Have I ever mentioned that summer is not my favorite time of year? I try not to be too vocal about that, since I know a lot of people who live for summer and would beat me to death with their beach umbrellas if I mentioned my bias, but summer just makes me think of heat, which makes me think of drought, which makes me think of deserts, which makes me think of cactus, which makes me think of scorpions, which makes me think of writhing in agony. Not a lot of happy connotations to the word “summer” in my mind….
And this year summer in our part of the country has been unusually pestiferous. No drought – far from it. We’ve had precipitation, at least trace amounts, 50% of all days this year. We’re talking IMPRESSIVE humidity. And fungus – there are toadstools everywhere. The difference this year is that the fungus has fungus. There are more cicadas out there than there are people, and no shortage of any other kind of bug, either. And to crown all these glories, because it is summer we are treated to that recurring seasonal phenomenon known as “road construction” (because things just weren’t unpleasant enough). One-lane roads, traffic back-ups, the perfume of asphalt wafting in through your overheating car’s ventilation system.
Little known fact: even the Old Testament saints had to put up with road construction. You probably just never realized it because it all just sounded so much nicer the way Isaiah phrased it:
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Sounds almost like it won’t hurt at all. A stroll in the park, or through the wilderness, as it were.
And this understanding of a painless preparation of the way of the Lord jibes beautifully with the philosophy of modern-day first-world wimpy Christianity, where we believe that all things shall just automatically be added unto us, whether or not we seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. Christianity, to us, is like being selected as a participant in a game show, where we lucky contestants just get handed stuff, you know, for free. Everybody wins, or at least everybody goes home with a parting gift.
In that sense our Christianity truly is wimpy, as in Wimpy, Popeye’s sidekick, the guy who will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. We want the benefits that come with faithful service today, minus the boring part about the faithful service. We want to grow in grace without making any effort to grow in grace. We want the King to come riding down the roads of our lives with no prep work on our part at all. We Christians are charged with bringing Christ to the world. It doesn’t just happen. He didn’t say that He was making straight His path through the wilderness of our hearts and we just needed to chill while He took care of it. We’re the road crew. We have to show up for work every day, filling in the potholes, leveling the bumps, so that the glory of the Lord will be seen. If the people around us are having trouble seeing His glory, it’s because we’re slacking off on the job.
And it is a job.
Christianity is not a game show with a cosmic Bob Barker showering prizes down upon the contestants. Christianity is a construction job, and we’re the road crew, tearing down, building up and straightening out under the direction of our Foreman, the Holy Spirit. Spiritual progress, that is, “sanctification,” is going to cost us, but it is not optional. These paths we are making straight are a part of US. If we have allowed potholes to form in our lives, we have to get them filled in. If there are treacherous hairpin curves, those have to be straightened out. Mountain roads would slow the King’s approach – get those leveled! Low-lying areas can flood, so you can’t have the path running through there. Fill those in! The Foreman has made the plans, but He won’t do the work while you rest. You are His co-worker; your cooperation is necessary to the success of the project. Trying to get the job done without the Foreman would be useless. Expecting the Foreman to do the job without you, while you snooze in the shade, would be foolhardy. Show up for work every day before dawn, while it’s still cool outside, and await His direction. He’ll show you where He wants you to work today. You might be digging, you might be filling in, you might be pouring asphalt. You’ve got a job to do.
A job? As in WORKS?
Well, let’s put it this way:
Keep alert with all perseverance.
Pray without ceasing.
Offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually.
Do all things without grumbling or complaining.
Avoid godless chatter.
Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies.
Fear God, and give glory to Him.
Rejoice in the Lord always.
Exercise [your gifts] accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of your faith; if service, in your serving; or you who teach, in your teaching; or you who exhort, in your exhortation; you who give, with liberality; you who lead, with diligence; you who show mercy, with cheerfulness.
Contribute to the needs of the saints.
Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you.
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree.
Let all men know your forbearance.
Pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Live in peace.
Bear one another’s burdens.
Encourage one another and build one another up.
Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders.
Pay everyone whatever you owe them—taxes to whom taxes are due, tolls to whom tolls are due, fear to whom fear is due, honor to whom honor is due.
[The rich] are to be rich in good deeds, liberal and generous.
Women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel.
Urge the younger men to control themselves.
Shun the worship of idols.
Shun youthful passions. Aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace.
Glorify God in your body.
Abstain from every form of evil.
Do not be weary in well-doing.
Show yourself in all respects a model of good deeds.
Consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.
Whatever your task, work heartily.
Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
Keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness.
Take your share of suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.
Run in such a way to win the prize.
Train yourself in godliness.
Aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
Make love your aim.
Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through him.
Aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands as we charged you.
Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves!
Test your own work.
Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
That’s the voice of the Foreman, speaking through St. Paul, who wasn’t wasting expensive papyrus and ink by scribbling unnecessary exhortations. Pray, praise, fear, glorify, rejoice, practice, contribute, welcome, bear, encourage, stimulate, conduct, control, avoid, shun, abstain, run, pursue, build, train, aim, aspire, test, examine, work…. His words aren’t just nice suggestions for us to adopt someday, maybe, if we find the time, nor are they redundant observations on what’s going to happen automatically to all Christians – otherwise, why would he command them? “Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.” As we walk in the works that He has prepared for us to walk in, the highway is made ready. Christ is prepared to come to the world through our lives, but the path has to be prepared, and the road made straight. Our sins, both of omission and of commission, hinder His plans, and in some cases throw a monkey wrench into the whole operation. As our faith works in love, the glory of the Lord is revealed.
The King is coming. Break out the heavy equipment, and get rolling.
On the memorial of St. Peter Chrysologus
Deo omnis gloria!
Photo credits: A28 Scrap by Romski/Wikimedia
Asphaltbauer by Sascha Pöschl/Wikimedia