Summary: Preparing for the coming of Christ

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A man sentenced to death obtained a reprieve by assuring the king he would teach his majesty's horse to fly within the year--on the condition that if he didn't succeed, he would be put to death at the end of the year. “Within a year,” the man explained later, “the king may die, or I may die, or the horse may die. Furthermore, in a year, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly.”

Putting our hopes in those things that may fail is a waste of our resources. Our goals, dreams, and aspirations may well be just taking up time. I’ve become convinced that we deal with the discomforts of life, those things that cause us stress or anxiety, by filling our time and fooling ourselves into believing we’re doing something meaningful or constructive, but what we’re really doing is stalling, just like the prisoner who promised to make a horse fly.

I’m not talking about the work we do or the time we spend with others. All work is sacred, all relationships should be sacred as well. But it’s the times when we are by ourselves, trying to fill some void or just killing time, which is a terrible term, by the way – in those times we turn to activities or pursuits that we really don’t have any intention of following through on.

Case in point – my shameful display of projects yet unfinished, like a beautiful cross-stitch scene of an ancient temple whose steps only go so far and whose columns are only half draped with greenery. This particular project was started when my daughter, who is now 30, was about 9 years old.

I also have in a notebook the beginnings of a book I planned to write. The notes are there, the direction in which I want the writing to go, but I managed only two chapters before I stopped. I believe that was in January. I also have a stack of books with bookmarks attesting to the fact that I haven’t made it past chapter 4. On my Kindle I am at 29% of the way through the novel Les Miserables, which I probably downloaded over two years ago.

It’s beyond procrastination. It’s boredom and lack of interest intensified. I hope I’m not alone in this. I doubt that I am. So much enthusiasm, so many good intentions and yet we are still unfulfilled. Can I share some painfully honest knowledge with you? We are unfulfilled because we’re looking in the wrong place for our fulfillment. It is God who gives us our sense of being purposeful, of being complete.

If we deny Him that role or try to manufacture our own happiness, contentment or joy, we will only be disappointed, perhaps even bored. There is a wonderful old prayer attributed to the sixteenth-century sailor Sir Francis Drake. He prays that when God leads us to undertake any great piece of work, he will also remind us ‘that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, that yieldeth the true glory.’

In Philippians Paul proclaims that God is a finisher as well as a beginner. The particular work which He began and which He will finish is the work of grace. He began a good work and He will see it to completion. In the meantime, Paul prays for the people of that place, very specifically, as he usually did. He prayed that their love would overflow in knowledge and wisdom.

Paul sees the heart and the head endlessly bound together. This is how true Christian love has to be, engaging in deep insight into God’s world. Also, he prays for their wise love to result in moral discernment. They lived, as we do, in a world where moral issues are blurred and distorted. His wish is for them to tell right from wrong so they can be prepared for Christ’s return.

Pay attention to the two conditions Paul is aiming for all of us to achieve by that time: sincere and faultless. These two carefully chosen adjectives express the two aspects of Christian holiness as the result of divine action; inner purity of motive and outward blamelessness in relation to others. Surely Paul did not plan for the Philippian Christians to obtain these qualities only at the time of Christ’s arrival, hurriedly preparing themselves for His return like checking items off of a to-do list.

Since neither the Philippian Christians nor any of us can ever achieve these qualities on our own power my hunch is that he was anticipating and hoping they would be gradually developed so that they could be utilized within the community itself, even if Christ had not appeared before they died. How else could we proclaim the gospel as our own if we were not sincere in our witness and at fault in our relationships?

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