When the same scripture passage comes to my attention on different occasions during a matter of days, I take notice. When this happens during a span of time in which I am struggling with a multitude of feelings, hurt emotions, disappointment with people I love, and some tough decision-making going on—all of which I am praying about, I know God is definitely talking to me!
The repeated Scripture is Colossians 1:28-2:5:
28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.
2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
The first reading of only a portion of this came in my nightly devotional reading. The second, while I was working on a freelance assignment. Some good comments from the author followed. The third was a full-blown sermon which laid it all out for me clearly.
For the past year, I have been living in two different places, two different states, two different situations. Both sometimes feel like home. At times, neither does. Both involve children; in fact, let’s just say that my heart is always with all of my children, what concerns them, their lives, their choices. And everything together was weighing me down. Being the single mother of seven adult children seems so much harder than being the single mother of seven young children ever did.
“ The first thing that struck me about this Colossians passage is that Paul was wanting for the people in the church at Colossae the same thing I want for my children. ”
So, the first thing that struck me about this Colossians passage is that Paul was wanting for the people in the church at Colossae the same thing I want for my children. The very same. I want to warn them about the seriousness of their walk with Christ. The importance of it, how it must trump all other things in their lives, including their parenting, their relationships, their jobs, their worldview. All of it. I want them to learn wisdom, to be wise, to intimately know the Wise One. I want to present them to our heavenly Father as mature Christians, growing more Christlike every day.
I feel verse 29 intently. I am struggling with this, toiling especially in prayer, not feeling like I’m getting anywhere really. And then I came to the part about struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. I thought, What energy? I am really tired. Far from empowered. I know better than to think I should judge the situation by my feelings, but nevertheless, I am really discouraged.
Reading on, I saw that Paul’s struggle goes beyond his prayers as well. That’s why he is writing the church this letter, and what he hopes to accomplish by writing is that 1) their hearts would be encouraged, 2) that they would stay close together in love, 3) that they would reach full assurance of the riches of Christ, and 4) that they would grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Christ.
I am struck by the fact that these are the same things I pray for myself and my children. Sometimes I have twisted that prayer, sure that I am doing a better job of it than my children are, and sometimes better than many other people. The pastor preaching the sermon said we get distracted by judgements and comparisons. As he elaborated on that, I began to see what I was doing. While I wanted to set a good example that others would follow, there was a sneaky, often reoccurring motive for that. My glory. A pat on the back for me. Do as I do. Listen to me.
My Self. So quick to know when others are going wrong. So quick to compare myself to others. So quick to assume a self-righteous attitude. At the same time so quick to be agreeable, to be liked, to please people—a well-worn hat I should have thrown away a long time ago. These are my struggles. The struggles that come when I lose focus—take my eyes off of Christ. The struggles that styme my maturity, sometimes giving way to childish behaviors. My prayers for others can become lost in my own waywardness. What I fault in others is often what is wrong with me. Like the Pharisees, how often would I rather have “the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (John 12:43).
Matthew 26:33 reads: “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Ah, Peter and I can be so much alike. Charles Spurgeon writes of this verse, “’Why,’ cries one, ‘this is no promise of God.’ [Exactly], but it was a promise of man and therefore it came to nothing.”
“ To pray for others to grow, can only be answered as we seek the power of Jesus in our own struggle to grow. ”
Wrapped up in my own comparisons and judgements, I have become as Paul Miller writes in A Praying Life, “Increasingly touchy, supersensitive to self but insensitive to others.” Even my own children. Therein is the problem of the lack of power. To pray for others to grow, can only be answered as we seek the power of Jesus in our own struggle to grow. Our struggle to do right. Our struggle to love, encourage, and seek Jesus.
I am reminded of how I have hindered my own prayers with my touchy and hurt feelings, when my longing is really to warn as Paul does so often in his letters to churches, and as Ezekiel does in Ezekiel 3. How my desire is really to save, to not let others—brothers, sisters, children—be so consumed with judgement and comparisons as I can be, that they forget to keep stayed on Christ. To set their sights on Him and not get tangled up in worldly concerns. To stop any slow drifting into the rapid evil current of the culture around us. A loving warning is so much different than condemnation coming from a self-righteous heart. I am learning, re-learning once again.
Yet, I can only control my thoughts and my actions. Just as God has gotten my attention and is refining me for His glory, I can trust Him to do so with all of His children, including mine which are actually His. His Spirit is at work in each of us. Therefore, “in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:6-8).
I write this as I begin 2023. The problems are not as yet resolved. Decisions still not finalized. Difficult conversations are still ahead. Yet, I am hearing a still small Voice—that certain still, small Voice saying, “I am with you. I will never leave you.” I turn my eyes to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, daily ingesting His Word, and “struggling with His energy that he powerfully works within me,” to get me through the year. Not with New year’s resolutions that only stack up empty like Peter’s promise to Jesus.
May you experience victorious struggles in 2023. To God be the glory.