Old Virtues Can Make Your Life New
- Whitney Hopler Live It Editor
- 2006 12 Dec
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Mark Buchanan's new book, Hidden in Plain Sight: Seven Old Things that Can Make Your Life New, (W Publishing Group, 2006).
What’s holding you back in life? If it seems like you’re stuck nursing past wounds or trying to overcome persistent bad habits, there’s hope. As a Christian, you actually already have everything you need to make real progress – old virtues that can make your life new if you embrace them in a fresh way.
Here’s how you can experience a renewed life by embracing old virtues:
* Grow in faith. Ask God to give you more faith so you can more deeply notice and appreciate what He’s doing in your life now and trust Him to continue to accomplish good purposes through your life. Recognize that attempting to be virtuous apart from God is futile, since no one can be truly good without God. Realize that you don’t need more skill, more cunning, or more resources to make progress in life – you just need more faith. Understand that, if you rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, He will magnify even your smallest efforts into more than you can ask or imagine. Pray for God to give you a vision of the future He has in mind for you. Decide to trust Him to lead you toward that future. Embrace the gift of faith and treasure it, realizing that it is the foundation for all other virtues. Understand that faith is the seed that enables all other virtues to grow and bear fruit. Spend time in the company of other people who value their faith, and let them inspire you. Know that what matters most are things unseen (the greater spiritual world beyond the material world we can see right now). Remember that God exists, and everything else that exists depends on Him. Be assured that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him, and decide to pursue God (which will bring you eternal benefits) rather than worldly things that won’t last. Develop an intimate relationship with Jesus through spiritual disciplines like prayer and reading and meditating on the Bible. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you, empower you, and guide you. Pay attention to the Spirit’s nudges and act on your faith. Serve God out of joy instead of guilt or fear. Anchor all your other virtues to your faith so you won’t be swept away from what matters most.
* Pursue goodness. Realize that you can’t do good without being good. So set out to be good by getting to know the One who is good – Jesus. Rather than focusing on being a better philanthropist, activist, or therapist, focus on becoming a better worshipper. Know that if you learn to love God, you can then love other people. Pay attention the Holy Spirit’s prompting and act on it. Follow the examples of role models who exhibit true goodness at work in their lives. Learn from them.
* Pursue knowledge. Pray for the knowledge you need to be wise, and the humility to always remember that knowledge is a gift from God and therefore shouldn’t be used as a trophy to exalt yourself or a weapon to make others feel inferior. Read, study, and ponder the Bible often to learn the truth about God’s nature and work. Get to know God better as you encounter Him through worship and prayer. Learn about God through experiencing and studying His creation. Come to know God more deeply by inviting His love to flow through you to others in your community through relationships.
* Pursue self-control. Pay close attention to what God has done and is now doing. Be aware of how evil is trying to trip you up as you run the race of faith. Ask God to help you see what’s really going on (without illusion or distortion) and act wisely in light of it. Train yourself to think clearly about what matters most. Instead of just reacting to stressful situations, pray first to help you decide how to respond wisely. Work the habit of prayer into your daily routine, so when crises hit, you’ll have learned how to rely on prayer to get you through. Stand firm in your faith. Be self-controlled because you’re grateful for the salvation you’ve received and want to thank God by pursuing holiness, because your prayers matter now and for eternity, and because you need to resist evil that is seeking to destroy you.
* Pursue perseverance. Don’t quit in tough situations. Don’t let setbacks defeat you. Remember the value in suffering: it refines your faith, it perfects your hope, it deepens your intimacy with Jesus, it trains you in holiness, and it weans you from sin. If you believe you are on the right path, stay the course, no matter what obstacles you face along the way. Remember that God will never abandon you and that He isn’t out to get you, but He is out to perfect you. Ask Him what He wants you to learn from your current challenges and how you should redefine your expectations. Pray for the encouragement you need.
* Pursue godliness. Know that God loves you completely, just as you are, but that He loves you too much to just leave you there. Understand that He wants you to become all you’re meant to be. Do so by developing Christ-like character. Make your relationship with Jesus your top priority in life, and give His guidance precedent above everything else (your opinions, your emotions, your background, etc.). Don’t allow anything to stand in the way of Jesus’ work in your life. When you sense Him leading you to do something, follow through. Hold onto hope, even in the worst situations. Remember that God can take the most challenging circumstances and transform them to accomplish good purposes. Always be willing and prepared to tell people who ask you about the reason for your hope, but do so with gentleness and respect. Remember that you represent Jesus when you interact with those who don’t yet know Him; try to make His presence tangible to them by letting His love flow through you. Don’t seek revenge whenever you’re mistreated; instead, trust God to vindicate you at the right time. Remember that your life makes a real difference in the spiritual realm that you can’t see right now, but that exists in another dimension where angels and demons are watching you. Understand that your influence extends beyond the confines of your church and local community and impacts the whole planet by touching the lives of other people who, in turn, touch others’ lives. Live in light of eternity, realizing that you will be rewarded in heaven for your faithfulness. Pray for the strength to avoid worldliness – whatever makes sin look more attractive than God. Constantly remind yourself of how dependent you are on God. Remember that Jesus faced many trials and temptations that you also face, and look to the example of how He handled them when you need strength to overcome them yourself. Practice the daily discipline of dying to yourself in small ways (such as avoiding yelling at someone with whom you’re angry) so you can gradually let go of selfishness in larger ways as well.
* Pursue brotherly kindness. Remember that God loves all people – they’re all His children, made in His image. Ask Him to view other people as your brothers and sisters, and to give you love for them to help you bear with them in all their flaws and annoying eccentricities. Decide to care for other people no matter what, recognizing that you can’t truly love God unless you also love the people He has made. Rely on God to overcome your feelings and act in love anyway when dealing with difficult people. Treat everyone you meet as an equal. Live in unity with other Christians, recognizing that whatever makes you different can’t possibly be greater than what makes you alike – Jesus living inside you. Develop close relationships with other people in which God’s love flows freely between you. Serve others in practical ways for their good and for God’s glory.
* Pursue love. Ask God to help you love unconditionally. Instead of waiting to feel love for someone, decide to act in love toward that person no matter what. Love the “least of these” (people you’d be tempted to trample or sidestep without love, such as prisoners, homeless people, or refugees). Love the “most of these” (people whom you’re most likely to resent because they cause you to feel jealous and insecure, such as someone who got the promotion you wanted or someone who looks more attractive than you). Love the “worst of these” (people who have hurt you in some way through mistreatment). Remember how deeply and unconditionally God loves you, and let that love cast out fear from your life and give you the confidence you need to love others.
Adapted from Hidden in Plain Sight: Seven Old Things that Can Make Your Life New, copyright 2006 by Mark Buchanan. Published by W Publishing Group (a division of Thomas Nelson Publishers), Nashville, Tn., www.thomasnelson.com.
Mark Buchanan lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, with his wife, Cheryl, and their three children, Adam, Sarah, and Nicola. He is a pastor and the author of several other books, including Your God is Too Safe, Things Unseen, The Holy Wild, and The Rest of God. Some days he is restful or playful without shame.