In the Eastern/Greek Orthodox Church there is a book of writings by saints in their tradition that is amazing called The Philokalia (which means “love of the beautiful”). It’s one of my favorite reads. Here’s a little something that stuck out to me today:
…virtue is a thing most delicately balanced, and that if neglected it quickly turns into its opposite. —St. Neilos
Pretty self-explanatory. The Church has believed for a long time that every virtue has an opposite—a vice. If we do not pursue the virtues, we will be taken by the vices. Virtue takes work; it takes attention and effort. I’ve always heard “Anything worth having is worth working for.” I would say that a worldly principle like that plays in quite well with what is expected of us in our spiritual lives.
I like the way Paul said it,
…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. —Philippians 2.12–13
Fear and trembling. Makes the spiritual life sound serious. That’s because it is. In the book of Deuteronomy, the people were warned not to turn “to the right or the left” (5.32). Honestly, that’s all it takes to mess up. If we take our eye off the prize, we either get distracted and lost or fall prey to the wiles of the vices. Like I said in my last post, sin desires to have you. The evil one wants nothing more than for you to turn “to the right or the left.”
But, to loosely borrow from a fine Methodist, George W. Bush, we must ‘stay the course.’ When Peter saw the wind and waves, he fell. What does Hebrews remind us to do?
…let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
Jesus stayed focused on the joy. That enabled him to endure what he did. If we can run that race, the virtuous race, then Pride becomes Humility, Gluttony becomes Self-control, Lust becomes Love, and so on.
I was watching Modern Marvels the other day and the episode was on Peanut Butter. Did you know that starving African children can have their malnutrition reversed in 4-6 weeks with a steady diet of peanut butter? REVERSED! This is how it is with the pursuit of a virtuous and holy life. If we chase after the likeness of Christ, then our spiritual malnutrition can be reversed.
Run. Run hard. God enables our efforts. Work out your salvation, knowing that God gives you what you need. Be blessed and may God’s peace be with you.