2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
“Grace and Peace”
This greeting rings in my head, I used to hear it time and again during a season of my life in which I attended a church in the south suburbs of Chicago. During this time James and I would help lead worship by playing our instruments in the morning and then high-tail it back into the city to attend our church in the afternoon. The church members at this particular place of worship would consistently greet one another this way. At that time I thought it was nothing more than “Christianese”. And yet now almost ten years later, it has become a life gripping phrase for me as I have become more aware of how much grace and peace I need to navigate the hardships presently before me. I am also aware of the tremendous grace He has given me to do what before seemed impossible- to grow in patience and in faith in the face of persistent struggle. It is with this opening that Paul writes his letter to the Philippians. Chapter 1 verse 2 he writes:
“ May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.” So now I say to a younger, more ignorant, immature version of Shandra “ No, this was not some religious idiom, it is a lifeline of encouragement, drawing from the true source of strength you will need in life- Grace and Peace in the Lord Christ.
But now what does this exactly mean, what does it even look like? This is where I’d like to share some insights I’ve gleaned from this passage in Philippians, my life experience, and a message recently preached by Bishop T.D. Jakes.
Oftentimes when we discuss grace in the biblical context we are focusing on its chief definition which is known to most as “unmerited favor”. In the context of salvation, yes it is right to think about this because we have been granted eternal and unmerited favor through the death and resurrection of Jesus to live with Him throughout eternity should we embrace salvation. Right now, I’d like to underscore another dimension of the word which is more aligned with this definition:
simple elegance or refinement of movement.
“she moved through the water with effortless grace”
“at least he has the grace to admit his debt to her”
- do honor or credit to (someone or something) by one’s presence.
“she bowed out from the sport she has graced for two decades”
And so when we say “grace be upon you” we are granting that someone would have the elegance to move with refinement, the strength to do goodwill, and the capacity to do honorably in whatever circumstance they find themselves within. We see this unfold in Paul’s instruction in Philippians chapter 2. In this text Paul brings up the conduct that Christ displayed while here on earth- he made himself nothing, humbled himself, became a servant. By the way, how authentic that Paul would write this type of encouragement while he himself is imprisoned! He was displaying the type of grace he encourages others to obtain. And you may ask “Why? Why do I need to have this type of grace and to what end?” This is where I wholeheartedly appreciate Bishop T.D. Jakes sermon. Bishop Jakes would say for the purpose of “Brand”. Brand, as expressed by Jakes, is to be sealed, authenticated so that one understands the ownership thereof. We know that in this life we cannot escape hardship. Hardships come in many forms- physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. And these categories themselves lend to various types of hardships one can suffer and the intensities thereof. Regardless of whether my hardships have been more intense than yours or not, one thing is true among us- we have faced them and they have profoundly impacted our souls. Given that suffering is inevitable, what comes out of its process is what becomes of chief importance. In other words are we better or worse off through it and after it? Are we more virtuous and productive than before? Note when I say productive, I am referring to the ability to produce life-giving attributes. This is exactly what we see of Christ, he went towards the cross, through the cross, and out of the cross giving eternal life to all who fellowship with Him. My goodness, we should pause right there and seriously contemplate this profound occurrence…Christ gave life while embarking upon the pathway towards death. Am I giving (life not grief to others) while on this pathway of suffering?
“…the very emblem of our faith is suffering….we carry crosses to remind us that this did not come cheap…”Bishop T.D. Jakes – Branded
What is my mindset as I navigate these hardships? In honesty- during what I call grey days, I have thoughts that range from- “ I deserve better than this…” to “ This is the consequence of my sinful behavior of the past, if I only do better from now on, I can circumvent suffering in the future…Lord please give me the grace to get out of this!”. Once I sober up from this state, I come to recognize that first, these are lies. They are lies because they are extreme statements that derive from a place of judgment of the heart that is not based on a full view of what is truth. No matter what I did in the past or do now, I cannot circumvent suffering in this world, our world is marked by hardship. Further, these types of thoughts do not produce in me the capability (grace) to walk in peace and give life to all that is good in my life despite the hardship. Instead, they have me turn inward and get stuck in the mire. And this is exactly what amazes me about Jesus. On his way to the cross, he washed the feet of his disciples, he fed the masses, he healed the ill and did that which seemed impossible for a man who was to face the most gruesome death physically and spiritually. Make no mistake Jesus was under duress. We are told in Luke 22:43-44 that He was so stressed in the Garden of Gethsemane that He began to sweat blood! And it is this reality that puts my heart in check. Surely I can serve well despite my disappointments… YET I can only do this by thinking like Christ and drawing from His divine strength.
I have begun to learn the art of drawing from His strength. Can I tell you a secret? Mastering this art is not rocket science and it is one of the hardest skills one will need to learn in order to survive the darkest hours. It is much like the training of a young Jedi. Mastering self-control while drawing from the strength of the force is critical in order to avoid the destructive, seductive power of the Darkside. (More on Star Wars and biblical theology…)
Ephesians 6:10 Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might.
Hebrews 6:11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.
These passages side by side convey something about our strength’s source and resting in the Lord. First that there is a power within the Lord and secondly that your very life depends upon its resource. I have learned that resting requires a discipline of redirecting my thought life, redirecting my attention, recalibrating my body, forcing my mouth to praise when my heart is so heavy it has tried to lock down my words, exercising and moving, fellowshipping with others, withdrawing from others at the appropriate time, and so much more. Resting is not only physical health, resting my friends is mental health (more on mental health in a future blog and podcast) To rest in Christ is to trust that the hope of being with Him eternally and internally is greater than the pain I currently experience from the cross He has allowed me to experience. I am so sure there are deeper layers of truth to what it means to rest in Christ. For me, this is what I have come to understand at this leg of my journey. I also rest my worry of the unknown in the fact that I know that come what may, there is a beauty unfolding towards a purposeful end. In other words, I do believe there is a purpose to my current hardship- branding, authentication, to be useful to others in a greater life-giving way, etc.
A few years ago, 2 Corinthians 1:4 became my “jam” while I was in a hard space. This became my jam much like a slow R & B to groove or a funk soundtrack one dances to no matter what circumstance they find themselves in. And so it says: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” It is important to not miss the “so that” in biblical text. It’s like the pocket by which the beat resides and produces more resonance. It is the purpose I am talking about. If we miss the purpose, then what really is the point of it all?
I’ve seen this come to life in my own life! I began to realize that the encouragement I would give to others was now more than what I call “Christian platitudes”. By the way here’s the definition of platitudes:
a remark or statement, especially one with a moral content, that has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful.
If you’ve been around church people for some time you know these all well- verses out of context thrown at you during a hard time, unbiblical phrases such as “ Well, He won’t give you more than you can bear…” By the way, that’s nowhere in scripture my friends. And is actually quite offensive to people who have borne a crapload. Or another one I disdain is the “ Thanks for sharing…” left with a hollow emptiness and no mutual return of exchanging how one has either experienced God’s grace in an equally difficult time OR an admission that they are in need of God’s grace in a similar or profound way. What we find in 2 Corinthians 1:4 is the mark of one who has been authenticated, branded not just with hardship but with the comfort that those who walk with Christ experience! I can now look another person in their eyes and truly tell her/him I know what it means to come to the recognition that Christ alone is my all as I’ve experienced deep relational disappointments. I can equally tell you what God’s comfort meant for me as He gently but firmly showed me the darkness and deception of my own heart and how I’ve deeply hurt those I love. The point here is- receiving His brand requires us to be unashamed of the gospel in our lives.
And so I’d like to end this blog with an invitation for you to share your process with someone about how you are being branded for a greater purpose. I’d suggest to you that even if you just share what insights you’ve gathered (without sharing the details of the situation), that alone is a gem that could touch another soul in the deepest parts of their being- calling them towards endurance and life. You may share with us by commenting, share with me directly by email, or better yet share with another with whom you are in relationship with throughout your daily life.