Thursday, March 2, 2017

Not Just The Spirit

Just as I’d begun to boast that I’d made it through a whole winter without catching any of the nasty bugs that had flown around, I began to feel a little off. Sneezing and sinus pain made their way into my picture seemingly overnight. I blamed it on allergies for a while, since our Missouri February had been unseasonably warm, and things had begun to bloom early. But, after a few days, it was clear that this was something more. Long story short, I’ve been battling a sinus infection for a couple of weeks now, and it has really knocked me flat!

Today is the first day of our annual B3 conference, and I am still not quite up to par. But, ministry does not wait for complete recovery, and I am very excited to get to participate; also grateful that the timing of this illness did not providentially prohibit me from going. However, this morning, as I prayed and read my Bible, I sensed some anxiety in my heart about how I was feeling physically. Still a bit “wrung out” and weary from the sickness, I wondered whether I would be able to make it through the rigors of a 3-day conference, and particularly my own workshop, for which I have been preparing for weeks. I asked the Lord to show me Truth about what was going on in my heart, and He led me to Romans 8:11, JBP:

Once the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead lives within you he will, by that same Spirit, bring to your whole being, yes even your mortal bodies, new strength and vitality. For he now lives in you.

I’ve always thought of this verse as being more about spiritual strength, but that phrase, “yes, even your mortal bodies,” really struck my heart today. I was especially encouraged by the promise of vitality. My dictionary says that vitality is the state of being strong and active. It is energy! That is what I have found so sorely lacking these last few days. I thanked the Lord for this word to me today, and also just for the fact that He brought such a personally relevant little phrase out of His Word, to encourage me in exactly the way I needed on this particular day. What a great Friend He is!

Almost as soon as I thanked Him for helping me, I knew that His gracious provision was not just for me. It is for everyone who suffers with pain, low energy, or sickness. All these afflictions fall in the category of weakness in which I found myself today. Many afflictions that have a both a spiritual and physical component, and I believe this applies to them, too. Friends who suffer from anxiety have rushes of adrenaline and other hormones that can cause rapid heartbeat, sweating, and shaking hands. Those who have ongoing sorrow or grief can have physical symptoms like low energy, insomnia, headaches, and the like. Many of you could offer details of your struggle that also would fit in this same box.

Dear friends, here is the bottom line: Whatever the cause of your physical affliction, take heed to this promise of your Father, who loves you. Does the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead live within you? Then you need to muster up whatever energy you can and praise Him right now, because, by that same Spirit, He will bring even your mortal body new strength and vitality. Spiritual strength and vitality are a given when we are talking about spiritual life. But physical strength is an extra blessing that we can also count on, according to this Scripture.

But what is the purpose of this strength and vitality? Is it just so we can feel good and have our energy back? I don’t think so. Remembering that any text studied without its context presents a risk that we may misunderstand the meaning, I had to consider the rest of the passage. I also know that God doesn’t always restore vitality in sickness (the death rate among humans is still 100%), so I knew there had to be more, and there is. Paul goes on to talk about living according to the Spirit, and putting to death the deeds of the sinful nature. 

As I read the passage, here’s what I came away with: God has called us to walk in the Spirit, not in the flesh. He has promised to give us His Spirit, which supplies the desire to obey His commands. He also, according to this passage, has said that He will supply the physical energy we need, to follow through with that obedience. The conclusion? We are never too physically weak to pass Spiritual tests. Just as 1 Corinthians 10:13 promises, God is faithful, and will provide the way of escape.

This is why feeling sick or being in pain is not an excuse to be cranky. Even in pain, God will give us the physical strength to restrain ourselves from saying unkind things or taking it out on our loved ones. By the same token, being weary or tired is not an excuse to bow out of ministry opportunities we could fulfill if we had the right attitude. I’m not saying we should press on when we have a serious illness or are providentially prohibited by disability, but in general, as much as we are able, we can press on through tiredness or manageable pain, to bring glory to God and to fulfill the ministries He’s assigned to us. We do need to listen to our bodies, follow medical advice, but sometimes there has to be a case-by-case consideration.

If we’re honest, you and I know that we are sometimes tempted because of our chronic physical condition in one of two ways: To use it as an excuse to get out of doing things when we are mentally or emotionally weak; or to give in to fear that it will get worse if we keep going in fulfilling a commitment. That second place is where I was this morning. But God didn’t leave me in that fear. He gave me this passage of Scripture to encourage me. More than that, I have His entire Word, along with a growing record of His faithfulness to me in many similar situations. He will provide the strength I need, not just to endure the conference, but to enjoy it!

As I finished my prayers this morning, I began to look forward to seeing students, former counselees, and colleagues that I haven’t seen since the last conference. No longer dreading it, I am excited to go, and to see how the Lord will work as my team and I minister to those in attendance. What a blessing and privilege it is to be in ministry! What a wonderful Friend Jesus is, to wipe out my fear and replace it with happy anticipation. Hallelujah! What an Encourager! What a Savior!

[i] In case you’re looking it up, this phrase is not in the JBP that’s on Bible Gateway. I purchased the copy I have from a thrift store, and it says it’s the Revised Student Edition, latest copyright 1972.