Chapter 21 – The Beauty of Virtue – Forgiveness, Kindness and Compassion

Forgiveness:  to pardon, to cease from exacting payment for a debt (monetary or personal offense) and foregoing all demands for recompense

Kindness:  beyond common politeness or customary courtesies, the otherwise unnecessary words or deeds shown another simply to give cheer, ease a burden, or provide a simple pleasure

Compassion:  sincere and sympathetic concern for the well being of others, especially towards those suffering bodily, emotional, mental, or spiritual ailments; the expressions of a merciful spirit

 

The beauty of virtue is beholding a vision of God (Mt.5:8).  We glimpse the awesome grandeur of God when we encounter the virtues of forgiveness, kindness and compassion.  We light up the world with the splendor of His loving-kindness when we practice them.  Holding them dear in our hearts combats the evil of their fleshly opposites that include the cold, shallow, hard-heartedness of vengeance, cruelty and indifference.  These virtues comprise a bright and colorful kaleidoscope-like menagerie of many other virtues.   In their beauty is the miraculous mystery of restorative healing powers.  Those who practice these virtues will exude an inner beauty more meaningful and lasting than any natural or contrived external appearance.  Forgiveness perpetuates loving and caring relationships by removing the obstacles that interfere with their continuance.  Kindness plants the seeds of goodness that replenish and restore hope.  Compassion is the spirit that moves a soul to take action to alleviate the many and various manifestations of pain, suffering and anguish.

 

Forgiveness

 

Forgiveness is a pardon for an offense.  To forgive another does not mean that the offense somehow becomes acceptable, nor does it convey the notion that there was no injury or harm.  Forgiveness involves taking into account all the injuries resulting from an offense and all the repercussions in their entirety, those currently known and those yet to be realized, and then pardoning the perpetrator from all penalties we might wish to exact as compensation.  We are to forgive all perceived offenses regardless of their legitimacy or the nature of the existence of the offender.  We forgive others, we forgive ourselves, we forgive the inanimate, and should we hold a grudge despite His perfection, we forgive God.  Anything that stirs anger or wrath is an occasion to practice the virtue of forgiveness (Eph.4:25-27).  Though our anger may be justified, another’s sin becomes our sin of omission when we disobediently fail to forgive as God has instructed (Mt.6:14-15).  It is no sin to be the victim of someone’s ungodliness, but if we do anything other than show the goodness of God to those who sin against us, we risk letting their sin motivate us to sin in return.

 

Forgiveness is personal and not to be equated with the customary penalties given to those who commit felonious crimes; foregoing the penal process under the guise of forgiveness compromises justice and honesty by failing to hold the guilty accountable.  Teaching accountability often motivates the offender to repentance and personal rehabilitation.  Incarceration also serves to prevent the creation of more victims by not allowing the serious transgressors to prey freely upon their community.  Forgiveness and prison time for felons are not contradictory, but complementary and collectively necessary as recourse for criminal behavior.

 

Forgiveness first requires the desire for goodness as its underlying motivation, then mercy to see it through to completion, and lastly a sense of justice that we might be at peace knowing that the debts we forgive others do not compensate for the enormity of our indebtedness to God for His forgiveness of our sins (Mt.18:21-35).  The internal struggles we encounter when attempting to forgive someone who has hurt us deeply, helps us to appreciate the depth of the compassion and mercy of God who forgives all our sins against Him.  Failure to forgive others as God has forgiven us expresses ingratitude and indifference towards God when placed against the backdrop of His forgiveness as demonstrated by the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross.  A habit of forgiveness, as it is with learning and practicing all virtues, spares us difficult life lessons designed specifically to highlight the hardness of our hearts and the need for His continual grace (Mt.19:8).   Our humble obedience to forgive merits His grace; the defiance of pride and exalting selfish concerns puts us in a position to be humbled by God (Pr.3:34, Mt.23:12, 1Pe.5:5, Jas.4:6).  The flesh can easily manufacture a host of rationalizations and reasons to withhold forgiveness from those who have done us harm, but none are valid in the presence of God.  Likewise, we must learn to accept forgiveness from God and others lest we exist in constant state of self-condemnation, hating ourselves, purposely isolating and excluding ourselves from receiving His blessings.  The inability to accept forgiveness begins a process of devaluing the sanctity of human life and invites a host of demons armed with self-destructive and self-penalizing behaviors such as insobriety, eating disorders, self-mutilation, indiscriminate sexual activity, recklessness and abusiveness towards self or others.  They come when souls consciously or sub-consciously believe they need to be punished for an offense and are unworthy of the good things life has to offer; accepting forgiveness extinguishes these thoughts.  Failure to accept forgiveness may be symptomatic of a perverse sense of pride and self-deception.  To believe a soul is unforgivable erroneously elevates the power and ugliness of sin above the power and beauty of God.

 

Without forgiveness, we are held in spiritual bondage, unable to grow, unable to approach the beauty of God, unable to let go of the past that we might enjoy a more rewarding present.  Without forgiveness, old wounds fester for a lifetime without ever healing properly; crippling our Christian walk and leaving obstacles in our path that continually interfere with our spiritual growth.  Without forgiveness, we persist in letting little irritations gnaw away at the quality of our most important relationships.  Without forgiveness, we compromise all manner of goodness and mercy that our spirit longs to experience, and do so simply because we fail to rid our lives of the leach-like demons of vengeance, hatred, avoidance and acute self-interest; demons that constantly regurgitate their foul bile into the streams of our thoughts and motivations.  Without forgiveness, we remove ourselves from a position to receive a multitude of His blessings because our Lord commands us to forgive, and lack of obedience always prevents us from rightly being in His will and intimately knowing His goodness.  Without forgiveness, our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical conditions collectively disintegrate due to the persistent anxiety and stress generated by stewing resentments and simmering hostilities (Ps.6, Pr.14:30).

In contrast, a life of forgiveness is one of peace.  Instead of the hostile and violent thoughts that accompany a lack of forgiveness, there are actions motivated by the goodness of God.  Forgiveness provides us freedom in that it allows us to let go of the past and make the most of our present, liberating us from the entanglements of sin, putting an end to potential lifelong tit-for-tat ungodliness and the habit of compounding another’s sin with our own.  When we live a life of forgiveness, searching our souls regularly and being on guard for when it is needed in the immediacy of the moment, we cultivate the goodness of God within us.  Forgiveness enriches our lives with healthy and loving relationships, removing the desire to ostracize ourselves or others, and eliminating the self-inflicted loneliness and isolation that accompanies a life lacking forgiveness.  By forgiving others, we acquaint ourselves experientially with our forgiving Father in Heaven as we begin to learn firsthand what it takes to forgive everyone of everything.  We are also freed from our ties to any unhealthy habits that serve to encumber our walk with Christ.  We are likewise freed from the burdens of guilt and remorse, past, present or ongoing.  Forgiveness removes the desire for revenge that gnaws away at any budding goodness within us.  Forgiveness soothes the emotional disturbances and mental anguish that can cause all manner of anxiety and personality disorders, from sleeplessness, depression, and twitches to suicidal thoughts, histrionics and anti-social traits.

 

To forgive someone, they need not be present.  To go to another and tell them we forgive them is to accuse them of an offense for which they may or may not be willing to accept culpability.  Such confrontation is not part of the forgiveness process.  To forgive someone, we define and delineate the offense, tally all the damage done without exaggeration, detail how it hurt us, and lastly, accurately record the repercussions, those already experienced and any potential fallout we may envision.  Then, with the help and grace of God, we pardon the offender, and from that moment forward, we cease to view that person as indebted to us.  Should we later find ourselves feeling resentments, ill will or open hostilities towards them, we simply remind ourselves that we have forgiven them, and cease the train of thought.  To heal a relationship wholly, all persons involved must be willing to own up to their transgressions, seek forgiveness and then be willing to make amends.  Not all relationships will be restored or preserved by our forgiveness alone and we must learn to accept this lest we fall prey to believing all failed relationships are our fault.  We forgive solely because God has forgiven us and has commanded us to do the same (Mt.18:21-22, Eph.4:31-32).  Though there are many benefits associated with forgiveness, any motivation other than a simple desire to please God only serves to pollute purity with self-serving intent.  Our obedience in forgiveness preserves the joy of life in His presence, perpetuates the flow of His grace and blessing towards us, and likewise frees us from bondage to a particular transgression.  By maintaining an attitude of forgiveness throughout the day, we learn to forgive as God has forgiven us, and learn to love the otherwise unlovable with an unencumbered, unburdened heart in the same manner as God loves us.

 

If we are honest with ourselves and have learned to own up to our shortcomings, we will know that there are times when we need to seek another’s forgiveness and make amends.  To believe otherwise compromises our integrity and our worship due to our disobedience and our failure to abide in the Truth (Mt.5:23-24, Rom.3:23).  Whenever we have wronged another, we have occasion to seek forgiveness and make amends.  To do so, we must be careful to confess only our transgressions and accept all blame for what we have done; we are always responsible for our behavior regardless of circumstances or another’s actions.  After simply stating what we hope to be forgiven for, we express our regrets and ask them to forgive us.  Merely saying, “I’m sorry” without specifically asking for forgiveness for our misdeed, doesn’t give others the opportunity to forgive us and we cannot assume that they have, or will in the future, if we don’t ask.  Also, when seeking forgiveness, we need to repent of the deed, specifically and generically, then be prepared to make amends for any harm we have done.  Whether the reparations require monetary or behavioral means, without this willingness the sincerity of our compunction is questionable.  Also, making amends is a powerful reinforcement of our identity as children of God, severing all links to past ungodliness, assisting in breaking sinful habits and becoming free of self-punishing behaviors.  Prior to approaching another to confess any serious wrongdoings, we should always consult our spiritual mentor since our intimate involvement undoubtedly prejudices our objectivity, creating the potential for compounding our sins and worsening the situation, especially when there are accomplices.  Should we have trouble owning up to our shortcomings or suffer from the unwillingness to seek forgiveness, we need to backtrack (see chapters 6 and 15), uncover the source of our rebellions and address these issues first.

 

We also need to learn how to forgive ourselves so that we might fully know the true healing power of forgiveness.  The need here is especially acute if a soul has come to Christ late in life or otherwise has many regrets concerning their past.  When we sin, we not only offend God, we hurt others and ourselves.  We can be blinded to the pain and damage we inflict due to a form of denial born of narcissism.  For instance, when we see someone else hurt another person, we are immediately able to categorize him or her as mean and hurtful.  However, when we’re the one inflicting the pain, the tendency is to rationalize our actions as being justified, and then cling to the lie that we don’t need to seek forgiveness.  However, God is not mocked, our conscience knows the truth and subconsciously we are classifying ourselves as a mean and hurtful monster, as one who is undeserving of the love of God, His goodness or His blessings.  When this happens, we then begin a cycle of self-condemnation, excluding ourselves from His presence and the good things otherwise available to us, and courting the demons that bring self-punishing and self-destructive behaviors.  To prevent this, we humbly learn to own up to our faults, repent of them, and in the same breath, forgive ourselves in the same manner we forgive others.  This is how we learn to be free of both sinful habits and the anguish of perpetual guilt.  Those who are unacquainted with self-forgiveness should start with relatively small and immediate issues, summoning faith and grace in obedience to His will.  Once we’re accustomed to the forgiveness process and understand the internal struggles and emotional issues associated with owning up to the ugliness of our sin, we then need to take a lifelong inventory of our transgressions.  We do this by specifically noting how our misdeeds have in turn hurt us, especially if they cause us to believe things about ourselves that are inconsistent with our identity as children of God.  Once the sin and repercussions have been tallied, we repent of them and thank God for His forgiveness, forgive others where need be, and likewise forgive ourselves.  This exercise, often done with age appropriate photographs to assist with our memories and historical perspective, has remarkable healing power in that it frees us from our past failings and allows us to conform more easily to the spirit of Christ within us presently.  When addressing our inventory of past transgressions, it helps to remember that God loves us unconditionally, without regard for our behavior.  Also, keep in mind that we are growing constantly and need to be able to separate the person we’re becoming from the person we’ve been in the past.

 

Now, while these exercises in forgiveness are fresh in the mind, pause and practice forgiving others and self.  If there is difficulty creating a list of offenses, begin with birth and segment life into five-year spans, and list the traumatic experiences from each age range.  Then discern where there may be a need for forgiveness in these events and proceed with the exercise.

 

Kindness

 

Kindness is like a spiritual gateway through which varieties of virtues are given means to flow.  Kindness is like the mast of a mighty sailing ship in that it supports the virtuous sails that provide the power to propel the craft.  Kindness is like the backbone of man, when it is compromised, the virtuous handiworks of his arms and legs cease to function.  Kindness is like an ever-flowing spring that provides the water of life for a multitude of living things that are our virtues. Kindness is like a gentle breeze on a hot summer day, tirelessly refreshing all who are touched by it without being given anything in return to replenish it.  Kindness originates from the power and energy of the Holy Spirit which flows through us, girding all our deeds with His goodness and mercy and willing sacrifice, giving life to humility, selflessness, charity, generosity and purity, all the while bringing the joy of hope to the thankful, praising God.

 

To exhibit kindness, is to summon the virtues of compassion, selflessness, faith, joy and charity, then channel them into an expression of His goodness and mercy, performed with simple and honest intent, with the purest of motives and without any expectation of results or returns.  Kindness affirms the dignity of others by surpassing and outshining all cultural and social norms of politeness, cordiality and etiquette.  Kindness likewise restores hope and offers encouragement to those worn down by the prevalence of the flesh.  Kindness negates fleshly traits such as selfishness, unruliness, rudeness, meanness, greediness, indifference, and self-centered thoughtlessness that if left unchecked, grow into the greater evils of cruelty, abusiveness, hostility and violence.  Kindness is a virtue that is always at our disposal.  There is not a lot of demonic activity against kindness.  Demons are not omniscient.  They do not have the discretion to differentiate the virtue of kindness from social pleasantries and niceties expressed in the flesh.  We can increase our productivity by taking any given situation and making it better with the application of kindness, and when we do, we are blest with a greater sense of accomplishment and of goodness.

 

Kindness is an action or gesture towards another that demonstrates the goodness of God.  It isn’t just being nice to someone, it is the heartfelt, sympathetic concern for another’s happiness and well-being, and the willingness to take an action for another’s benefit at one’s own expense; it is a willing sacrifice without thought of being paid back or rewarded in any way.  An act of kindness has the goodness of God and the benefit of the recipient as its only motive.  If this purity is corrupted in any way by contriving outcomes, posturing, guilt remediation, or scheming towards any particular end, the act ceases to be one of kindness and denigrates into self-serving manipulation.  Though we can’t control how our actions are perceived by others, if we practice kindness and make it our habit, our kind deeds will be spiritually uplifting for all involved; we will not make people feel like we’re trying to get something from them or otherwise make them suspicious of our motives.  To be kind, we will need to learn to be content with the joy of sharing the goodness of the Holy Spirit with others and with the sense of pleasing God.  We needn’t ignore that God rewards the faithfulness of His servants; however, we need to be careful not to let seeking rewards become our motivation lest we put the cart before the mule and stunt our spiritual growth with self-serving interests.

 

To learn to be kind we must be led by the goodness of God primarily.  To assist our progress, it helps to remember His goodness towards us when fatigue, sluggishness or insensitivity impedes our taking action.  If it isn’t already our habit, we will need to practice empathy; the analogy of “walking a mile in another’s shoes” is aptly applicable when learning kindness.  Then as we learn to see the world through another’s eyes, we will be better able to perceive what exactly their soul needs to replenish their spirit.  With this knowledge, we obtain the power to affect the mental, emotional and spiritual condition of the people around us in a good way.  We then have a choice to either brighten the world with an expression of His perfect goodness, or spread the blight of godlessness with sins of omission.  Without kindness, we allow indifference, selfishness, bitterness, or malice to overcome our innate spiritual goodness, grieving the Holy Spirit.   When we shortchange others the kindness we owe them as an affirmation of their dignity, we do so in defiance of our Lord and invite them to do the same to us.  We then begin compounding a downward spiral into ungodliness, creating stumbling blocks for the lost and dispirited, incurring His wrath.  The opposite is likewise true; one act of kindness can begin a chain reaction of kind deeds, supplanting their ungodly opposites all along our way and creating the potential to turn evil hearts back to God eternally.

 

Our ability to express kindness can also be used as a gauge to measure the quality of our spiritual condition as well as our ability to surrender to His divine will at any given moment.  When we are unwilling to be kind, we should search our hearts, discover the source of our rebellion, and do what is necessary to exterminate the demon.  An intentional lack of kindness is a form of disobedience.  Turning a deaf ear to His teachings on compassion embraces harshness and the demons of cruelty.  It likewise dishonors God with irreverence toward His Word and disgraces His creation when we fail to affirm the dignity of others by partaking of kindness.  Practicing kindness keeps us in a position to receive His blessings, while a hardened heart is prepared lessons designed to illuminate its poor spiritual condition.  Kindness cures hardened hearts by spreading the warm goodness of God that melts away the sinful bindings that inhibit its expression, enabling the way for greater expressions of forgiveness, mercy, and selflessness.

 

Compassion

 

From the Book of Proverbs (11:22) we read,

“As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout

So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.”

 

Since discretion is an essential element of all virtue, it follows that without discretion, there is no virtue, and without virtue, there is no beauty.  Regardless of a soul’s external features, there is no true beauty without virtue.  All manner of pleasant and pleasing physical appearance are negated when a soul lacks virtue.  Likewise, a soul not blest with an appearance that appeals to the flesh can nonetheless become beautiful by practicing virtue, especially the virtue of compassion that is easily perceived as beauty by our spiritual senses.   However, over time, the joy of virtue can mold the human form such that one develops a smile that glows bright enough to light up a room, adds a sparkle to the eyes that stir weary souls to life, and exhibits gestures that invite warm human interactions and friendships.   The opposite is likewise true, a lack of virtue, a lifetime of coping with sin, can lead to seemingly permanent expressions of bitterness and disdain, a countenance that repels and causes immediate discomfort in others.

 

Perceiving the beauty of compassion is as basic as our primal instincts of safety verses fear; compassion conveys the feeling of being in a safe haven.  It communicates the sense of being cared for, that our needs are being taken care of while we are able to rest and recuperate in the warmth and comfort of soothing goodness.  Whereas kindness plants the seeds of goodness all along the way (Mt.13:1-23), compassion aims to redress suffering (Lk.10:30-37) or meet the needs of others (Mt.14:13-21).  Whereas kindness can be expressed in simple words or gestures in passing, compassion requires an investment of our time, effort and means in order to restore an injured soul, to set right an injustice, or otherwise provide for the needs of others.  Compassion is the spirit within us that moves us to action when we see pain and suffering.  It understands and responds to pleas for mercy that are often expressed merely through tears or expressions of anguish.  It has a genuine desire to alleviate the effects of sin and instill goodness; its motives are pure.  Compassion has sympathy for the downtrodden, the waylaid, the destitute, the dispirited, the diseased, the lost, the dispossessed, the defeated, the victimized and the compromised, and can empathize with the thoughts and emotions that are common to all life’s sufferings.  The compassionate soul lives to alleviate these things by learning to heal, to teach, to protect, to encourage, to console, to provide, to forgive, to care, or to shepherd, and is willing to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of others.

 

Before we can even attempt to express compassion, we need to keep in mind the needs that are common to all human existence, learn to recognize how they’re not being met, and then be able to discern a course of action to address specific needs.  All human needs can be traced back to the generic needs of significance or security (ref. “The Search for Significance” by Robert S. McGee, © 1985, 1990 Rapha Publishing; Houston, Texas, USA), and this includes all their manifestations, whether they are physical, soulful, or spiritual.  We can learn to recognize them in others by first learning to recognize them in ourselves, by paying attention to our own wants and desires and how they vary in priority as our condition experiences the highs and lows common to life on Earth.  Once identified, we can then see how a particular need is either being satisfied or neglected, and on what level, body, soul or spirit.  Though God has already provided for all our spiritual needs, we often need help learning to recognize and receive His provision for us.  Physical needs, food, clothing and shelter, at first seem simple, obvious and all inclusive till we remember our body’s internals, the effects of accidents and illnesses, and the instinctual urges to bond and mate.  Soulfully, we can tend to another’s needs by quelling the primary threats of indifference, worthlessness, and rejection.

 

Compassion heals.  As God has provided the means for our salvation and as medical doctors learn to heal the body, compassion neutralizes the demons that haunt human souls.  This has become well evidenced and documented in observation of twelve step support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous where all the participants are victimized by the same impediment to spiritual and personal growth.  Whether an addiction, a proclivity toward a particular vice, post-traumatic stress, or any other personality or anxiety disorders, the company of fellow sufferers who are able to show the greatest amount of compassion due to their shared experience, knowledge and understanding, best facilitates the miraculous healing powers of compassion.  Our physical eyes cannot see another’s demons; we cannot fully know the nature, size or strength of the demons that afflict another’s wellness unless we’ve done battle with it ourselves.  Non-combatants don’t know the amount of courage and perseverance required to overcome something they can easily dismiss.  Conversely, in a support group, fellow sufferers can help identify the common enemy, its traits, what it feeds on, what weakens it, and then share strategies on how best to overcome it.  Compassion requires unconditional acceptance of others and foregoes all appearances of judging or condemning another soul for their shortcomings.  Support groups also provide a safe place for a soul to make confessions without fear of retribution or recrimination.  This environment leads to further repentance of subsequent sins as participants learn to make a habit of self-scrutiny.  Confessions to non-combatants risk a lack of understanding and confidentiality, and can be potentially dangerous in that it introduces them to demons that they may not be prepared to fend off, creating the possibility of further contagion.  Twelve step groups also teach making amends and when possible, undoing the damage done with full restitution.  By practicing these principles, members learn to grow into the newness of a godly life that is productive and full of joy rather than continuing in the desperation and depravity of addictions and subsequent, ungodly, maladaptive behaviors.

 

The work of the Holy Spirit within us will stir compassionate thoughts; however, there are simple things we can learn to help facilitate obtaining this virtue and being more like Christ.  First, we need to practice being observant, attentive and well informed.  Not knowing what is going on in the lives of people around us can lead to unintentional insensitivity, and even callousness or crassness depending on another’s emotional vulnerability at any given moment.  Being well informed will not be confused with being a nosy, gossipy, busy-body if we ask questions out of concern and not curiosity, pray for blessings for the person being discussed, and then not repeat what we know unless asked by another compassionate soul who is likewise only interested in the well being of others.  When we keep abreast of other’s circumstances, we can do as Jesus did, and with a kind word or deed address the needs of others without requiring them to rehash a lot of information that may be difficult for them to share.  Should we have troubles of our own, selflessly caring for others not only helps relieve our own discomfort, it is a witness and testimony to the love of God in Christ Jesus who lives in us and provides for all our needs.  Then, as we witness God watering the fields of the evil and the good alike, we become able to express compassion toward those we like as well as those we don’t (Mt.5:44-48).

 

When expressing the goodness of God with compassion and kindness, or when performing a service for Him, a host of demons arrives with a proven set of strategies designed to knock the purveyors of goodness off their course.  As puerile as it seems, name-calling can be an effective weapon preventing good deeds and is often the demon’s first salvo aimed at the children of God.  Whether it is children calling each other “goody goods” or adults attaching labels such as “bleeding hearts” or “crusader”, we need to learn not to let these simple attacks deter us from the tasks God has given us to do.  Being called a “hypocrite”, “self-righteous” or “hateful” by an ungodly soul should not deter us in our obedience to God.  An easy way to deal with them is to simply acknowledge their perceptions and then take a stand as being on the side of good by explaining to them the potential evils of leaving the task undone.  Instead of being deterred by the simple assaults of our detractors, we should ask ourselves; “Is this task truly something God has given me to do?  Is the detractor pursuing evil or good?  Am I willing to endure persecution in my obedience to God?”  Our reply to these souls, who most likely don’t understand deeds motivated purely by goodness, can be our witness and testimony to the love of God, turning not only the situation away from evil and towards goodness, but also the hearts of the lost.

 

Demons will also attempt to magnify the challenges any given task presents in an attempt to overcome our goodness with annoying frustrations or a sense of futility.  At such times, remembrance of Christ and a variety of our lessons will defeat the demons and keep our focus on God in obedience.  Thankfulness, perseverance, purity, courage, patience, joy, self-control, or charity, or any combination of virtues applied to the situation with proper discernment, can be used to repel the attacks of these demons.  Another demonic foray that aims to rob us of the joy of pleasing God is to create false expectations that lead to disappointments when expectations are not achieved and the realization of failure leads to an array of feelings associated with disenchantment.  This can happen when we insist on our own sense of fairness, resent uncomplimentary but helpful feedback or critiques, or develop a martyrdom complex.  If we allow ourselves to think that everyone around us should be as concerned with the task God has given us to do, and that they should be willing to make the same sacrifices we do in order to complete our task, such thoughts will undoubtedly lead to resentments.  Instead of joy and peace in our service, we will be overcome by these common frustrations and be left with nothing but ill will to show for our efforts.  We can make ourselves out to be great martyrs worthy of adulation and hefty rewards if we allow the demon of pride to infect our humble obedience to the call of Christ.  If we are overly sensitive to criticism, unable to discern the constructive from the destructive or the caring from the malevolent, then our joy and thankfulness will indeed be replaced by resentments.  This also happens if we are unwilling to listen to any suggestion that we may have erred or that a better way is possible, feeling insulted rather than abiding in our dignity.  If we listen to these demons, we will be overcome by feelings of being under appreciated, become disgusted with another’s perceived lack of usefulness or paltry contributions, and then disparage and demean them in an attempt to lessen the damage to our fleshly self-image.  Among fellow Christians, this qualifies as judging another’s servant, and is exactly what St. Paul instructs us not to do in Romans 14.  Instead, we need to forgive the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ, be an example of Christ ourselves, and encourage and assist others in their spiritual growth.  We can maintain our joy while in service to our Lord by refusing to entertain thoughts critical of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and by truly being thankful that God has deemed us trustworthy and capable.  It also helps to take an inventory of all the things that make it possible for us to be in a position to serve God.  A list that includes our eternal salvation in Christ, knowing God, life itself, our mental and physical talents that enable us to perform a particular service, and all resources available for our use; these are all things to be thankful for and not taken for granted.  Being thankful for all things at all times gives us joy instead of the misery that accompanies indulging in ingratitude, being critical or condemning others.

 

Demons attempt to squelch all expressions of goodness; however, their means are likewise limited by the extent the children of darkness are willing to go in pursuit of evil.  We must never forget that there are souls on this Earth that enjoy evil and consciously reject God rather than part with their perverse pleasures.  The self-serving and hedonistic pursuits of the flesh seem benign when compared to the sadists, masochists, and the violently controlling and abusive types.  These miserable people take pleasure in another’s pain, suffering, oppression, and distress so much so that they seek out ways to inflict such things upon others.  Should we fail to comprehend the full extent to which evil will go, we risk being completely stupefied with fear, overcome by their grotesqueness, collapse in a state of shock or otherwise rendered inert, and then be left suffering from posttraumatic stress.  Not only will we be unprepared to seek the grace of God in the moment we encounter unrestrained evil firsthand, afterwards the common result is the inability or unwillingness to be an uncompromising servant of God.  As Christians, we are targets for the demons because they can recognize the goodness of the Holy Spirit within us, and true to their evil nature, they crave to foul, soil, humiliate, abuse, maim, destroy or desecrate all that is good.  Such is the pleasure of the depraved and sadistic souls who never clean their spiritual house. They come to prefer the company of demons and become like stringed puppets in carrying out demonic whims.  We need to be prepared and know that they exist.  When we encounter extreme evil, we must remember and have faith in God, for His grace is sufficient to overcome all evil.  Then we seek the courage to act righteously.  Whether that means being still or an extreme intervention, God supplies the necessary grace in the moment.  Our part is to trust Him, to act in accordance with His will with the assurance that we do the right thing.

 

The world is full of unenlightened souls who put little or no effort into personal or spiritual growth.  Such people are prone to being motivated by personal vendettas, by petty jealousies, by the bitterness of lifelong disappointments, by sharing their pain by inflicting it on others, by a lusty greed for whatever they can get their hands on, and again, by the desire to ruin whatever joy and goodness they see in another’s life.  They are opportunists who seek to take advantage of another’s vulnerabilities, plotting complex schemes with covert and dishonest tactics.  What such people fail to realize is, whether by intentional denial or inability to figure it out, that the misery of their life is their own choosing, that their bitter harvest is reaped from the evil they sow.  These forlorn souls take pleasure in being spiteful, controlling, manipulative, disruptive, perverse, abusive, violent, unruly, or crass.  However, as children of God, we are not to indulge in any of their behaviors in return.  As difficult as it may be to exercise self-control in the presence of such malfeasance, we have been taught to love our enemies and do good things for those who mistreat us (Lk.6:27).  Lost, darkened and demented souls are in need of our compassion since they know neither the joy of salvation nor the beauty of kindness and forgiveness.  Though their actions may stir anger within us, we will need to recall that all souls are precious in His sight, practice forgiveness, and with proper discretion, treat the ungodly with compassion so that they might come to repentance and a saving knowledge of our Lord Christ Jesus.

 

 

 

Scriptural References:

 

Forgiveness

Ps.32:1-6, asking forgiveness of God through confession and repentance, heals

Mt. 6:9-15, failure to forgive as God forgives is a sin of omission

Mt.18:21-35, God holds us accountable when we fail to forgive others as He forgives us

Mk.11:25, before asking God to pardon sins, we first pardon all whose sin infects us

Lk.17:1-4, anticipate troubles in relationships and always remain willing to forgive

2Cor.2:5-11, a lack of forgiveness gives opportunity for the schemes of demons

Eph.4:29-32, a lack of forgiveness compromises our virtue

Col.3:12-14, our forbearance of other’s shortcomings depends upon our ability to forgive

 

Kindness:   

Pr.11:7, a person who lacks kindness is treated with indifference

Pr.12:25, kindness gives us the power to encourage and gladden others

Pr.14:21, our ability to be kind reflects the quality of our spiritual condition

Pr.14:31, kindness honors God, oppressing the downtrodden is a disgrace that taunts Him

Pr.19:17, kindness towards the needy serves our Lord and He rewards these good deeds

Mic.6:8, with our knowledge of goodness our Lord expects us to be kind and just

Mt.18:5-7, lack of kindness can cause another to stumble and this angers God

Lk.6:32-38, the kindness we extend toward others is the measure of our blessings from God

Rom.2:1-13, failure to reflect the kindness of God invites the wrath of His judgment

Rom.11:22, kindness perpetuates blessings while hardened hearts learn of His severity

1Cor.13:4-7, kindness is recognizable in our expressions of love in the Holy Spirit

2Cor.6:1-10, service to God is marked by the ability to show kindness to persecutors

Gal.5:16-26, kindness is evidence of His lordship over us and the Holy Spirit within us

Eph.4:29-32, impurity, bitterness, anger, wrath and malice compromise kindness

Col.3:8-14, impartial kindness is a sign of our renewal in Christ and knowledge of Truth

2Tim.2:22-26, impartial kindness is a required virtue to be a servant God

Titus 2:3-5, reverence for the Word of God is made manifest through kindness

2Pet.1:5-9, failure to show kindness is symptomatic of ignorance or forgetfulness

 

Compassion:

Pr.11:22, exterior beauty is wasted when unaccompanied by inner beauty

Mt.9:18-38, the compassion of our Lord Jesus brings miracles of healing

Mt.14:13-21, the compassion of Jesus in tending to the physical needs of the people

Mt.15:32-38, the compassion of Jesus preemptively addresses the needs of others

Mt.20:29-34, the compassion of Jesus restores those who plead for mercy

Lk.10:30-37, Jesus instructs us to have compassion for strangers in need

Php.2:1-18, in Christ we find the humility that enlightens our world with compassion

Col.3:1-14, children of God have a heart of compassion for all

 

Commentaries:

 

Forgiveness:

On The Lord’s Prayer (Mt.6:12-13):

“Scripture reveals to us in these words that he who has not completely forgiven those who stumble, and has not brought his heart to God free from grievance and illuminated with the light of reconciliation with this neighbor, will fail to attain the grace of the blessings he has prayed for.  Indeed, he will justly be handed over to temptation and to evil, so that, having retracted his judgment of other people, he may learn to purify himself of his own sin.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 302

 

“Wisely bear in mind that, if God acquits, no one can condemn (cf. Rom.8:33-34).  If you have been called [to serve God], do not worry about your past life, even if to some extent it has been soiled:  for it has been purified once more by God and through your own self-correction.  But afterwards be diligent and watchful, so as not to eclipse the grace.  Then if someone stupidly casts aspersions on your [service] because of your past, he will hear a voice from Heaven saying, ‘What God has cleansed, do not call unclean’ (Acts 10:15).”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 370-71 #51

 

“Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: ‘Forgive, and you will be forgiven’ (cf. Matt.6:14).

This then is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment.  But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness.  Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person’s soul.  Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed.  But this is not to the credit either of the devil, or of the person who tempts, or of the person tempted.  The devil, being maleficent, deserves our hatred, for he acts with no concern for our welfare.  The person who tempts us merits our compassion, not because he tempts us out of love but because he is deluded and oppressed.  The person tempted, finally, endures affliction because of his own faults, not on behalf of someone else.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 95

Kindness:

“True kindness allows to life a proper space and freedom of movement; it even gives and provides these, for only in this way can life grow and develop.”

“Kindness pardons, for it is magnanimous and releases the offender; it trusts and always allows life to begin anew.”

“Kindness can look beyond itself; it does not begrudge to others what it lacks.  In fact, it can even rejoice with others.”

“Kindness means that a person is well disposed toward life.  Whenever he encounters a living being, the kind man’s first reaction is not to mistrust and criticize but to respect, to value, and to promote development.”

“…in kindness there is strength – strength in proportion to its purity – and perfect kindness is inexhaustible.”

“Kindness requires patience.  Suffering returns again and again and demands understanding.”

“One other thing is required of kindness, some which we rarely speak: a sense of humor.  It helps us to endure things more easily.”

“A friendly laugh at the oddity of all human affairs – that is humor.  It helps us to be kind, for after a good laugh, it is easier to be serious again.”

“…we shall seek for kindness in the place from which all virtue comes; we shall seek for it in God.”

“If we could see God’s goodness, this abyss of kindness, we would be joyful all our life long.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 110-112;

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

 

Compassion:

“Compassion implies the most intimate sympathy with people who are suffering, despised, and marginalized.  Harsh judgments of others by any ‘paragon of virtue’ who invokes God, even the God our Lord Jesus Christ, reveal total shamelessness.”

Bernard Häring, “The Virtues of an Authentic Life”

 © 1997 by Liguori Publications, pg. 50

 

“Wherever compassion is missing, ‘works of righteousness’ are poisoned.”

“In the face of the suffering of heartlessly despised people, the compassionate person is shaken by sympathy and enlists to do something for them.  True sympathy urges us to action.  Active sympathy makes it clear that we are on the way to worshipping God as the supremely compassionate one and honoring Him in real life fashion.”

ibid. pg. 51

“The intellect is the organ of wisdom, the intelligence that of spiritual knowledge.  The natural sense of assurance common to both intellect and intelligence is the organ of the faith established in each of them, while natural compassion is the organ of the gift of healing.  For corresponding to every divine gift, there is in us an appropriate and natural organ capable of receiving it – a kind of capacity, or intrinsic state or disposition.  Thus he who purges his intellect of all sensible [physical] images receives wisdom.  He who makes his intelligence the master of his innate passions – that is to say, of his [passionate desires of the will] – receives spiritual knowledge.  He whose intellect and intelligence possess an unshakeable assurance concerning divine realities receives that faith with which all things are possible.  He who has acquired natural compassion receives, after the utter annihilation of [self-centeredness and self-adoration], the gifts of healing.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 217 # 33

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Chapter 17 – The Essentials of Virtue – Humility, Selflessness, and Goodness

 

Humility:  submission to the value system of God in all things; characterized by:

  • acknowledgment that the value of a human soul is solely determined by God, although He blesses His children with different talents, abilities and qualities, all souls are precious to Him
  • willingness to put another’s needs and concerns before one’s own
  • performing all good deeds solely for the love of God without thought of any immediate recognition, reward or praise from others; being satisfied and comforted solely by knowing that one has pleased God;  selfless, sacrificial service to God and man;  having a servant’s heart
  • giving credit where credit is due, being thankful for all one’s blessings (talents, strengths, possessions, abilities, etc.); ability to praise another’s talents, blessings, and achievements without jealousy or envy; ability to encourage and assist another’s spiritual growth without thought of self
  • willingness to perform any task in obedience to God, from menial to strenuous, either low or high profile, either controversial or mundane, and doing so without thought of self
  • uncompromised exaltation and praise for God who is Lord of All, right reverence for God, meekness especially in the presence of God as well as in our relations with others
  • purity, gentleness, simplicity, peacefulness, dignity, prayerfulness, and reverence in one’s demeanor and mannerisms;  courteous and polite, acknowledging and affirming another’s worth to God in all interactions, acknowledging the dignity of all souls
  • ability to accept one’s saintliness and sinfulness simultaneously without either denial or pride
  • fear of God, discernment in Truth without compromise
  • absence of pride, arrogance, self-promotion, attention seeking, conceit, self-centeredness, and without attitudes of superiority in regards to one’s life, abilities, or ideas
  • absence of violence, contempt, ill will, vengeance, or condemnation in dealings with others
  • ability to accept criticism without reprisal, or injustice without retribution;  hearing criticism  with acceptance, tolerance, patient endurance, and temperance, ever deferring to God as judge
  • evidence of the grace of God at work on one’s soul, that spiritual battles are being won

 

 Selflessness:  without concern for one’s self, unselfish; ability to put another’s well-being ahead of one’s own concerns; self-sacrificing

 

Goodness:  approved by God and characterized by godliness; the righteousness of God within us expressed outwardly; thoughts and behaviors that are pleasing and acceptable to God; beneficial and having worth in the divine economy; expressions of purity; all deeds that result from being filled with the Holy Spirit and submissive obedience to His divine will; divine beauty; manifestations of His grace

 

In this chapter, we look at the basic and indispensable elements of being virtuous.  This is not to suggest that any of the virtues already discussed are dispensable, for without a firm foundation in place, we would not even be able to approach the loftier heights of godliness.  The virtues of humility, selflessness and goodness are essential in the sense that when they are compromised, their opposing vice wrecks any semblance of virtue already established.  There is no place in the virtuous soul for the conceit of pride, the filth of ungodliness, or the wantonness of the selfish.  Without humility, we lose God as our motivation.  Without selflessness, we serve ourselves instead of serving God and others.  Without goodness, we lose the presence of God altogether.

 

Humility

 

To be humble is to understand and accept our place in the divine economy of God.  Each of us is unique, but we are all just one among a countless number.  Each of us has unique talents, gifts and abilities, but none of these is to be used by us to determine our worth; determining the worth of souls is the sole province of God and we are all precious to Him.  He created us all and we are all likewise loved by Him.  Each of us has a role to fill with tasks ordained by God, but the work of our Lord will go on when it’s our time to go and be with Him; none of us need see ourselves as indispensable.

 

The beauty and goodness of humility can be seen more clearly by looking at the traits that compromise it, and then imagining a soul without such vices.  Humility properly reveres and respects God and His dominion, eliminating any pretense of our being in control, an arrogant sort of rebellion that laps the fringes of outright blasphemy.  The humble soul is not a braggart or boaster and does not allow sinful pride to control their speech with words of self-promotion, self-elation, and self-exaltation.  Humility allows a soul to defer their place to another rather than becoming incensed over perceived indignities; there is graciousness and gentleness instead of hoggish self-interest.  The humble soul doesn’t suffer the need for recognition and praise from others, and therefore isn’t prone to ostentatious, outlandish or grandiose behaviors.  Fanaticism, taking dares and thrill seeking are summarily eliminated.  Humility understands that all souls are precious to God and that human worth is not determined by the things of the flesh (Php.3:1-11); all notions and emanations of superiority as well as haughty attitudes and mannerisms, disappear.  Humble souls are thankful for their blessings, accepting of their station in life and harbor no need to complain or be bitter over perceived injustices or inequities.

 

Humility itself has an elusive character, for as soon as we claim to have it or become satisfied with our progress, it is gone.  To develop our humility, let’s first review the list in chapter 10; the implications of the spiritual growth suggestions should take on a weightier tone since we’ve progressed in our appreciation of virtue.  Likewise, more intense introspection needs to be done to secure the true motivations of our hearts and align our desires with the ways of God.  With greater self-scrutiny comes the need for a greater willingness to claim our shortcomings, our misguided motivations, and our resulting ungodly behaviors.  In addition, a greater courage is needed to forsake our newly uncovered habits of the flesh and adopt the ways of our Lord.  Often the crux dividing humility from its many opposing vices is determined by our value system.  We need to ask ourselves, are we willing to surrender our rights, accept less than what we think we are due, or suffer indignities for the sake of obedience to God and the preservation of our virtue?  When we are challenged or threatened, remembrance of Christ as our most holy example and then entrusting all our concerns to Him is how we learn to make God our first priority.  When we consider ourselves and our concerns as the most important determinants in our decision making, when we value our comforts and ourselves too much to endure anything for any reason other than what serves and pleases us, when our wants and desires outweigh the Truth of God and all eternal concerns, we can be assured that our virtue is being compromised.

 

To learn to put God first and value the eternal more than the temporal, we need to be secure in our identity as children of God and likewise derive all sense of self-worth from God.  Only when we truly know who we are in Christ can we persevere through the unfriendly trials an ungodly world inflicts upon Christians.  Without an identity firmly founded in Christ, our motivations are often based on making a statement about ourselves in acts of self-preservation or promotion.  Furthermore, when our motivation is to establish an identity or protect a self-image, we’re probably not seeing ourselves as mere children of God.  On the contrary, we are attempting to base our identity on the fantasies and delusions of the flesh.  This compromises our virtue and is a poor witness of gospel Truth; in order for others to see Christ in us we have to know with certainty that we are in Him.  Also, if we allow our sense of self-worth to be determined by people and things instead of God, we subscribe to a sense of self-worth subject to the fickle and capricious ways of the secular world that ultimately destroys the peace of our Lord within us.  When a child of God replaces godly dignity with temporal things such as careers, possessions, mental or physical capabilities, heritage, conquests, and the like, the resulting sinful pride becomes an affront to God.  These misconceptions beg to be destroyed so that matters of more importance may be allowed to progress, that being our relations with God and our acquisition of virtue.  The greater our reliance upon the flesh in determining our identity and self-worth, the greater is our potential for personal devastation when such things are compromised or lost altogether.  It is the nature of the flesh to expire; nothing of the flesh is taken up to be with God.  As hard as it might be to let go of the flesh and humbly adopt an identity solely based on our birth as children of God, making this decision has glorious results and is a full-sized step towards a joyful and abundant life in Christ.  Also, aside from being rewarded for our obedience when we do so, we also spare ourselves immeasurable grief by not having to learn these lessons the hard way through trials and providential disciplinary actions.  Lastly, when God holds our identity and dignity in His hands, neither our circumstances nor other people can take them from us, and we are far less likely to allow our walk with our Lord to be compromised by the insults and indignities an ungodly world aims at Christians.  To be an effective witness for Christ, we cannot spend our energies defending ourselves from attacks on our flesh.

 

Humility requires self-scrutiny that in turn requires the virtue of discernment [discrimination] if the results are to be at all meaningful and helpful.  Without, the habits of the flesh are not likely to be discovered.  It is embarrassingly easy to fool ourselves and even more shameful when we attempt to pass our delusions onto others.  For instance, seeking to be esteemed by our fellows by using ourselves as the good example when in communal prayer only serves to negate our virtue in the moment and our rewards in eternity (Mt.6:1-4).  This isn’t meant to discourage a good report that serves as both a good example and encouragement to others.  We just need to remember to keep our focus on God when doing so by merely mentioning our deeds in obedience while expounding on the blessed results and expressing thankfulness for being a trusted servant.  We should emphasize the awesome works of the Holy Spirit that have been our privilege to behold and be wholly content knowing we have pleased our Lord without seeking undo attention for ourselves.  Another aspect of self-examination is to determine whether we are fully surrendered to Him in the moment.  A quick spot check has been known to help with this determination.  All we need do is pause a moment and ask ourselves this question, “If the Lord had something else for me to be doing at this time, would I be able to stop what I’m doing and do the task my Lord has called me to do?”  When living in the flesh, the call of our Lord always seems to come at an inopportune time, or be deemed impractical or unprofitable.  Another way to determine if we are operating in the flesh or the spirit is to look at the results.  If our motivations result in behaviors consistent with manifestations of the flesh, we have lapsed from the spirit and into the flesh.  Conversely, if we see fruits that we can attribute to the Holy Spirit, we very likely are abiding in Him (cf. Gal.5:16-23).  Note, results are not meant to indicate whether we were successful in the completion of any particular task given us.  We have either obeyed or disobeyed Him.  Determining whether outcomes are right or wrong is the sole province of God.  Our abilities are too limited to make such judgments definitively.  Our part is to trust in Him and obey the direction of our Lord.  The results we speak of consist solely of our motivations and how we conduct ourselves in the moment.  Should it appear the text has digressed, let us just be reminded that humility requires intense introspection.  Such introspection requires critical discretion based on Truth and this can only be done in total submission to His authority.  Subordinating our human will to His divine will is how we rightly respond to the convictions and callings the Holy Spirit impresses upon our conscience.

 

Selflessness

 

In discussing humility, we’ve already touched on many of the basic elements of selflessness by outlining what we need to do to put others before ourselves.   We discuss selflessness by itself in order to emphasize its criticality in determining virtue from non-virtue; when acting on unselfish motivations, we lean toward virtue.  Jesus clearly states this when we says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Mt. 16:24).  To deny ourselves is to forego what is rightfully ours, to abstain for the sake of Christ, or to make sacrifices for the sake of others.  We do this by humbly acknowledging the greater good of God over our selfish, self-serving motivations.  Though we must be well ourselves before we can be of service to God, it’s not often that circumstances are so dire that we risk fatal consequences when putting the needs of others before our own.  Note; the wellness spoken of here is all inclusive of our physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual health.  We should also be the able to distinguish service to God from imposing requests from others.

 

Selflessness negates greed and affirms the economy of God.  The economy of God places God, His will for us, and virtue, ahead of all other considerations. Quite simply, we cannot put God first if our first consideration is always for ourselves.  We are to entrust our care and our concerns to God, then trust and obey Him.  To put God first, we must know our motivations, and to know our motivations again requires introspection.  Unexamined and blind obedience is for the childlike mind, and though this is the best approach early in our Christians lives (Mt.18:2-4, Mk.10:15), we are not to abandon our mental faculties in our pursuit of a greater faith.  Rather, we should learn and grow in our understanding of the economy of God instead of roiling in the folly of secular reasoning (Mt.16:26, 1Cor.3:1-3).  However, conversion to Christianity requires an act of pure faith because the doubting, secular mind refuses to accept what can’t be demonstrated or logically and scientifically proved; human intelligence is not the source of faith, God is.  Once the seed of faith has been planted, we are to cultivate its growth (Mt.13:1-23, 31-32), and nurture a more mature faith (1Cor.13:9-11).  A critical aspect of spiritual growth integral to selflessness is learning to be content with what we have (Mt.20:1-16, Lk.3:14).  By tracing back the source of any discontentedness we may harbor, introspection will unearth the fault within us that robs us of our joy in Christ.  Whether the source is envy or greed, an infringement upon our rights or possessions, perceived injustice or inequality, being disappointed or betrayed by others, nothing should be cause to compromise our virtue.  We are to love our enemies and be content in all things, knowing the peace of our Lord.  By shining the light of Christ on the source of our shortcomings, we can then replace them with virtues, and align our thoughts and deeds with the will of God.  In so doing, we thwart the demons, causing them to flee by using their malevolence as motivation for goodness, bringing us closer to God and knowing a greater faith.

 

Goodness

 

Goodness means God is present for only God is good (Lk.18:19).  It is by learning about God and from knowing Him that we are able to discern goodness from evil.  The collective human experience is so inundated with erroneous concepts of good and bad, of right and wrong, we need to be extra cautious with this virtue in order to appreciate its depth in Truth.  Overexposure, inane familiarity, and the preponderance of secular expressions, all serve to profane the use and meaning of what is good.  As we learn of goodness, our task will be to rid ourselves of its secular concepts and applications, then restore its eternal meaning and implications along with the reverence, wonder, magnitude and beauty of goodness.  Learning to equate what is good with God and godliness should likewise help us to free ourselves of sinful impurities; this manner of self-correction is also a way to practice the virtue of remembrance.

 

As Christians, as surely as the Holy Spirit dwells within us, we harbor the goodness of God wherever we go (1Cor.6:19).  Learning virtue is as much about allowing the fullness of His holiness into our lives, as it is learning to express His goodness outwardly.  Our goodness is the light Jesus tells us to shine for all to see so that we might glorify God (Mt.5:16).  By extolling the goodness of God through our undefiled speech and rightly motivated actions, we develop a greater intimacy with God and an appreciation for the beauty of His ways as we learn what is pleasing and acceptable to Him.  Our spiritual discernment likewise improves as we practice watchfulness, heeding the promptings of the Holy Spirit our conscience perceives, ever leading us toward goodness and away from evil.

 

The virtue of goodness brings many beautiful things into our lives.  When we show goodness to others and they respond to our good intentions, we may be privileged to see the seeds of godliness take root and have the opportunity to participate in another’s spiritual growth.  To see a vile sinner being cleansed of sin, to see their lives sanctified and restored by the Holy Spirit, is a truly miraculous and wondrous sight to behold.  Goodness radiates the power of His presence and the conviction of absolute Truth.  It frees the addict from their obsession whether it is alcoholism, gambling, homosexuality, promiscuity, power (dominance, controlling), pornography, gossip, drugs, violence, thievery, or idleness, or whatever compromises a soul’s freedom.  Goodness, when learned and appreciated early in life, can prevent the adoption of sinful habits altogether.  Doing so also gives the seeds of goodness a longer life to grow, producing fruits upon fruit and an abundant life of many harvests.  An affinity with nature and all creation develops as we grow in goodness since all creation is His and it bears the attributes of the Creator (Rom.1:18-20).  Our role as caretakers of the Earth, of the lands and seas and the creatures within, becomes a part of our thoughts as we pursue goodness (Gen.2:15).  Our relationships will likewise flourish when nurtured with goodness since aligning our motives and concerns with the ways of God is how He meant for our lives to be, sinless and in accord with His will for us.

 

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and show them goodness (Lk.6:27-36).  We are likewise to pray for those who persecute us (Mt.5:44).  Should we have difficulty obeying these teachings that are so contrary to our fleshly human nature, it helps to remember that God desires none be lost but rather all come to repentance (2Pe.3:9).  We are not to return evil for evil or take an eye for an eye as we see fit (Mt.5:38-42).  We are to be motivated by the goodness of the Holy Spirit instead of pleasing ourselves.  We’re not to sate the ravenous desires of our flesh for vengeance, retribution or exacting our own sense of justice.  We are to allow the loving light of our Lord to shine on the darkness of sin with the hope of illuminating the pathway out of hell for a lost soul.  We tell others that with God all things are possible and that the abundant life in Christ is likewise available to them.  By showing the lost goodness, by showing them loving-kindness and forgiveness, by letting them meet God in our expression of His will, we may be blest with a glimpse of the joy of Heaven when a lost sinner repents (Lk.15:7).

 

Partaking of the work that pleases God is our privilege and an eternal treasure.  Reflecting the goodness of God has many rewards for us as well.  The flesh mainly considers physical features when determining beauty and thereby judges many a soul to be unattractive in some way, when in Truth, those who share in the goodness of God and let His light shine for all to see, are the ones who possess real beauty.  A physical appearance that appeals to the flesh is not truly beautiful without virtue (Pr.11:22).  Men of integrity who take to heart their responsibilities as husbands, fathers and as leaders, and women who cherish their roles as wives, mothers and being supportive, because of being true to the order God decreed, are never to be considered ugly, offensive, or otherwise deficient.  God created both masculinity and femininity and each reflects the beauty of the Creator.  So do we when we remain true to our created gender, surrendering our will and desires to God, allowing Him to shape our spiritual development from whatever characteristics we were given at our time of conception.  In the economy of God, again, contrary to the prevalent value system in the secular world, roles do not determine human worth.  Also, it is a false secular notion that says being true to one’s gender limits fulfillment in life, for we find abundance and fulfillment in Christ alone.

 

Like the magnificence of a colorful sunset, the beauty of goodness has such a warm countenance that it attracts many to pause a moment just to behold and absorb its serenity.  When we exude the goodness of God, we can expect pained and troubled souls to be drawn to us as they seek relief from their sufferings.  They will want for themselves what is ours in Christ.  As the crowds flocked to Jesus in search of a better life, when hurting souls sense the Holy Spirit in us, they likewise seek the same qualities of goodness.  However, like the brilliance of the sunrise that causes those who prefer their ungodliness to remain veiled in darkness, some will curse the light that exposes their unsavory and vile deeds.  We can be hated for our goodness when our light causes others to feel the guilt, shame, or foulness that accompanies a life of sin and separation from God.  Being good to souls consumed by semi- or sub-conscious self-loathing, to heap burning coals of goodness upon their sin-sickened heads (Rom.12:20), we may just provide the glimpse of Truth or taste of the Heaven that fractures a hardened heart into repentance.  And they, like us, can know Christ and then begin to build upon the talents given to them at birth.  Be they meager or mighty, by applying polish and tending with care, the gifts of the Holy Spirit will produce a life that is a worthy gift to lay before our King.  For faith moves the mountain of sin, dislodges the bad habits, allows the antisocial to become hospitable, changes meanness into loving-kindness, and the miser becomes charitable.  As children of God, we are the purveyors of the wealth of goodness of all creation and of the abundance of life in the Holy Spirit; we are to share the bounty (Lk.3:7-11).

 

Scriptural References:

 

Humility:

Ps.18:27, God upholds the humble and humbles the proud

Ps.25:9, our Lord teaches the teachable and reveals to the humble what is right

Pr.3:34, God contends with the mockers in kind while giving grace to the humble

Pr.11:2, humility leads to wisdom while pride brings dishonor and shame before God

Pr.15:33, God honors the humble

Pr.22:4, God rewards the humble with richness of life

Mic.6:8, to be with God we walk humbly, enjoying kindness and preserving justice

Mt.5:5, God rewards the humble (gentle) with a great inheritance

Mt.11:28-30, our Lord Christ Jesus draws us to Him with gentleness and humility

Lk.1:46-49, the example of His humble servant Mary

Eph.4:1-6, walk in a manner worthy of God, humbly, gently, and patiently seeking unity

Php.2:1-4, unity of spirit and purpose are made possible with humility and selflessness

Col.2:16-23, false humility, like legalism and false piety, have no place in Christ

Col.3:12-14, humility as a component of love which bonds the children of God in unity

Jas.1:21, to rightly hear and receive the Word of God requires humility

Jas.3:13-16, jealousy, selfishness and arrogance are contrary to wisdom from above

Jas.4:6-10, God opposes the proud but exalts and gives grace to the humble

1Pe.3:8-12, we are to bless lost souls with sympathy, kindness and humility

1Pe.5:5-7, be humble and without anxieties and trust our caring Lord to provide

 

Selflessness: 

Mt.16:24-27, disciples of Christ deny self and bear their burdens faithfully

Lk.12:32-34, do not hoard assets, instead be charitable and amass riches in Heaven

Lk.10:30-37, an example of a servant’s heart and tending to the needs of others

Jn.15:9-17, love one another as Christ loves us, bearing all costs in obedience to Him

 

Goodness: 

Gen.1, the beauty of creation that God declared to be good and entrusted to mankind

Ps.16.2, without our Lord there is no goodness in us

Ps.31:19, our Lord has abundant goodness to give to those who take refuge in Him

Ps.34, a psalm that contrasts those who seek goodness from those who indulge in evil

Ps.92:1-4, thanksgiving and praise as examples of goodness

Ps.111:10, obedience enlightens our understanding of goodness

Ps.112:4-5, goodness is bestowed upon the generous; the charitable are justified

Pr.2:1-9, an outline of the path towards goodness

Pr.3:27, instruction not to withhold goodness from deserving souls

Pr.13:2, godly speech fosters goodness in return

Mt.5:14-16, Jesus tells us to let our goodness that glorifies God shine for all to see

Mt.7:17-20, the children of God display goodness; an ungodly soul cannot

Mt.12:33-37, goodness comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit

Mt.13:24-30, 36-43, on Earth, the evil and the good coexist and grow together

Lk.2:10-14, proclaiming the coming of Christ is good news

Lk.6:27-35, Jesus teaches us to love our enemies and show them goodness

Lk.6:35-38, show goodness and mercy regardless of recipient’s worthiness

Jn.10:11-18, the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep

Rom.12:21, we are to overcome evil with goodness

Gal.5:22-23, goodness comes from the Holy Spirit in us

Php.2:12-13, it is for His goodness and pleasure that God teaches His children His ways

Col.1:9-14, good works teach us about God and expand the influence of His kingdom

1Tim.4:4-5, when rightly aligned with God in prayer, all things are good

1Tim.5:25, goodness shines brightly for all to see while evil can’t be hidden forever

1Tim.6:17-19, instruction to do good, to be generous, and to share

Titus 3:1-11, St. Paul contrasts goodness with ungodliness; do good deeds and be fruitful

 

Commentaries:

 

Humility:

“God has freed us from bitter slavery to tyrannical demons and has given us humility as a compassionate yoke of devoutness. It is humility which tames every demonic power, produces in those who accept it every kind of sanctity, and keeps that sanctity inviolate.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 117 #15

 

“Since salvation comes to you as a free gift, give thanks to God your saviour.  If you wish to present Him with gifts, gratefully offer from your widowed soul two tiny coins, humility and love, and God will accept these in the treasury of His salvation more gladly than the host of virtues deposited there by others (cf. Mk.12:41-43).”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 369 #45

 

“The substance of wealth is gold; of virtue, humility.  Just as he who lacks gold is poor, even though this may not be outwardly apparent, so the spiritual aspirant who lacks humility is not virtuous.”

Ilias the Presbyter (12th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 38 #40

 

 

Selflessness:

“The presence of the passion of avarice reveals itself when a person enjoys receiving but resents having to give.  Such a person is not fit to fulfill the office of treasurer or bursar.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 95 #76

 

“Herein we find the mysterious dialectic of the person: the more a person seeks himself, the more he slips away from himself.  The more important he considers himself, the more insignificant he becomes.  The vain, calculating person who lives only for himself thinks that he is attaining a fuller, stronger selfhood.  In reality, he is becoming interiorly crippled because he never moves in that free space which only unselfishness creates.  As we depart from ourselves and give our attention to the other, to the work, or to the task, the true self awakens and grows.  A person is more truly himself the more freely he leaves himself for the other person with whom he is dealing or for the task that confronts him.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 156,

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

 

“Whenever a person, in opposition to God, clings to his soul, he loses it, but when he gives it to God, he finds it.  Man gives his soul to God in every act of obedience to God’s holy will and, at the same moment, God gives it back to him, and the soul has become more truly itself than it was before”

ibid. pg. 157

 

Goodness:

“The mystics speak of the ‘birth of God in man’.  This is a mysterious phrase about whose ultimate meaning we shall not speak here, but one thing we can understand immediately: God wishes to enter into man, to find a place in him and assume a human form, here in this person who is generically one among countless others, but personally is unique; that is, he is himself.

There is a resemblance to God in all things.  Everything expresses Him, each according to its own kind, and this expression of God constitutes its basic created nature.  But God wishes to express Himself in a man in a special way, in each person according to his particular character.  This is the inmost core of what we call ‘personality’, a reflection – if we may be permitted this comparison – of the Incarnation of the eternal Son.  The real, essential Incarnation took place in Christ, but by His grace, which confers His image, God wishes to enter into every person and express Himself in him, and in everyone in a special and unique manner.  Every believer should be an expression of God.  The foundation is laid in Baptism, in the ‘new birth of water and the Holy Spirit”, as we learn from the nocturnal conversation of the Lord with Nicodemus [Jn.3:1-20].  And every act of the believer in doing the will of God constitutes a step in that direction.”

Romano Guardini (1885-1968); “Learning the Virtues” pg. 156-157;

Sophia Inst. Press © 1998

“The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 53  #4

 

“Since the soul is more noble than the body and God incomparably more noble than the world created by Him, he who values the body more than the soul and the world created by God more than the Creator Himself is simply a worshipper of idols.”

ibid. #7

“Demonic thought consists in a conceptual image compounded with passion.  One thinks, for example, of a human being, but this thought is accompanied by mindless affection, that is to say, but the desire for a relationship not blessed by God but involving unchastity; or else it is accompanied by unreasoning hatred, that is to say, by rancour or spite.  Again, one thinks of gold avariciously or with the intention of stealing or seizing it; or else one is roused to hatred and blasphemy against God’s works, thus causing one’s own perdition.  For if we do not love things as they should be loved, but love them more than we love God, then we are no different from idolators, as St. Maximos says [cf. Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 53].  But if, on the other hand, we hate and despise things, failing to perceive that they were created ‘wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen.1:31), we provoke the anger of God.

Angelic thought, finally, consists in the dispassionate contemplation of things, which is spiritual knowledge proper.  It is the mid-point between two precipices, protecting the intellect and enabling it to distinguish between its true goal and the six diabolic pitfalls that threaten it.  These pitfalls lie above and below, to the right and left, and on the near side and on the far side of the intellect’s true goal.  Thus spiritual knowledge proper stands as though at the centre, surrounded by these pitfalls.  It is the knowledge taught by those earthly angels who have made themselves dead to the world, so that their intellect has grown dispassionate and hence sees things as it should.  In this way, the intellect does not go above its true goal out of pride or self-esteem [narcissism], thinking it understands things merely through its own power of thought; nor does it fall below its true goal, prevented by ignorance from attaining perfection.  It does not veer to the right through rejecting and hating created things, or to the left through mindless affection for them and attachment to them.  It does not remain on the near side of its true goal because of its utter ignorance and sloth, nor trespass on its far side, lured by the spirit of meddlesomeness and senseless curiosity that arises from contempt or maliciousness.  Rather, it accepts spiritual knowledge with patience, humility and the hope that is born of a deep faith.  In this way, through its partial knowledge of things the intellect is led upwards towards divine love.  But, even though it possesses some knowledge, it is aware that it is still ignorant; and this awareness keeps it in a state of humility.  Thus through persistent hope and faith it reaches its goal, neither hating anything completely as evil, or loving anything beyond measure.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 134-135

 

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 9 – The Purpose of Studying Virtues Part 3 – Preparing for Heaven

Biologically speaking, death is a fact of life.  For children of God, physical death is the passageway from conscious life on Earth to life in the fullness of Heaven.  In Heaven, we will partake of eternal life without the hindrance of the flesh and without the corruption of sin.  The will and the power of God is so overwhelming in His full presence there will be no questions and no doubts about what is right and what is wrong.  However, to prevent awkwardness resulting from unfamiliarity, lack of preparation and ignorance, we are to learn the ways of Heaven while here on Earth (Mt.22:1-14, 25:1-30).  Doing so likewise gathers treasures in Heaven which will be our gifts to lay before Him, there to enjoy for all eternity.

 

Heaven is the home of God.  There are “house rules”, “cultural norms”, or “family traits” that pervade.  All who enter are required to know and honor the ways of Heaven.  Showing up unprepared is simply not a good thing.  Jesus speaks of the importance of being prepared in the parable of the wedding feast (Mt.22:1-14), the parable of the ten virgins (Mt.25:1-13), the parable of the ten talents (Mt.25.14-30), and the parable of the watchful servants (Lk.12:35-48).  God has given each of us a portion of talents, may they be polished with care and worn from use when the day comes to make an accounting.  Those who use their talents to grow in the ways of our Lord, gathering up treasures in Heaven, will on that day present these gifts before the King and be blest by our Lord accordingly.  Showing up empty handed and having little or no gift to present, seems an inappropriate way to spend such a glorious day of celebration as when God receives His children home.

 

Our time on Earth is therefore a time of preparation.  Learning and practicing the virtues is how we prepare for Heaven.  All deeds done while abiding in the Holy Spirit are good deeds, for whenever we surrender our will to His divine will, we allow the goodness of God to shine through us, creating treasure in Heaven.  Whatever we do in our own strength, in the flesh and apart from God, isn’t a good deed because apart from Him, we can do nothing good since only God is good (Jn.15:5, Lk.18:19).  The same deed can be done and be of goodness at one time, while not of goodness at another.  The determinant factor is not the deed, but the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

To determine whether we are operating in the flesh or in Him, we can check our attitudes, motivations, and expressions.  If our attitude reflects the merciful and forgiving love of God and the wholesome desire to do good, most likely were are abiding in Him.  If we are consumed with bitterness, resentments, irritations, fears, insecurities, frustrations, or weariness, or motivated by rebellions, vengeance, malice, hostility, hatred, wantonness, lust, violence, perversity, or neediness, then we reflect the symptoms of the flesh.  If we are inspired and energized by the prospect of doing good and pleasing God, then most likely we are abiding in Him.  If we lack the desire to please God or to practice virtue, we are operating in the flesh and have succumbed to motivations that are self-serving, self-gratifying, self-rewarding, self-promoting, and in general devalue God and others in order to have one’s own way, to do things one’s own way, or be on one’s own time schedule.  Being self-centered is a poor witness for Christ and tends to repulse the lost.  Our outward expressions reflect our inner attitudes.  If we are abiding in Him then His goodness will emanate from within, and people will be drawn toward us as a source of life in the same way the masses flocked to Jesus in order to quench their neediness (Jn.4:7-42).  Again, to get out of the flesh and into Him, we surrender, subordinating our human will to His divine will, and become willing to endure whatever comes our way while being obedient to the will of God.

 

The pursuit of virtue prepares us for Heaven by teaching us how we will be (or act) in Heaven as well as helping us be free of our fleshly traits that have no place in Heaven.  When Jesus taught us how to pray, he commanded the will of God be done on Earth as in Heaven (Mt.6:10).  In Heaven, our food is the life giving bread of our Lord, and we are likewise to draw our sustenance from Him while here on Earth.  We are to trust God to provide for us and to fulfill our needs for significance and security.  Jesus also prayed for us to not be led into temptations, but rather be delivered from evil (Mt.6:13).  We do this by identifying our fleshly and sinful habits, repenting of them and then replacing the evil with the good, purifying our souls.  The virtues we learn to practice today will accustom us to the ways of God so that we will be prepared when we come fully into His presence in Heaven.  St. Paul speaks of the kingdom of God as being “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men” (Rom.14:17-18).

 

Scriptural References:

 

Mt.5:16, the practice of virtue glorifies God and is partaking of life in Heaven

Mk.8:34-38, questioning the saneness of forsaking the eternal for short-term gain

Lk.12:32-34, what we hold most dear indicates our primary focus, eternal or temporary

Jn.6:48-51, food for the body which dies verses food for spirit which lives eternal

Jn.6:63, the Spirit is life-giving, the flesh is profitless

Jn.17:1-5, Jesus speaks of eternal life as knowing and glorifying God

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

1Cor.6:9-11, contrasting the identifying traits of the children of God verses the flesh

Eph.3:8-21, St. Paul speaks of the fullness and abundance of life which is in Christ Jesus

Jas.3:13-17, St. James contrasts earthly ways to heavenly ways

1Jn.3:2-3, St. John speaks of purifying ourselves in preparation for Heaven

1Jn. 4:7-8, St. John teaches that to know and express love is to know God

1Jn.4:16-17, if we have love in our hearts, we should rest assuredly in His saving grace

 

Commentaries:

 

“All who are members of the household of faith, bond-slaves of the Master, stewards of the mysteries of grace, must be found serving each other in things of the Divine Kingdom, and together living and laboring as unto the King.”

Herbert Lockyer (1886-1984) “All the Parables of the Bible” pg. 270,

© 1963 by Herbert Lockyer

 

Chapter 8 – The Purpose of Studying Virtues Part 2 – Knowing and Pleasing God

            “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth…  God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen.1:1, 31).  Please take a moment and read Genesis chapters one through three.         

 

            God created everything such that it pleased Him.  Man was created to know God.  To know God is to acquaint ourselves with as many of His attributes and His ways as we can comprehend so that they are readily recognized.  To please God is to utilize one of the many ways God has provided for us to worship Him.  It is not inaccurate to say that the purpose of life (in a biological sense) is to live life (spiritual life in communion with God).  God is the source of all life and therefore has no need of anything; He does not have a need to be known or to be pleased.  It is to our pleasure and well being that we fulfill the intent of the gift of life He has given us, to know and to please God.  As we do so, we rightly glorify God who is wholly deserving of our worship and praise.  

 

            God created man in His image, meaning man is spirit and has a triune nature.  We understand God to be Father, Son and Holy Spirit; likewise, we are soul, body and spirit.  Man was originally created in full communion with God, righteous and living fully in His presence.  As soon as Adam and Eve sinned, they died.  Communion with God was broken.  They fell from the presence of God and they were cut off from the life giving breath God originally breathed into mankind.  No longer did they dwell in the fullness of life with God.  Immediately they became needy, becoming insecure and lacking in significance.  Their concern for being naked before God is evidence of their lack of security in that they felt a need to do something in order to be acceptable to God.  The way they tried to shift blame upon one another when confronted by God, is evidence of their lack of significance as they attempted to restore their sense of worth by absolving themselves of responsibility for wrongdoing.  The fallen state of the first human beings has been inherited by all subsequent souls. 

 

            Pondering the immensity of their loss, of life before the fall and the pain of the immediate consequences of the original sin, can help us to appreciate what Jesus has done for all mankind and the magnificence of what is available to us if we choose to draw nearer to God.  Jesus came to restore what had been lost in the Garden of Eden.  He came that man might again have life in abundance (Jn.10:10) and be restored to righteousness and be able to enter fully into the presence of God (Heb.4:16).  Praise God!  With this gift, we are to pursue virtue which is glory and praise to God (Phil.1:8-11).  In so doing, we create a life of harmony by unifying our thoughts and actions with the original intent of God in creation.  Our desire to please God our Father should be as natural as any child’s desire to please their parents.  It is an expression of our love for Him in response to His love for us, and an expression of gratitude for the many blessings He eternally bestows.

 

            To please God is to be obedient to God.  To be obedient to God is to please God.  These deeds are definitely not exclusive of each other, as motivations they are exceptionally complementary.  The difference between the two is the direction in which the blessings flow.  Obedience brings blessings from God to us.  Pleasing God is our way of blessing Him in that we return to Him the goodness of our lives.  We do so out of gratitude and reverence for God with joy and praise, replacing the stench of our sin with the warm aroma of righteousness (Lev.23:18).  To align our beliefs and motivations with our actions in a godly way requires a conscious effort.  First, we need to be aware of our current motivations.   Next, be willing to contrast our thoughts and attitudes against what Jesus has taught us in His Word, and against the heroic examples of the saints who have gone on before us as, and also against lessons learned from mentors.  Then, we must be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to have access to our heart, allowing His ways to become our ways by forsaking all unholy or impure thoughts and motivations that are hostile toward the goodness of God.  Lastly, acting in full knowledge that we are in Christ and Christ is in us, proceed in accord with the Holy Spirit, surrendering our will to the divine will of God and following His instruction.  Doing so affirms our identity as children of God while not doing so is evidence of deception, rebellion and sin in general.    

 

            Acting contrary to the ways of God is the hypocrisy of not aligning behavior with identity; we are children of God, not children of wrath.  In Christ, we possess all the goodness of God, and all we need do is be willing to let it be expressed outwardly.  Our identity is in Christ, we are the family of God.  As His children, we are to be like Him because we are born anew in His Holy Spirit.  When we fail to act in accordance with our identity, we pretend to be something we’re not (unrighteous when in Christ we have the righteousness of God) and succumb to hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy isn’t merely saying one thing and doing another; it’s being righteous but acting as if it were not so.  Our failure is our sin.  Trying to shift blame by pointing an accusatory finger at others, only serves to avoid owning up to one’s own sin.  We are always responsible for our own behavior.  Others may aggravate or instigate, but we are still responsible for our response.  The standard of behavior that is acceptable to God and preached from the gospels is perfection.  Spiritually, we have the perfect righteousness of Christ in us (1Cor.1:30) and are thus qualified to carry the gospel message in word and deed.  Therefore, it is not hypocritical to teach and preach the gospel despite having shortcomings.  In the flesh, which is not a Christian’s identity, no one is qualified. 

 

            Those who reject our Lord put themselves at odds with God (Mt.12:30).  All such souls can be considered “anti-Christ”, for everything they espouse is contrary to the way of Truth.  Their words are perverse, delusional, and evil.  In all they do or say, they mock the suggestion that all souls should strive to be pleasing to God.  Unbeknownst to them, they grieve their own spirit with resentments, hostilities, anger, and self-loathing, for God is not mocked (Gal.6:7).  Should such souls die without repentance, they pay the ultimate penalty of eternal damnation.  While on Earth, the consequences for sin are many and varied.  Constant opposition to the nature of creation as God meant it to be, robs a person of the peace that only comes from resting in the arms of God.  The more adamant the rebellious soul becomes, the further they progress in ungodliness as their sins become ever more grievous.  A life of depression, of various personality or anxiety disorders, is meant for the ungodly, not His saints.  Active rebellion often leads to suicide.   Such souls prefer to put an end to their self-imposed misery rather than own up to mistakes and repent of their sinful ways.  The misery of sin is bitterness, isolation, a cold heart, a sense of inadequacy, worthlessness, futility, lack of fulfillment and a pervasive fear of what lies ahead or beyond the grave.   God has ordained creation so that we reap what we sow.  All that is good is from God and goodness fulfills while evil leaves a soul destitute.  Hell is the abyss of eternal damnation for those who fail to repent of their evil.  It is characterized by the complete absence of goodness; no creativity, no life, no joy and no peace.  There is also plenty of that here on Earth as well for those who choose not to please God.  

 

Scriptural References:

 

Mt.3:16-17, the obedience of Jesus followed by God the Father being pleased

Jn.17, identity as children of God and separating the godly from the worldly

Rom.8:5-14, secular attitudes are hostile toward God; the ways of God bring peace

Rom.12:1-2, as an act of worship, forsake secular ways for the ways of God

Rom.14:16-18, abiding in righteousness pleases God; also earns respect of our fellows

Gal.6:8-10, we reap what we sow, either eternal blessings or further corruption

Eph.5:6-14, learn to discern goodness from evil to know how to please our Lord

1Tim.2:1-4, godliness and dignity as being pleasing to God

 

Commentaries:

 

“Our greatest ambition must be to see the crucified Christ always before us, His life and death, what efforts He demands of us.

            Seek nothing beyond this.  It will please the divine Master.  His real friends ask only for those things that will enable them to fulfill His commissions.  Any other desire, any other quest, is but self-love, spiritual pride, and encirclement by the devil.”

Dom Lorenzo Scupoli (16th C.?); “The Spiritual Combat”, pg. 23 as printed by Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., © 1945 by The Newman Bookshop

 

“The practice of performing all of our actions solely from the intention of pleasing God may be difficult at first.  With the passing of time it will become familiar and even delightful, if we strive to find God in all sincerity of heart, if we continually long for Him, the only and greatest Good, deserving to be sought, valued, and loved by all His creatures.  The more attentively we contemplate the greatness and goodness of God, the more frequently and tenderly our affections will turn to that divine Object.  In this way we will more quickly, and with greater facility, obtain the habit of directing all our actions to His glory.”

ibid. pg. 30

 

“In particular, we must never forget that His majesty is infinitely worthy of our service, a service motivated by a single principle of love, whose only object is His will and desire.”

ibid. pg. 32

 

Chapter 3 – All Human Needs Are Satisfied in Christ

Gen.2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”   KJV

Jn.6:32-33, “Truly, Truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”  Jesus

Lk.12:29-31, “And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying.  For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things.  But seek for His kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Jesus

Jn.20:31, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”     NIV

 

The purpose of this chapter is to encourage greater faith and trust in God.  We start by rightly defining human life along with giving instruction for its proper care.  Simply stated, God is our Creator and we are to entrust our care to Him.  To put into perspective what exactly we are to entrust to God, we must first learn how to trust in God instead of ourselves.  From the verses above, we learn:

1)      God is the source of our human life, and as Creator, He knows best how we are to live it and how best to care for us

2)      God provides what is necessary to sustain life

3)      Jesus teaches us that our primary pursuit in life should be to seek the things of heaven (unity with Him, virtue, righteous living), and by doing so, we put ourselves into a position to receive His blessings

4)      Christ is the provision of God for sustaining life.

 

The first lesson to be learned here is to stop thinking of human life in organic terms or basing it on mental activity; we are not plants or animals.  When God breathed His life into the body and soul of the first human, He created a spiritual being.  Human life is to be sustained by the bread of life, which is Christ Himself.  In order to help quiet the raging rebellion that normally accompanies letting go of the concept of our life as being something other than purely spiritual, just bring to mind that the organic body will eventually die, and the death of the body does not end human life.  When the straps that bind our consciousness within the flesh at last snap, a lifeless corpse is left behind.  However, our spirit continues to exist without a respiring body.   If this thought is new, before proceeding, please pause and pray here for as long as it takes to adopt the definition of life as communion with God.

 

Just as the body has needs to sustain its organic life, our spirit likewise has needs that require sustenance to remain healthy.  Our spiritual needs are meant to be satisfied by God alone.  He created us with these needs so that as we go through life seeking fulfillment, the search would lead us back to Him.  The things of the world may satisfy human desires briefly, but such sustenance is fleeting and eventually fails to satisfy altogether.  Those who seek fulfillment in the flesh leave their souls spiritually malnourished, destitute and wanting, living their lives always in want of more.  Only God can provide us with a life of abundance, a life where all our needs are sated beyond our capacity to grasp, resulting in a fullness that overflows into the lives of those around us.

 

There are two primary needs God created within us; they are significance and security (“The Search for Significance” by Robert S. McGee © 1985, 1990 Rapha Publishing).  To live the abundant life, we need to know that our life matters and that our being has value, and we need to feel secure and be assured that we are okay and acceptable on all accounts.  Secular living seeks to meet these needs by the acquisition of things such as money, power, fame, possessions, social standing, family, philosophy, appearance, physical conditioning, education, personal relationships, and so on (Php.3).  Trying to meet our needs apart from God is known as living after the flesh.  It is an exercise in futility (the lesson of Ecclesiastes); these flesh orientated pursuits always leave a soul wanting more since the ever-present awareness of human deficiencies (lack of righteousness) is not being addressed by the only solution God has given mankind, His Son Christ Jesus.

 

To allow God to satisfy our needs requires faith.  We have to believe what we have been taught, that God loves us (Jn.3:16), that we are of value to Him (Mt.6:26) and that He will always provide and care for us (Heb.13:5).  Again, stop here and ponder the implications of looking to God to supply our needs instead of deriving satisfactions from our own means, possessions, occupations, or from other people.  For those who have been successful in their secular pursuits, parting with this belief may be cause for great angst.  For those who have been unsuccessful, learning to be satisfied with the provisions of God should provide great relief.  When we begin to look to God to meet our needs for attention, recognition, solace, encouragement and the like, we depart from a life primarily lived in the physical realm, and begin to live spiritually in the heavenly realm.  It involves letting go of old familiar ways, and by faith, putting ourselves into the hands of God and accepting His provision.  Once begun, we learn to function and interact with others out of the abundance that only God provides rather than out of the neediness and wantonness of the flesh.  It is important to note here, that we are to look to God primarily as the source and provision for meeting our needs.  His means come to us through His Son and His Word, and may include other souls or the many tangible things of the world.

 

The following is a list of suggestions for learning to live the abundant life Christ offers us.

 

1)  Learn to value the eternal more than the temporal.

  • Mt.6:19-21, earthly treasures are fleeting while the heavenly is forever
  • Mt.16:24-26, what profit is there in gaining the world but losing the eternal
  • Mt.18:7-9, instruction to part with whatever causes us to stumble in this life

 

2)   Learn to discern the hand of God in all daily activity.

  • Ps.23, David describes what it is like to walk with God

 

3)      Learn to recognize our unmet needs and their influences upon our behavior.

  • Mt.6:28-34, God knows our needs and is able to provide, our part is to  put ourselves in a position to receive by seeking to know Him intimately
  • Jas.4:1-6, be free of that which is motivated by pleasing self

 

4)      After identifying a behavior motivated by the perception of an unmet need, refer to scripture for correction.

  • 2Tim.3:16, St. Paul says to use God inspired scripture to guide our behavior
  • Jas.4:1-8, St. James admonishes us to ensure our motivations are godly and not driven by lusts

 

5)      Remember biblical lessons as to how God provides for His people, and be willing to

exercise faith by believing He will likewise provide for us.

  • Exodus, God provides for the entire nation of Israel in a barren desert
  • Mk.8:17-21, Jesus speaks of feeding 5000 souls with 5 loaves of bread

 

6) Take an inventory of the many blessings He has already provided, then in prayer

thank and praise Our Lord for them all.

  • Ps. 95:1-7, 150, David sings songs of thanksgiving and praise
  • Col.3:15-17:  St. Paul instructs us to sing to God our hymns with a thankful heart

 

7)      Be mindful of consequences of acting apart from the Holy Spirit, willful rebellion, deeds without faith or activities contrary to faith.

  • Ps. 5, 14, 51, David speaks of those who incur the wrath of God by doing evil, or receive His blessings for goodness
  • Mt.16:23, Jesus harshly rebukes St. Peter for wanting his own way instead of the will of God

 

8)      Be mindful of His blessings for acting on faith.

  • Mt. 6:1-4, Jesus instructs us to be satisfied in knowing we have pleased God, and to do so without desiring recognition from our fellows
  • Lk.8:45-48, the story of a woman healed simply by reaching out to Jesus in faith
  • Jn.4:7-42, the story of the Samaritan woman drawing water from the well with Jesus, and how her testimony leads many more to faith in Jesus

 

9)      Trust in Him and focus on Him instead of circumstances or self.

  • Mt.6:25-31, Jesus says that God provides for all His creatures great and small
  • Mk.4:35-40, While the disciples fear for their lives, Jesus calms the storm that rocks the boat

 

10)   Be ever mindful of our own shortcomings and ignore those seen in others except when called by God to bring them to their attention, or to learn from their mistakes.  We address our own issues and not another’s unless asked for assistance.

  • Lk.6:41-42, Jesus instructs us to clear our own eyes (address our own sinfulness first) before attempting to help our fellows do the same

 

Commentaries:

 

“Our spiritual nature, which had become dead through wickedness, is raised once more by Christ through the contemplation of all the ages of creation.  And through the spiritual knowledge that He gives of Himself, the Father raises the soul which has died the death of Christ.  And this is the meaning of Paul’s statement:  ‘If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him’ (cf. 2 Tim. 2:11).”

Evagrios the Solitary (5th C.); ThePhilokalia Vol. I, pg. 49 #17