage comes from being strong in the Holy Spirit

Mt.9:1-8, courage needed to confess sins and accept forgiveness from Christ Jesus

Mt.9:20-22, courageous faith is rewarded, healing is the result

Mt.14:27, courage is ignoring worldly fears so that we may approach God boldly

Jn.16:33, courage as the conviction that the ways of God are right and best

1Cor.16:13, instruction to act firmly upon faith, and be strong in the Lord

Php.1:12-20, courage required to proclaim the gospel boldly and with right motives

2Tim.1:7-12, the spirit of God within us is powerful, preserving us as we serve Him

2Cor.5:5-7, with courage we are to walk by faith (spirit) and not by sight (flesh)

 

 

Commentaries:

 

Faith:  

“Faith is a relational power or a relationship which brings about the immediate, perfect and supranatural union of the believer with the God in whom he believes.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 189 #8

 

“Spiritual knowledge unites knower and known, ignorance is always a cause of change and self-division in the ignorant.  Hence nothing, according to sacred Scripture, will shift him who truly believes from the ground of his true faith, in which resides the permanence of his immutable and unchanging identity.  For he who has been united with the truth has the assurance that all is well with him, even though most people rebuke him for being out of his mind.  For without their being aware he has moved from delusion to the truth of real faith; and he knows for sure that he is not deranged as they say, but that through truth – simple and always immutably the same – he has been liberated from the fluctuating and fickle turmoil of the manifold forms of illusion.”

ibid. pg. 282 #91

 

Courage:

“Courage does not consist in defeating and oppressing one’s neighbor; for this is overbearingness, which oversteps the bounds of courage.  Nor again does it consist in fleeing terrified from the trials that come as a result of practicing the virtues; for this is cowardice and falls short of courage.  Courage itself consists in persisting in every good work and in overcoming the passions of the soul and body.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, that it, against men, as was the case with the Jews of old, where to conquer other nations was to do the work of God; it is against principalities and powers, that is, against the unseen demons (cf. Eph.6:12).  He who is victorious conquers spiritually; otherwise he is conquered by the passions.  The warfare described in the Old Testament prefigures our spiritual warfare.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 258

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11 – The Foundations of Virtue – Fear of the Lord, Knowledge and Wisdom

Fear of the Lord:  reverence and awe for God; the recognition of His supreme authority that leads to obedience to His Word; to hate evil

Knowledge:  awareness of Truth learned from the revelations of His Word; the experience gained by living according to Truth and abiding in the Holy Spirit

Wisdom:  understanding Truth, seeing as God sees; the application of knowledge

 

As we begin our pursuit of virtue, let us be reminded of the circular nature of this pursuit.  Though we begin here, there is no definitive starting point, and no ending point to signify completion of our task.  How we individually come to pursue the goodness of God is unique to each of us.  We begin with these three virtues because they seem the most foundational for our purposes here, while all that follow are predicated upon an appreciation of these even though we can hardly speak of these without alluding to those that follow.  Likewise, on subsequent readings, our understanding of the virtues discussed in the chapters ahead will undoubtedly give us a greater appreciation for the virtues we introduce here.  We commence with the fear of the Lord which elevates God to His rightful place in our hearts, then onto knowledge which distinguishes Truth from all manner of deception, and then learn of wisdom which rightly divides the holy from the profane.

 

Fear of the Lord

 

Fear of the Lord has many facets.  Among them we find reverence, awe, humility, obedience (pursuing goodness while abstaining from evil), and being paralyzed in fright.   This is not to suggest that we fear God as we would lions, tigers and bears whose intent is to eat us for dinner, nor fear Him as a cruel punisher of misdeeds who just waits to zap us with lightning bolts upon our next misstep.  No, God loves us and disciplines us as needed for the benefit of our spiritual growth, and our fear is more akin to respect for the immensity of His power and acknowledgment of our puniness and feebleness before Him.  Like standing at the edge of a great precipice or on ground quaking from an erupting volcano, this type of fear is instinctive and born of our vulnerability and powerlessness before that which is immensely greater than we are.  However, unlike the forces of nature that are obvious, God is spirit and the flesh of humanity has the capacity to ignore Him.  The children of God choose to fear Him.  Those who choose to defy God or reject His revelation, incur the terror of His wrath in ignorance.  Furthermore, we neither profane His providential care by attributing it to luck or coincidence, nor do we fail to see God as Lord of all.  We believe God is all knowing, all-powerful and ever-present.

 

Initially, our fear of the Lord is acknowledging His being, followed by the realization of His power, and then an appreciation of the implications of His omnipotence, omniscience, and presence everywhere at all times.  The initial fear may not be much more than the admission that God exists and therefore the rules of life are not determined by us; an acknowledgement that God is the final authority of creation, not man.  This may come from observing creation, noting the order and detailed design, and then deciding there is a Creator whose beautiful handiwork is certainly neither arbitrary nor random.  Or, maybe on a personal level, we notice that we cannot selfishly mistreat others without subjecting our conscience to various anxieties and emotional stresses.  Then from this awareness of innate moral influence, become conscious of God.  Regardless of how the fear of God originates, without acknowledging the revelation of His Word, there is only speculation.  Both the Truth of God, and how a person should respond to Him, remains hidden until we are educated by revelation.  Therefore, knowledge of God from revelation is required to develop our fear of God righteously and in Truth.

 

As we learn to fear God from the revelation of His Word, we are confronted by His holiness; a totally nebulous concept in the secular world for there is no meaning or application of holiness apart from God.  Occasionally in nature, we may experience something so beautiful, so wondrous, so awe inspiring, so delicate, so intricate, so captivating, so rare, so unique, so undefiled, so intimate, and so pure that we may get a small taste of what it means to partake of His holy presence (witnessing childbirth seems to have this effect on many souls).  However, without fear and knowledge of God the insight is lost in the ignorance of holiness.  As children of God, we enter into His presence and are in the midst of His holiness whenever we abide in prayer.  We sense His presence more keenly when we enter into sacred places.  At these times, the filth of our sin and our failures before God become all too apparent to us.  God is holy; unclean things can not exist in His presence.  However, from the revelation of scripture, we learn that God has provided for us and that we must accept His provision in order to be with Him.  Accepting Christ Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior is to receive the gift of reconciliation that God offers to all human souls (Jn.3:16-17).  In Christ, we are forgiven and cleansed of our sin; in Christ, we have the righteousness of God that allows us to enter into His presence; in Christ, we are redeemed and restored and able to live in communion with Him (1Cor.1:30-31, Jude 1:24-25, Eph.4:24).  May our praise be to God for His infinite mercy.

 

When God created the heavens and the Earth, He declared that it was good (Gen.1-2).  The imprint of His holiness upon all creation causes our conscience to be disturbed when we violate its natural order.  Responding to this innate sense of right and wrong by drawing closer to God, by desiring to act in accordance with His ways, is to fear God.  Ignoring one’s conscience and all manner of revelation is to rebel against God and is indeed sinful.  Ignorance of His holiness likewise leads to the degradation and depravation that accompanies partaking of evil.  Whether the deeds of the godless seem large, small or of no consequence, they all are contrary to God and impede the way of salvation, therefore they are all equally guilty of promoting evil.

 

To fear God is to hate the evil caused by willful or mindless ignorance of Him and His commandments for us.  As children of God, we are not to partake of evil, not as individuals and not as a collective society; evil has no place in His kingdom.  The fear of God means obediently abstaining from that which is offensive to Him and from that which is contrary to the order of His creation.  God has commanded us to love Him and to love others as we love ourselves (Mk.12:28-31).  To love God is to obey His commandments (Jn.14:15).  His commandments are always right and best for us and have many practical benefits (Hos.14:9).  Not only are we blessed for doing so, we are also physically, emotionally and spiritually healthier when we do not corrupt the intentions of God.  Disobedience grieves our spirit which causes stress and anxiety in our souls which in turn depletes the body.  This downward spiral is further exacerbated by the immediate consequences of sin and the inherent risks associated with ungodly behavior.

 

Though we may harbor sinful attitudes or dwell on sinful thoughts, outwardly sin is most often expressed in our relationships.  When we fail to let God rule our hearts by failing to be caring and nurturing toward others, we sacrifice the peace of God and invite corruption.  On the personal level, sin is manifest in abusive and broken relationships.  On a larger scale, monstrous acts of evil may occur, such as mass murders or mass suicides.  At such times, the existence of God is often questioned by those who fail to acknowledge the evil in their own hearts and likewise fail to recognize it in the world around them.  The question is often asked, if God is a loving God why do such things happen and why is there such human suffering?  These things exist because we let them exist.  We may not be able to stop hurricanes, earthquakes and droughts, or murders and rapes, but as the Christian keepers of the Earth, we have the means to keep our own hearts pure, evangelize lost souls, come to the aid of victims or move them out of harm’s way, and then bring justice to the perpetrators of evil.

 

Knowledge

 

Knowledge of God enables us to make decisions rightly in accord with Truth.  Knowing and believing Truth provides us with the basis for making sane decisions based on our accurate perception of reality, for reality is living according to Truth.  Likewise, the opposite is true, failure to acknowledge Truth lends towards a life of fantasy and delusion where decisions are made by a mind that is out of touch with the reality of God and therefore less than wholly sane.  God is Truth, and Truth is absolute, not relative.  God gave man free will and it can be used to believe or disbelieve Truth; all belief systems contrary to the Word of God are fictitious and summarily invite the ungodly consequences of sin.

 

To learn of God we read His Word and receive instruction from our Christian teachers.  When we encounter a teaching from scripture that is contrary to our beliefs, we are to forsake our false belief and conform to the Truth.  For instance, say a person believes in reincarnation, then reads the Bible and discovers that every soul is unique and has only one physical life in which to find their way home to God (Heb.9:27).  Such a person should immediately disbelieve reincarnation and all subsequent thoughts and replace them with the Truth of His Word.  Failure to do so means continuing to live outside reality by believing things that are not Truth.  Wrong beliefs lead to wrong thoughts.  Wrong thoughts lead to faulty decision-making processes that in turn result in ungodly behavior and ungodly lives.  People create for themselves situations of mayhem, disorder, disagreeableness, tension and discontent whenever there is friction between one’s framework of thoughts and the reality of any given situation.  The discord results in unhappiness, distress, and mental disturbances that are the precursors of even more serious consequences.  When left uncorrected, these things progress to beliefs that are even more convoluted and behaviors that are even more bizarre.  Mental illness is often the result for those unable to cope with the constant stress of being out of touch with reality.  In contrast, being spiritually healthy by believing and acting on Truth, results in an inner peace from being in harmony with God and the natural order of creation.  Though the world around us is fraught with chaos, in Christ we have peace (Jn.14:15-27,16:31-33).

 

The habit of forsaking beliefs contrary to Truth while adopting Truth as the basis of our decisions, leads to experiential knowledge of God.  Such knowledge comes from the testing of our faith, by making decisions based on His Word and His ways, ways that run contrary the ways of the world and our own flesh.  As we part with the crutches, props and cosmetics that we use to make ourselves measure up in the secular world, the first steps are expected to be a bit wobbly.  Forsaking the secular value system and replacing it with the priorities of God is difficult initially, but as we proceed and accustom ourselves to new ways, we grow stronger in our faith and our convictions.  Our ability to trust God encompasses more and more areas of our lives as we realize for ourselves the joys of walking with God.  We come to know firsthand that He loves us and has our best interest in mind; we see otherwise awful things produce good things because of loving Him, and we learn of virtue as we behold His benevolence and mercy.

 

Wisdom

 

By adopting Truth as our belief system, we begin to see as God sees and come to make decisions in accord with the will of God.  Understanding the world around us in light of revelation and responding to it in a righteous manner, is wisdom.  Wisdom is born of communion and union with God.  It is a gift bestowed from the blessed presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  It is the fullness of God made manifest in our humble circumstances.  It is the joy and peace born of experiential knowledge of goodness and of righteousness.  It is the freedom and exhilaration from cleanliness and purity as opposed to the burdens of sin and filth.  It is oneness with God in His eternal splendor and partaking of all the beauty of creation with His blessing.  It is our life’s ultimate ecstasy to be in the presence of His holiness, His power and His glory.  The more we cultivate our openness to God, the greater our awareness of His presence.  Our ability to behold Him then grows as we learn to live according to His wisdom.

 

By living in His presence, we begin to see manifestations of the eternal in the day to day, and to see the spiritual implications of our physical existence.  As Jesus used the common sites of His day as the settings for the parables that teach us of Heaven, our lives likewise become an allegorical representation of eternal Truth.  Parenting is no longer just interaction between fathers, mothers and children, but a fertile source of learning about the love of God for His children from firsthand experience with our own children.  Outside the home, our interactions with others are no longer mundane business or social affairs, but opportunities to express and bring to Earth the eternal Kingdom of God.  All of life is seen and understood as being in the presence of our living Lord (Mt.12:28, Lk.17:20-21).  Passing segments of time are no longer seen as mere, short-lived circumstances, but rather as opportunities to traverse the eternal with an expression of virtue or the accountability for a sin of omission.

 

As we learn to live in His presence and abide in His ways, we get to know God from personal experience.  We will watch Him live His life through us and learn to recognize Him internally in our hearts and externally in our circumstances.  Our experiences should reinforce what we learn of Him from our biblical studies.  This involves acting contrary to the ways of the world, for the ways of God are foolishness to those who primarily seek money, power, fortune, fame, pleasures, or other such worldly trappings that prevent a soul from seeking God as one’s first priority (1Cor.1:18-24).  We express the wisdom of God that is ours in Christ when we learn to recognize both our temporal motivations as well as the eternal implications of any given decision, and then choose to act in accordance with the ways of God.

 

Scriptural References:

 

Fear of the Lord as hating evil:

Pr.8:13, the fear of the Lord is to hate evil

Pr.23:17, instruction to fear the Lord always and not to envy sinners

Mal.3:5, judgment to befall those who do not fear the Lord

 

Fear of the Lord as source of knowledge leading to wisdom:

Job 28:28, fear of the Lord is wisdom to forsake ungodliness

Pr.1:7, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge

Pr.2:1-5, pursuit of wisdom means learning to fear God and gaining knowledge of Him

Pr.9:10, the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom

Is.33:6, fear of the Lord as a treasure; He is the source of knowledge and wisdom

 

Fear of the Lord in the presence of Holiness: 

Ps.19:9, clear thinking (clean and pure) comes from fearing the Lord

Is.8:9-22, instruction to fear the Lord and revere His holiness

 

Fear of the Lord in light of His Judgments: 

2Chr.19:7-10, the fear of the Lord is to govern our relationships with others

Lk.12:4-10, Jesus teaches that fear of the Lord is more important than worldly concerns

2Cor.5:10-11, fear the Lord in preparation for our total accounting before God

1Pe.1:17-19, fear the Lord, be mindful of Him in all things, He holds us accountable

 

Fear of the Lord as obedience

Deut.10:12-13, instruction to fear God, walk in His ways and love Him

Ps.111:9-10, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and a result of obedience

Is.50:10, fear of the Lord as obedience

 

Fear of the Lord in awe of His Power:

Josh.2:23-24, Jer.5:22, Mt.14:26-28, fear of the Lord as being in awe of His power

Lk.9:30-36, the awesome wonder of the Transfiguration

Rev.1:17-18, fear of the Lord expressed as falling prostrate in His presence

 

Fear of the Lord concerning His Providential Care (dealing with non-believers/evil):

2Chr.17:10, non-believers’ fear of the Lord causing them to avoid children of God

Mk.4:39-40, fear of the Lord as trusting in His power to overcome worldly fears

 

Fear of the Lord and quality of life: 

Ps.33:18-19, fear of the Lord endears us to God bringing His blessings

Ps.34:7, fear of the Lord brings the protection of angels

Ps.115:13, God blesses all who fear Him

Pr.10:27, fear of the Lord engenders long life

Pr.14:27, fear of the Lord causes a man to avoid things harmful or fatal

Pr.15:16, peace of mind from fearing God as opposed to the turmoil of ungodliness

Pr.22:4, the rewards for humility and fear of God are honor and a rich, full life

Pr.23:17, fear of the Lord is contrary to envy, covetousness, and want

Pr.29:25, fearing man instead of God is an impediment to holiness

Ac.9:31, peace with others from fearing God

 

Fear of the Lord as reverence:

Ps 22:23, fear of the Lord as reverence expressed in praise and exaltation

Rev.14:6-7, instruction to fear the Lord and worship Him being mindful of His power

 

Fear of the Lord and its power to redirect the human soul toward godliness:

Mt.10:28, Jesus teaches us to fear God and not men

Lk.5:8-11, a demonstration of the power of God leads to lives being redirected to Him

 

Fear of the Lord personified:

Lk.1:46-55, the Magnificat of Mary

 

Knowledge of God:

Rom.1:21-32, ungodliness is the result of forsaking knowledge of God

2Cor.10:5-6, instruction to forsake worldly speculations and believe in Christ

Col.1:9-12, walking with God leads to knowledge of God and virtuous deeds

2Tim.2:24-26, instruction to teach Truth so others may escape insanity and condemnation

2Pet.1:2-4, knowledge of Truth leads to godliness and partaking of His divine nature

 

Wisdom:

1Cor.2, the wisdom of God is ours in Christ

1Cor.3:18-20, the “wisdom” of man is foolishness in the presence of God

Eph.3:1-19, the application of knowledge and wisdom leads to understanding

Col.1:25-29, completeness in Christ from wisdom

Col.4:5, wisdom as our witness

Jas.1:5, prayers for wisdom will be answered

Jas.3:13-18, wisdom manifest in demeanor of goodness and gentleness

 

Commentaries:

 

Fear of God:

“The first good which actively affects us, namely fear, is reckoned by Scripture as the most remote from God, for it is called ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps.111:10;  Prov.1:7; 9:10).  Setting out from this towards our ultimate goal, wisdom, we come to understanding, and this enables us to draw close to God Himself, for we have only wisdom lying between us and our union with Him.  Yet it is impossible for a man to attain wisdom unless first, through fear and the remaining intermediary gifts, he frees himself completely from the mist of ignorance and the dust of sin.  That is why, in the order established by Scripture, wisdom is placed close to God, and fear close to us.  In this way we can learn the rule, and law of good order.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 220#41

 

Knowledge:

“The spirit of knowledge is a grasping of the commandments and the principles inherent in them, according to which the qualities of the virtues are constituted.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 219#39

 

Wisdom:

“The spirit of wisdom is ascension towards the Cause of the higher spiritual principles inherent in the commandments, and union with it.  Through this ascension and union we are initiated, in so far as this is possible for human beings, simply and through unknowing into those inner divine principles of created beings, and in different ways we present to men, as if from a spring welling up in our heart, the truth which resides in all things.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 219 #39

 

“We ascend step by step from what is remotest from God, but near to us, to the primal realities which are furthest from us but near to God.  For we begin by abstaining from evil because of fear, and from this we advance to the practice of virtue through strength; from the practice of virtue we advance to the discrimination [discernment] conferred by the spirit of counsel; from discrimination to a settled state of virtue, which is cognitive insight; from the settled state of virtue to the spiritual knowledge of the divine principles inherent in the virtues; from this knowledge to a state of understanding, that is, to the transmuted state in which we conform to the divine principles of virtue that we have come to know; and from this we advance to the simple and undistorted contemplation of the truth that is in all things.  From this point of vantage, as a result of our wise contemplation of sensible and noetic beings, we will be enabled to speak about the truth as we should.”

ibid. pg. 219 #40

 

Chapter 10 – The Acquisition of Virtues: How To

The intent of the list below is to prevent the possibility of saying what to do while overlooking instruction on how to do it.  Just as reading a book about jogging doesn’t improve a person’s physical condition unless one actually starts jogging, just reading about virtues doesn’t improve our spiritual condition unless we intentionally learn to practice them.  Likewise, a novice runner would be ill advised to begin with a 10-kilometer run, neither should the theologian begin their exercises without proper preparation.

 

We need to keep in mind that obeying commandments without also conforming our hearts to the ways of God, leads to the ungodly pitfalls of legalism.  Obedience is willing submission to His will and His ways, not reliance upon willpower to obey His commandments.  Also, for those who may already possess addictive or obsessive habits, the use of willpower as the means to obedience to God, is totally futile.  When the objective is godly perfection, human willpower is useless if used in any way other than to become willing to surrender it to His divine will.  As children of God, we have the power of the Holy Spirit within us, enabling us to see Truth and overcome ungodly deception if we are willing to believe and act on faith.  Willingness opens the way to the fullness of life in Christ Jesus.  If inner rebellions are strong and the willingness to surrender all to Christ isn’t present, a soul can back up a step and become willing to be willing to surrender all until the rebellion is overcome.

 

When the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin, the first thing to do is to acknowledge the thought and verify that it is from God.  Such thoughts are not to be dismissed.  They need to be compared against scripture, the example of Jesus, the teachings of the church, and the examples of the saints who have gone before us.  If our heart proves contrary to the goodness of God and the fruits of the Holy Spirit, we should immediately relinquish our attitude and submit to the will of God, adopting the mind of Christ as our own and His will as our will, and do as He would have us do in the immediacy of the moment.  Ignoring His promptings grieves the Holy Spirit within us and marks the beginning of disobedience (Eph.4:29-31).  When the practice of surrender becomes a habit, the spiritual journey in pursuit of virtue has certainly begun.

 

How to acquire virtue:

 

1)      Decide:  appreciate the worth of knowing virtue, of being a virtuous person and having the desire to attain them, then make a decision to pursue them, glorifying and worshiping God, pleasing Him, ever keeping these goals in mind.

 

2)      Identity:  claim the Christian’s identity as a child of God and act accordingly, moving the Spirit of Christ that dwells in our spirit, into our souls (mind, emotions, and will) and bodies, being sanctified, holy and pure according to His righteousness.  Learn to part with all concepts of identity rooted in the flesh.  Adopt a vision of self as being holy and pure unto the Lord.

 

3)      Knowledge:  study and meditate on the Word of God in the Bible, learn to recognize the Truth and be free of delusions (false beliefs).  Regularly receive teaching and instruction concerning the Way of Life as taught by Jesus.  A soul needs to know the Truth before being able to fully act on faith and trust in our Lord.

 

4)    Focus:  keep eyes upon God and be attentive to His Word and His promptings, not self or others or anything else.  Take all thoughts captive, weigh them against the Truth, and dismiss all thoughts contrary to His Word or His ways.  Be wary of curiosities and fascinations.  Likewise, fear the Lord by respecting and revering all His creation and creatures, granting everyone the dignity they are due.

 

5)      Prayer:  pray without ceasing, abide in the Lord, listen for the prompting of the Holy Spirit and maintain an attitude of willingness to obey.  Adopt the attitude of being His humble servant.  Do not hesitate to ask to be blessed with a heart willing to learn virtue.

 

6)      Contrition:  perform regular house cleaning.  Practice self-examination of thoughts and motivations.  Search for sins and sinful attitudes, learning to recognize and claim rebellions and transgressions, confess them to God, repent of them and accept His ways.  Then acknowledge His forgiveness with thanksgiving and joyful praise, and be willing to perform any applicable or proper restitution.  Be open to criticism and suggestion, have and use a spiritual advisor or mentor, do not solely trust in self.  Be wary of self-satisfaction since it leads to pride.  Be prompt with repentance by turning temptations into opposing virtues.

 

7)      Eternal:  learn to recognize and value the eternal (heavenly) over the temporal (creation).  Learn to use spiritual eyesight (seeing as God sees), seeing the day to day as parallels to eternal Truth (The Parables of Jesus).  Be mindful of death and the fact that our physical life on Earth is temporary while our spiritual life is eternal.

 

8)      Practice:  cultivate virtues by intentionally exercising them in normal daily circumstances, regularly subordinating the human will to the divine (surrender, obedience, abiding, brokenness), looking for opportunities in every day events to live and grow in virtue by practicing them.

 

9)      Spiritual Warfare:  take a stand against evil and be prepared for an ongoing battle both internally and externally.   Learn spiritual defenses and weaponry (cf. Eph.6:11-17).  Know the enemy (but keep focus on God) and be on guard.  Do not seek confrontation, let the Lord pick the battles and let the enemy bring his attack against our well-prepared positions.  Do not avoid confrontation because it may be an opportunity for personal growth.  Know and practice spiritual exercises like fasting, meditating and prayer vigils, learning to control the appetites and desires of the mind and body.

 

10)   Thankfulness:  be grateful for both victories and shortcomings, remember to give praise and thanks to the Lord for them all, for it is His grace that enables victories, gives hope in tribulations, and allows temptations that we might learn from them.  Worship Him regularly with gratitude, giving alms and offerings.

 

11)   Remembrance:  be mindful of the rewards for faithfulness.  Learn to receive His blessings (not rejecting them for reasons such as feeling unworthy or inept) and likewise be mindful of the consequences of disobedience.  Learn to avoid the quagmire of unpleasantness resulting from sin and being outside His will.  Appreciate the fact that acting on faith spares us from sin and its resulting emotional turmoil of guilt, shame, remorse, depression, unworthiness, worthlessness, anxieties and stress.

 

12)   Perseverance (resolve):  never stay down, get up and return to virtue as soon as possible after failures (see #6 above).  Keep in mind the circular nature of pursuing virtues, learning one requires learning others beforehand, and trials can be an effective teacher when study fails to lead to application.  Each revolution of the learning cycle is of greater height (closeness to God), and greater depth (deeper wisdom and understanding), and greater breadth (encompassing more and more areas of life).

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

1)      Josh.24:15, decide to serve the Lord or something else

2)      John.1:12-13, per our new birth identity in Christ, we become children of God

3)      John.8:31-32, live by His Word so that we will know Truth and be free

4)      Mt.6:33, Jesus says to seek His kingdom first (focus)

5)      1Thes.5:15-18, instruction to live our lives in prayer

6)      Ps.51:17, a contrite heart is favored by our Lord

7)      Mt.6:25-34, seek the eternal first and trust Him for our daily care

8)      Mt.6:16-23, Jesus instructs us to serve the Lord in all we do (practice)

9)      2Cor.10:3-5, St. Paul teaches about our inner spiritual warfare against the flesh

10)  Eph.5:17-21, instruction to give thanks to God at all times for all things

11)  John.16:1-4, Jesus says to remember His teachings so that we do not stumble

12)  1Tim.4:10-16, St. Paul’s exhortation to persevere in both growth and ministry

 

Commentaries:

 

“Fight, therefore, with great determination.  Do not let the weakness of your nature be an excuse.  If your strength fails you, ask more from God.  He will not refuse your request.  Consider this – if the fury of your enemies is great, and their numbers overwhelming, the love which God holds for you is infinitely greater.  The angel who protects you and the saints who intercede for you are more numerous.”

Dom Lorenzo Scupoli (16th C.?); “The Spiritual Combat”, pg. 44 as printed by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., © 1945 by The Newman Bookshop

 

“All He asks of you is that you defend yourself courageously, and that, despite any wounds you may receive, you never lay down your arms or leave the battleground.

“You must not shirk your duty.  This war is unavoidable, and you must either fight or die.  The obstinacy of your enemies is so fierce that peace and arbitration with them is utterly impossible.”

ibid pg. 45

“Begin to fight immediately in the name of the Lord, armed with distrust of yourself, with confidence in God, in prayer, and with the correct use of the faculties of your soul.  With these weapons, attack the enemy, that predominant passion you want to conquer, either by courageous resistance, repeated acts of the contrary virtue, or any means that heaven gives you to drive it out of your heart.  Do not rest until it is conquered.  Your endurance will be rewarded by the Supreme Judge, Who, with the entire Church triumphant, has witnessed your behaviour.”

ibid pg. 47

“When the soul leaves the body, the enemy advances to attack it, fiercely reviling it and accusing it of its sins in a harsh and terrifying manner.  The devout soul, however, even though in the past it has often been wounded by sin, is not frightened by the enemy’s attacks and threats.  Strengthened by the Lord, winged by joy, filled with courage by the holy angels that guide it, and encircled and protected by the light of faith, it answers the enemy with great boldness: ‘Fugitive from heaven, wicked slave, what have I to do with you?  You have no authority over me; Christ the Son of God has authority over me and over all things.  Against Him have I sinned, before Him shall I stand on trial, having His Precious Cross as a sure pledge of His saving love towards me.  Flee from me, destroyer!  You have nothing to do with the servants of Christ.’  When the soul says all this fearlessly, the devil turns his back, howling aloud and unable to withstand the name of Christ.  Then the soul swoops down on the devil from above, attacking him like a hawk attacking a crow.  After this it is brought rejoicing by the holy angels to the place appointed for it in accordance with its inward state.”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 364-5 #26