Some days, it can seem as if the world is dead. Covered in a coating of ash and choking dust. The evening news, calls from friends or family about tragedy, painful memories and regret of past decisions, misunderstanding by those we love… Some days, it seems difficult to look about us and see any light at all, see any purpose, see that we are making any difference with our little candle flames against what seems the overwhelming force of darkness and shadow.
Yes, life can seem like that at times.
And if we aren’t careful… if we stay in that posture… if we continue to see only the darkness and shadow… it can seem to leach the very life force from us, and we can find ourselves in a very dark place indeed. A dangerous place. An empty and painful place.
What then? What are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to put on “Rose Colored Glasses”, pretend to be Pollyanna, just ignore all the pain and hurting people around us? Are we supposed to lie? To ourselves, to others, to God? What do we do, to be honest and truthful… and yet not be overwhelmed by the sorrows we open our hearts to?
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We exercise our Super Power. We use our power of Choice and Free Will to see Truth beyond the appearances. We can grasp and embrace a deep spiritual truth, at the same time that we heed the advice of one of the greatest realists of all time… The Apostle Paul.
Paul gave this instruction to the Philippian Church: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9]
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Paul is hardly a “Pollyanna” guy. He’s been chased hither and yon by both Religious Authorities and Romans… he’s been stoned, flogged, shipwrecked, thrown in jail, threatened with execution… you name it, he’s been there, done that. He’s seen friends and co-workers tortured and killed. Nothing “warm and fuzzy” about Paul, or rose-colored to his view of the world.
We all “know” these verses. We could probably recite them. But do we ever really LOOK at them? Do we ever really see what he’s saying here? Let’s do that…
Let’s look at this from the bottom up. Let’s see that Paul is giving a very PRACTICAL instruction here, revealing a very profound spiritual secret, a “technique” here.
We, in general, people, seek “peace”. “Peace of mind”, “peace of heart”, the kind of peace that lets us sleep easily and sit quietly without a thousand worries wrinkling our brow when the noise dies down on a quiet day. Paul says, “the God of peace will be with you…” That’s an extraordinary promise. The number one pharmaceuticals, the biggest money makers in the drug world in the U.S. today, are anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications. Astonishing, no?
So… for the “God of peace” to be “with us”… Paul says, “dwell on” and “practice” this dwelling as he’s been observed to do… Dwell on whatever is “excellence and worthy of praise”.
What about all the Bad Stuff? What about the occupation army? What about the Temple Guards breaking into our homes and dragging us off to be flogged or executed? What about our families turning us in? Is Paul CRAZY?
Nonetheless… Paul says for the God of peace to come to us… dwell on the excellent and worthy of praise. He even gives specific examples, whatever is: true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, good repute.
Any questions? Pretty straightforward, isn’t it? Let’s be even MORE clear. Here’s what NOT to dwell on… Whatever is Untrue, False, Dishonorable, Wrong, Impure and Corrupt, Ugly, and Shameful.
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Gentle Reader, I’m not finger-pointing. This is as much confession as exhortation… But if you want to know “Peace”… DON’T let your mind revolve on all that negative, toxic, “stuff”. Just DON’T. It is poisonous, it is stress-inducing, it will rob us of peace, joy, and love. I’m not saying to ignore it, or deny it. When bad stuff happens, when toxic stuff happens, acknowledge it, embrace it, then release it and let it go. DON:T DWELL ON IT! Don’t ruminate, contemplate, meditate, and cling to it. Minister in difficult situations as you can, embrace, affirm, encourage, acknowledge, love… and then refocus and re-sensitize to the good, the true, the lovely.
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Here’s the deep spiritual truth underlying this “technique”…
“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” John 1:5
Jesus taught: ““You are the light of the world. A city set on a [hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” [Matthew 5:14-16]
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Practical Application: Here’s the thing I’ve noticed in/for myself and my own life… When I focus on the “stuff out there”, the darkness and ash, I can lose my peace and joy, lose my center, and grow heartsick and weary. This leads me to a rather pathetic form of self-pity that takes away all my effectiveness. When the Lord gently leads me out of this spiral… when I again heed Paul’s advice… when I focus on Light instead of darkness, then two things happen.
One, the God of peace joins me, feeds and nurtures me, and I focus again on the “I”… (what I can do, how I can help, how I can love), rather than on the “me” (the situation doesn’t heed me, appreciate me, acknowledge me). I get to bask in the radiance that is God, His love, His care, His glory… rather than the mud and the muck.
Two, (and this may sound a bit strange), but I “see” an entirely different world. I see a world of people doing unexpectedly kind and loving things. I see the flowers growing out of the sidewalk cracks, rather than just the concrete jungle. I see the grace, the joy, the laughter, the redemption and blessings, even in the midst of the most challenging environments and situations.
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I’ve come to realize that my Super Power, this Power of Choice and Will that God has given us, being created in His Image, allows me to “pick my planet”.
I can choose to see, focus, and dwell on that first one at the beginning of this post. I can glue myself to the “all bad news, all the time” channels on my mega-cable boob toob. OR… I can choose to get out amongst people, encouraging love, understanding, grace and embracing one another… whether for better or worse, in good times or bad, sickness or health.
That’s MY Choice! I can pick my planet! So can you. What’ll it be?
Grace to thee!
The Little Monk