Life will always have its ups and downs, as I am quite sure you know by now. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is the bit that comes before the famous verse: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. It reads:
Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:
I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound.
Everywhere and in all things
I have learned both to be full and to be hungry,
both to abound and to suffer need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
St Paul says a lot of things like that, and it always strikes me that that is the only way a human being can be truly invincible. When your treasure is in Heaven, no one can take it away from you, and no earthly troubles can take away your joy.
I find this to be one of the ways I can tell how sincere my faith in Christ is at any given time. If tribulations come along and I find myself disturbed by them and restless, it is a sure sign that there is something wrong in my relationship with God. It is a message for me to turn back to Him in abject repentance and implore Him for His mercy and forgiveness, and His aid in my weakness.
And yet, we need to distinguish between what is a purely human reaction to life and what is a spiritual state. As humans, our brains are made of cells and chemicals and electrical impulses, and sometimes these physical systems run ahead of our conscious, spiritual mind. Our reaction to pain is a case in point. A person can be totally and utterly convinced that the needle the doctor is about to poke into her skin is for her own good, and will not hurt that much, and yet, she may still flinch and sweat and feel her heart race at the sight of it.
Human brains can sometimes run off on their own into anxiety, or depression, or fear, or anger; all by themselves. So what is the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian? The Christian doesn’t suddenly become super-human and beyond human physical instincts and frailty. Even the Lord Christ Himself, when He became human, suffered this kind of reaction in the Garden of Gethsemane. That is what it means to be human.
But to be Christian means to subject the body to the spirit. In Gethsemane, after the weeping and pain came surrender and peace. For the Christian, after the internal battle with the flesh comes surrender to God’s will, and all that this surrender bestows. Love, Joy, Peace. The fruits of the Holy spirit (Galatians 5:22ff) are the gift of God to His children. These are fruits that are practical treasures – not treasures to be locked up in a safe and never seen, but treasures that transform our lives daily and bring fulfilment and contentment to us, we humans whose instincts and desires might never allow us to experience true contentment otherwise.
To follow in the path of Christ is to find this true contentment, in whatever state one is. “If you love Me,” He said, “You will keep My commandments”. Sinners and tax collectors who loved Him in humility and offered a genuine repentance found acceptance and forgiveness with Christ. Their lives were transformed and Love, Joy and Peace became their treasure. The Chief Priests, Scribes and Pharisees practiced a legalistic obedience to God, and yet were always willing to disobey Him in their hearts, seeking their own wills above God’s, trusting to their own wisdom rather than simply obeying the Truth of God. You will recall what Christ said to them…
True contentment is never found in one’s external situation, for that can never be perfect so long as we dwell on earth, nor should we expect it to be. Nor should we set our hopes on making our lives perfect in this world. No, true contentment comes from winning the battle of the ego within, from sincere surrender to God, unconditionally and totally. It begins inside, and works its way out to one’s external life.
It is the seed of Surrender that bears the Fruit of the Holy Spirit.