Resignation vs. Joyful Submission

By David A. Liapis

“Inshallah.” During my time living in Turkey I heard this word, meaning “if Allah wills,” or “as Allah wills it,” uttered casually hundreds of times by many Turks in an array of circumstances. Although it seemed to be largely a colloquial expression (think, “stuff happens” or “let’s hope so”) more than an actual faith-based assertion, it was still telling of the attitude the Turks had towards the concept of divine intervention, fate, chance or whatever one might call it. At the core it was a cognitive resignation to the events and circumstances outside the control of the individual, much like when Christians say, “if the Lord wills it” or “it was the Lord’s will.”

I have found in my own life that I am disposed to acquiescing to God’s will in a very casual, non-faith-based way. I’m of the Calvinist persuasion theologically and, therefore, have a high view of God’s sovereignty and His providential control over all things. I get it, I accept it, and I “roll” with it. It helps me to make sense of the world I live in regardless of the goodness or badness of any given situation. Yet, in spite of the far-reaching realities of what I believe and the effect such beliefs should have on me, I too often find that my attitude toward God’s sovereign will is more of resignation than of joy.

I believe there is one major contributing factor – prayerlessness. Philip Ryken said, “In prayer we surrender our will to God’s will. Prayer is not a way of getting God to do what we want him to do; rather, it is a way of submitting to God’s will in all things.” (Ryken, 2003, p. 19) If our will is not in conformity God’s, then God’s will will often be contrary to what we desire and long for. This, of course, results in joyless resignation rather than joyful agreement. We go along with God’s will, sometimes grudgingly, because we know we can’t thwart it and we might as well not “kick against the goads” and resist it. I can say from personal experience that this is not a pleasant place to live.

This type of mindset can lead to many dangerous things in a Christian’s life – legalism, ineffectiveness in evangelism because of a lack of joy, fatalism leading to spiritual and evangelical paralysis and more. However, the antithesis to this resigned submission to God’s will is to receive with joy all things because we believe and trust the promises of Romans 8:28-30. It’s certainly possible to believe “all things work together for good” as a resigned believer. I have done it for many years. However, there’s no joy in it.

Imagine Eeyore the donkey saying, “Well, I guess I just have to believe this will work out for my good since God said it would,” versus Joy, from the movie Inside Out, saying, “This is totally going to be awesome because God is in control and this is His will!” Both ways of thinking assert faith in the promises of God, both trust that God’s will is best and will ultimately lead to “good” for the Christian, but the difference is in the attitude; and, I would argue that the attitude we have toward God’s will is primarily affected by the health of our prayer life.

John Piper once said in a sermon,

One of the clearest demonstrations that the pursuit of our joy and the pursuit of God’s glory are meant to be one and the same pursuit is the teaching of Jesus on prayer in the gospel of John. The two key sayings are John 14:13 and 16:24. The one shows that prayer is the pursuit of God’s glory. The other shows that prayer is the pursuit of our joy. In John 14:13 Jesus says, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” In John 16:24 he says, “Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. And the chief act of man by which the unity of these two goals is preserved is prayer. Therefore, Christian Hedonists who pursue in God’s glory the fullness of their own joy will above all be people of prayer. Just like the thirsty deer buckles down to drink at the brook, so the characteristic posture of the Christian Hedonist is on his knees. (Piper, 1983)

I write this as a “resigned believer” who is in great need of a reformed and revitalized prayer life. I write this as a way or remembrance of what I believe the Lord has revealed to me today as well as a means of hopefully encouraging any other “resigned believers” out there who long for the “joy of our salvation” to be restored.

Just rest, my child

I wrote this allegorical poem a few months ago after some circumstantial inspiration from my little Noelle.
Just rest, my child

You hear the sound of silence and think you’re all alone
As if those you know have quietly slipped out the door
The fear of loneliness grips you
In a panic you jolt up and look around
Your heart beats quickly and your eyes open wide as you search the room

You can only see me dimly as through a fog
Yet when you realize I am there
Your heart slows and your eyes close once again
Just rest, my child I am watching over you
Return to your peace, be still and know that I am a good Father

In the dimness of the early morning you catch a glimpse of me
But that brief sight is all you needed
“My father is here. He is strong. He watches over me. Whom shall I fear?”
These thoughts, though not even fully formed or contemplated
Calm your mind and soul
Just rest, my child. I am watching over you

Made in China

By David A. Liapis

Yesterday morning I was coming out of the gym, and there happened to be a woman about to come in the same door from which I was about to exit. Now, whether it was the fact I looked (and probably smelled) like I just finished a workout, or that she didn’t want the door held open for her, she didn’t seem pleased with my gesture of kindness. As I started my run back home, I couldn’t help but conjecture why she responded that way as well as why I feel compelled to hold doors open for women.

My door-propping tendencies, which many today would slam as “sexist,” “misogynistic” relics of the “patriarchy,” can be traced back to my childhood where I saw my dad open doors for my mom. He taught me by his actions and his words that women are special and are to be honored, cherished and protected. Of course, this mindset toward women was not original to him, nor many, many generations in various culture who came before him. This concept is highlighted in a letter written almost 2,000 years ago that was included in the most popular and widely read book in history – the Bible.

1 Peter 3:7 says, “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” Paul the Apostle also says in Ephesians 5:25-30, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”

What we see in these and other passages from the Bible are clear truths about gender roles and characteristics, played out over thousands of years. Men and women are distinct, different, and have designated, complimentary roles. I’m not ignoring the verses that feminists hate about wives being submissive, but I do want to ensure it’s understood that the Bible calls husbands to love their wives sacrificially and treat them better than themselves. Women are called “weaker” in the Bible, but that adjective isn’t meant to be negative or imply that women are of less value than men. In fact, men are called to give special honor to women because of how they are made. It’s this concept, although significantly diluted and overt as it was even 100 years ago, that compels some men, like me, to show preference and honor to women by doing simple things like holding doors ajar and letting them enter or exit first.

My father treated my petite mother like fine China – fragile in body and emotion, yet elegant and precise. Some women might be described as thick crystal – costly, breakable, but not as fragile as other materials. Either way, a sensible person will care for their valuable China or crystal and allow their beauty to shine forth. A man who is obedient to the Bible will honor, cherish and love in sickness and in health his wife, treating her in such a way that her Biblical obedience through submission will be a joy to her. I saw my dad do this until my mom, the fragile China she was, succumb to a chronic and incurable lung disease. It’s because of how he treated her that I say I was made in China.

The Difference Between Love and Pity

By David A. Liapis

 

Love identifies with people, seeing itself as a partaker in humanity, suffering, pain and joy. It empathizes with people, not thinking of itself higher than it ought; rather, it sees itself as vulnerable to all the experiences of life.

On the other hand, pity stands above and at a safe distance from humble experience. Although it acknowledges need in the lives of others, it sees itself as immune from their lowly plight. It may offer kind sounding words such as, “Oh, I feel bad for you,” but true empathetic feeling is absent.

An example of this would be a beggar, homeless person or some other segment of the very poor population, and how love vs. pity interacts with them. Pity says, “You poor thing, I feel sorry you don’t have a better life. Here’s something to ease your suffering. Now let me get on with my life.” Love says, “I’ve been there (or could end up there). I know what you’re going through. How can I help meet your needs, because that’s what I’d like someone to do if I were in your shoes.”

The key difference between love and pity is not necessarily the outward expression, as both may well result in expressed consolation and material provision for those in need. The real difference is the benefactor’s attitude. The loving person is humble enough to identify with the lowly, knowing they have been or could easily be there (or, are maybe even there at the present time). They see themselves as no better intrinsically as a human being (total depravity), and who may be better off only by the grace of God working through circumstances outside their control. Conversely, those who pity look down on the lowly, unwilling to see themselves as vulnerable and the same as anyone else apart from their prosperity.

How easily could Jesus have only looked on us with pity? He is the only one who could have legitimately stood far above and apart from fallen humanity and expressed feelings of pity, and maybe even offered some token of benevolence.  Thanks be to God though, He humbled Himself and not only experienced humanity, but became sin for us, though He sinned not. Therefore, He loves us and shows us true compassion, rather than just pities our fallen condition. He has experienced the deepest depths of sorrow, walked this earth in our shoes, and shown Himself to be the ultimate example of love.

Theology of the Past

By David A. Liapis

I had another dream last night related to my past. This has been happening more regularly in the past few weeks. At first, I wasn’t concerned about it since those kinds of dreams fill my unconscious mind from time to time. However, the number and vividness of these dreams got me wondering if there’s something I need to address. As I consider my current situation, I must admit I don’t prefer this location. Some might call me crazy since I live across the street from the beach in sunny Florida. However, I am a lover of mountains, forests and cool, dry air. I would trade every beach in the world for the banks of an icy stream winding through a canyon shaded by towering pines and granite monoliths. But I digress.

There are few, if any, of us who don’t think about the past from time to time. Some like to reminisce on “the good old days,” wishing things were more that again. Others think of the days gone by with regret or anger, and are sometimes unwilling to “let go of the past” and move on and/or forgive. Others read or write history books, or spend time unearthing artifacts and analyzing data that helps us learn from the past. There are various ways and varying degrees to which we are all retrospective and connect our minds to the past for diverse reasons.
I admit I have spent more time than I should have thinking about past events over the years – things I’ve said, things I’ve done, things I wish I’d said or done – but to what end? Regret? Thankfulness? To learn what to say or do, or what not to say or do in the future? Is the past a tutor or a tyrant, or both? Moreover, how does thinking about the yesterday make me more Christlike? What is a healthy theology of the past?
The first two ways in which dwelling too long in the past can easily lead to sin, or be the result of sin, are ungratefulness and discontentment (which often accompany each other). Both of these, as they relate to thinking about the past is almost like the chicken and the egg debate – which comes first? Am I ungrateful or discontent because I’m thinking about the past, or am I discontent or ungrateful and thus think about the past longingly? Either way, I am in danger of sinning, if not fully immersed in the act.
2 Timothy 3:2 includes ungratefulness in a list of very undesirable characteristics of sinful people in the latter days. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10 about the Israelites who died in the desert because they “displeased” the Lord with their unbelief and grumbling (discontentment and ungratefulness). It’s not difficult to find verses in the Bible about thankfulness. There are hundreds. It’s abundantly clear that we are called to be thankful people, not those who wish we had more presently and think about what we had (as the Israelites did when they longed for the food they had in Egypt). The one verse that really sums it up is 1 Thessalonians 5:18 that says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In light of that verse and hundreds of others, I believe it’s okay to think about the past so long as the result is that we give thanks to God and remember all He has done for us. This is a common theme throughout the Bible. However, if our thinking about the past leads to discontentment (about the past, present or future), we need to refocus on something that point our thoughts back the Lord. The cross of Christ is ALWAYS the best place to start.
A third way in which an overly past-focused mindset can trip us up is that we neglect to consider the present and, especially, the future. Uncle Rico from the movie Napoleon Dynamite is an extreme example of someone who can’t live in the present because they are so caught up in the past (in his case, 1982). Our history has shaped us into who we are, and that history is important to remember insofar as it reminds us of God’s providential care and plan that has brought us to where we are. Conversely, dwelling on what could have been, or what we think should have been (here comes that discontentment again), can hinder our ability to live in the present and prepare for the future. Paul tells the church in Philippi that because of Christ, he considers all he once thought to be important and defining to be rubbish, and instead forgets what was so he can strain forward for what will be. We see in Philippians 3, as well as Colossians 3 among other places, that our focus needs to be on striving for the goal of Christlikeness and future glory with our risen Lord. If my thoughts about where I used to live, the friends I used to have, the place I used to work, or even the closeness of the relationship I once had with Jesus don’t help me become more holy, they are thoughts that need to be taken captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor 10) and replaced with thoughts that point to where Christ is, seated at the right hand of the Father (Col 3).
The past is the past and it can’t be undone. Thoughts about it can be beneficial, but they can also easily become a hinderance to holiness. May our prayers be filled with thanksgiving for what the Lord has done, but even more so what He will do to conform us to the image of Christ in this life, and eventually gather us to Himself in the life to come.