Abide: In the Spiritual

I pushed toward the plane, whose roaring engines made it impossible to say a word to either of my sons. With a death grip on my two-year-old, I felt my determination to be strong slip a bit as I re-shifted the heavy car-seat in my other hand. A quick glance told me my six-year-old walked wide-eyed toward the prop plane that would carry us to Houston. I hadn’t expected this tiny plane. For it to be delayed. Or to walk out onto the tarmac to get to it. Yet, we kept moving forward.

Landing in Houston to make a plane change, we pushed through sheets of plastic to enter the airport, slamming into construction chaos. Disoriented, I finally learned we had to get to a different terminal. Taking a deep breath, I hustled us toward the shuttle, but upon breathing in, I smelled a dirty diaper. Of course.

No time for a restroom break, I made use of the backseat of the shuttle to change the diaper and get ready to race to our gate. Only our gate lay at the end of a very long hall. Hopping onto the ‘people mover,’ I started to jog toward the gate, literally pulling my two-year-old along and hollering for my oldest to keep up. My last bit of composure fell when I looked back to see my dragged-along-son looking up at me with his pants down at his ankles. WHAT KIND OF MOTHER AM I?

Holding back tears, I stopped–though still propelled forward by the moving floor–and hugged him. I pulled up his britches and promised we were almost there. 

Photo by Hanson Lu on Unsplash

No kidding–the minute we stepped off that people mover, a man in a little cart hollered over, “You need a ride?” I might have rolled my eyes. The relief of making it to the gate evaporated with the news we’d missed the plane. Tears gushed. Yells poured forth. Sobs finally choked my voice as I sank down in defeat.

Probably my lowest parenting moment on record, this was definitely not a picture of God’s perfect peace. But it sure serves as a reminder to me, twenty-two years later, of what peace is not. I’d done everything that day in my own strength, focused on the goal of getting the three of us to Oklahoma City with as little turmoil as possible. But my plans fell apart. And so did I. I had succumbed to the chaos.  

The Chaos

Chaos, really, is everywhere. Inside us as thoughts and feelings that swirl and spiral. Outside us in circumstances that vary in degree of disruption–from the trickle of daily tasks such as getting kids to school to the wave-pool-madness of missed planes to the full-on tsunami of devastating loss. 

I’ve just begun reading a book by Jessical LaGrone, Out of Chaos, with the hope that what she says is true–chaos is less about lost causes and more like “the raw material out of which God creates” (p.7). And, my hope grows as she points out that long ago God converted chaos to order–into beautiful, organized creation (Genesis 1). 

As we step into this week’s discussion about how our spiritual lives impact our ability to abide in Christ, I keep coming back to what Jessica said in an interview–chaos is loud; it’s always vying for our attention.** And, I realize that this one word, chaos, embodies everything we’ve been thinking about these past few weeks.

Bodies, minds, and emotions feel the impact of chaos. But we aren’t left to flounder in the pounding waves alone. We’ve been offered a lifeline to help us navigate the storms of life. No matter how loud the chaos gets, no matter how hard it tries to get our attention, all we have to do is turn our eyes to our Rescuer–just as Peter did (Matthew 14:29-31). And, in the middle of the madness, we can find the perfect peace of God (Isaiah 26:3).

It’s important to point out that our Rescuer warned us that life in this world will be full of trouble (John 16:33). In other words, we need to expect the chaos–not in a defeatist sort of way, but with an attitude of acceptance that prepares us. Because. Life. Is. Hard. 

You could be like my younger self and believe that if you do everything the ‘right’ way, then life’s road will be ‘easier’–only to discover, to your horror, this is not true. Because Chaos and all its friends know no boundaries. So, it’s better to take Jesus’ words to heart, trusting that life in the world is difficult AND that He has overcome the world (John 16:33). What truth! What hope!

So, really, our question as we contemplate the abiding life from a spiritual point of view is how to recognize the breakers to our spiritual walks. Then how to employ the builders of faith and hope and truth into all we are so that we can dwell in Christ. Yes, peacefully, but also wholly.

Breakers to Our Spiritual Lives

If chaos is the breaker to healthy spiritual living, then it behooves us to unpack the causes of said chaos: 

  • Circumstances–like the rippling digression of dragging kids through an airport. 
  • People–like a nagging boss, lying husband, or wayward child.
  • Even our own motives and inner, unholy drivers–like pride and shame. 
  • And, the enemy, who will use circumstances and people, feelings and thoughts to his advantage. He loves to keep stirring the chaos. 

Perhaps the most subtle yet insidious way the enemy breaks our spiritual connection with God is his ploy to contort our desire to abide in Christ into something ugly and unholy.

For instance, the enemy can twist our longing for a deeper spiritual walk with Christ into a self-focused pursuit, making it about us instead of God. So, instead of wanting time with Him for the simple sake of being in His presence, we begin to desire observable emotions and spiritual gifts in order to show off our spiritual maturity. We become like the Pharisees of old who were all about appearances instead of love and faith and generosity (Matthew 23:27-28).

Similarly, the enemy can distort our affection for God till it becomes a brittle shell of what it once was or what we hoped it would be. Our love and worship of God dry up–maybe because of our motives or our burnout or because we only really desire what He can do for us.

Friends, we must live aware of all the ways our desire to live in deep, spiritual connectedness with Christ can be twisted and tanked. We need to arm ourselves with these truths–we have an enemy who fights against our desire for an abiding life and life is going to have its hard days and seasons. Even more truth: when the storms come, we are not left on our own.

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

Builders of Spiritual Lives

In one word, Priscilla Shirer spells out what it takes to build abiding lives and to survive the storms of life. Peace (Priscilla, p.92). 

Like truth, righteousness, and salvation, peace is something we can put on everyday. And like its counterparts, peace cannot be mustered by our sheer determination. God’s kind of peace transcends understanding (Philippians 4:7). It comes with His grace and mercy (2 John 1:3)–and His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23), so God’s peace can be ours every single day. 

The world defines peace as the absence of conflict. But, God’s peace, known as shalom in Hebrew, is not circumstantial. It is not the absence of chaos but a deeply entrenched sense of harmony, health, and wholeness in the midst of chaos (Priscilla, p.98-99). 

How do we build our capacity for attaining God’s peace and living from it? Yup, by leaning into the spiritual practices we’ve been exploring–like prayer and Scripture study, but also in the act of getting still before the Lord because “the Lord will fight for you. You need only be still” (Exodus 14:14). It’s so ironic that the enemy does his best to isolate us for the purpose of keeping us trapped in our chaos alone–while God invites us to get alone, as well. But, with Him. And, in order to find victory! 

In a world that does its best to keep us in motion–like a giant people mover–it is difficult to get still. Yet, that is what God calls us to.

Jesus did it. All the time. Despite the crowds. And demands. And exhaustion. He consistently got away to be with God (ie: Luke 5:15-16). He demonstrated for us the way of spiritual health. In the chaos, He got still with God. Even if for a few minutes a day, we can get alone with God. In the stillness, we’ll build faith and a deeper relationship with our Creator. And, we’ll find peace.

Another builder of our spiritual lives is learning to stand in Christ’s victory. I must admit my own lack of zeal for grasping and employing this mighty truth–till now. Now, I’m learning that in His crucifixion victory, Jesus conquered sin, providing cleansing for our old nature. In His resurrection victory, He defeated death, making a way for us to live. In His ascension victory, He overcame all powers and principalities, putting them not only under His feet but under ours (Romans 16:20; see Warfare Prayer). 

Friends, we are victorious in Christ! The battles that wage around us are real, but not without power and hope–because Jesus reigns in the heavenlies. And we reign there with Him (Ephesians 2:6). Living from this victory changes the way we approach the chaos. We begin to see it as sourced by the invisible, spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12). We start to see people as broken and lost instead of the embodiment of evil. Yet, there is evil. And it does its best to remain hidden, unseen, and unidentifiable. Evil takes pleasure in anonymously stirring the chaos. It keeps us off-balanced and overwhelmed by the deafening distractions of the world and our own inner storms. But as we put on Christ’s peace and stand firm in His victory, we begin to build inner lives that can withstand whatever the world throws at us. Because Jesus is with us. 

And in Him, everything is possible (Matthew 19:26). Even peace in the chaos. Even victory in spiritual battles. Let us shift our eyes onto the One in whom peace dwells (2 Thessalonians 3:16). So that we can fully dwell in Him.

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  • We’ll hear more about peace next week.
  • I love hearing from you! We’re community! Online community has its challenges, to be sure. But I love how God’s Word is speaking to each of us and how the practices and prayers are moving each of us toward Jesus more and more. Keep sharing!
  • Did you notice? I added two more songs to our Abide playlist.
    • “Give Thanks” has been around a few decades, but I kinda forgot about it till this week. Maybe God put it in my path just in time. I love this version by Steffany Gretzinger.
    • “Peace” by Bethel and We the Kingdom captures SO MUCH of our journey together this summer–from “my mind is like a battlefield” to “my heart is overcome by fear,” the lyrics become reminders of the hope and peace God’s sheltering wings offer.
  • Resources for this week–a resource list you can come back to as needed. Not an expectation for this series. XOXO

Featured photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash
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Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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