The heat of Summer has descended upon Southern California, and with it, the usual complaining. It seems as though people here complain more about the weather than average. So, a few years ago, I decided that I was not going to join in any longer. Yesterday, I decided to take it a step further: I want to stop complaining altogether. I know that this will be a tough challenge, but I have decided to give it a try. The simple truth is that there is no joy to be found in complaining.
The phrase that has been going through my head this morning is “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness.” (I Timothy 4:7b, NASB) It occurs to me that we Americans are complainers and worriers. I include myself in that. And yet, we are so spoiled compared to the rest of the world. We get caught up so easily in fretting over things that don’t matter and things that we cannot control. The Apostle Paul notes in I Thessalonians 4:13 that his readers should not “grieve as others do who have no hope.” I haven’t yet found a similar verse that summarizes that we should not live as others do who have no hope. But that is equally true. The Bible as a whole instructs that if we believe we should live lives which reflect our hope. And this hope should be seen by others, as Peter instructs about “. . .always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (I Peter 3:15) He was writing specifically about how his readers should handle suffering. My pastor often reminds us that, as Christians, how we respond to trials and afflictions should set us apart from everyone else. Yet, too often, we respond to every day life in a manner that is disproportionate to the actual difficulties. If we cannot respond with equanimity to the ups-and-downs of the everyday, how can we respond in the manner God desires when true trials come? We must, as Paul admonished Timothy, train ourselves for godliness.
Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
I Timothy 4:7b-10
I remember learning in a fitness class that physical fitness was defined as the ability to carry out daily activities without fatigue, while having some energy left over for emergencies. So how can we measure our spiritual fitness? Wouldn’t it mean that our faith and trust in God was sufficient to carry us through everyday life, with faith and hope remaining for us to cling to should emergencies arise? If we are to train ourselves, then, we have to start by learning to rely on God in the everyday business of life. How can we expect to be able to respond to the “emergencies” of trials and affliction when we respond to the everyday as though our lives are hopeless?
It takes self-discipline to create a routine of life that includes prayer and time in God’s Word; both of these are essential to our spiritual health and fitness. Our training must start with the source of all godliness, our God Himself. But we must do our part. We must determine that we want to live as He has called us to, and act upon that determination. The Spirit will give us the fruit, but we must choose to abide in the Vine.
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
One of the fruits of the spirit I most want to claim is joy. We often fail to see the link between self-discipline and joy. Most of us realize that children are happier when their parents give them a structured and disciplined home life. While those disciplined children may long to be left alone, the truth is that the child left to his or her own devices does not have the happier childhood. It is the same for adults, except that we have more freedom to choose whether we will do “whatever we want” or what God would have us to. I choose to discipline myself for the purpose of godliness, and I am convinced that in so doing, I choose the path of joy! My life experience has shown me that this is true.
My first step in choosing joy is simple: Every time the air conditioner clicks on in my apartment, today, I will praise God because He has spoiled me with so much more than I deserve. Then, I will think of my Compassion International sponsor child in Haiti, who does not have air conditioning. I will pray for her and think of what a joy and privilege it is to be part of her life. The steps after this are endless. It is a one-day-at-a-time choice to Rejoice in the Lord always. Like physical training, skipping days can eventually lead to being out-of-shape, but thinking too far ahead can also be discouraging. Each day I must decide anew how I want to respond to life. I pray when trials arise I can be a light to others who do not know my Savior. And maybe, my response to the every day things will be a light as well. I refuse to live as one who has no hope.