Sabbath Slow-Down for August 1 (’14)
Where are you? Any milestones or completed goals looming? About to graduate 8th grade and enter the fearsome, yet exciting, hallways of high school? Entering college in a few weeks—the first time you’ve really been gone from home? New baby on the way? We bet you can, at least, remember what it was like to know that baby was incoming “any day now.” You scramble to complete last minute tweaks of your home and car.
You have a goal in mind and you know you have so-and-so to complete before you can rest and achieve your goal: the final final exam, the last birthing class, the last clock punched. You’ll do what it takes to get there, but then what? For many, the big goals (like degree or children) give way to smaller goals (like completing the weekly report to keep the boss off our backs or making sure I hide the bleach from the toddler). These small goals are important, but they do not necessarily define a course of life for us forever (well…maybe the bleach would). They tend to be small potatoes we fry on an ad hoc basis. We so easily lose the Big Picture amidst the constant and distracting commercials that intrude life.
The author of Hebrews doesn’t want us to settle into a routine of Christian living that loses sight of what God is doing to us, in us, through us. He wants us to remember four truths that would elevate us to a higher course of living: (1) the reason God is doing what he’s doing, (2) the day-to-day reality of it, (3) the urging we need to keep before us to keep our Big Picture in mind, and (4) the truth that there is still a holiness to be received.
First, he gives us the reason behind why God does what he does as it relates to his people: our good and his holiness. He says, God “disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (12:10). Do you know how easy it is to forget this? Hebrews does. You do, if you’re honest. It is easier to sin sometimes. It is easier not to fight temptation. It is easier to gripe and complain and just barely scratch through than it is to proclaim audibly, “This—THIS—is for my good! His holiness is what I want!” Like a daddy or mama disciplined you for your good and virtue, so He does, too. His holiness and our sharing of it are of infinite worth, or should be. This is why God brings what he does to us: to refine us, shape us, heat us up in the cauldron of life to such a degree that we melt and conform to his holiness. And this is good.
Second, he reminds us of the day-to-day reality of what this is really going to be like in verse 11. It ain’t purty; it ain’t easy ridin’. I love the Scriptures not just because the Spirit has changed me. I love them because they are so realistic in their depiction of life. This is not like so many charlatans and peddlers of the Word among the Evangelical and Catholic communities today who want you and me to believe life should be easier. Hebrews is plain in 12:11: “For the moment, all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant.” Believe it, brother. It is painful in the moment. This reminds me of the sworn oath of God in 2 Timothy 3:12: “In fact, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” That verse is “painfully” short. We might well ask, “How am I to be persecuted? How will I suffer?” Paul, though, seems to want to keep it vague on purpose. The point isn’t the persecution itself, but the promise that it’s coming. We’re meant to be ready for anything because we know everything could hit us. Well, if you want to be like Christ, get ready for the pain. And so Peter, “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial that has come upon you….” I think we’re meant to realize that the measure of surprise we show indicates the measure of our maturity and growth in holiness. This does not mean we shrug and go, “Eh….” We’re meant, in increasing measure, to confess, “Thank you Lord; you giveth; you taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord! It hurts, God! But it would hurt worse to no longer have you. Give me your holiness!”
Third, Hebrews urges us onward. Knowing the reason behind God’s providential actions towards us, and knowing the reality of day-to-day pain this may beget, he urges us to be prepared. 12:12-13 says, “…Lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet” so that what is lame won’t get worse, but will get better. Giving up knocks us so far down that whatever healing we could hope to have will not restore us to full mobility. This is metaphor, of course. We ought never turn it into a promise of literal physical healing.
It’s August in Mississippi. High school football players all over the region are engaged in brutal two-a-days. This is when players puke; ankles bend the wrong way; wrists break; and kids pass out left and right. The humidity is terrible and (I am not lying) pages of books curl the second they go outside. The moisture is so thick in the air at times it becomes difficult to breathe, and these kids are expected to practice harder than any other time. Why? Because the brutal test is coming. They’ll have to take what they do many hours in practice and condense it into 60 minutes of intensity just a couple weeks away in front of thousands. Few are able to do it well. But throughout July and intensifying into August, they are urged onward.
These verses are a “Remember the Alamo!” call from Hebrews. This is our “Fredericksburg!” rallying cry. This is Christ speaking to us: get serious. Prepare yourself. Don’t fall down yet!
Even the best of Mississippi boys is tempted to give up and rest as the hours drag. But Christ says to us—and he means it—you can rest when you’re dead. Don’t pass out now. Thankfully, he also promises his own strength to us, for he is near us. It is his own hand guiding the discipline, as verse 10 says, and so we know we can be sustained under pressure. This is the urging God gives to his people: keep going.
Lastly, the big picture—the end game—is clear. Verse 14 preaches we are to “strive for peace and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord”; to keep going no matter the pressure because holiness is the goal. We are to have as our focus that holiness. We know we are commanded to be holy, and we know we are commanded to keep pursuing it because we do not have it as we ought.
We wouldn’t have God’s discipline upon us if we weren’t already holy; we’d have his wrath. We wouldn’t be commanded to continue pursuing holiness—which is to say, pursuing God himself—if we already had it (and him!) in full measure; we’d simply be commanded to repent and believe. This is more. We’re commanded to continue wanting more of him. This is truly audacious living: risking all to have him more in a way that disrespects an establishment all around us that drags us into unholiness and sin.
We tend to lose focus of big goals at some point in our life, don’t we? I’m talking bigger than the Nest Egg, bigger than the Grand Kids, bigger than the mortgage paid. I’m talking the kind of big picture that sets the trajectory of life a certain way that going back is never possible and altering course is unthinkable. This is what these four simple verses are calling us to consider and embrace: this kind of holiness is what everything in our lives should be structured to receive. Don’t lose sight of it because of the adverts for a lesser goal crowding your vision. Having a share and inheritance in him is at stake.
Heavenly Father, we ask that you would increase our vision to know where we are conformed to this world rather than the world to come; where we think with old categories of thought rather than breaking ground with new categories of holiness. We ask that our faith would be a fire igniting holy joy in those around us, especially our children. Forgive us, Father, through the wonder-working blood of Christ, our Risen Savior, and grant that we may share in your holiness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.