Adversity comes in many forms. My grandson, James, knows this up close and personal. He struggles with speech. More specifically, his nervous system struggles with connecting what he wants to say with the motor skills needed to coordinate his breath and muscle systems involved with getting his tongue, lips, jaw, and cheeks to form the right shapes in the right sequences. Make no mistake though, he knows perfectly well what he wants to say. “Please” might come out like “pweeze,” but his heart announces the meaning. Instead of “Rachel,” his sister will hear “Sashal,” but her heart will hear just what James intends.
James knows. Rachel knows. Mom and Dad know. The docs and the speech therapists know. Everyone knows James struggles. One glance at his brain scan will leave no one with a doubt…he struggles. However, here’s the cool thing…James faces adversity, but it’s not adversarial. You see adversity is marked by difficulties and misfortune, while that which is adversarial is marked with opposition and hostility. James knows nothing of opposition or hostility regarding the adversity of speech. Each day he learns to enunciate more clearly just as he learns his letters, numbers, phonics, chores, rights, wrongs, and truths and lies.
Adversity need not be taken up with a clenched jaw and clenched fists. We don’t always need to rattle everyone’s world because we happen to be facing some adversity. Difficulties and misfortune may actually be the very trials God allows us or gives us to help us become more like him. James knows. I know. He and the Savior have more in common than just the first letter of their names.
Just to reiterate that it’s both sides…a repetitive merry-go-round of shenanigans…
It’s bipartisan propaganda…playing both sides against the middle. What’s happening today on the right happened four years ago on the left…and will flip-flop yet again every time the chance arises.
January 6, 2017: congressional ratification of the Electoral Votes was dramatically denounced by democrat politicians. You can read about it in the article from National Public Radio linked below.
It was the same song, but an earlier verse. It’s pathetic. It’s sad. It’s heart-breaking.
They need our prayers. All of them. Both parties. All parties. Every persuasion.
They need our prayers…and our votes of no-confidence. They’re an oligarchy always scheming to pit folks on the right and the left against one another so they can reap the benefits of the chaos. They’ve grown bold and brazen, giving little thought to the fact they can now use the same arguments on both sides of the aisles. With a wink and a nod, day in and day out, they shout and scream at one another, hurl insults at one another, and impeach one another, all the while remaining fat and sassy as we continue trapped on their merry-go-round…as they play both sides against the middle.
Swept up in their tornado is our nation and a watching world wishing upon wish for something so much better. As long as folks continue to hope one party or another will lead us to the promised land we will continue to allow them the persistent privilege of playing the shame and blame game against one another.
Their way is the wrong way. In fact, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12). Their way and this way are the same. There is, however, a better way. His way. The Lord’s way that leads to love, peace, grace, hope, mercy, patience, compassion, and virtue.
“Vice President Biden pauses between mock swearing-in ceremonies in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill Tuesday. Biden presided over the official Electoral College tally amid several interruptions.” (NPR)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10).
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps 73:26).
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:7).
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me” (Jn 14:1).
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
So, the obvious is…well obvious. These kinds of hearts are mindsets, feelings, attitudes, and/or choices. Good, bad, or otherwise, when we talk about our hearts like this, we’re clearly referring to our inner selves…the core of our existence. However, this still doesn’t really help me with the original question. Seriously, when we think of being unsettled many things can come to mind.
Maybe someone is shaken to the core by an overwhelming dilemma or tragic event.
Maybe someone is confused by a seemingly unsolvable problem.
Maybe someone is sad as the result of unkind words.
Maybe someone is haunted with worry from a generalized anxiety disorder of unknown origins.
Maybe someone is keen to that lingering, uneasy, weird feeling that “something is just up.”
Maybe someone is sure about a creepy feeling…like “I just know that person over there keeps looking at me.”
Or, uhh, ummm…well, in fact, it’s unsettling just trying to lock this thing down. Mirriam-Webster helps a little, but not enough. It leads with “Unsettled: not settled, such as…
(1) not calm or tranquil: disturbed, as unsettled political conditions (2) likely to vary widely especially in the near future: variable, as unsettled weather (3) not settled down: as unsettled dust
(1) not decided or determined: doubtful, as an unsettled state of mind (2) not resolved or worked out: undecided, as an unsettled question
C. characterized by irregularity; an unsettled life
D. not inhabited or populated as unsettled land
E. mentally unbalanced (they don’t even offer an example here)
(1) not disposed of according to law, as an unsettled estate (2) not paid or discharged, as unsettled debts.”
How about the Dictionary.com Thesaurus? Yup, you guessed it. Tons of words. Five columns of 10 words each. Fifty. 50. It took up all their allotted space. Should I list them all? Should I? Okay, I’ll spare you that tedious little exercise. Trust me though, the list started with “agitated” and meandered through the alphabet, doubling back and forth, until it reached “variable” with stops along the way at “antsy, confused, fluid, perturbed,” and even “mutable.” Apparently, when asked the question, “What do you have to say about the idea behind the phrase, he has an unsettled heart,” one might want to take it slow.
It’s a bit of a pickle, a riddle. The hitch is this: the phrase “unsettled heart” can morph. It’s adaptable. It fits easily into the language of your inner turmoil. It covers any of the eleven hearts mentioned in the opening salvo of this essay…and many others as well. However illusive it might be, an unsettled heart may actually be positive. Think about it. Should you say to someone, “You seem unsettled,” your kind observation of his or her preoccupation provides an opportunity for your companion to open up about almost anything. It could be something minor. Yet, it could also be a terribly major problem. If you say to another, “Man, my heart is unsettled,” you’ve only revealed that an emotion is stirring within you. Awaiting you and your companion is the magnificent potential for growth as you decide together to explore the details.
So, let’s go with that. The unsettled heart is not at peace regardless of whether its lack of peace stems from too many debts, decisions, delights, desires, discouragements, disruptions, doubts, duties, or even disorders. The reality remains…one is not at rest. He or she needs either relief from or completion of the underlying cause.
What if someone determines the cause of the unsettled heart is injustice? How will she find peace?
What if someone determines the cause of his unsettled heart is sin? How will he find peace?
What if someone determines the cause of her unsettled heart is loneliness? How will she find peace?
What if someone determines the cause of his unsettled heart is fear? How will he find peace?
What if someone determines the cause of her unsettled heart is illness? How will she find peace?
What if someone determines the cause of his unsettled heart is worry? How will he find peace?
What if someone determines the cause of her unsettled heart is desire? How will she find peace?
What if someone determines the cause of his unsettled heart is worship? How will he find peace?
Or what if someone even determines the cause of her unsettled heart is undetermined? How will she then find peace? Now we have something with which to work. Now we have a process to submit before the Lord. Here are two ways this may play out…
First, the unsettled heart is a clue, and we are the detectives. Detectives ask questions designed to narrow the scope of investigation. So, ike detectives, we can use this method. It looks something like the following:
●Ask questions like…What are all the possibilities? ●Of all the possibilities, ask…What observations can we make regarding each possibility? What connections can we make between each possibility and the unsettled heart? ●Begin to slowly eliminate the obvious. ●Start considering the reduced number of possibilities. ●As the scope of investigation is reduced by eliminating potentials, we draw ever closer to a cause. ●Once the cause is discovered, we can determine what to do with it. We can complete it if it’s something left undone. We can relieve it by removal if it’s something inappropriate. We can relieve it by acceptance if it adds to our maturity.
This is really nothing more than what the Lord has been teaching us forever. Take a simple example from Acts 6:1-7. In the early days of the church, as the numbers of people increased rapidly, a problem of caring for everyone landed upon the Apostles. Take a look for yourself…
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, ‘It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.’ And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.”
In this case, groups of people were unsettled. It wasn’t difficult to determine the cause. Folks just needed to understand the cause, point to it, recognize a simple solution, then complete the process by implementing an effective solution.
●Consider the problem. ●Consider the possible causes. ●Consider if something needs completion or relief.
In this case, relief came by completing a more effective administration and management system.
However, what if the cause of unsettled hearts is more pernicious? What if a darkness exists… something is wrong in the sense of being harmful, hurtful, hateful…something sinful…something that needs removing? What then? Well, we follow a similar pattern. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, the Holy Spirit inspired him to write the following:
“Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
Yikes, that’s pretty clear. Once something destructive is uncovered, it must be removed. Or as the Apostle put it: “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.” In this case, the unsettled heart is clearly a sin issue. Once the darkness is discovered it must be subjected to confession…exposing the darkness to light. One needs to agree with God about the simple, yet profound, fact that this thing is harmful, hurtful, and hateful to one’s spirit…and probably to the hearts of others also. In this case, while the initial answer is simple, the ongoing solution may need repeating over time. Repetition will require support, encouragement, admonition, motivation, prayer, worship, abiding.
●Consider the problem. ●Consider the possible causes. ●Consider if something needs completion or relief.
In this case, relief from the unsettled heart will come by removing the sin problem.
Still, what if the issue is not something to complete or remove? What if one’s unsettled heart has to do with finally accepting something? Let’s look to the Bible for another example. The Apostle Paul used himself as an example when he wrote one of his letters to the Church of Corinth. We find it in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10…
“I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses—though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So, to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
There has been much discussion about what Paul was talking about when he mentioned, “to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited.” However, there is no discussion regarding what he meant when he wrote, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'” Maybe it was physical illness, maybe it was his size, maybe it was a speech impediment, maybe it was spiritual warfare, whatever it was, Paul wanted it gone. You might say his heart was quite unsettled over it. He knew the problem. He repeatedly asked the Lord to remove it. However, like Jeremiah, Hosea, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and others, he learned the problem would not be removed. Instead, the grace, the peace, the presence of God would sustain him. He would keep his “thorn in the flesh.” He would accept it. It would be a reminder that the sufficiency of God is of far greater worth than the removal of something thorny. In circumstances like this, the unsettled heart is a trial that can help us depend upon God. When we are weak, he is strong. These are the times we must incorporate passages like…
Proverbs 3:1-6 “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments, for length of days and years of life and peace they will add to you. Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”
John 14:7-11 “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
When met with this challenge our task is neither to complete or remove anything. Instead we must partner with God to mature into the image of the Savior…more and more and more. We must let the Lord help us to translate pain into his glory. In fact, with God, peace and pain become partners as we participate in and with his patience.
●Consider the problem. ●Consider the possible causes. ●Consider if something needs to be accepted.
In this case, relief from the unsettled heart will come by depending upon the presence of God to incorporate the trial into our emotional and motivational weapons cache.
Second, the unsettled heart, though a clue, may not be receptive to discovery. Sometimes the underlying cause remains a mystery. Regardless of how determined we’ve been to uncover the source, in rare occasions we remain stumped. What then?
What then, indeed? But, maybe, well maybe not “What then, indeed.” Maybe the simple realization that an underlying cause cannot be determined is exactly where we need to be and exactly where the Lord wants us. Take for example Matthew 6:25-34…
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
Did you notice that phrase down toward the end…“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you?” You should be interested in that little word “seek.” As for its meaning, that’s simple: to find, to go after, to crave. However, there are some other things you should know about it. If you’re paying attention, you will notice it’s a verb. It’s indicating an action…do this thing…i.e. seek this thing, look for this thing, crave this thing. Still, though, we’re not finished. It’s also a verb presented in the present tense. So, it’s indicating action now…keep doing this thing…i.e. seek this thing continually, look for this thing always, keep on keeping on with your craving of this thing. Okay? We got it, right? Not quite. There is one more thing. It’s also a verb presented as an imperative. So, it’s not just indicating present tense action…it’s not a suggestion…it’s a command. Kind of like this, “Attention, now hear this: SEEK the kingdom of God…now, yup, now…get ‘er done…just do it…and don’t you stop doing it.”
You might wonder though about a couple other items from this passage…like the phrase “kingdom of God” or the word “anxious.”
The “kingdom of God” is often misappropriated when we think of it merely as the “sovereign rule of God” or the geographically inclined notion of “heaven and earth…all of creation and beyond is God’s Kingdom.” Instead, the phrase requires understanding the intention of the four gospels: the history of how Jesus became the King of not only Israel, but the whole world. This was exactly what the Old Testament pointed to—Immanuel, God with us. Unfortunately, there was a disconnect between what God revealed through the Old Testament authors and that which was expected during the years prior and shortly following the dividing year between BC and AD. The folks were looking for the Lion of Judah—the conquering hero who would be established not only upon the Throne of David, but the throne of the whole world. However, the truth revealed by the Lord to the writers of the Old Testament pointed to a far more comprehensive Savior. Certainly the advent of the Messiah would bring freedom, but that freedom would be far more grand than mere physical ransom. Almost everyone in early first century Judaism missed the whole picture. Leading the way in this short-sighted anticipation were those vying for power and position: the Herodians, the Zealots, and the Sanhedrin. The royal family of Herod was betting the Messiah would come and rule through their royal position. The Zealots were looking for a leader/warrior who would take up shield and sword to lead the Army of Israel. The Sanhedrin—the religious/political ruling body of Israel—also wanted to usher in the Messiah.
Each of these competing groups were staging for the Lion of Judah, but they failed to recall Scripture also taught about the Lamb of God. If they had been both less ambitious for personal gain and more dependent upon the word of God, they would have seen that the whole of the Old Testament, regarding the coming Messiah, was not one dimensional. It spoke of his complete reign…his reign as the Lion of Judah and as the Lamb of God. He would reign upon the throne of David, but he would also bring peace to the heart. He would rule not just over the heaven and earth, but also the soul. Whatever their motivation, whatever their shortcoming, they missed the incredible proclamations of the Savior…
…I will be despised and rejected by you …I will bear your griefs …I will carry your sorrows …I will be stricken, smitten, and afflicted by you …I will be led as a sheep for you …I will be pierced for your transgressions …I will be crushed for your iniquities …I will be the chastisement that brings you peace …I will suffer the wounds by which you will be healed …I will be led to the slaughter for you …I will be oppressed and judged for your transgressions …I will be crushed for your guilt …I will be filled with anguish, but satisfied…because through all this you will be made righteous
…and you will be my people and I will be your God …my word will be upon your lips …my Spirit will be with you …I will give you a new heart …I will give you a new spirit …I will be living water within you …I am Immanuel which means God is with you.
Yes, the Old Testament promised the Messiah as the Lion of Judah…and that day approaches…a day when deliverance will also include freedom from the dominion of both the kingdom of hell and the kingdom of men. However, only tragedy awaited and still awaits those who miss that the Messiah is with us here and now. That’s right, the spotless Lamb of God, Immanuel, God who is with us, who takes away our sin, and promises to abide with us, is with us here and now. He is always with his new creation. The phrase “Kingdom of God” is the slang or shorthand version of these promises. It’s the phrase Jesus and his apostles used to announce and discuss this truth: the promises are fulfilled, God has come again, the incarnation is the initiation of God’s presence with the redeemed. It is more than a kingdom of borders or a rule of new truth. It is God with you and with me where you are and where I am. Right here. Right now. Wherever we sit, stand, or lie down. Whatever we are doing. In us. Through us. For us. However we feel. Worried. Troubled. Anxious. Content. Peaceful. Victorious. No matter our circumstances, God is here to fill the holes in our souls.
Likewise, the word “anxious” requires some explanation. Each time it shows up in this passage it translates the same Greek word. It is a simple word. As a verb, it means: do not worry, do not be anxious, do not be troubled. If one wishes to draw this out a bit, it can mean “do not be all tied up,” or “do not be all consumed,” or “do not fret and fuss,” or “don’t be so uptight.” Right…don’t have an unsettled heart.
So? What does all this mean regarding the assertion made earlier, “the unsettled heart, though a clue, may not be receptive to discovery?” Simple. It means this: just because we cannot track down the underlying cause of an unsettled heart it does not follow that we cannot regain peace, calm, and rest. Jesus promises that if one looks for God always, depends on God always, worships God always, attends to God always, talks with God always, abides in God always—remains mindful of God always—then the other stuff has a habit of falling into place. The main thing remains God. The things we worry about, remain anxious over, feel troubled on account of, lose their power. Their stranglehold is pulled apart. Their influence is diminished since they no longer stand front and center. Seeking first and foremost “God’s Kingdom” dispels the unsettled heart even if we’re not sure what’s causing the unsettled heart. When we partner with the Savior first, foremost, fantastically, faithfully, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). It has always been and ever shall be about God with us…Immanuel.
The Apostles went on to reiterate this truth given in the Old Covenant and reasserted by Jesus in the New Covenant. Notice this from the Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-17: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.” That’s simple enough. Yet, it’s weighted with everything that came before.
Once again, take note of the verbs. They are present tense imperatives. Does this mean that every single second of every single minute of every single hour of every single day we must figure out how to rejoice, pray, give thanks, and not quench the Holy Spirit? Well no, but yes. Of course, other thoughts must be processed. Our attention needs to focus on many different things. We need to be mindful of life…as we plan it, also as it comes, and eventually as we renegotiate it. Sure, we must think and do lots of things. However, this does not mean we cannot attend to the Lord all the time. Of course, we can. As with all our relationships, our life with God is full time. Perhaps an illustration will help…
Consider a typical family. It’s evening. Mom’s reading a book. Dad’s watching the football game. Son is doing his homework. Daughter is texting a friend while listening to music through her headphones. Each of them is comfortably relaxed in the family room. Dad gets up…stretches. His wife notices and, without taking her eyes away from her book, says, “Sweetheart, would you mind turning that other lamp on? I could use a little more light.” His son also sees him get up and, without putting down his pencil, asks, “Hey, if you’re headed to the kitchen, would you mind grabbing one of Mom’s cookies for me?” His daughter, continuing to listen to her music, lifts her head, makes eye contact with him, and asks, “What’s up Dad? Going to bed early?” As Dad makes his way to the kitchen, he smiles at his daughter while pointing to his mouth. She smiles and nods her head affirmatively. As he walks, he reaches over to turn on the other lamp. His wife says, “Thanks, sweetheart.” Still walking and without looking back, he smiles. He exits from the living room into the kitchen. Rummages around a little. Then he comes jogging back. He’s carrying three cookies and a cup of coffee…carefully. He bends over to place one cookie next to his son’s school-book. His son says, “Awesome.” Still bent over, he glances up at his daughter and opens his eyes a little wider. She gets it. She smiles big and nods her head affirmatively. He lopes over to hand her one of the cookies. She whispers, “Thank you.” He smiles big. Quickly now he gets back to his easy chair just as the game resumes. He nibbles on his cookie, takes a sip of coffee, smiles, and lets out a sigh of contentment. Everyone is all in.
This is how it can be between us and the Lord. While we might not necessarily be in a direct conversation with the Lord, we can always be in direct fellowship with him. We can be completely aware and mindful of him. We can be attuned to “hearing” his word. We can speak to him quickly, appropriately, all the time.
In the words of the psalmist, we can live in the reality of “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”
In the words of Jesus, we can “seek first the kingdom of God.”
In the words of Paul, we can “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Sometimes we can know the source of our unsettled heart. Sometimes we can’t. Either way, if we know the Savior, we can comfortably, naturally move from unsettled to peaceful. However, if we don’t know the Savior, the heart will remain unsettled simply because the greatest matter in both time and eternity has not yet been settled…the reconciliation of the human heart with God’s heart. I pray this matter is settled for you.
In our last post, “Civil Disobedience: When Does It Become Necessary,” we made a clear biblical point…while civil disobedience must always be an option for a Christian, a local church, or the Church, it must be engaged only under certain conditions.
We also forecasted the very real possibility that the tipping point might very well be reached in the future. However, we had not yet crossed the threshold. After a lengthy study of the pertinent passages in Scripture, we wrote the following regarding when it is appropriate to not follow the dictates of a ruling body:
“There is a simple pattern here.
Folks were told to violate God’s truths.
Folks were told to murder.
Folks were told to worship someone or something other than God.
Folks were told to not speak or teach on behalf of the Lord.
This then might be called the Romans 13 Caveat: ‘When told to violate the word of god, to commit evil, to worship another, or to shut up about God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit we must refuse.’
Some believe the ‘stay at home, wearing of masks, social distance guidelines, and the remain closed’ orders are an overreach of government when it comes to churches. We do not…not yet. Yes, civil disobedience is always an option. In fact, it is likely we will, one and all, find ourselves choosing this option should current events continue to devolve.”
A few sentences later, we wrote: “Specifically, we do not believe community standards, in response to the viral pandemic, regulating where we worship reaches the threshold of what we find in the biblical instances of civil disobedience. Yes, we are being told to alter the where and how of what we do, but we’ve not been told to violate God’s truths, commit or support acts of evil, worship someone or something other than God, or not speak or teach on behalf of the Lord. Not yet.
One of those “Not yet” issues has arrived. We have now been instructed that we cannot sing during our worship services. This is a problem…because it violates clear instruction in the Word of God. How so? Well, let’s take a look.
Under the Governor’s New Order (see it here), guideline #12 states:
” Religious Services are limited to 25 percent of indoor occupancy limits, or no more than 200 people, whichever is fewer. Congregation members/attendees must wear facial coverings at all times and congregation singing is prohibited. No choir, band, or ensemble shall perform during the service. Vocal or instrumental soloists are permitted to perform, and vocal soloists may have a single accompanist. Outdoor services must follow the Outdoor Dining Guidance, found here, applicable to the structure or facility.” (bold, italics, and underline added)
This instruction forces us to consider the very nature of Christian singing. In the broad context of the Bible, singing often erupts spontaneously in response to God and his truth (Exodus 15; Psalm 96: Psalm 104:33; Isaiah 42:10-17; Matthew 36:30; Acts 16:25-34; Romans 15:9; Hebrews 2:12; Revelation 15). It’s not only a natural response of the heart filled with worship, it’s a response expected by our Lord. In fact, in Ephesians 5:15-21 and Colossians 3:12-17, we are given specific instruction about this. While not exactly the same, the passages are similar enough that we can zero in on just one of them. So, let’s take a brief look at Colossians 3:15-21 and then concentrate on verse 16:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In Colossians 3:16 (bold), the main clause includes the verb “dwell” (“let the word of Christ dwell in you richly with all wisdom”). “Dwell” is present imperative…i.e. it’s not a suggestion, it’s a directive, a command that is to be done persistently.
This main clause is followed by two participial phrases…
“…teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (teaching
“…singing with thanksgiving in your hearts to God” (singing)
Participial phrases are subordinate clauses that modify or complement the main clause. In other words, in the above directive from God, when we’re interacting with one another, via the word of Christ richly dwelling within us, how are we to express it? Answer: we express it with songs.
The natural and expected response to the word of Christ is the song of worship. Singing both teaches and admonishes…it reinforces the word of Christ and it warns in light of the word of Christ. It also gives thanks to God.
Given that the instruction in this context is a clear and present directive and given that we see this kind of “singing” in the wider context of Scripture, we believe we’ve reached one of those tipping points we mentioned in our previous discussion regarding civil disobedience. The question before us then is this: Does the “congregation singing is prohibited” rule cause us to disobey the Lord? The answer is obviously “yes.” So, does this conclude the matter? Do we sing anyway? The answers, again are “yes.”
In conclusion, just as we have stated on many occasions, we are not law enforcement. The role of a church and its participants is persuasion and faithfulness (evangelism and discipleship), not compulsion. We recognize that both individual believers as well as individual churches may not see eye to eye on every point of Scriptural truth. Quoting from our first essay on matters regarding civil disobedience, “Sometimes, within the Lord’s Church, faithful followers disagree. In fact, there are times when folks in the Body of Christ, who genuinely enjoy solid, wonderful fellowship disagree. On matters of prime importance—the essentials* of our faith—these folks stand with complete agenda harmony. However, on some things, not of prime importance, they choose to disagree with understanding, love, and compassion. This does not hurt their fellowship. In fact, if they are careful, their fellowship grows, their depth expands, their resolve tempers, and their commitment strengthens.” Therefore, while we will continue following previous safety protocols, we also intend to keep singing during our services and we leave it to you to choose what is best for you and your households.
*Essentials: the core of Christian belief, the necessary truths of and for salvation. Examples: the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the personhood of the Holy Spirit, Salvation by faith through grace alone, the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible…