15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I have been is Seattle seeing family and my routines are seriously disrupted. So instead of trying to link my thoughts into an essay, I’m going to write to a few of the reflections that came to my mind as I read this passage.
Be careful how you live…making the most of time.
If I asked you to change a tire and you’d never seen a car, it is likely that with enough time and experimentation, you’d figure out how to do it. You might damage the car. You might damage yourself but you’d probably be able to change the tire. If I gave you a set of instructions, your chances would improve greatly and if I added analogous experience and a guide, you would almost certainly succeed— and probably change it quickly. You’d get to the same place a whole lot more efficiently.
We are time limited creatures. If we live long enough, and if we reflect on our experiences, most of us will figure out what really matters in life. But such learning usually comes after a series of missteps. Early in our lives it is not obvious what is eternal in life. Most of us have to pursue a variety of things that seem valuable only to learn they are short lived. As Matthew put it: “19 Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
Learning what is eternal need not be a death bed insight. We have a cloud of witnesses that have gone before us; we have scripture and we have Jesus as a guide. These are provided so that we can make the most of our time. Time is a precious commodity. Paul enjoins us to use it wisely. As long as we are alive, it is not too late to learn that love is the only thing that is eternal but the earlier we grasp that truth, the more opportunity we have to participate in the eternal.
But understand what the will of the Lord is.
On one hand, the will of the Lord is very simple—“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ ….39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matt 22:37-40). But on the other hand, we will spend a lifetime trying to discern how to apply this principle in the complexities of our daily lives.
Even as we are called to love, our faith routinely confronts us with what we can’t do. Nobody tells us that, by secular standards—we should be enough and/or adequate to the tasks before us—we will fail. The spiritual expectation is that we do what we can with what we’ve got —and leave the rest to God. But it is emotionally difficult to live within our limitations in the face of people in need. Sometimes we don’t have the energy and sometimes much more is needed than we could possibly give. But in either case, we are caught in the tension between our call to love and our capacity to do so.
It turns out that judging ourselves by secular standards is as foolish as ‘building up treasures on earth.’ No human achievement, good deed or service establishes our worth. The will of the Lord is that we come to know that we are his children. We are valuable because we are love.
Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery…
Wine is not the problem. It is how we use it. Anything that we use which systematically enables us to avoid our lives or which gives a false sense of security separates us from God. We make the faith claim that God is with us in every aspect of our lives—even when living includes hardship and pain. When we use wine, sex, overwork, or anything else to distract us from hardship and pain, we run the risk of acting as if such hardship ‘shouldn’t’ be part of our lives.
We do not get to know the ‘why’ of suffering or hardship—but we are expected to live in our present. We can only do that by trusting God. Our need to understand impairs our ability to deal with what we must. Our dog, Sophie, recently blew out her ACL. She was immediately hampered and was basically a three legged dog. Then she had surgery, was in a cast and her mobility was limited further. She even had to wear the ‘cone of shame’ for three weeks. At each point, she seemed confused but she rapidly adapted to what she could do. Her future and her life is always now.
Living in the present, doing what we can with what we have requires ‘letting go and letting God.’ We cross the line between the expectation that we be all that we can be and the expectation we can be and do anything if we work hard enough. It is important to push our limits in order to fully live—but the limits remain. Secular expectations would have us deny our limitations or treat them as unacceptable. It is the sin of pride.
I have a client going through a difficult divorce and she has had friends suggest that cocaine could help her through the hard times. She politely declined but the offer reflected a common secular way to cope. Don’t think about what you have lost. Avoid the difficult, such thoughts will make you feel bad. The Christian, on the other hand, says pain is hard, live through it. There are possibilities you can not imagine. In real life, we do both but there is an important distinction between a secular and a spiritual direction. It is important that we distinguish between the two.
Letting go, trusting God, choosing to embrace the life we have are all part of the spiritual life in Christ. Such a life is very difficult and my own experience is that I rarely let go—unless control is ripped from my grasping fingers. I wish I could live in the trust and confidence that my dog seems to have.
Be filled with the Spirit, as you sing …. giving thanks.. for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our faith is relational and communal. When we are filled with the Spirit, we are connected to each other and to God. The Spirit enables us to live the spiritual values that Jesus taught. This life is not something we can do on our own. It is simply too hard. It runs contrary to our hard wiring to protect self and to live in ways that are self serving. We need to reminded of our spiritual values and we must practice the disciplines which nurture and support our souls. When we realize we belong to something greater, we are not alone. We have a direction for life and are provided with signposts leading to the eternal.
That is reason for joyful singing and great gratitude. Rejoice and give thanks. Let him lead you. Let it be so.