Monday, February 3, 2014

Taking Courage and Slaying Dragons

Bleak Midwinter is not so bleak, after all.
And you thought you were through with New Year blog posts. Ha.

Nope, you get to read me break one of my characteristically long silences with an equally characteristically* long missive to the Internet. And it is about the New Year, because this is still a New Year, right?

Now, I am not much for "New Year Resolutions" both because nobody expects to keep New Year Resolutions anymore (did they ever?) and because I don't think we should curtain off serious reflection about the state of our lives to the very early wellsprings of a budding bout of 365 days. But, hey, we should take advantage of any opportunity we get to think hard about the important things of life, even if that opportunity has been trivialised by a culture acclimated to failure. So I am taking it (the opportunity, that is).

I know: way to start the New Year on a positive note. It gets better, though. Honest, it does.

However, instead of fondly telling you all about my take on New Year Resolutions and then listing them out for all the world to see (if I have any), I would rather leave you with a simple thought and theme that might encourage you as you start afresh on an unknowable, exciting, painful, joy-filled, frightening, and stretching new batch of 525,600 minutes.

There. That was a short thought. Shortest blog post of the...entire history of Jenn.

Wait, what? You missed it? Really? You missed it, didn't you...

The thought was encourage. May this year be an encouraging one for you, and may you help it be an encouraging one for others.


Oh, alright. Let me explain, but don't forget that you asked for this! 

See? There are little prettinesses in every season!
As I was thinking of some principle that would take all of us, no matter where and what we are doing in life, towards a New Year overflowing with more of Christ, this verse came to mind: “Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in the LORD” (Psalm 31:24). In conjunction with this verse, a quote from C.S. Lewis (surprise!) leapt up from my memory’s not-so-distant past, speaking of what courage is and what it means to the Christian: “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point” (Screwtape Letter #29). 

I love how beautifully this quote fits into the verse from Psalms. Hoping in the Lord leads to courage as that very same Lord, our mighty God, strengthens our hearts! And it works etymologically, too, for the word “encourage” comes from the idea of “taking” or “making” or “putting in” heart. For the Christian, taking courage simply means taking on the heart of God. Being encouraged implies that we as Sons and Daughters are putting on His ways, His will, His loves and His hates, His heart. And that is why courage is every virtue at the testing point. If we are truly adopting the heart (coeur) of God, if He is making us be more and more like Christ, then the coeur-age to act more and more like Christ will naturally follow. He gives us His heart. We act on it. He gives us His courage. We act in it. 

See how taking courage is so very closely connected with sanctification, with having God make us look more like Himself? We know that sanctification comes by the Word of God, by Christ and by the Holy Spirit working through Scripture. Not surprisingly, then, sprinkling the Bible are plenty of verses directly linking the idea of “encourage” with the idea of the Word, doctrine, and Christlikeness. Here are a few of them:

~Titus 1:9 “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” If you look in different versions, you will see that the phrase “give instruction” has also been translated as “encourage”. A leader of the church and any Christian, really, must work towards the skill of encouraging fellow believers in doctrine. And since Scripture’s truths are what encourage us as followers of Christ, should we not be daily returning to the Bible if we long for encouragement during this year of 2014? If we hope to be that encourager to our brothers and sisters as the new twelvemonth unfolds?

~Hebrews 3:13 “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called "Today," so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Other versions translate the word “encourage” as “exhort”. This exhort/encourage exchange takes places a few times in the New Testament, and I find that concept so very powerful. In the face of sin and temptation, what encourages our hearts is the exhortation of the Word. Courage is every virtue, righteousness, at the testing point, and that stalwartness before the deceitfulness of sin can only come from God Himself. Do you want to be encouraged and encourage others? Have the heart of Christ formed in you by living in His word, and you will be able to withstand both the wiles of the Enemy and the wickedness of the flesh. That way, the gritted teeth of “I will, I will, I will do the right thing” will melt into the meek smile of “I love, I love, I love doing the right thing.”

Silvery sylvan style
~2 Timothy 4:2 “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.” There is that exhort/encourage word again. These are commands for the believer to be ready at all times, like having courage to face the dragon. It is courage, it is bathing in the word, it is knowing God, that will gift you the courage to live the Christian life.

~2 Thessalonians 2:17 “Comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” Here lies a glimpse into another facet of taking courage. The word comfort here is the “encourage” word in which we are interested for this blog post. Yes, courage is not merely a selfish bravado. Courage for the Christian, for the man who puts on the heart of God, means to share that courage. Sharing Christlikeness by showing Christlikeness (“establish them in every good work and word”) comforts the hearts of believing soldiers around us. The church is, after all, akin to an army, wise as serpents and gentle as doves, fighting the kingdom of darkness inside us and surrounding us. Of course, we fight not in our strength. We walk in Christ’s light and life and love and truth. So does it not make sense that what would comfort our souls and encourage our hearts is that very light and love and truth? Seize the word this year, and you will be comforted, to then comfort others. 

~1 Thessalonians 5:14 “And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” The Bible urges us, brothers, to encourage, to comfort, to exhort. To know God by knowing His word. To pursue the best, which is being conformed to the image of Christ His Son. 

And this idea, this notion of courage equalling conforming to Christ, brings on yet another quote, which will help us end on a zinger for the New Year. G.K. Chesterton once wrote that “courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die” (Orthodoxy, Chapter 6). Does that remind you of something? Christ showed the ultimate courage. He conquered at the testing point of the testing point of righteousness. He was the lamb led to the butcher’s block in order that life might be made possible for so many. And that is courage. He is the example of the champion, the knight, the supreme slayer of dragons. Why not follow Him? Why not take on His heart? Why not be encouraged? May this year be one in which you seek His courage, my friend, and spread it wherever you go.

*What is an adverb of an adverb called anyway? Or are those not supposed to exist? Whatever; go diagram some sentences.

New Year photos taken by Yours Truly. Sorry, I am still about ten notches below presumptuous amateur photographer. Working on it!

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