6. Aspiring to Self-Control

Aspiring Meditations: 6.  Aspiring to Self-Control

Prov 25:28  Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control.

2 Pet 1:5,6    For this very reason, make every effort to add….  to knowledge, self-control

Gal 5:22,23  the fruit of the Spirit is…. self-control

Goodness is something that is easy to put on the list of things to which we should aspire, but ‘self-control’ sounds a bit like hard work. In fact until you start looking up references to ‘self-control’ you might not think it features very highly in apostolic teaching. Think again. So why should we aspire to ‘self-control’? First, because the apostolic teaching clearly says so. Paul to the Thessalonians, to Timothy and Titus and also Peter, are big on self control.

First a warning: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will …..without self-control(2 Tim 3:1-3) At the time I write this, the Western world is almost reeling under a deluge of propaganda about ‘sexual diversity’. Now I have no problem in accepting that here and there in the vast population of the world there are people who struggle with which gender they are but, I would suggest, until recent years they have been few and far between. The talk today is of choosing what gender you want to be, and this talk of freedom to choose is alarming wise people from journalists to doctors to social workers, but it is a tidal wave that is rushing through western society, often with strange results – and this flows over into the whole area of sexuality where the words of Paul in Romans 1 are so clearly seen at work.

The concept of Gay marriage is a hot potato in many western countries, and I heard only recently of three (!!!) men who have been afforded legal status in a South American country to be seen as ‘married’ to each other. The boundaries are falling and anything goes in the godless world around us. Self-control is falling everywhere and so in the sexual realm anything and everything is being declared as acceptable. Not in God’s kingdom!  We must learn to be discerning and wise when the rest of the world, having abandoned God, have thus abandoned any concept of right and wrong, and anyone who challenges a particular lifestyle is branded a bigot. Discern between a tendency (e.g. homosexual orientation) and practice (e.g. sodomy). Observe also this is no worse in God’s eyes that rejection of marriage for cohabitation and that after ‘sex-on-the-first-date’ activity that is so common today and clearly portrayed on the media. This, more than most things, suggests to me that we are clearly in the ‘last days’ but whether that is equated with the End Time may be something different. But it certainly motivates me to pray that God will send revival to save us if He is not coming back yet.

So a second reason why I should be aspiring to self-control is to ensure I conform to God’s word, God’s standards and God’s will. Giving way to temptation is always a relinquishing of self control, and Paul warns us of it in the time we live. Hence he exhorts us, “So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled,” (1 Thess 5:6) and then goes on to add, “But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” (1 Thess 5:8)

Self-control is one of the standards for a spiritual leader: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled.” (1 Tim 3:2  -also Titus 1:8). Having said that when he instructed Titus what to teach his flock we find, “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance,” (Titus 2:2) and then, “train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure” (Titus 2:4,5) and then, “Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2;6) That seems to cover everyone except older women, although if he lived today I suspect he would include them.

Paul contrasts two lifestyles: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say (1) “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and (2) to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age,” (Titus 2:11,12) Again he warns us to be ready for when Jesus returns: “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Pet 1:13) and “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” (1 Pet 4:7) I suspect the implication there is that if self-control falls, sin follows, then guilt follows, and subsequently you stop praying. He also sees it as something Satan will seek to undermine: “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”(1 Pet 5:8)

So I think the importance of self-control appears quite clear, but what is it and how can I aspire to it and develop it? What is it? Control of self, self-discipline, being able to rationally decide what I will or will not do, and not give way to temptations that the enemy may place before me, and not giving ways to desires that go beyond God’s boundaries, or giving way to fads and fancies of the modern world. Remember we referred to Paul’s description of what we used to be like before we came to Christ, which included, “at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:3) Jude wrote to the church about, “godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality.” (Jude v.4) The abandoning of self-control goes with godlessness, and rejects grace.

So how do I develop it? Well, from the recent verses, develop an ever more godly life. As we’ve seen previously, as with all fruit of the Spirit (and this is one of the list) it develops naturally when we allow the Spirit to lead our lives. That is not to say that I do not need to exercise my will – I must. It is not a case of Him or me; it is both of us working this out in my life. May it be so.

5. Aspiring to Knowledge

Aspiring Meditations: 5.  Aspiring to Knowledge 

Isa 11:2  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…. the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD

2 Pet 1:5    For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge

2 Pet 3:18  grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

There is a remarkable passage in Ephesians 2:1-5 that describes what we were like before we came to Christ and in it are such words as, dead in your transgressions and sins, disobedient, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature, objects of wrath, and dead in transgressions (again!), but surprisingly it does not say we were ignorant which I would have expected.

But there is another remarkable passage in Romans 1 that addresses this: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:18-20) Now that says that all people inherently have a knowledge of God in some measure at least but suppress it!  Solomon said of God, “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Eccles 3:11) In other words there is something within every single human being that shouts out, “There is more to life than shear materialistic satisfying desires!”

So if the godless world has ‘knowledge’ why does the Bible seem to elevate ‘knowledge’ to something I should aspire to? And what sort of knowledge? The Gnostics of the first and second centuries AD had this ‘special knowledge’, knowledge that was imparted to or acquired by the elite in this cult. That is the reason the apostle Paul so often speaks about the ‘mystery’ of the God that has now been revealed (see Rom 11:25, 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,4,6,9, 6:19, Col 1:26,27, 2:2, 4:3). That is the point he makes, that now this mystery has been revealed and it is open to anyone to appreciate and apprehend it. It is Christ who is at the heart of the plans of the Godhead to redeem the world, plans formulated even before the Creation.

The Messiah, according to Isa 11:2 would be anointed with a “Spirit of knowledge”. Why? Because God knows all things and Jesus is part of the Trinity, certainly limited in human form for 33 years, but nevertheless by the Spirit within him, he had all knowledge available to him to be drawn on as necessary. Is it a coincidence that in John’s Gospel, the Gospel of insight and knowledge and understanding of the Son of God that John had realised over years of pondering on, reflecting on and remembering, that in this Gospel the word ‘know’ is used more than 80 times!

As John, in his latter years, remembered back to those incredible three years of walking with the Son of God, had realised he had all this knowledge in his head, knowledge of the things that had happened in those three years, but which had not been picked up in the Synoptic Gospels that concentrated on the basics of what happened. John knew there was far more than those basics, which is why his Gospel is so profound, bringing to light the knowledge of an insider who had had time to mull over and focus the things that had happened, and the things that were said by Jesus which, at the time had been so profound, e.g. all of the ‘I am’ sayings John brings to us.

And so for me in this quest to take hold of the various things that the Bible challenges me to aspire to, I face this call to increase knowledge. It is a very simple call but also a very profound call. When we first came to Christ, it is probable that our knowledge of the Bible was miniscule. I laugh when I look back, because as a young person at college – not a Christian but coming from a reasonable if not certainly respectable background – I argued with a friend of mine who was a communist. I can see Mick now in his maroon corduroy jacket and long hippy hair, arguing for the communist manifesto, and me arguing for the Christian perspective. It is no surprised  that he wiped the floor with me!

Perhaps that was the reason why, after I came to the Lord, by the end of my first year as a Christian, the Lord had me leading seven Bible Studies a week. It meant a serious learning curve, and it has carried on ever since. But do I have sufficient knowledge of the Bible and of God today? No, we can never stop being learners. Even as I write these studies I find things coming into perspective as never before. I see new things in the Bible, maybe not every day, but frequently. I heard a conference speaker the other day saying how she was finding in the secular world today she was being challenged over her faith as never before, and she realised she needed to visit again the area of apologetics (knowing why you believe what you believe and having answers to the big questions), and that has always been an area I too have felt I need to get under my belt.

But all that is knowledge that is intellectual but if, in respect of my wife, I could simply tell you lots of things about her, that would not constitute a relationship with her. She used to be a teacher and so her pupils and fellow-teachers could possibly say quite a lot about her with their superficial relationships with her, but when it comes to me, her husband, that is a completely different ball game.

So it must be with God. If we have a ‘relationship’ with Him, then it means it is far more than “knowing about” Him, it is knowing Him in experience, knowing of Him. So how does that come? It comes in prayer, in worship, in waiting on Him, yes as we study His word, and especially when we are obedient to Him and we allow His Holy Spirit to inspire us, energize us, motivate and direct us, and we ‘do the stuff’ He gives us to do. That is ‘knowing Him’ at a much more profound level.

So the challenge comes to me, first of all, will I continue to learn about Him? That will come as I spend time and effort in His word, time and effort reading what others have written about the whole experience of being a Christian, digging deeper even into theology or even apologetics. Why do this? Well for me, it is in answer to something the apostle Peter said: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) But then the second part of the challenge, will I continue to develop my knowledge of Him, and that means waiting on Him, praying, seeking Him and being obedient to Him? I hope the answer will be yes.  And you?

4. Aspiring to Goodness

Aspiring Meditations: 4.  Aspiring to Goodness

Ex 33:19    And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5   make every effort to add to your faith goodness 

Gal 5:23    the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness

So a reminder: this series is about things we are to aspire to found in the Scriptures. We will now follow the list that the apostle Peter gives us and after faith which we considered yesterday, it goes on to speak of ‘goodness’, and so we have to ask, what is it, how do we aspire to it and how may we increase it in our lives?

There is a call in the Old Testament that comes up more than once: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (e.g. 1 Chron 16:34) and then we have the intriguing statement of the Lord to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”  (Ex 33;19) Not just some goodness but “all my” and why goodness?

We need to anchor that word ‘good’. A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with.  Now the Psalms declare again and again that God is good (see Psa 25:7, 34:8, 86:5, 119; 135:3).  Very often in these verses, love and goodness are linked, in other words goodness is an expression of love; it’s how it works.

So goodness is an expression of God’s character and it is what He wants for our lives, but still, what is it? There is another intriguing voice in Nehemiah speaking of Israel’s life since they entered the Promised Land: They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.” (Neh 9:25) This ‘goodness’ brought forth good for Israel which was experienced in so many ways in the Land, good things they found there, good things that happened to them. Goodness is about bringing forth good in this world.

If I am to say that goodness is something I aspire to, it means that my life will bring forth things that are good.  Now when we say that, we naturally ask so what is ‘good’? Well we saw the definition above and so good in this context will be things that generally people will see and agree are helpful, pleasant, worthwhile, even excellent, very positive things. A modern book on such definitions says goodness “stresses moral excellence and an underlying compassion.” That was interesting! So goodness, love and compassion are linked together. An antonym (opposite) of goodness is “wrong doing”. Even more interesting!

If I am to aspire to goodness, I am to aspire to good-doing, moral excellence, expressed through love and compassion. If I do this I will be a person with whom you can feel comfortable, secure, even more, someone who will be a blessing to you. Yes, that is the truth behind this word.

So, how does it come? Where does it come from? Well we saw above that God is good, it is a characteristic of Him. In the previous study we also noted that some of these things – and goodness is included – are fruit of the Spirit, and there we noted that walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, will naturally bring forth this characteristic. In other words if I let the Spirit fill my life more and more, then goodness will be a fruit that will appear more and more.

The other day, I heard someone speak about another person and they said, using an expression that may be unknown to some, “she hasn’t a bad bone in her body.” It means there isn’t an ounce of anything bad in her. Perhaps, in trying to anchor this word, apply this characteristic, it is helpful to observe the opposites, the things we are not to tolerate in our lives. Already we noted the antonym ‘wrong doing.” If goodness is to be a feature of my life, then there must not be an ounce of wrong-doing in me. There is to be no room for anything questionable.

Now I have to admit that at this point I feel uncomfortable because I see behaviour in some of God’s children that worries me – those who smoke, those who drink too much, those who sometimes swear or blaspheme, those who tell crude stories or laugh at crude jokes. I have to say there are comedians around who I will no longer listen to, whose humour is without doubt ‘blue’. This has no part in one who aspires to goodness.

Now there is a danger I recognize here and that is to become a culture hermit. This requires discernment for Jesus met with those whose characters were decidedly off-beat, but that didn’t mean that he had to be the same. His goodness remained static and his love and compassion for the tax-collectors and sinners of his day meant he was able to win them. Zacchaeus (Lk 19) was a classic example. Matthew (or Levi) had been a tax collector but became an apostle. Jesus held on to his goodness but in a way that was not arrogant or condescending or judgmental and so won over those who were not good.

But back to modern culture. We have to learn to be discerning. For me films that are filled with constant ‘f’ words I find seriously annoying because the word then stays in my mind and the producer of the film could get away without it. Films or books constantly portraying the sex act similarly are on my ‘Not to Watch’ and ‘Not to Read’ list. Films or videos, TV series or books that are ‘dark’ or portray the occult are likewise not for me. Don’t let’s go into the world of computer gaming, it is the biggest nightmare going and many parents are criminally (literally) and spiritually negligent in the things they let their under-age (and over-age!!) children play. I saw a headline the other day that said that the younger a child is exposed to pornography, the more likely they will grow up to be abusive of their partners or their subsequent children. Pornography in any form is a no-go area for the Christian. The word about false prophets has a much wider meaning: “By their fruits you will know them.”

I used the word ‘dark’ just now to describe some TV, some movies and some books, and so we should add, fully in line with the New Testament, that we are called to be children of light and darkness has no place in the life of one aspiring to goodness (check out 1 Jn 2:9-11, 1 Pet 2:9, Col 1:13, Eph 5:11). A simple check: are there anything you saw, watch or read, about which you would be embarrassed if it was known in your church circle? Time for action if the answer is yes.

So, to summarise, goodness is a characteristic of God, a characteristic that will be formed in me as fruit as I walk in the Spirit. It is the expression of wholesomeness, the expression of right-doing and as I aspire to it I will reject all doubtful or dubious things, things that are ‘dark’, for we are children of light. As a child of light, where I am goodness should be spreading. Let’s be known for our goodness, let’s be attractive and let’s draw people to Jesus by his grace in us in this form. Let’s not be ashamed at being different but let our goodness be seen in the grace that is obvious in our lives. Can we be Jesus to our generation?

(I will be away from Internet access for the next two weeks on and off)

3. Aspiring to More Faith

Aspiring Meditations: 3.  Aspiring to more faith

Rom 10:17 “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

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

Mt 14:31  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Hebrews 11:6 suggests the significance of faith – it is a vital requirement to have any sort of relationship with God – and so after grace, I believe it is possibly the most important idea or concept in the New Testament as far as our relationship with the Lord goes, outside the work of Christ himself on the Cross. It is how our lives with God are worked out.

We would be remiss is we missed out the words of the writer to the Hebrews defining the nature of faith: faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Now as good as that verse is, it doesn’t give the whole picture for it simply describes what I would call ‘passive faith’. Passive faith is all about knowing the basics of The Faith, all about God, Jesus, ourselves and what God has done for us through Jesus. That is all invisible, unseen, but as the Holy Spirit has come and convicted us to bring about our conversion, we become sure of these facts, sure about the existence of God, sure about the salvation His Son has earned for us.

But of course it doesn’t end there; that is but the beginning. If we really believe these things then they will have an impact on our lives and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our lives will change. We will become people who are concerned about moral and spiritual standards and so, to cite the apostle Paul, we will, for example, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (Eph 4:25) in other words our whole outlook on life changes and produces a completely new way of living, and our examination of these things to which the Lord wants us to aspire, are part of that. This positive change to our outlook, our attitudes and our words and our behaviour, in response to that basic body of truth we have come to believe in, are what I would call Active-Character faith, and in that sense every Christian is a person of faith.

How does this faith – both passive and active – come about?  “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) In our previous lives we were ignorant of these things and then somehow, we were told the Gospel – we heard it. Someone shared it with us, and the Holy Spirit convicted us with it and when we responded the rest followed. From then on we ‘hear’ the word when we read the Bible, when we use Bible Notes, when we listen to sermons, when we receive a word of prophecy, when we receive that quiet inner nudge by the Spirit, and indeed sometimes as we pray we may sense Him speaking to us by what we find the Spirit leading us to pray. All of these are ways we ‘hear’ the word from the Lord and as the Holy Spirit gives us the sense that that is what we are experiencing, He may also convict us, challenge us to action.

Much of the time there will be a character-response, it will be something that affects how I think, feel and need to live. So a change comes about in me and in my lifestyle as I respond to Him – that is Active-Character faith. But there is also another branch of Active Faith that I would call for convenience, Active-Service faith. It is simply responding to His prompting and almost always comes from an inner conviction, an inner nudging of the Holy Spirit and it seeks to prompt me to act in a particular way. So I may sense a nudging that says, “Go over there and encourage that person,” or as I listen to someone sharing their anxieties, or their worries about their health, say, the prompting may come, “Ask them if you may pray for them now, pray over them.”  Or it may be more generally, “Share my love with them, tell them how much I love them,” or is maybe, “This is the time for you to share your testimony.” Each of these promptings are a prompting into action, or to serve the Lord in a specific way, to bring about something He wants to happen through you, His will in this specific situation. Faith occurs when you, having made yourself available to Him, respond positively and you find something rising in you that says, ‘Yes!’ and so you act and do what the Spirit said. That was Active-Service faith.

Now I am good at doing that with Christians and my wife is good at it with non-Christians, which suggests something I have noted in life: faith expressions are different for each of us. Some of us will have great faith for giving, some will have great faith for hospitality, some will have it for showing acts of charity or mercy, some of us will have it for sharing the Gospel with others, and so on.  Now when we see these things in one another we speak of them having the gift of this or that, and the apostle Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6)

Now in the previous study, remember we spoke of grace as being God’s resources for us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. This particular resource is called faith and it is always a gift. God gave it to us through His Spirit, so some find it easy to evangelize, some easy to teach, some easy to be caring and compassionate and so as we step out in that gifting, we are expressing faith, what I am calling Active-Service faith.

Now we should also note that there is a gift of the Spirit called faith (see 1 Cor 12:9a). This simply means that a particular person – and I suggest this will not be happening every day – suddenly has total confidence that they can do a particular thing before them that the rest of us consider impossible. “But, no, we can do this thing!” Peter received it when Jesus urged him to step out of the boat (Mt 14:29). At that moment, he knew he could do it – and did!  For the more everyday faith when it comes to our particular gifting(s) we know we can do this thing and it will be good, because God is inspiring it, and so as we step out and do it, that is faith in action.

So can we develop faith? Can we increase it? The answer has surely got to be yes, otherwise Jesus would not have chided his disciples sometimes for their ‘little faith’, implying they could do better, and that he surely hoped for the future.  Well if faith comes from hearing, may I suggest we first need to learn to be more alert to what is going on inside our heads – because that is where we are going to ‘hear’. And having discerned that we are hearing God, determine to respond positively to Him every time we catch something. The more we do it, the more it will happen.  It is, I believe, that simple! Go for it! Let’s aspire to be people of faith – not merely having passive faith (although that is an essential start), but moving in Active-Character faith where we let His word shape our lifestyles, and then on into Active-Service faith where we do the works of God, just as Jesus said (Jn 14:12). Amen? Amen!

2. Aspiring to More Grace

Aspiring Meditations: 2.  Aspiring to more grace

Psa 45:2   You are the most excellent of men and your lips have been anointed with grace, since God has blessed you forever.

2 Pet 1;2 Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

In the opening, introductory ‘study’, near the end I laid out our goal about the things to which we might aspire: we will have to think what they each mean, why the Lord wants them for us, and how we may aspire to experiencing them in greater and greater measure.

So, in the example to do with my wife’s uncle, I said, ‘I realised there I was aspiring to a higher level of grace than that which I had known until then’ and so it seems natural that we start off these things looking at ‘grace’. It is a word that comes up often in Scripture, especially in the letters of the apostle Paul who always asks for grace for his recipients, as does the apostle Peter in the verse above from his second letter. It has to be high up on the list of significant words in the New Testament.

Now when we say that someone is ‘gracious’ we mean they are sociable, courteous, polite. It is a word used to describe a very positive aspect of their character. Similarly, if we looked up synonyms for ‘grace’ we come across such words as refinement, loveliness, poise, charm, again positive words about character. That is how we tend to use the word and its associates in everyday life.  Now as good as these words are, the Bible’s use of grace is much more powerful.

Our first verse above, your lips have been anointed with grace”, suggest again a very positive characteristic – because, “You are the most excellent of men,” but it is clear that this Messiah figure is like that since God has blessed you forever.” This positive characteristic is because of God’s blessing. So to recap the first two things about grace: 1. It is expressed as a positive characteristic, and 2. It comes from God. But what is it?

It is important to understand, because God calls Himself a “gracious God” (Ex 34:6) and it comes in the midst of similar words: “the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness.” (v .6,7) They are all different words but have the feel of being in the same family, so to speak. Now here we start becoming aware of the problem. If you take a good Bible dictionary, you find that trying to tie down the word ‘grace’ is like trying to take hold of mercury or quicksilver (don’t it’s poisonous!) where, if you put your finger on a blob of it, it splits up into lots of smaller globules which scatter in all directions. Grace is like that.

The Hebrew word in O.T. usage, ‘hesed’, has been translated, ‘mercy, kindness, loving-kindness’.  When used of a man or woman it tends to mean steadfast love towards God or another person, or even used as ‘faithfulness’. The New Testament Greek equivalent is ‘charis’ which often has links to forgiveness or mercy. Jesus never uses the word yet his actions and teaching are saturated with it.  The apostle Paul says we, “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Rom 3:24) Note the close linkage of three crucial things: justified – by grace – through redemption. Our justification is only by an act of grace on God’s part, the redemption that Jesus earned for us on the Cross. So, redemption was an act of grace and so is justification. Christ’s redeeming act leads to our justification and both are God’s expressions of mercy, and loving kindness, free, undeserved gifts. So, we might say, grace is first a personal characteristic, or even a benignly positive attitude.

But it seems to be even more than that. Yes, in my usage of it in respect of the uncle of my wife, I might say I recognized and wanted to emulate or aspire to this same personal characteristic or benignly positive attitude, but in the New Testament it seems to have more about it. For instance, it seems foundational to who we are in the body of Christ: “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6) Grace there, seems more an ability, the ability to exercise a gift, or behave supernaturally.  But then all my previous attempts to tie down this globule of mercury have all also been characteristics or attitudes, that are identified by a behaviour.  Mercy, for instance is an expression or act of God in a particular way.

But then we have to ask, how do we get this grace into us, if I may put it like that? How do I get these abilities we have just referred to? The answer has to be by the indwelling presence of God’s Holy Spirit. It is Him in me that is the resource that enables me to live out my Christian life, my life in relation to the Lord, expressed in everyday behaviour. Later on in these studies we will look at things that are said to be ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (Gal 5:22,23).  Now fruit naturally grows. The only two commands linked to those verses speak of being “led by the Spirit,” (v.18) and “let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (v.25) so we may conclude that when we allow the Spirit to lead us and we seek to keep in step with what HE is doing, then the things in verses 22 and 23 will naturally start developing and appearing in us.

We would probably be remiss if we didn’t mention the apostle Paul’s famous incident when he pleaded with God to help with a particular weakness but the Lord replied, “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). So grace is equated with power – God’s power, the power released by the Holy Spirit within us. So when we need wisdom or maybe strength, or perhaps patience, all of these are expression of grace that the Spirit provides.

So to summarise: grace is a characteristic AND a resource that is seen when expressed through Christ-like acts. In a variety of ways my wife’s uncle expressed Christ. It will be developed more and more in me as I seek to be obedient to God’s word and His Holy Spirit’s prompting. Yes, as the apostle Paul says in both Ephesians and Colossians, I have a part to play by putting to death the characteristics of the ‘old nature’ and in ‘putting on’ the Christ-characteristics that his Spirit wishes to express in and through us. I still aspire to be the gracious elderly man that I saw in my wife’s uncle. I recognize that the way that grace is shown in me, will be different from the way it is shown in you when it comes to gifts and service (Rom 12:6) but in terms of character we all have this overall sense of what it means to be Christ-like – full of loving kindness, full of mercy, full of good feelings and desires for other people and thankful to God our Father and, yes, summarized as full of grace! Let’s aspire to be like this, more and more.

1. Introducing Aspiring

Aspiring Meditations: 1.  Introducing Aspiring

2 Pet 1:5-8   make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

A number of years ago we attended the ninetieth birthday of an uncle of my wife. I had met him only a few times but he came over as a gracious old man. I had picked up along the way that he had been a farmer, and had been a Christian all his life. When his wife reached seventy she suffered major memory loss, didn’t even know him, became bed bound and incontinent, but he refused to have her put into a home and so cared for her day and night for ten years until she passed away.

When we came to his birthday celebration we knew he attended a small church on the south coast, looked after the elderly of the church (!!!), led Bible studies, attended a weekly house group, and once a term went to a local junior school and took their ‘Assembly’ for them. At this celebration, which was a gathering of the wider family and a few close friends for the whole day in someone’s large house, we sat around chatting with people and caught up on the passing years. In the middle of the afternoon Tea was being served and a big birthday cake was brought in with lots of candles which, of course, he was required to blow out.  This was typically followed by someone calling out, “Speech, speech”, the traditional call for the ‘celebrity to say a few words.

In the next ten minutes, and it was only ten minutes, he gave his testimony of how he came to the Lord as a child, how the Lord had kept him through all the years of his life, and shared the basic Gospel, concluding with a very funny joke that made you laugh but at the same time confronted you with a challenge as to what your life was founded upon, and then he sat down to applause. About half the people there, I believe, were not believers. Knowing what I knew about him and witnessing this episode, I found myself praying, “Lord, I have at last found someone I would want to emulate. I don’t know how many years you have got for me, but please use me in some way every day, like you have done with this gracious old man.”

As I pondered over this in the following months I realised there I was aspiring to a higher level of grace than that which I had known until then. Then as I pondered on that, I realised that Scripture is full of things that the Lord wants us to aspire to, and so that is what this new series is about. It takes the general concept, that is clear in the New Testament, that the Lord expects growth in us and growth means that next year, say, I can be experiencing His grace in some form, more than I do today.

In his second letter, the apostle Peter gives us this list of things in the verses above that he wants us to aspire to, things he wants us to develop in our lives. Now this is the thing about the Christian life: the Lord has provided for us and so it is down to us to appropriate all that He has given us in Christ, but that is an ongoing process.  Now whether those things in Peter’s list are things that are ‘one after another’ that come out of or flow from the previous one, or whether they are just facets of being Christ-like, I leave you to ponder: faith, goodness; knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love.

There are various of these ‘lists’ in the New Testament, for example, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23) In Colossians the apostle Paul says “put to death” various things of your old life (Col 3:5-9) because we have “put on the new self” (v.10) and then adds, “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love.” (Col 3:12-14)

So, the exercise of this series is to ponder on all of these sorts of things that the Lord wants me to aspire to, and if they already exist in some measure in me, to aspire to more of them. To do that we will have to think what they each mean, why the Lord wants them for us, and how we may aspire to experiencing them in greater and greater measure.

So, I invite you to join me on this journey, of those who will aspire to greater things, the things the Lord lays out for us in His word, things with which He wants to bless us. Are you ready? Let’s go.