הבל

What can be said for all of us (and I mean all of us!) bearing stress so heavily upon our backs that it literally makes us sick, consumes our thoughts, and determines our actions? I’m not cherry-picking this for some random blog post either. I, Melissa Dennis, am a culprit. Now I introduce this:

Battling Unbelief by John Piper. I remember thinking years ago when I first saw this book on the shelf how I would really need to read it if and when I was struggling with unbelief. Ah, how foolish mere man is. Alas, haven’t I needed it all along? It’s a constant struggle, the Christian battle, this unbelief.  The fact that life is not easy and things have to be done puts us all on the same playing field in some strange way. No matter what, both the business man and the maid have errands to run, the salesman and the farmer need to prepare dinner. We all have things to DO. So what do we make of this? Can the monotony of it ruffle everyone’s feathers the same regardless of how well they “make it” in this world? It’s inevitable. Everyone has to deal. Deal with life. Deal with family. Deal with finances. Deal with pain and tears. Deal with God. In the midst of that let me go ahead and insert anxiety, a nasty little bug that wages war against our souls. It begins with the little thoughts and those slowly spread their way throughout our minds. Work becomes harder to get done, others’ voices seem dimmer and dimmer in a conversation…it is then that we are fully consumed in our own worries. Anxious about today, tomorrow, and what will come of it. Can you tell that I deal with anxiety? I’m sure we can all write a similar blog. We all have a slew of worries. There must be something to make of this.

There is always a but… “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ-by grace you have been saved-and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not our own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:4-10).

Grace is indeed glorious news! Nothing wrought on my own, all Christ. Through him and to him be all the glory. Now I return to Battling Unbelief. Through this book, John Piper underlines future grace. God has opened the eyes of my heart a little wider to my sinfulness and his hope for me. From the outside looking in, I could easily observe and say to myself, “Melissa, why must you place such a yoke upon yourself? That is not intended for you and Jesus Christ has made a way so that you can see life in every thought and action. He makes all things new. He restores. He breathes grace upon you. Now look up, see him and not yourself.” But as this is hardly the case, I now sit before my computer and a book that has drawn me to tears. I’m okay with being messed up as long as I don’t stay there or try and find my own outlet. I confess, I plan my steps and consider the millions before me, but who am I? God, our God, how faithful he is when I am not! Has he not clothed the lilies of the fields? How much more will he do for us, beings that he has created to last forever! When my eyes are open in such a way, I see his glory unlike any other. My Savior King! As the Lord declares through the prophet Isaiah, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:22-23). His righteousness woos me. His work on this earth enamors me. It is to God and God alone I swear my allegiance. He is what I am not, but because of future grace, I will become like him. Each day, each battle, he draws me closer.

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). I want to see Christ for who he is and not through my wretched eyes that overlook his glory for my own worries. I am challenged by the words of John Owen, “Let us then examine ourselves. Do we long and desire to see the reality of Christ’s glory in heaven? Are we meditating on that perfect image of Christ’s glory given to us in the gospel? Or are we too filled with this world and its concerns? As believers, beholding the glory of Christ in the glass of the gospel, we are changed into the same image and likeness by the Spirit of the Lord. So those beholding the beauty of the world and the things that are in it through the cursed glass of self-love are in their minds changed into its image. But we have not so learned Christ Jesus.”

I end with הבל – the Hebrew superlative known most commonly throughout the English-speaking world in “vanity of vanities!” The book of Ecclesiastes echoes this word to emphasize the frailty that comes from anything not God-centered. Qoheleth knew it well. This word means “brevity and unsubstantiality” (Eaton 66), the very emptiness that exists (ironically) in laboring for oneself and not the Lord. “I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity (הבל ) and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun” (Eccl. 2:10-11). I think that anxiety leads to such a sin. Fear about tomorrow and worship cannot occur simultaneously. Such unbelief makes everything vanity. Reading the Bible and praying while anxiety runs rampantly through one’s mind makes even the intended worshipful time aimless.

I will strive because of Christ me in. I will seek him and no one else. I will run the race set me before me, following HIS way. I will make it count and find joy! Oh yes, joy! May I draw from the wells of salvation wrought through Christ. I pray that my brothers and sisters battling unbelief would consider the cross in comparison to their empty strivings. Consider his glory, not ours.

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