Tag Archives: Spiritual Growth

I Can Do That

Some may recall the unexpected sight of a Pokémon advertisement during the 2016 Super Bowl as part of the 20 year anniversary of the franchise.  (Which can be seen here on the official Pokémon Youtube channel:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2F46tGehnfo)  The theme running through the ad is people seeing other trainers and saying to themselves or others “I can do that,” or “We can do this,” or “You can do that,” respectively, and, in turn, becoming the inspiration for the next person shown in the commercial.  In each case, their journey begins with the declaration, “I can do that.”  The same holds true outside of the Pokémon context.  When we set out to accomplish something or achieve some goal, it very often begins with us telling ourselves something similar.

This process is not unprecedented in the spiritual arena:  Ignatius of Loyola had just such an experience.  Once a man consumed by desire for the sort of fame, fortune, and perks that come with being a romantic knight, he is best known for founding the Jesuit religious order and authoring The Spiritual Exercises, a widely influential book concerned with the spiritual life.  This change in his life’s trajectory came after he was gravely wounded by a cannon ball in battle.  The projectile broke one of his legs and horribly mangled the other, leaving him bedridden and subject to what had to have been excruciating surgeries aimed at preserving his life and ability to walk.  During his recovery, there was little for the injured Ignatius to do but read.  Fortunately, there were many a book on courtly love and knightly exploits to be had.  Unfortunately, none of these titles were available to him.  Instead, the only books he could get his hands on were a commentary on the life of Christ and a compendium of the lives of various saints.  Despite it not being his first choice, Ignatius took what he could get.  Then something unexpected happened:  as he read, he found himself drawn towards and fired up to serve God with his life.  As he read about the lives of saints such as St. Francis of Assisi, Ignatius found himself thinking, “I can do that.”  So it was that, after completing his recovery, Ignatius of Loyola set out to commit his life to God’s service.

In the Christian landscape today, we often perceive examples taken from the Bible or the lives of other Christians, not as inspiration, but as either “filler” for our spiritual lives or, perhaps more disheartening, examples dangled before us of what we ought and fail to be.  Neither really fans the spiritual flame or moves us to action.  However, this is precisely what these examples are there to do.  Consider the eleventh chapter of the book of Hebrews:  in it the author enumerates the many people of faith we find in the Old Testament such as Abraham, Moses, and David.  If there were ever a list to make us feel inadequate and insignificant, this would be it.  However, as he begins the next chapter, the author writes something that abruptly changes our perspective:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run  with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

-Hebrews 12:1-2

Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves because we don’t think we measure up, we are called to take heart and persevere on account of these people who have gone before us.  These examples are given to us to help get us fired up.  We look at how they lived their lives in faith and say to ourselves, “I can do that.”  We may not have the same spiritual experiences they had, but that is neither the measure nor the goal that is set before us.  They were imperfect people just as we are imperfect, but they held fast to their faith in God and made that the cornerstone of their lives.  We too, setting our eyes on Christ, through whom we are and continue to be saved, aspire to live our lives in faith.  We pursue God in all we do and seek to draw ever nearer to Him as we cooperate with his formative work in our lives.  The effects of doing so are greater than we can imagine, both in our own lives and the lives of others.  As we live our lives with God, others, seeing our life and example, may in turn say to themselves, “I can do that.”

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Waiting

Waiting:  it is perhaps one of the things we like the least but do the most.  Each day, we find ourselves forced to pause while someone or something completes a task.  Perhaps we find it frustrating because we are used to going through life at our own pace and find the imposition of a different pace to be both uncomfortable and irritating.  Or maybe it is because we feel that, as we are waiting, we are being cheated out of our time because we don’t have control over how long we must wait.

As frustrating as we find waiting to be in situations we do not think of as spiritual, it is no surprise that we are similarly irked when we find ourselves forced to wait in our Christian walk.  This may take shape as hitting a spiritual plateau in which we do not feel the same sense of growth that we used to.  We may also encounter waiting as a sense of being distant from God.  Nonetheless, from this handful of examples, we can see that waiting is an inseparable part of our spiritual journey.  It is part of the undulating road that we walk as we seek to draw closer to God.

Waiting, itself, is no novelty in Christianity:  after Christ’s ascension, the disciples were told to wait until they had received the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49), the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom had to wait until morning for the ditches that had been dug to fill with water (2 Kings 3:20), and we live our lives in anticipation of eternity, just to name a few examples.  Though we are forgiven the moment we repent and turn to Christ, Christianity is not of religion of instant gratification; it is a religion that is founded on relationship, and sometimes that means waiting and remaining faithful.  One of the most poignant examples of waiting on God is the story of Abraham being called out of his homeland by God (Genesis 12:1-9).  Abraham (then called Abram) was told to pack up, leave his home, and go to a land that God would show him.  In many ways, Abraham was being asked to go and wait.  It is one thing to wait while we are secure in the midst of familiar surroundings and quite another to wait while outside of our comfort zone.  Such circumstances bring to mind the question of exactly how we wait:  what do we do when we are waiting on God?

One way we may go about waiting on God is to push our spiritual life to the side.  There doesn’t seem to be much going on there, so why attend to it?  Surely our time is better spent on something else at the moment.  While such a mentality can assist us in becoming better multitaskers, it can also be a detriment to our spiritual growth.  Another way that we might approach waiting is to very simply refuse to do it and give up on our spiritual walk altogether.  After all, is it really worth the time and hassle if we’re just going to have to wait?  This, too, is spiritually unhealthy and cause for us to reconsider where we stand with God (Matthew 13:20-21).

So what are we to do when waiting on God?  Above all else, we must remain faithful.  This means continuing to be diligent in our daily lives:  maintaining our times of devotion and prayer and continuing to live our lives according to Christ’s example.  Our obedience to God and acts of devotion are responses to God’s love for us (1 John 4:17-5:5).  As such, they are not dependent upon immediate feedback because they are based on something far grander in scale.  Love is more than a feeling:  it is obedience, commitment, and selflessness, among other things.  When we love someone, our attitudes and actions towards them ultimately proceed not from temporary feelings (though these may certainly have influence), but from deeper within our hearts, from a deep-seated desire for them to be truly happy.  Love does not consist solely in doting and being doted upon, but also of making hard choices for the betterment of the other party.  This is why, for example, parents discipline their children:  it is not pleasant for any involved, but that discipline teaches the children valuable lessons and is instrumental in their continued healthy development.  When we are waiting on God, we continue to pursue Him and remain faithful, not because it is particularly pleasant at the time or we are trying to earn His love, but because He loves us and we love Him.  Perhaps we wish the answer was more complicated than that, but that is the heart of the matter.  Our response to God’s love persists even when we are not filled with the warm glow of affirmation.

It would be remiss to overlook why God sometimes makes us wait.  As stated earlier, when we love someone, we seek for them to be truly happy.  As God works in us to grow and shape us, sometimes He steps back to allow us to stand on our own.  It is not unlike a child learning to feed itself.  There comes a point when it must learn to convey food to its mouth on its own.  Even though the parents are no longer spoon-feeding it, they don’t love it any less; as a matter of fact, it is because they love it that they put it through the ordeal in the first place.  Likewise, when God asks us to wait on Him, it is because He is teaching us to feed ourselves:  to take what He has given us and be nurtured by it, rather than being spoon-fed.  It helps us to grow and mature spiritually.

When we are waiting on God, despite appearances, we are going through an important process of spiritual maturation.  We learn to show love when we don’t necessarily feel love as we are shaped into the image and likeness of Him who gave the fullest measure of love for those who hated and reviled Him.  Our growth while waiting is not restricted to times when we are waiting on God:  when we wait on others, we can still share the love of God with how we wait.  Are we patient?  Are we kind?  Do we give grace as we have received grace?  As the seed lies seemingly inert in the ground before growing into a fruit-bearing plant, so the times when our spiritual life seems inert eventually grow and bear spiritual fruit.


The Value of Effort

In the world of Pokémon, you will find that Pokémon raised by trainers are consistently stronger than wild Pokémon, even those of the same species and level.  They will have higher stats (attack, defense, special attack, special defense, and speed), making them more effective and more capable than their wild counterparts.  If we take a peek behind the scenes, we see that the reason for this is a system based on effort values (EVs).  When a Pokémon is victorious in battle, it gains a certain number of EVs based on the Pokémon it defeated.  These EVs come into play when the Pokémon levels up.  Each time a Pokémon increases in level, its stats increase, making it progressively stronger.  (Hence why a level 65 Charizard is significantly scarier than a level 36 Charizard.)  EVs add a bonus increase to stats on top of the increase that comes with the level-up.  Therefore, a Pokémon who works with a trainer will be stronger than a wild Pokémon of the same level.

There is something to be gleaned from this game mechanic to illustrate a mechanic of our spiritual walk.  Our faith is often tested as we proceed through life:  it is challenged by tragic experiences, tough questions, and valleys of uncertainty.  We have a vibrant relationship with God, so why did our loved one die so early?  We serve an all-powerful, all-good God, so why is there so much evil in the world?  Things have been so dry and empty in our spiritual life lately, was there anything to it to begin with?  It is not a question of if, but when we will be confronted with questions like these that upset our applecart and force us to critically think about our faith.  As disheartening as these struggles are, we grow and come to better understand our faith as we work through them.

These struggles make us look under the hood of what we believe and force us to answer the question of why we believe.  This does not mean that we will have a perfectly packaged answer for every question.  What it does mean is that we have tempered our faith with these questions.  We can learn a stupendous amount of information about the world around us through the many sciences and disciplines that have blossomed from the collective human psyche.  However, there still remain questions that stubbornly evade the reach of these tools.  These are questions addressed by faith and religion.  They persist because they cannot be answered purely through logic and reason, we simply do not have the information at our disposal to do that.  Thus, we find ourselves coming to grips with these problems, and, sometimes, God Himself, in a much more personal way.  We come to God without pretense and with our hearts open to Him.

Of course, it is certainly easier to simply regurgitate a stock answer (a Sunday School answer, as they’re sometimes called) and thereby avoid engaging God or those things which question our faith.  It is functionally little different than pulling the covers up over our heads.  Sure, they let us move along, but we do not grow.  Interestingly, there is another parallel we may draw from Pokémon.  There is an item in the games called “Rare Candy.”  Giving a Pokémon a Rare Candy makes it automatically level up using the minimum amount of experience needed.  They can be useful if one needs to level up immediately, but there is a profound catch:  levelling up with Rare Candy does not earn EVs which means that the bonuses they provide to stats will not be applied.  The result is that a Pokémon levelled up using primarily Rare Candy will be weaker than a Pokémon who levels up by earning experience in battle.  Likewise, if we constantly feed ourselves platitudes, we may be able to maintain our faith and say that we have been a Christian for years, but we will find that our relationship with God comes up woefully shallow when we need to draw from it.

Putting in the time and effort to train Pokémon with EVs yields stronger, more capable Pokémon.  Similarly, when we put in the time and effort to think about and better understand our faith, it strengthens our relationship with God.  In fact, it is not merely a matter of applying our faith but of letting our faith permeate the entirety of our lives.  We do not withhold anything from God as if He were ineffective, but trust and lean fully on Him to help us and guide us through life’s challenges.


The Choice

In many ways, our Christian walk consists primarily of remaining mindful of God.  Put differently, it consists of remaining conscious of our relationship with God throughout the day.  This may take many different forms depending on the situations we find ourselves in.  It may be responding to an opportunity to serve another in a seemingly small way, or resisting the temptation to say something we’re better off not saying, or being willing to see someone in a different light than that of our own presumption, and so on.  This frequently amounts to being conscious of the choice that is regularly placed before us.  So often we respond to life in a reactionary way, especially in the course of our day-to-day activities.  Having a rhythm and routine to life is good and healthy, but it can also prove dangerous if we become passive and complacent in it.

Many times, we find ourselves falling short of the ideals we pursue for no other reason than we are not thinking about them at the time.  Sin sneaks in when we aren’t on the lookout for it.  It isn’t that we are going out of our way to deviate from Christ’s example, it’s more the case that we drift off the path.  Rather than turning opposite the way we want to go, it’s more like following traffic off of the highway without thinking about whether it’s the right exit or not.  The choices that are spiritually harmful to us often stem from sinful habit rather than sinful motive.  The situations that provide us with these choices are typically more subtle than being presented with two options obviously marked as right and wrong.  They tend to be more concerned with things like the type of attitude we maintain throughout the day, what we are going to let our mind linger on, and so forth.

As we ponder this, there is a very real possibility of going to the other extreme and going out of our way to shoehorn everything into a choice format.  The fact is that we don’t need to go out and find choices to make, we simply need to be aware of the choices already before us.

It may help to consider things from a different angle.  Near the end of the book of Deuteronomy, in which the Old Testament Law is laid out for the Israelites, Moses speaks to the assembly and says the following:

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”

-Deuteronomy 30:19-20

In short, the Israelites have been plainly told the way to life and the way to death.  Given this knowledge, they are implored to choose the way to life.

Moving closer to home, in the context of the New Testament and New Covenant we are under, Jesus sets down the foundation upon which all of the instruction in the Old Testament hangs.  When asked what the greatest commandment is, Christ replies with the following:

“Jesus said to him, ‘“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it:  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.’”

-Matthew 22:37-40

Here, Christ sets down for us the heart of what it means to be obedient to God in simple terms.  As the Way, He shows us what it looks like to follow the Way which leads to life.

Returning to being mindful of the choices that come before us, being conscious of these choices and responding appropriately does not require that we constantly unfold a massive flow chart to identify them and decide what to do.  Nor does it require that we set ourselves on-edge as if we are taking history’s most dire multiple-choice test.  What it calls for is shining a light, plain and simple.  This light is the light of God’s word and by it, we can see to stay on the right path as well as catch anything unsavory that would try to sneak in under the cover of darkness.  One way we may go about it is simply keeping the two greatest commandments in mind as we go about our business.  Is my attitude one that loves God?  By saying x, am I loving my neighbor as myself?  These are some of the questions that sprout from such a mindset.  As they do, they cast light upon the choices we are making and allow us to see more clearly so that we may choose life.


The Grind

Pokémon has been on my mind as of late, with the release of the 7th generation on the horizon and having recently completed a playthrough, myself, on my old blue version cartridge.  It is mind-boggling to reflect on how far the series has come since its initial release in the United States 18 years ago.  At the hazard of seeming old, I recall coming home from school one day to find that a VHS tape had arrived in the mail informing us that a new game called Pokémon was coming to America.  I cannot begin to guess how many hours since then I’ve passed playing it.  For those who may be unfamiliar with the franchise, Pokémon is a game in which you collect, train, and battle creatures called pocket monsters (Pokémon for short).  Along the way you earn badges by defeating the leaders of eight Pokémon gyms, thwart the plans of the nefarious Pokémon gangsters known as Team Rocket, encounter one-of-a-kind legendary Pokémon, and ultimately face off against the most powerful trainers in the land, the Elite Four, in order to claim the title of the Pokémon League Champion.

As might be expected, the more memorable parts of this experience are things like encountering new Pokémon and putting it all on the line in battles against strong trainers.  However, between these portions, there are stretches of time spent making your own Pokémon stronger by repeatedly battling wild Pokémon to gain experience and reach higher levels.  This is easily the most monotonous part of the experience and is often referred to in this and other games with similar mechanics as “grinding.”  Tedious or not, grinding is vital to continued progress through the game:  walking into a gym under-leveled will result in a bad time being had.

In our spiritual lives, as with Pokémon, grinding is a necessary part of our journey.  It is not exciting and it is not glamourous, but it is essential to our continued progress.  Sometimes we get the impression that a successful Christian life consists of transitioning from one glorious mountaintop experience to the next, and anything else means that we aren’t doing something right.  Such a perspective of Christianity, though, is simply incorrect.  Giving our lives to Christ entails a shift in our perspective that changes how we see ourselves, others, and the world.  Accordingly, our faith comes to permeate every aspect of our lives, even the mundane.  For a Christian, even the routine of the daily grind plays a role in our spiritual growth and development.  For it is primarily in this setting that we live out our faith and make good on the proclamations we make during Sunday worship.

Our set times of devotion are also subject to the experience of grinding.  As we navigate the hills and valleys of our spiritual lives, we will inevitably find that, during some periods, reading Scripture is less invigorating than before or that our prayer time seems dry.  However, this does not mean that they are no longer profitable for us to practice.  As a matter of fact, it is at such times that our commitment to spending time with God is of the utmost importance.  Consider the parable of the sower (Matt 13:1-9).  In it, Jesus speaks of seed that falls in four different places and the results from each.  One of these places is referred to as “stony” (having little soil) and the seed that falls here springs up quickly because the soil is not deep.  However, these plants are just as quickly scorched by the sun and wither because they have no roots.  Later, Jesus explains the meaning behind the parable of the sower and says the following:

“But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a little while.  For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.”

-Matthew 13:20-21

What this gets at is the question of what we do when things are suddenly no longer all sunshine and lollipops.  How deep do our roots go?  Are we in it for the experience or are we committed to something that goes beyond our daily feel-good barometer?

It may not seem like we are accomplishing much when it is all we can do to still sit down to read our Bibles and pray each day.  However, in so doing, we are practicing obedience and patience, among other things.  We are coming to relate to God as being worthy of our devotion, not because of what we get out of it, but because of Who He is.  As we remain faithful, our faith continues to mature and be further grown.  While it may seem pointless and maybe even miserable at the time, when we have the chance to look back with the benefit of hindsight, we can see just how far we’ve come and how much we’ve grown through that time.

Grinding is a part of our spiritual growth, plain and simple.  There will be times when it will be required of us in order to progress as Christians just as we must put in time grinding in order to progress in Pokémon.  In both cases, we persist in spite of the monotony because we are pursuing something greater.  We keep our eyes set on the goal ahead and keep going so that we may finish well.


Living Art

It seems that many times our spiritual life falls into one of two extremes.  On one hand, we may shove it to the outskirts of our mind and hope that as long as we keep it happy with the weekly trip to church or Bible study it won’t bother us.  On the other, we may hold visions of using it to ascend to a veritable Christian utopia in which we have reached the pinnacle of spirituality and can at last bask in the warm glow of victory.  This utopic vision of our faith both drives and haunts us.  We feverishly pursue the glittering image of having the perfect spiritual life while also rebuking ourselves for not having already attained it.  Though this pursuit may have the appearance of being good and beneficial, its gently sloping path threatens to lead us to a very different destination than we expect.

But why?  Aren’t we supposed to seek to grow closer to God?  Aren’t we supposed to imitate Christ?  Yes, we are.  However, we must pause to reflect on whether that is truly what we are seeking to do.  This isn’t a question of checking our motives as much as checking our goals.  If our chief aim is to draw closer to God and live out the Gospel message, then we will find ourselves on the right track.  However, if we are seeking to achieve a state of spiritual utopia, we’ll find ourselves going nowhere fast.  In fact, the word “utopia” literally means “nowhere”.

The images we chase are just that:  images.  They do not exist in substance as something for us to grab and possess.  Rather, just like light streaming through a window, the more we attempt to hold them, the more they evade our grasp.  The more we try to be the person we are imitating, the more we find ourselves drifting from God.  This is because our relationship with God is between us and God, not this other person and God.  As we are shaped into Christ’s likeness, we grow into a unique reflection of Christ.  In trying to be someone else, we are fighting against God’s shaping of us.  He created us to be us, with our own personality, talents, and gifts.

Let’s use Ignatius of Loyola to construct an example:  he developed a spirituality that has influenced and helped countless people grow closer to God.  Following the path of Ignatian spirituality provides a way of proceeding that helps us to be shaped into Christ’s image.  It does not provide a way of proceeding that aims us at being Ignatius of Loyola.

In Christ’s example, we see how to live our lives with God.  He showed us what it looks like to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind as well as to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This example is given to us to the end that we grow towards Christ-likeness and that we become able to show others who Christ is, not that we should become Christ.  After all, we must remember that Jesus was fully God and fully human, living a sinless life to the end that He might offer himself as a perfect sacrifice for all.

It will be helpful to reflect on the words of Paul as we wrap our minds around this:

“I have been crucified with Christ; 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 for me.”  -Galatians 2:20

Paul is writing about the new life he has in Christ, being justified by faith and not by works of the Law.  It is interesting to note the phraseology that he uses here, stating that it is no longer he who lives, but Christ lives in him.  Christ is the vivifying power which guides and directs his life.  When we were dead in our sins, there was no life in us and we were compelled as undead minions to serve our whims under the direction of our sinful nature.  In Christ, we have life and have it abundantly:  we are made free from the dictatorship of sin and are able to live and to grow and to give our lives, not as compulsory tribute, but as love offerings to God in a renewing, life-giving relationship.  Through this relationship we are shaped by God as His love works in and through us, forming us into the unique person we were created to be.

Consider an artist and painting as a metaphor:  a painting is given life and meaning by the artist acting through their brush and each painting is a unique expression of the artist’s heart, so that no two are the same.  Each life is a masterpiece which God has a vision for, a unique expression of love and beauty that He wishes to create.  What’s more, He includes us in the creative process so that we are not a passive canvas which is acted upon, but rather a fellow artist who works in cooperation with the divine maestro upon the canvas.  The end result is that the person we are is a unique work of art:  an expression of the heart of God that is unlike any other.  In attempting to be someone else, we try to become nothing more than a copy.  A copy is a lifeless duplicate of the original work:  the artist is unable to put any heart or expression into it because it is simply a retracing of lines.  Similarly, when we set out to live a utopic vision of picturesque Christianity, we are doing nothing more than sitting down to copy an image.  Because we are tracing lines, our focus is on attempting to recreate each stroke and we have no time for interaction or relationship with the artist Himself.  We do not allow God to have any input or to help us put any of ourselves into the work, and so our copy remains lifeless no matter how well we trace.  That enlivening and animating power of Christ which Paul wrote of is absent.

Rather than an empty duplication, our life and relationship with God is a vibrant work-in-progress during our time on earth.  It will only reach its completion when it becomes a part of the glorious mosaic in Heaven.  The life of Christ is a foundation to us.  The lives of our fellow Christians, both those who have gone before and our contemporaries, serve as influences and inspirations to us.  We work with God to have ourselves formed into a portrait of Christ that is uniquely ours, one in which our heart beats with God’s as they are both poured out onto the canvas.


Remembering the Last Things – Part 1

There are many things that we can think and meditate upon for the profit of our souls. One that is often recommended to us by the Christians of antiquity is our inevitable death and judgment before God. Granted, in a time in which we have seen and continue to see such topics handled with all the finesse and discretion of rusty cleaver, contemplating death and judgment is less than appealing and seems to be the purview of a rabid and thoughtless theology. However, what I would like to ask of you is to set those impressions aside as best you can and approach this idea on its own, for what it is.

Let’s start with a Scriptural precedent for such contemplations, for they do not have their origins in the desire of one person to control another. Rather, they spring from the desire that a person should control him/herself. (While I won’t touch on it directly, it would be remiss of me not to mention the entirety of the book of Revelation here.)

Paul writes the following to the Corinthians:

“For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”

-2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Paul calls the church’s attention to the final judgment in order to give them perspective on their current condition; a perspective that includes eternity.

Peter also urges us to remain mindful of the Day of Judgment in light of the evils we encounter in life:

“For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now ‘If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?’ Therefore let those who suffer according to will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.”

-1 Peter 4:17-19

In both of these instances from Scripture, the final judgment is not presented to invoke mindless fear, but as occasion for thoughtful reflection and, in particular, introspection. It is such recollection that helps to keep us anchored to God as we navigate the seas of life.

Yet another instance in Scripture in which are urged to be mindful of the last things comes from Christ Himself. Throughout Matthew 24:45-25:46, Jesus provides us with four parables that we might meditate upon the final judgment; namely, the parable of the faithful servant and the evil servant (24:45-51), the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (25:1-13), the parable of the talents (25:14-30), and the parable of the sheep and the goats (25:31-46). To whom is Christ telling these parables? His disciples. The meditation of judgment is presented to those following Christ that we should be careful to be prepared; that we should search our hearts and see to it that, insofar as it has been given to us, we live our lives in response to the grace we receive from God. Sometimes we may fall into overlooking our daily struggle with sin and become self-conceited. It is from such pride, I think, that a great many errors of churches spring. It leads us to veer from our calling to follow God and to instead serve ourselves and act as though we were self-sufficient, having no need of God other than as a mascot of our organization.

Now it bears mentioning where the idea of assurance of salvation/“perseverance of the saints” fits into this topic we’ve been discussing. If we trust in God to bring us safely to the port of heaven, what practical gain is there for us in contemplating His judgment? There is much that could be said of this concept, but here I will only provide a brief and pragmatically oriented response. First, when Scripture speaks to us of election, assurance of salvation, and so forth, a large portion of what is being communicated to us is that our trust in God in never misplaced. Second, concerning the intersection of our trust in God’s grace and our consideration of the fires of hell, I offer 2 Peter 1:10 where the apostle writes the following after a brief call to continued spiritual growth, “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;”

So we can see that Scripture encourages us to pause and remember that God will judge all people at the appointed time. Such practice is good for our soul because it reminds us not to become complacent or careless in our Christian walk. Paul sums up well the purpose of the reminders of fearsome judgment and precious hope we see in Scripture when he writes the following concerning the instances seen in the Old Testament:

“Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make a way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”

-1 Corinthians 10:11-13