Vocation as Spiritual Practice :: Throwback Thursday

2 Thessalonians 3.11
For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work.

By Thomas Cole (1627-1697)

We are called to Christianity by the preaching of the gospel of Christ. We are called to outward worldly calling by God’s special appointment: “Six days shalt you labor and do all your work.” Every man has his work — a full business which must not be neglected — we are called to our particular employment by Providence.

Many of the duties and graces of our Christian calling follow us into our particular callings and into all the works of our hands. Your present duty lies in your present work, in the daily business of your particular callings. If you seek only yourselves — your own profit and pleasure — this is not serving God, but yourselves. You must do what you do in faith, as to the Lord; and then every thing you do will be an act of worship, because it carries in it a religious respect to the will of God.

Herein lies the nature of all practical holiness; whatever you are doing, be sure exercise some grace: there can be no godliness without grace. Grace in the heart guides the hand. These gracious dispositions toward God follow a saint into all his employments, inclining him to holiness in all his ways.

What I am pressing you to is your present duty — what is past cannot be recalled. Your present duty is to repent of past sins, and to walk with God in your callings for the time to come. Be upright in your way; admit nothing into your particular callings that is inconsistent with the principles of your general calling, as you are Christians.

Grace will help you at every turn. If you thrive in your calling, grace will teach you to give God the praise, and to be thankful. If you sink and go backwards, grace will teach you quietly to submit to God; how to bear with cheerfulness all disappointments and losses that you meet with; how to receive evil, as well as good.

If God inclines your hearts every day to consider the spiritual act of your present duty, you will be always found in a holy frame and the blessing of God will be upon you. You will “flourish like the palm-tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon; bringing forth fruit in old age.”


*Abridged and language updated from Thomas Cole’s sermon, How May The Well-Discharge Of Our Present Duty Give Us Assurance Of Help From God For The Well-Discharge Of All Future Duties?

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 3 (Listen – 4:29)
2 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 2:16)

Fresh Experiences in Ancient Traditions

2 Thessalonians 2.15

Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us.

Acquisition of property was highly regulated under Roman law. Items, land, and even slaves abandoned during conquest could be claimed by Roman citizens under a section of the law entitled res nullius (literally: nobody’s property). Property passed from an existing owner to another fell under a different section called tradtio.
Traditio required two steps: the owner voluntarily placing the property into the care of another, and the recipient accepting ownership.
We derive the english word tradition from this process, in hope we can transfer significant parts of the human experience from one generation to another. In recent history, individualism has proven to be a hostile environment for tradition. Family traditions rarely extend beyond one or two generations. Political traditions are under fire. Religious traditions have been on the decline for decades.
A person who maintains intentional roots in past practices is labeled “traditional” — using the word in the pejorative sense: obsolete and old-fashioned.

When we turn away from tradition, from the past, we are left only with the present. As a result we try to recover what we’ve lost in tradition through flailing moments of intention. Mobile apps offer us help with a few minutes in the morning to control our breathing and turning habit formation into a game.

Hacks to reclaiming the moment aren’t bad — but they don’t lead us beyond ourselves. Surely one of the ways we gather strength from those who went before us, as Hebrews exhorts, is to be formed by what formed them. We experience something great inside ourselves when we join our faith to those who walked before us.
Liturgies are compressed, performed narratives that recruit the imagination through the body. — James K.A. Smith

Paul’s challenge to the Thessalonians to return to the traditions of the faith isn’t a cry to return to a nostalgic past. Quite the opposite, it was an invitation to gather strength from the saints and root their lives in something transcendent. The gospel is an invitation to community.

Yielding to tradition renews our ability to express the grace God first showed to us. Fresh experiences in tradition are a way we can experience ownership of our faith. But settling for a life unhinged from spiritual tradition is a way to deny the world has an owner and stake a claim of lordship over our own lives.

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 2 (Listen – 4:26)
2 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:32)

Finding Meaning in Suffering

2 Thessalonians 1.4

Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring. 
Over the past few weeks, I’ve found myself in a bunch of conversations in which the unspoken assumption was that the main goal of life is to maximize happiness. — David Brooks

The scripture’s affirmation of suffering as part of life, and even as a spiritual practice, can be alarming at first. “Consider it pure joy when you face trials,” James challenges. Paul, as usual, takes it farther; “it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” This profound acknowledgment of the reality of suffering, and ultimate purpose in it, stands in contrast to what we hear most often.

In an interview on suffering, Timothy Keller explains,
In secular culture the meaning of life is to be free to choose what makes you happy in this life. Suffering destroys that meaning. And so, in the secular view, suffering can have no meaning at all. It can’t be a chapter in your life story — it is just the interruption or even the end of your life story.
While it is possible to suffer without purpose, something David Brooks acknowledges in his exploration of What Suffering Does, the gospel draws us to the way Christ renews even our deepest pains. Keller continues:

On the one hand, God is absolutely sovereign over suffering. It’s never out of his control. It’s always part of his plan. On the other hand, God has come into the world himself and actually suffered with us.

No other religion says that God is both a sovereign and a suffering God. This is the theological foundation for why Christians can be so realistic and yet so hopeful about suffering at the same time.
Because there is meaning in suffering we can refocus our attention toward the outcome. Brooks concludes,
Notice this phenomenon. When people remember the past, they don’t only talk about happiness. It is often the ordeals that seem most significant. People shoot for happiness but feel formed through suffering.

This is, of course, the joy Paul found in his many sufferings. His heart for the first Christians was that they would experience it, too, “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today’s Reading
2 Kings 1 (Listen – 3:13)
2 Thessalonians 1 (Listen – 1:52)

N.T. Wright on Political Allegiance

1 Thessalonians 5.3

While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them.

I am not proposing that we give up looking at Paul as a theologian and read him simply as a covert politician… If there is indeed a reference to Caesar and his cult in Romans, Philippians, and elsewhere, it would be a mistake to universalize this and suppose that Paul is covertly opposing Caesar in all sorts of other places as well.

The critique of the powers which Paul has in mind depends precisely on a thoroughgoing and well worked out theology, not least a very high Christology and a strong doctrine of justification. — N.T. Wright

In his paper on Paul and Caesar, N.T. Wright highlights Paul’s confrontation of the Thessalonians when he quotes Roman the propaganda, “peace and security” — Caesar’s promise to all who would worship him. Paul wasn’t critiquing one political view over another, but reorienting the way Christians looked to government in its entirety.

As a member of the ruling global superpower of his day, Paul would have had access to fantastic privileges and faced enormous temptations — he saw both as detrimental to faith. Even the Roman government, the largest superpower at that point in history, was insufficient to deliver humanity’s greatest needs. Wright summarizes Paul’s challenge to the first century church:
Paul had abandoned his Jewish privileges to find Christ, so the Philippians should be prepared, at least, not to take advantage of their belonging to a Roman colony, with the same end in view (finding Christ).
It is impossible for genuine faith not to influence a person’s politics. Paul explains that Christian faith does not result in a doubling down on political ideology as a means toward “peace and security,” but in radical commitment to Christ. Wright concludes:
Paul’s underlying point is that the victory of the true God is not won by the normal means of revolution. Rome could cope with revolutions; she could not cope, as history demonstrated, with a community owing imitative allegiance to the crucified and risen Jesus.

Paul closes his letter the to Thessalonians by pointing them toward the one true source of peace and security; “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 22 (Listen – 7:51)
1 Thessalonians 5 (Listen – 2:37)

There’s (Not) An App For That :: The Weekend Reading List

Professional life requires that one live with the tension of using technology and remembering to distrust it. ― Sherry Turkle

U.K. study released yesterday opens with the observation that media consumed on phone, laptop, and television screens, “can now occupy every waking hour of people’s lives.” This is not shocking to most, as the technological requirements of the modern world have us creating and consuming more data than ever before.

We turn to our devices to stay connected with loved ones, keep up with work, and sometimes to hedge ourselves away from boredom. The problem is that our devices let us down. The U.K. study revealed that a teenager engaging in social-networking for one to three hours a day is half as likely to report themselves as happy compared to teens who engage for less than one hour per day. (This isn’t the first study to link social media or TV to depressive behaviors.)
The problem lies not in the devices, but in what technology replaces, according to Sherry Turkle, the author of Alone Together and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

When we orient our attention toward another person’s projection of themselves through texts, chatting and social media, “It’s as though we’re using them as spare parts to support our fragile sense of self,” Turkle says. “We slip into thinking that always being connected is going to make us feel less alone. But we’re at risk, because actually it’s the opposite that’s true.”

Technology offers the promise of never being alone — a world of friends and followers perpetually streams just taps away. As a result, it’s becoming almost impossible to sit alone. A University of Virginia study reveals most people would rather self-administer electric shocks than sit in silence for 6 minutes. An inability to distinguish the destructive nature of isolation from the value of solitude keeps us from experiencing the fullness of living in God’s image.
Our language has wisely sensed these two sides of man’s being alone. It has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. Although, in daily life, we do not always distinguish these words, we should do so consistently and thus deepen our understanding of our human predicament. — Paul Tillich
The spiritual discipline of solitude will slowly fade from modern practice without intentional assessment of technology’s effects on our daily rhythms. What we hear from the Spirit in silence guides our words, shapes our posture toward the world, and informs our understanding of scripture in ways that cannot be replaced by technology.

Bible study, prayer and church attendance, among the most commonly prescribed activities in Christian circles, generally have little effect for soul transformation, as is obvious to any observer. If all the people doing them were transformed to health and righteousness by it, the world would be vastly changed. Their failure to bring about the change is precisely because the body and soul are so exhausted, fragmented and conflicted that the prescribed activities cannot be appropriately engaged, and by and large degenerate into legalistic and ineffectual rituals. Lengthy solitude and silence, including rest, can make them very powerful.

But we must choose these disciplines. God will, generally speaking, not compete for our attention. If we will not withdraw from the things that obsess and exhaust us into solitude and silence, he will usually leave us to our own devices. — Dallas Willard
Today’s Reading
1 Kings 19 (Listen – 3:53)
1 Thessalonians 2 (Listen – 2:53)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 20 (Listen – 7:03) 1 Thessalonians 3 (Listen – 1:44)
1 Kings 21 (Listen – 4:19) 1 Thessalonians 4 (Listen – 2:24)

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