Chapter two “We’ve (I’ve) tried everything!”
“We’ve been to counseling, talked to our Pastor at length, and even prayed together but the issues between us just won’t go away. Things are better than they were; at least we’re talking again. It just seems like a slippery slope where every step we take seems to get us nowhere. I’m beginning to doubt if we really do care for each other or if we ever did. Perhaps this is God’s way of telling us it’s over between us.”
This, of course, is an example of a married couple on the verge of a separation but it could also be any two people who have sincerely tried to get their arms around their problems but to no avail. They have done all the things good and faithful people have asked them to do, but haven’t seen or enjoyed the fruit of their labors. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that the conclusion could be drawn that maybe reconciliation is just not meant to be; that perhaps reconciliation is not what God intends. But, as I previously stated, reconciliation is not just a good idea or a desired result but it is what God expects of us. So what’s the answer? I submit that it is not so much what you’ve done, but what you have failed to understand about yourself. Many things in life, especially those that are difficult, are impossible to do on your own. But weren’t the prayers enough to enlist God’s assistance, especially those that were said together, as a couple? The problem may be a lack of real belief or faith in what God can do. All of us need to ask ourselves, “How big is my God?”
There is another letter, written by the Apostle Paul, that addresses this subject and it was written to the same church that Philemon and Apphia hosted in their home. It most likely was written before the letter to Philemon and provides the foundation for what Paul would be asking Philemon to do with regard to Onesimus. We refer to it as the book of Colossians and it was a letter addressed to the church in Colosse. Paul proposed to them that the most important step to living a life filled with God’s peace and harmony is to accept Christ’s forgiveness and then go about the business of living it. Then, beginning in verse fifteen of chapter one, Paul provides an essential element for accomplishing that objective. It is all about our “image” of God or in other words, truly understanding and accepting how “big” God really is and more specifically, how “big” Christ is to you. This is vital since if we really don’t believe God is big enough, then all the prayer and counseling in the world will amount to nothing. They may provide some temporary relief, but not a permanent solution.
“He (Jesus) is the image of the invisible God (the Father and Holy Spirit) the first born over all creation. For by him (Jesus) all things were created: the things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created by him and for him (Colossians 1:15, 16).”
It is an impossible human task for anyone to fully understand or appreciate the fact that we can have a personal relationship with the creator of all things, seen and unseen; or that it is the creator’s greatest desire to have a relationship with us, based solely on his immeasurable love for us. Yet it is imperative that we have such knowledge and the experience that accompanies it. In the Old Testament account, when God presented himself to Moses, it wasn’t a face to face meeting for if it had been, Moses could not have survived. For a man to come into the very presence of an infinitely perfect and all powerful God and survive is not possible. When God appeared to men throughout most of human history, it was always in an image that was indirect or through a heavenly messenger; that is until Christ was born into this world. Jesus was born fully man and fully God; providing mankind a means of having direct and intimate contact with the creator of the universe. For the first time since Adam and Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit, men could know, hear and touch God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ. Now, you may be saying to yourself, that’s all well and good but Jesus is no longer walking the earth so how can I feel, touch or hear him? The answer is that we can have an even more intimate relationship with God than those who walked and talked with Jesus, over two thousand years ago.
Something which is gaining in popularity today is the availability of three dimensional images; on the movie screen, television and even on our smart phones. Why is it becoming popular? Simply because it makes whatever we are watching appear more real. The image makers have been slowly revealing to us more and more reality, moving from the silent two dimensional black and white images of the early twentieth century to today’s three dimensional color displays with digital surround sound. The manner in which God has revealed himself to us is really quite similar.
When we read the Old Testament we see God in a single dimension. We see God as the creator of the universe; a God that is real, active and in control, but still somewhat out of focus. It would be foolish to deny God’s existence, but to be able to fully appreciate his substance or wholeness seems just out of reach. God then chose, according to his timetable, to reveal a second dimension of himself to us, in the person of Jesus Christ. This second dimension, Jesus the man/God, provided significantly greater clarity, reality and substance to our image God. The person of Christ made God more approachable and provided a means for us to have a personal relationship with the God of the universe. The problem for some of us who have acknowledged God as being in control of all things, even those who have placed their trust in Christ as Savior and Lord, is that we are only seeing God in two dimensions. It is this incomplete image of God that is at the center of our frustration when we attempt to deal with the problems of everyday life. It is why our prayers, at times, seem to go unanswered and we feel doubt, frustration and failure in our walk with God and our attempts to follow his instruction. We believe we are taking all the necessary steps to resolve our differences and to make real headway, yet our problems remain unresolved.
There is no question that the New and Old Testaments focus is on the coming of Christ and the work he would complete by his birth, death, resurrection and ascension. But there is an additional very powerful truth that is presented to us in the Testaments which deals almost exclusively with our ability to live and prosper in this world. Jesus provided and satisfied both our future hope of eternal life as well as the power to live each day on earth with confidence and joy. We can read, in Christ’s own words, about this third dimension of God’s image and the impact on our everyday life which can be enjoyed if we recognize him for who he is.
“I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever; the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives in you. All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John’s Gospel, chapter 14).”
The third dimension of God who completes for us the image of God is the person of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is like that third dimension on our 3D video screen. It is the dimension that makes the screen come alive and reaches out to us, sometimes almost startling us with the reality of its presence. The Holy Spirit is the presence of God living in us because Christ asked his Father to send him, so that we might not be troubled and afraid of the world in which we live and the challenges the world creates for us. The Holy Spirit is our heavenly Counselor whose communications to us are perfect and affective in every way; the result of Christ’s coming to earth to create the only way for us to enjoy the power and goodness of God. There is only one condition or requirement demanded by God the Father for us to receive the Holy Spirit’s Counsel, we must individually and without reservation, accept his only son, Jesus Christ, as Savior and Lord. It is by having this three dimensional image of God that we can be sure that our God is big enough to answer all our questions and provide all we may require to able to forgive, be forgiven and become reconciled to him and to one another.
So how does knowing all this effect the way in which we communicate with God? The reality is that God wants us to acknowledge him fully, which means all three images or persons of the God head are co-equal and essential and when we pray and ask God for help, in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves, there is method or logic to employ. This is not say that God requires some strict formula or format to follow when we pray, only that it gives glory and honor to God when we acknowledge how he has revealed himself to us, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our prayers and requests are to be addressed to the Father, through the Son, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is not some legalistic constraint, only an acknowledgement of our understanding of the fullness and completeness of God as revealed to us.
OK, I believe that God is big enough to deal with all my issues, then why isn’t he?
Do you remember your father or mother ever saying to you, “I think you’re getting a little too big for your britches?” What they were saying of course was that you were taking on more than you could handle or thinking a little too highly of yourself. It is a natural human tendency to believe that, no matter what the situation may be, we have the knowledge and power to deal with it. Even when we are beaten down and broken, someone will come along side you and encourage you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. In fact, we often equate having to rely on someone else for help as being weak or overly dependent. Then there is the other side of the spectrum where we think that the only way we can make it through is to rely on someone else’s wisdom and strength. Contemporary psychology and counseling is often based on the power of the human will, our innate ability to overcome our circumstances and through perseverance; our ability to conquer our demons and become stronger in the end. This is not necessarily untrue but the key is to understand the limitations of such thinking and be willing to know when help is needed and where to turn for it.
All too often, we turn to God for help in our times of need only after we have exhausted all other remedies. Is it because we think God doesn’t care or that we don’t want to bother him with it? More often than not I think it’s because we either don’t really believe our God is big enough to deal with it; we are afraid we’ll get an answer we don’t like; or we think we are bigger than God. That’s right; we think we are bigger than God, too big for our britches, so to speak. The Apostle Paul writes, “To keep me from being conceited, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” There is no doubt that forgiving someone who has wronged us and then reconciling with them is something that few of us find easy, in fact it is nearly impossible for us to do in some circumstances. Yet it is because it is so very difficult and beyond our ability that we can be assured that God wants to help us achieve what he desires most; that we might turn enmity and estrangement into love, mutual respect and fellowship. God wants us to approach him in such circumstances with complete confidence and total dependency, for out our weakness comes the enabling power of the Holy Spirit to provide for us whatever we may require.
Before continuing any further with the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation I want to stress the common element or essential that Philemon, Onesimus, and Paul had in common. At the risk of discouraging you, if you don’t share what they had in common you may as well not continue reading any further. You may find a bit of wisdom or good advice, but not the power to overcome; which we all so desperately need. The power of the indwelling Holy Spirit is only available to those who have accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. What exactly does this mean? Simply, that you have told God and believe that you need a Savior, that the sin in your life is more than you can deal with and that you believe that he, Christ, provided the only way to overcome it when he was crucified for you on the cross and that it is impossible to save yourself. At the same time, acknowledge that as you grow in the knowledge of Christ and the power that now lives in you, you will become weaker so that he, Christ, will become both your strength and salvation in all circumstances. If you haven’t spoken to God about this, now is the time to do it.