A Primer on Virtue & Spiritual Growth Manual For Christians

By Cris Hernandez, Child of God

 

Table of Contents

Introduction

Part I – Preparation

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  (Gal.2:20)

Chapter

1) Notes on Spiritual Growth            

2) Definitions 

3) All Human Needs Are Satisfied In Christ

4) Anatomy of Temptation that Leads to Sin and Bondage 

5) Understanding the Meaning of Virtue      

6) The Beginning of Spiritual Warfare; Knowledge of Good and Evil

7) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 1- Obedience

8) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 2- Knowing and Pleasing God

9) The Purpose of Studying Virtues:  part 3- Preparing for Heaven

10) The Acquisition of Virtues:  How To

 

Part II – Pursuit

“Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.”  Job

 Chapter

11) The Foundations of Virtue:  Fear of the Lord, Knowledge, Wisdom

12) The Pursuit of Virtue:  Faith, Courage

13) Recognizing Virtue:  Discernment, Remembrance, Watchfulness                      

-The “D” test for discerning goodness from evil

14) An Attitude of Virtue:  Peace, Abiding Prayer, Stillness, Hope 

15) Perpetuating Virtue:  Purity, Simplicity, Honesty, Integrity       

16) The Pleasure of Virtue:  Joy, Thankfulness, Praise      

17) The Essentials of Virtue:  Humility, Selflessness, Goodness

18) Sharing Virtue: Justice, Dignity, Mercy  

19) Virtue and the Human Will:  Self-Control, Patience, Gentleness

20) Empowering Virtue: Charity, Generosity, Hospitality

21) The Beauty of Virtue: Forgiveness, Kindness, Compassion

22) The Fulfillment of Virtue:  Love

 

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation” 

Herbert Spencer as quoted in “Alcoholics Anonymous” © 1939, 1955, 1976 by Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

 

Introduction

            The purpose of this book is to encourage and to challenge fellow Christians to a life of greater intimacy with God.  The study of virtues is the means to this end.  This book defines virtues as the characteristics of God, the fruits of the Holy Spirit, that we can aspire to obtain as part of our own being.  To know virtue experientially, is to know God, and to know Him as if He were a flesh and blood companion of many years whose personality and characteristics are familiar and recognizable enough to be emulated.  To study virtues is to learn the ways of God such that His workmanship is readily discernible in us, in others, and in the world around us.

 

Hebrews chapter 4, verse 12 describes the Word of God as a razor sharp, double-edged blade that easily slices the meat off the bone.  In that spirit, this book aims to be a stiletto, a dagger that is just long enough, just narrow enough, and so very pointed, that it slides easily through the protective rib cage and goes straight to the heart.  Thus slain by His Word and crucified with Christ (Gal.2:20), a death to self that we might be alive in Him, the work of separating the flesh from the spirit can begin.

 

The pursuit of virtue is presented here as an exercise in spiritual growth.  Spiritual growth means increasing our awareness of the presence of God in our day-to-day lives while conforming our ways to His, from the core of our being outward.  Prior to examining individual virtues, spiritual growth issues will be reviewed in detail, including specific “how to” recommendations.  It is imperative that we prepare our hearts in humility and submission as well as being well practiced at confession and repentance prior to our attempt to learn virtue.  Since God is the goal of our pursuit, it is best understood upfront that encounters with God can be very humbling experiences.   His awesome holiness is so overwhelmingly powerful and pure, all our impurities and ungodliness become grotesquely obvious to us as we near Him.  First, our imperfections are exposed and then our faithless bravadoes and facades are completely stripped away from us, for no unclean or impure thing can exist in His presence.  Akin to being naked, defenseless, and completely humiliated, our flesh will want to grab familiar garb and lean on comfortable crutches rather than let go of worldly ways so that our spirit may move freely toward God.  We need to be prepared for this encounter or we will be no less devastated than Isaiah (Is.6:5) when confronted with the ugliness of sin which dwells in our flesh (Rom.7).  Prior to studying virtue and having a more intimate, intense relationship with God, we as Christians, as children of God, need to be fully assured that God loves us.  We need to know with conviction that Christ has provided the means for the forgiveness of our sins (1Jn.1:9), and that in Christ we are wholly acceptable to God and welcome into His presence, worthy of His blessings (Eph.4:20-24, Gal.4:4-7).

 

With the threat of devastation to our self-image now looming, the question as to why we should pursue a study of virtues begs to be answered.  Many reasons could be given here as to why Christians should be acquainted with the virtues, but the primary reason is unity with God.  Unity with Him is the ultimate purpose of this life God has given us; it is how we honor Him best.  Virtue puts our lives in accord with life as God intended it to be.  The resulting harmony of His purpose and our intent added to the indescribable joys and pleasures we experience as we grow in nearness to God, the source of all goodness, makes this endeavor the most rewarding life pursuit option available to us.   Also, part of the beauty of this pursuit is that it can be done while pursuing other life interests, and as long as the ways of God are given top priority, all other areas of life become richer, fuller, and more rewarding.  As Jesus said, His yoke isn’t burdensome or weighty (cf. Mt.11:28-30), and the pursuit engenders the fullness and abundance of life Christ promised (Jn.10:10).

 

Our study of virtues isn’t merely a discourse on individual virtues and love isn’t just presented as the supreme virtue.  Though Jesus clearly teaches us the supremacy of love in Mt. 22:35-40, the focus here is more in line with verse 40, where Jesus says that love is the fulfillment of the law  (also see 1Pe.4:8;  Rom.13:8,10; Gal.5:14;  Jas.2:8).  In this work, love is presented as the fulfillment of all virtues and as the supernatural life of Christ as expressed through us.  Presenting the interdependency of virtues and expressing the need for them to grow together, may be a new approach to some readers.  The study of the component virtues provides the building blocks, or stepping stones, that need to be in place as we are learning to love.  Two things to note here, first, this work is not meant to be merely a source of information or read as a mental exercise.  Virtues must be lived in order to be learned, and this requires practicing their expression as we tend to the daily circumstances of our individual lives.  Secondly, our pursuit of virtue equates to the pursuit of God, for God is love, and since God is eternal and infinite, it is important to understand that we will never in our time on Earth be finished with this pursuit.  As humbling as this can be, to believe otherwise may lead to unnecessary frustration from our perpetual failings, or worse, giving up the pursuit altogether.

 

The pursuit of virtue also involves spiritual warfare, for there is no way to grow spiritually without combating the demons.  Demons can be understood as any obstacle that prevents a soul from being wholly united with God and His will, as the rebellions and temptations we face when we attempt to surrender fully our human will to His divine will.  The Bible portrays demons as the legions of fallen angels who are loyal to Satan, having both intelligence and purpose (Mt.12:25-27; 2Cor.2:10-11; Eph.6:11-13; Rev.12).  Their aim is to defame God and desecrate all that is sacred.  They especially hate Christian souls who have a sincere and strong desire to worship God and honor all that is His.  Demons operate using the powers of suggestion and persuasion to communicate with human souls.  They tempt the children of God into acting outside of His will.  They easily influence ungodly souls who are not even aware that demonic suggestions are not their own ideas and therefore unable to separate evil notions from their own thoughts.  The greater their influence over a soul, greater is the soul’s potential for committing acts of heinous evil.  This work aims to prepare us for this battle by first revealing the demon’s tactics and then explaining how to overcome their assaults.  Lack of preparation here can likewise have devastating results.

 

The author is a firm believer that unity in Christ and expressing the love of God are far more important than strict adherence to the doctrines that serve to divide His disciples.  Accordingly, an effort has been made to walk lightly around theological issues, choosing certain words that are less likely to be the cause of theological debate, while defining others within this text so that the reader knows the author’s intended meaning (2Tim.2:14).  For example, “unity” will be used frequently; “salvation”, “theosis”, “justification” and “sanctification” are used sparingly.   It is the author’s prayer that the purpose of this text, for us all to grow in nearness and likeness to our Lord Christ Jesus, not be compromised by our doctrinal differences.  As Christians, we all read the same book; therefore, the Bible is liberally referenced in this text as an inerrant and authoritative source of Truth.  Again, it is the author’s prayer that any current differences in our understanding and application of scripture not become an impediment to our pursuit of virtue.  The author also invites the readers to read around, or translate into their own framework of beliefs, any statement herein that is a matter of doctrinal interpretation in order to keep from dismissing the intent of the text altogether.  Likewise, if the author’s definitions don’t match the reader’s definition, the reader is invited to switch the pairings of words and their definitions throughout the text.  Giving priority to meanings instead of demanding that a particular word convey the same theological concept for all Christians is one way to keep from compromising our unity in Christ.  The author prays for your indulgence for the rewards of virtue are great.

 

Also, please do not take the aforementioned warnings lightly, learning to live in the spiritual realm has inherent dangers, whether from agitating the demons or from adverse reactions to encounters with the holiness of God.  To proceed without proper preparation is analogous to getting married without first being willing to make a faithful commitment, or having children without first being willing to put aside selfish, self-serving ways in order to rightly provide for them.  Lack of preparation here can be similarly painful and harmful to self and others. It is quite intentional that the first 10 chapters of this book all concern preparation for the 12 that follow.  It is also recommended that this undertaking not be done alone, the use of a mentor is highly recommended, as is having someone to provide feedback and compare notes.  Before proceeding, a few more specific precautions:

  • Do not compare yourself or your progress to others, you will either become smug and conceited, or disillusioned and defeated; learn to be satisfied with simply pleasing God.  Comparing ourselves to others always leads to sinful pride or an erroneous sense of inadequacy.
  • Do not believe any suggestion that the pursuit of virtue is futile, unrewarding or unfulfilling, all such suggestions are from the demons and are contrary to the Word of God.
  • Keep your primary focus on Jesus and the examples of the saints who have gone before us, do not dwell on your successes or failures; again the result is either pride or frustration.
  • As we grow spiritually and learn to recognize the goodness of God more readily, it should become easier to compliment and encourage others as we learn to live our lives in the fullness of His love.  Likewise, ungodliness also becomes more apparent.  Do not succumb to self-loathing or the temptation to point out the failings of others, and do not lose heart when those who were once esteemed begin to appear all too human.

 

The author would also like the reader to understand that these lessons were originally prepared so that the author could learn about virtue.  The author does not claim to be a “paragon of virtue”, but rather a soul who came to Christ as an adult and has had to unlearn a wealth of sinful habits in order to learn of virtue.  There are many un-referenced sources in this work because the author pursued many topical studies prior to formulating the idea of writing a book.  These sources include books, magazines, preachers on the radio and television, pastors and priests during worship services, classes, friends, and so on.  One last note; the scripture passages following the chapter texts contain lessons to be learned as taught to me in my personal travels and studies, they aren’t meant to be literal or condensed translations.

 

I pray ye well.

 

Cris Hernandez

Child of God

email:  aprimeronvirtue@yahoogroups.com

 

 

Copyright Information:

King James Version (KJV):  public domain (http://www.biblegateway.com/cgi-bin/bible)

New American Standard Bible (NASB*):  © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation

New International Version (NIV):  © Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

(* Unless otherwise noted, scripture passages quoted within this text are from the NASB)

The Philokalia: (Vol. I © 1979 The Eling Trust; Vol. II © 1981 The Eling Trust; Vol. III © 1984 The Eling Trust; Vol. IV © 1995 The Eling Trust; Vol.V unavailable to the author)

Concerning scripture contained within quotes taken from The Philokalia, “All Biblical passages have been translated directly from the Greek as given in the original Philokalia.  This means that quotations from the Old Testament are normally based on the Greek Septuagint text.”   (from the translators of the Philokalia)

Note:  text within the quotes from the Philokalia and elsewhere contained within brackets “[example]” is from the author.

 

The author extends his appreciation to all his teachers whose thoughts are contained within this text as well as to those who supported him while these lessons were being prepared.

 

Advertisements

Chapter 19 – Virtue and the Human Will – Self-Control, Patience, and Gentleness

Self-control:  exercising one’s will to avoid sin; the ability to pause momentarily and consider the goodness of God before taking action as opposed to acting on impulse; prudence, moderation, self-restraint, sobriety, propriety

Patience:  willingness to wait without emotional disturbance and without forcing one’s will upon circumstances or others; intentionally allowing time for exercising faith rather than acting in haste; waiting faithfully without anxieties for the hand of God to move; seeking divine discernment prior to making decisions or taking actions

Patient Endurance: steadfast, serene pursuit of holiness despite all distractions or shortcomings

Gentleness:   having a firm foundation of faith that is not easily shaken or perturbed; maintaining purity of heart and godly motivations when temptations arise; absence of self-serving anger or wrath; prevailing over the incendiary events that would otherwise lead to ungodly motivations and behaviors

Acceptance:  the ability to perceive circumstance and events as neither agreeable nor disagreeable, but rather receiving all as being sent or allowed by God and therefore possessing the potential for greater good for all those who love Him

Stillness (dispassion):  the ability to abide in the Holy Spirit despite demonic attacks or chaotic circumstances; the ability to diffuse the aggravating aspects from irritations and remain undisturbed while addressing life events; the ability to adapt to people and situations without denial or judgment, allowing the current status to be the starting point for the work of God; level headed; being in tune with the Holy Spirit; impartial but not indifferent toward the world around us

 

 

We have thus far spoke of the human will in terms of surrender, of using our power of choice to subject our decision-making processes to the lordship of Christ, choosing His will rather than acting on our own desires.  Here we learn of the virtues that help our human will conform to the will of God.  Self-control, patience and gentleness empower our human will with goodness from God so that we are able to act in obedience and avoid sin.  Recall that the human will is exercised with every decision we make; willpower is acting in human fortitude and continence while willingness and surrender means freely giving God authority over our decision-making processes.  Self-control is ever necessary in that it precedes all other virtues whenever we have time to think before acting.  Patience is the willingness to refrain from acting on base passions while maintaining our emotional saneness when aggravated by irritants.  Gentleness is the understanding that God is ever-present and in control, and applying this knowledge such that we do not become upset or dispirited when circumstances become difficult.  Instead, we maintain our hope in His goodness and abide in His love.  Together, these three virtues give us means to express kindness and compassion rather than succumb to outbursts of the flesh.  They are with us all the moments of our lives; self-control in the immediacy of the moment, patience for the duration of the temptation, and gentleness as the continuous, unperturbed stillness of grace from times past into eternity.

 

Self-control

 

Self-control should be the most short-lived virtue yet the most frequent aside from the pervasiveness and all-inclusiveness of love itself.  Self-control occurs in the brief moments between impetus and action; it assumes circumstances that require its use and it gives us just enough time for our thoughts to ascend to the heavenly realm, to commune with the Eternal instead of succumbing to patterns of mindless and base reactions or demonic suggestions.  Self-control is momentary mastery over the body, especially the tongue.  Self-control is a prelude to all expressions of virtue since all actions above mere instinct require time for our mental processes to access our knowledge, exercise discretion and remember the lordship of Christ Jesus.  Self-control would be indistinguishable from willpower if it persisted, but properly used, it gives way to other virtues as soon as the transition can be made safely, without progressing from temptation to sin.  Therefore, self-control is an integral component of spiritual warfare, giving us the time to don “the full armor of God” (Eph.6:10-19) in our battles against the preponderance of evil and its attempts to infiltrate our souls or infect others through us.

 

Self-control is a gift of the Holy Spirit that we use as a spiritual defense mechanism to preserve our holiness.  It is likewise needed to further the sanctification of our bodies and souls so that our spirit isn’t subject to the capricious assaults and temptations the demons hurl at us.  Self-control is essential in preserving our dignity because it is our first line of defense against the degradations of sin born of impetuosity.  Self-control keeps our thoughts, words and deeds in the spiritual realm by not letting the body or soul dictate decisions, keeping us aloft in the Holy Spirit instead of condescending to the flesh.  Self-control is a spiritual blessing that gives us the power to uphold our morals and ethics instead of succumbing to the lustful cravings of our bodies or the base passions of souls; fleeting desires that inevitably prove to be detrimental as they run contrary to the ways of God.  The earlier in life that we learn self-control, the less likely we will develop sinful habits that compromise our ability to control our own will.  Learning to say “no” to temptations when young helps prevent losing the ability to say “no” to sin altogether, a state which is symptomatic of addictions, obsessions and psychosis.  However, if the freedom of choice is lost, it can be regained though intense spiritual effort and methodical growth; a restoration process normally requiring help from others unless one is blest with a miraculous healing.  Learning self-control, like all virtues, takes practice.  To make it a habit, we learn to pause for reflection and prayer before acting.  Doing so likewise requires a sincere desire to choose the ways of God instead of contenting ourselves with sating the desires of the flesh.

 

Patience

 

Patience begins as self-control ends; it assumes circumstances that call for its practice.  Protracting self-control becomes willpower and willpower is not desirable because it precludes reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, as we begin to practice self-control we should likewise learn to follow through by immediately acknowledging our dependence upon His grace and pray for patience.  Patience is recognized as giving priority to our trust and hope in His Word instead of letting trying situations cause an abrupt end to abiding in His peace.  Self-control overcomes the outburst; patience prevents the tirade following the momentary disturbance (see chapter 4 “Stages of Sin”), allowing us time to reorient ourselves towards God and consciously reestablish our abiding in Him before responding.  Patience gives us time to seek His wisdom and exercise discernment so that we do not compound an already difficult situation with our own sin.  Patience gives us the option of choosing to stay in His will, to bring His peace, beauty and compassion into our world instead of giving way to our own lowly expressions of the flesh.  By engaging life’s irritants and temptations with the goodness of God, we can turn trying times into spiritually productive opportunities for others and ourselves.  When situations call for patience, we are being given a chance to practice our virtues and learn new lessons in the ways and depths of the love of God.  Patience can turn an ungodly predicament into a glorious moment showcasing the goodness of God; therefore it is an essential element of any Christian ministry.

 

While exercising patience, a variety of other virtues may need to be practiced in order to share our abundance of life in the Holy Spirit.  For instance, if suffering an injustice is the cause of our disturbance, bringing the influence of godly justice to the situation can quickly send the demons fleeing, whereas inflicting our own fleshly sense of self-restorative justice invites a host of self-serving demons into the fray.  When we seek our own way and abandon the virtues patience affords us, our motivations will appear to others as anger, worry, disdain, disgust, wrath, bitterness, malice, or vengeance.  None contributes to the glory of God; none furthers the cause of the gospel or invites His goodness.  Without patience, sin is a virtual inevitability as we regress to creating more situations that exacerbate the need to exercise self-control.

 

Habituating patience prevents creating regrets.  By practicing patience, we avoid the tendency toward sins born of passions and agitations, thereby eliminating the power source behind the behaviors that compromise and strain our relationships.  We are to fellowship with other Christians and light the pathway to God for all peoples.  Without patience, our pure intentions will be overcome by common frustrations, resentments and callousness, and all these impede our ability to share the love of God.  Learning patience allows us to love others with the continuity born of abiding in the Holy Spirit, an uninterrupted growth that leads to a bountiful harvest of His fruits.  Practicing patience helps us reap the rewards of healthy and mutually supportive relationships.  When there are lapses in our patience, we should thank God for the beautiful recourse we have by seeking forgiveness and forgiving others.

 

When tempted to lose our patience, remembrance restores our trust in His providential care as we recall the fact that God makes all things work to the good for those who love Him (Rm.8:28).  His goodness is for all His children, not just select individuals; patience gives the mercies of God time to integrate into the fabric of our lives whereas impatience is outside the will of God and therefore counter-productive to goodness.  We need to remember that God is eternal and meets our needs, and us, in the moment; with patience we understand that goodness will prevail eventually and eternally.  Patience brings an eternal perspective to our immediate circumstances, allowing us to see the eternal rewards of goodness rather than getting lost in the intensity of trying moments and succumbing to the carnal desire of the flesh.  Sins of passion, the source of many lifelong regrets, tend to take us down multiple paths of self-degradation simultaneously.  There is the shame and guilt resulting from the deeds themselves, as well as a compromised self-image from being the kind of person who does such things.  It is hard to think well of ourselves when we habitually fail to keep our relationships healthy, wholesome, supportive, affirming and sin-free.  Acting on impulse or expressing impatience devalues others by failing to respect their dignity.  Whether using someone to satisfy selfish needs or venting frustrations at another, it can be excruciatingly painful when God brings these ungodly motivations to our attention (cf. 2Sam12:1-23).

 

Patient endurance is a steadfast patience that outlasts wily demonic schemes.  It is a long-term patience, providing continuity of grace from one temptation or trial on to the next until there is a resolution.  It maintains hope while seeking His mercy and grace.  Remembrance of Christ and His patience with us when we tarry to repent or forgive, gives us an example to follow.  Such remembrance also provides motivation to share with others what He has so mercifully given us.  Patient endurance leads to purity by consistently bringing the goodness of God to bear upon the people and the circumstances of our lives, progressing in the work of God rather than always starting from scratch.  By abiding in the Holy Spirit and building upon past efforts, patient endurance acts as a bridge that traverses the torrents of sin as we progress along the path to the abundant life Christ promised us.

 

Gentleness

 

Gentleness means having a firm faith that allows us to remain unperturbed and unshaken under difficult or stressful conditions.  To be gentle, we must be willing to part with all demeaning, hostile, violent, or irreverent motivations.  In the letters of the New Testament, when gentleness is spoken of, it is frequently used when giving instruction on how to correct or counsel others.  When we are called upon to counsel another, we are to be gentle, exercising both tact and diplomacy.  Also in these passages are lists of behaviors that are contrary to gentleness or otherwise negate this virtue.  These lists can be used to gain a better understanding of what it means to be gentle by outlining what we must avoid to learn gentleness.

 

In Galatians chapter five, gentleness is included as one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit.  Prior to this reference there is a long list of behaviors that are contrary to virtue.  These “deeds of the flesh” are “immorality, impurity, sensuality, envying, drunkenness, carousing”, and “boastful, challenging one another, envying one another”.  From Colossians chapter three, we add “passion, evil desire, greed” and “anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech” to our list.  From 1 Timothy 6, we learn that conceit, evil suspicions, “morbid interest in controversial questions”, and strife all compromise gentleness.  Then in 2 Timothy 2, we extend this list to include haughtiness in our speech, “worldly and empty chatter”, jealousy, succumbing to “foolish and ignorant speculations” or “selfish ambition”, or being quarrelsome.   In 1 Peter 3, we are instructed to avoid “returning evil for evil or insult for insult”.  When we are free of all these motivations and behaviors, we can then begin to practice the virtue of gentleness.

 

Gentleness is the virtue we must learn prior to attempting to correct or counsel our brothers and sisters in Christ.  If we allow gentleness to be compromised by anything listed in the previous paragraph, our attempts to help others will most likely be rejected in both the short and long term.  Gentleness firmly asserts correct teaching without asserting our personal feelings, proclivities or preferences upon another.  Gentleness likewise negates any belittling of another with insulting, shaming, or self-promoting words.  It likewise prepares us to remain unperturbed when our efforts to share the gospel are countered with irreverence, rebuttals, or personal attacks on us.  Gentleness replaces all manner of anxieties and inner turmoil when we keep our focus on the example of Jesus in remembrance of His Word.  When practicing gentleness, our motivations will be seen as compassionate and sincere attempts to enlighten and care for others.

 

Learning acceptance removes the hindrances that compromise the virtue of patience while its practice leads to stillness.  Acceptance employs remembrance to disconnect whatever fleshly cause and effect patterns we’re accustomed to using.  As normal as it may seem to us to get upset, angry or agitated by common irritations, the causality factor is a learned response that can be replaced with acceptance.  To do so, we thankfully remember the goodness God has shown us, recall our higher calling and bring to bear the great power of the Holy Spirit upon our circumstances, restoring peace within ourselves first, then outwardly toward others.  Trying circumstances are great learning opportunities and act as a gauge of our progress; pressure squeezes us and brings out things that calm days don’t, and then by reflecting on our responses, we can measure our growth or check our immediate spiritual condition.  Acceptance avoids classifying events or circumstance as either good or evil, and does so without excessive elation or anxiety that might otherwise be customary.  Instead, we try only to discern what God would have us do in the moment while trusting that His grace will overcome as we abide in His love.  Acceptance is born of our knowledge of God and from understanding His plan for us as revealed in scripture.  We recall our great inheritance in Christ and contrast that with the puniness of our momentary discomfort.  Acceptance acknowledges the economy of God and trusts in His provision, placing greater value on His blessings than the acquisition or loss of material things, or our level of comfort or suffering.  By doing so, we can gracefully accept success and failure, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, and do so without compromising our virtue.

 

Acceptance is a virtuous alternative to the stresses, anxieties and worries that erode the quality of our relationships.  Acceptance is contrary to the ambitions of jealousy, envy and greed, and therefore eliminates the troublesome situations and sins born of these selfish motivations.  Acceptance gives others the same leeway to err that we so nonchalantly give ourselves, and in doing so we witness the affirming love of Christ and humbly remember He has shown us the same indulgence.  Acceptance understands that everything and everyone doesn’t have to be exactly to our liking in order to be righteous and good and in the will of God.  Acceptance is mindful of the fact that God is control so that when things don’t go as anticipated, we understand there may be lessons to learn or issues of greater importance than our individual likes and dislikes.  Learning acceptance gives us the ability to maintain our prayerful abiding, the peace of our Lord, our stillness.

 

Stillness is a heavenly calm, a dispassionate state of prayer characterized by being totally engrossed and absorbed in the presence of God and having all conscious awareness solely focused on Him.  Stillness is also the ability to disconnect the cause and effect relationship between the irritants in our lives and the disturbances they produce.  For example, the sound of a baby crying; many people find the loud, continuous wailing a source of agitation, but to a parent of small children, the clamor becomes a routine reminder of a child’s need for love and attention, invoking warm thoughts of caring for one’s own small child.  We can look at bothersome adults the same way, needy people crying for love and attention.  We, as children of God, whose lives are wholly sated in the abundant life of Christ, needn’t be agitated by such outcries, but rather, out of His love for us, be kindly toward everyone without becoming distraught over whatever is being asked of us or when targeted by malice.   Learning how not to become agitated by another’s selfish, inconsiderate or unruly behavior is necessary for learning how to love the otherwise unlovable (Lk.6:35).  To do so, we need to remember that God alone is the source of all the love and affirmation we need, that His justice will prevail over whatever indignities we suffer on His behalf, and that we reap wondrous rewards when sowing His blessings in submission to His will.

 

Ongoing stillness requires godly discernment, acquiring the ability to assess immediate circumstances with an eternal perspective, and using this understanding to subordinate temporary satisfactions and comforts for the greater good of pleasing God.  The desire to do this comes from understanding our righteousness in Christ; from knowing our spirit has been born anew in the Holy Spirit, replete with the desires and the means to express goodness in word and deed.  In Christ, we also have the willingness and desire to forsake ungodly temptations lest sin spoil the warmth and fullness that comes from abiding in His love.  Likewise, we have full confidence in God to supply all our needs.  When we remember how He provided for Moses’ people for 40 years in the desert, we should have no doubt that He can and will provide for our needs as well (Ex.16).  As we progress in stillness, as our peace in our Lord becomes more pervasive, we should take note of our progress.  We should notice fewer outbursts of anger, fits of worry, lusts for gossip, or any other fleshly tendencies.  When we become aware of this, we should express our thankfulness to God.  In these moments, we also see the difference between flesh and spirit, and by contrasting the fruits of each, we learn to appreciate a life lived according to His grace.  Seeing His effects on the circumstances and people around us, we rightfully acknowledging that apart from Him, nothing so good is even possible.

 

Prolonged stillness leads to purity, for purity is the goodness of God without any interruptions or corruptions.  The chaste and reverent behavior of stillness helps bring errant spouses back to the ways of God (1Pe.3:1-2).  Painful as it may be to see our closest loved ones stray from goodness, we only follow them if we forget about acceptance and succumb to the temptation of forcing our own wants and desires upon them.  Instead, we trust in God and abide in His goodness.  Should the question arise during such a crisis as to whether or not we are in the will of God, here again, we may need the assistance of another to help us rightfully discern our own motives due to our intimate involvement.  However, if we lose our stillness, we are assured of acting in the flesh and not the spirit.  The same actions can have markedly different results depending on whether or not we are trusting God in the moment and abiding by His grace.  Others see our stillness in our gentle resolve and are likewise soothed.  Stillness serves to negate the power of temptations in us so that we might avoid perpetuating the path of another’s sinfulness (or our own), essentially tripping the traps of demonic schemes and rendering them totally ineffectual, clearing the way for the grace of God.

 

Scriptural References:

 

Self-control:

Ps.19:13, David prays to keep his self-control and not to be overcome by sinful habits

Ps.32:9, self-control is governed by wisdom and discernment

Ps.40:9, when worshipping God, David gives precedence to praise over self-control

Pr.10:19, speech governed by self-control is a sign of wisdom

Pr.25:28, without self-control we have no defense against temptations

Pr.29:11, self-control is a sign of wisdom; an unrestrained temper identifies the foolish

Pr.29:18, self-control requires knowledge of God and leads a soul to godly happiness

Mt.5:37, instruction to control speech, to be direct and concise with responses and inquiries

1Cor.7:5-9, marriage is recommended for all who lack the self-control to remain celibate

1Cor.9:24-27, learning to control bodily desires helps us overcome temptations

Gal.5:16-26, the fruit of abiding in the Holy Spirit gives us self-control

1Thes.5:4-8, full days while sleeping full nights leads to sober, self-controlled living

1Tim.2:15, virtues are preserved by self-restraint

2Tim.3:1-5, self-centered souls who lack self-control are to be avoided as evil

Titus 1:7-9, self-control is a quality necessary for church elders and deacons

Titus 2:2-8, self-control as sensibleness, temperance or reverence; sign of maturity

Jas.1:26, immoderate speech signifies the absence of true faith

Jas.3:1-12, control the tongue to control the body

1Pet.1:13, instruction to practice sobriety and self-control in obedience

1Pet.4:7, use the remembrance of death’s nearness to remain self-controlled and sane

1Pet.5:8, to emaciate devilish influence, stay alert and practice self-control

2Pet.1:5-11, self-control allows us to be useful and fruitful as disciples of Christ

 

Patience:

Ps.25:1-5, those who wait for our Lord will have nothing to be ashamed of

Ps.37:1-9, waiting patiently for the Lord without fretting allows us to enjoy His blessings

Ps.40:1-3, the restoration of souls comes by waiting patiently upon our Lord

Ps.147:11, our Lord shows favor towards the faithful who wait patiently for His mercy

Pr.19:11, taking time for discernment prevents angry haste and allows for forgiveness

Pr.20:22, we are delivered from evil when we wait for God instead of avenging ourselves

Is.40:27-31, be mindful of the power of God who gives us strength; wait for His justice

1Cor.4:5, patience means not condemning others and trusting in Christ to execute justice

1Cor.13.4-7, love requires both patience and patient endurance

2Cor.6:3-10, Christian ministry requires both patience and patient endurance

Gal.5:16-26, patience is a gift that comes from abiding in the Holy Spirit

1Thes.5:14, St. Paul instructs us to be patient with everyone

2Tim.2:24-26, have patience towards adversaries in hope that they come to repentance

Jas.5:7-11, like the prophets of old, be strong and wait patiently upon our Lord

2Pet.3:8-9, our Lord has shown us great patience waiting for our repentance

 

Patient endurance:

Lk.21:12-19, patient endurance through trials is the way to the abundant life in Christ

Rom.8:22-25, our hope in Christ means patiently enduring while awaiting our reward

1Cor.9:11-14, financially supporting gospel ministers helps them endure

1Cor.10:13, patiently endure temptations until God shows a way out of it

2Cor.1:3-7, the greater our need for patient endurance, the greater comfort He provides

2Thes.1:3-4, thank God for those who endure hardships in the furtherance of the gospel

2Tim.4:3-5, fulfilling Christian ministry requires soberly enduring attacks on the Gospel

Heb.12:1-11, remember Christ when enduring either persecution or godly discipline

Jas.1:2-4, enduring trials with joy leads to a more perfect and complete faith

1Pet.2:20, patiently enduring persecution with virtue merits commendations before God

 

Gentleness: 

Ps.18:31-46, the gentleness of God sustains us through all trials

2Cor.10:1-7, Christ is gentle; as He is so also are we in our battles against the flesh

Gal.5:19-26, gentleness is the fruit of abiding in the Holy Spirit and contrary to the flesh

Gal.6:1-2, gentleness is required when correcting or reproving others

Eph.4:1-7, gentleness begets loving tolerance and preserves unity and peace

Php.4:4-9, instruction to let gentleness replace anxious desires

Col.3:1-17, gentleness is contrary to evil desires that evoke that wrath of God

1Thes.2:1-7, leaders should desire gentleness over selfish ambitions or selfish ways

2Tim.2:15-26, gentleness helps lead others to repentance and freedom from evil snares

Jas.3:5-18, gentleness is a sign of understanding and wisdom

1Pet.2:13-24, gentleness is the right response to those in authority

1Pet.3:1-9, gentleness is precious to God; it is a godly example that wins souls

1Pet.3:13-22, reverent gentleness is our defense against intimidation and slander

 

Acceptance, stillness, dispassion: 

Ps.23, David’s song of serenity, stillness and fearlessness in the presence of our Lord

Ps.37:5-9, be still in the righteousness of our Lord; forsake the angst of envy

Ps.46:10, cease striving for things and remember the providential care of God

Ps.51:10-13, enjoy the steadiness that comes when the worries of sin are absent

Ps.112, stillness comes from trusting God and knowing our inheritance is eternal

Pr.17:27, verbal restraint and stillness come from understanding the ways of God

Pr.23:4-5, instruction not to be anxious concerning the acquisition of wealth

Is.32:17-20, righteousness brings stillness, security, enlightenment and a quiet confidence

Zeph.3:16-17, a pronouncement of the stillness to be had in our Lord

Rom.8:28, loving God brings goodness to all things and negates angst over circumstances

Rom.14:1-4, accept fellow Christians without contempt for their shortcomings

Rom.15:1-6, accept those weak in faith; offer encouragement and praise God together

Rom.15:7-13, we are to accept our brothers and sisters in Christ as He has accepted us

1Cor.2:11-15, our acceptance is to be done in Truth using godly discernment

Eph.4:29-32, keep pure hearts and exude grace so that no lack of acceptance is shown

Col.3:5-11, accept and affirm fellow Christians with dignity; be free of malice

1Thes.4:9-13, St. Paul instructs us to make stillness our ambition in loving one another

Heb.10:32-36, remember our great eternal inheritance and gracefully accept trials

1Pet.3:1-6, exhibiting the grace of stillness helps bring the errant to repentance

 

Commentaries:

 

Self-control:

“Self-control is common to all the virtues, and therefore whoever practices self-control must do so in all things.  If any part, however small, of a man’s body is removed, the whole man is disfigured; likewise, he who disregards one single virtue destroys unwittingly the whole harmonious order of self-control.  It is therefore necessary to cultivate not only the bodily virtues, but also those which have the power to purify our inner man.  What is the good of a man keeping the virginity of his body if he lets his soul commit adultery with the demon of disobedience?  Or what is the good of a man controlling gluttony and his other bodily desires if he makes no effort to avoid vanity and self-esteem [sinful pride], and does not endure with patience even the slightest affliction?  At the judgment what crown will he deserve, when a just reward is given only to those who have accomplished works of righteousness in a spirit of humility?”

St. Diadochos of Photiki (5th C.); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 266 #42

 

“The person who courageously closes his senses by means of the deliberate and all-embracing practice of self-control and patience, and prevents sensory form from entering the intellect through the soul’s faculties, easily frustrates the wicked schemes of the devil and turns him back, abased, along the way by which he came.  The way by which the devil comes consists of material things which seem to be needed for sustaining the body.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 204 #79

“A perfect man is one who by means of self-control fights against temptations subject to his will, and who endures with patience trials that are contrary to his wishes.  And an entire [whole] man is one whose practice of the virtues is completed by spiritual knowledge, and whose contemplation does not remain without practical effect.”

ibid. pg. 233 #94

“‘Break the arm of the sinful and evil man’ (Ps.10:15), by which I mean the sensual pleasure and evil from which all vice arises.  Break it through self-control and the innocence born of humility, so that when your actions are assessed and judged, no sin will be found in you, however rigorous the search.  For our sins are eradicated once we come to hate what causes them and to do battle against it, repairing earlier defeat with final victory.”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II,  pg. 359 #4

 

“Let chastity be as dear to you as the pupil of your eye, and then you will become a temple of God and His cherished dwelling place.  For without self-restraint you cannot live with God.  Chastity and self-restraint are born of a longing for God combined with detachment and renunciation of the world; and they are conserved by humility, self-control, unbroken prayer, spiritual contemplation, and freedom from anger and intense weeping.  Without dispassion, however, you cannot achieve the beauty of discrimination [discernment].”

ibid. pg. 367 #37

 

Patience:

“The saints are full of goodness, compassion, kindliness and mercy.  They manifest the same love for the whole human race.  Because of this they hold fast throughout their lives to the highest of all blessings, humility, that conserves other blessings and destroys their opposites.  Thus they become totally immune to vexing trials and temptations, whether those due to ourselves and subject to our volition, or not from ourselves and beyond our control.  They wither the attacks of the first type through self-control, and repel the assaults of the second type with patient endurance.”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 282-3 #92

 

“When you have been given faith, self-control is demanded from you; when self-control has become habitual, it gives birth to patient endurance, a disposition that gladly accepts suffering.”

St. Thalassios (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 329 #64

 

“May God save us from punishment by giving us the strength patiently to endure whatever terrible things befall us.  Endurance is like an unshakable rock in the winds and waves of life.  However the tempest batters him, the patient man remains steadfast and does not turn back; and when he finds relief and joy, he is not carried away by self-glory:  he is always the same, whether things are hard or easy, and for this reason he is proof against the snares of the enemy.  When storms beset him, he endures them with joy, awaiting their end; and when the heavens smile on him, he expects temptation – until his last breath…  Such a person knows that nothing in life is unchangeable, and that all things pass.  Thus he is not troubled or anxious about any of them, but leaves all things in the hands of God, for He has us in His care (cf. 1Pet.5:7); and to Him belong all glory, honor and dominion throughout the ages.  Amen.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11thC.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 224

 

Gentleness:

“‘Learn from me’, He said, ‘for I am gentle and humble in heart’ (Matt.11:29).  Gentleness keeps the soul’s incensive power [passion] in a calm state; humility frees the intellect from conceit and self-esteem [sinful pride].”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, 62 #80

 

“Certain things stop the movement of the passions and do not allow them to grow; others subdue them and make them diminish.  For instance, where desire is concerned, fasting, labour, and vigils do not allow it to grow, while withdrawal [time spent alone with our Lord, or “quiet time”], contemplation, prayer and intense longing for God subdue it and make it disappear.  The same is true with regard to anger.  Forbearance [acceptance], freedom from rancour, gentleness, for example, all arrest it and prevent it from growing, while love, acts of charity, kindness and compassion make it diminish.”

ibid. pg. 73 #47

 

“In this way God’s grace, our universal mother, will give us gentleness, so that we begin to imitate Christ.  This constitutes the third commandment; for the Lord says, ‘Blessed are the gentle’ (Matt.5:5).  Thus we become like a firmly-rooted rock, unshaken by the storms and tempests of life, always the same, whether rich or poor, in ease or hardship, in honour or dishonour.  In short, at every moment and whatever we do we will be aware that all things, whether sweet or bitter, pass away, and this life is a path leading to the future life.  We will recognize that, whether we like it or not, what happens happens; to be upset about it is useless, and moreover deprives us of the crown of patience and shows us to be in revolt against the will of God.  For whatever God does is ‘wholly good and beautiful’ (Gen.1:31), even if we are unaware of this.  As the psalm puts it: ‘He will teach the gentle how to judge’ (Ps.25:9) or, rather how to exercise discrimination [discernment].  Then, even if someone gets furious with us, we are not troubled; on the contrary, we are glad to have been given an opportunity to profit and to exercise our understanding, recognizing that we would not have been tried in this way were there not some cause for it.”

St. Peter of Damaskos (11thC.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg 94-95

 

Acceptance, stillness, dispassion:  

 

“Stillness helps us by making evil inoperative.”

St. Mark the Ascetic (5th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. I, pg. 128 #30

 

“If you wish to be in control of your soul and body, forestall the passions by rooting out their causes”

St. Maximos the Confessor (6-7th C.); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 310 #64

 

“You will not be worthy of divine love unless you possess spiritual knowledge, or of spiritual knowledge unless you possess faith.  I do not mean faith of a theoretical kind, but that which we acquire as a result of practicing the virtues.  You will achieve true compunction only when through self-control and vigil, prayer and humility, you have withered the propensity to sensual pleasure congenital to the flesh and have been crucified with Christ (cf. Gal.2:19-20), no longer living the life of the passions but living and walking in the Spirit, filled with the hope of heavenly glory.”

St. Theognostos (8th C.?); The Philokalia Vol. II, pg. 367-8 #39

“In addition to voluntary suffering, you must also accept that which comes against your will – I mean slander, material losses and sickness.  For if you do not accept these but rebel against them, you are like someone who wants to eat his bread only with honey, never with salt.  Such a man does not always have pleasure as his companion, but always has nausea as his neighbor.”

Ilias the Presbyter (12th C.); The Philokalia Vol. III, pg. 39 #49

 

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