Prepare Yourself . . . Spiritually

In the early 1520s, a Spaniard of noble descent set off on a spiritual pilgrimage.  While a detour rerouted his pilgrimage, Ignatius experienced the touch of God’s Spirit in his life.  Moved by this experience, Ignatius set out to equip others with spiritual strength through his writing.  In his work “The Spiritual Exercises,” Ignatius outlined and explained several rules, or truths, to spiritual development.  Hear a portion of his work.
[The following are rules] for perceiving and understanding to some degree the different movements that are produced in the soul – the good, that they may be accepted; the bad, that they may be rejected.  . . .

The enemy is accustomed ordinarily to propose apparent pleasure to those persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin.  He thus causes them to imagine sensual delights and pleasure in order to hold them more and more easily and to increase their vices and sins.  The good spirit acts in these persons in a contrary way, awakening the conscience to a sense of remorse through the good judgment of their reason.  (Spiritual Exercises, p. 129)
In our second week of preparing ourselves to know and live in Christ’s power, we focus on Preparing Yourself Spiritually.  We want to “make further progress.”  Ignatius expressed well the battle you face as you seek spiritual growth.  The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, moves in you to mold you into a better reflection of Christ.  However, evil, both from your sinful nature and the attack of Satan, moves as well.  You face a counter attack. 
It is common for the evil spirit to cause anxiety and sadness, and to create obstacles based on false reasoning, through preventing the soul from making further progress.  (Spiritual Exercises, p. 129)
As you commit to preparing yourself spiritually to living in the power of the resurrection, you will need tools and weapons to demolish and defeat these obstacles.  Only one can equip you.
13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
  Galatians 5:13-18 (NIV)
Notice that Paul does not say, “Here are the steps to stopping your habit of devouring each other.”  No, rather, he directs them to the solution with two words…  “pneumati peripateō” -- in English, “live by the Spirit” or “walk by the Spirit.”  The solution to spiritual growth as reflected in love toward others is living and walking by the Spirit.

Pastor and Professor Raymond Stamm wrote that . . .

“By Paul’s definition a Christian was one who needed no law to make him love his neighbor and refrain from biting . . . But the old competitive drive . . . was always waiting to seize the opportunity to reassert itself.”  (Interpreters, p 555)
It still insists on reasserting itself!

The only answer to that is to walk and live by the Spirit.

Because of Paul’s words on freedom and especially the freedom from the law, some readers conclude that Paul spoke for anarchy.  However, Paul did not ignore the law; rather he replaced the flawed external law with the perfect internal presence of Christ.  The internal presence of Christ brings freedom. 

As a woman or man created by God, you possess freedom.  How do you choose to exercise your freedom?   You can exercise your freedom by doing as you please, or you can exercise your freedom by walking by the Spirit who will form you into the person God wants you to be.
God knows that you are caught in a battle.  Knowing that, He did not leave you alone.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”  John 14:15-21 (NIV)
If right now I started listing the religions, spiritual pursuits, and causes through which men, women and teenagers seek to find spiritual growth, I could fill several blogs. Yet one simple sentence points to the answer. 
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.”  John 14:16 (NIV)
You and I need the Spirit of truth to reign front and center in our lives.  Our sinful nature wages war against our freedom in Christ.

What do you choose?

Four Choices – Free to Choose (Choose Wisely) –

Choice # 1 Glance

Some choose to give these words a quick glance and get back to life.  They see them as ancient words in an ancient text, which if they still “speak,” speak to others. 

You are free to glance.

Choice #2 Give In

Some choose to give in.  They look at their lives and know their faults and struggles.  With this knowledge, they see the battle to purify their lives and hearts as too difficult a battle to fight.   They give in to their addictions, struggles, depression and sin.  They erroneously see themselves as helpless pawns.

  • They don’t think it possible to control desire, so they give in to sexual pleasure.
  • They don’t think it possible to forgive, so they give in to hatred.
  • They don’t think it possible to win the fight against addiction, so they give in to drugs.  (The Greek word, here translated witchcraft, is pharmakeia, where we get our word, pharmacy.  Drugs!)

You are free to give in.

Choice #3 Gloat

Some choose to gloat.  They read or hear these words and excuse themselves from fault.  You know how that happens.  You read words like “debauchery” and “orgies” and think, “Well, that’s not me.”  But, not so fast.  Are you angry?  Do you cause discord in your family or at work?  Do you envy your neighbor’s financial situation or your friend’s car?  Or, maybe your record is clean on adultery; yet you give into on-line pornography.  Be careful. 

You are free to gloat.

Choice #4 Grasp

Still others choose to grasp.  According to legend, Sir Isaac Newton deciphered the Law of Gravitation while sitting under a tree.  Whether mere legend or historical fact, the lesson remains the same.  A piece of fruit led to a great discovery.  According to Scripture, fruit of a different variety can lead to a great discovery.  The fruit of love, joy, peace and the like, when displayed, leads the person displaying them to the discovery that he/she walks by the Spirit. 

Those who choose to grasp choose to receive the Spirit and the teaching and direction the Spirit brings. 

You are free to grasp. 

For further reading:
Ignatius of Loyola. “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.” Devotional Classics. Ed. Richard J. Foster. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993.
The Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. George Arthur Buttrick. Vol.10. New York: Abingdon, 1953.

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