Yesterday we began a study into some "Rules for Christian Living" as outlined in the twelfth chapter of the Romans. We began with the importance of loving others, honoring them, and to actively engage in practices within relationship which build up the relationship rather than tearing it down. The focus was on the vigilance required to maintain solid relationships - beginning with the one we have with God and then spreading out to those we enjoy with each other. Today, we will move into the ideas of tenacity, endurance, and patience - three things which just about every one of us has a little struggle with at one time or another. We begin with the reminder to never give up. In the realm of relationship, this is probably one of the most important things we can learn. The desire to give up is there more than we probably want to admit. It doesn't matter if we focus on our relationship with Christ, or those we call our "everyday" relationships right here on earth, we struggle with this idea of never giving up on them (or in them). Why? Obtaining or attaining something is often seen as the end result rather than the beginning of a long commitment. We "obtain" relationships - seeking to make a new friend, find a boyfriend or girlfriend, etc. We might even want to take the relationship to a new level, such as being best friends, going steady, or even marriage. Without even realizing it, we sometimes have made the "attaining" of that status the focus rather than the relationship growth which will actually help us through the tough times.
Never give up. Eagerly follow the Holy Spirit and serve the Lord. Let your hope make you glad. Be patient in time of trouble and never stop praying. (Romans 12:11-12 CEV)
As we examine this "set" of inter-related "rules", let's not lose sight of the idea of building relationship - the framework being that of love, honor, and active engagement within the relationship. We begin with never giving up on each other. To give up means we concede, or simply relinquish the "ground" of the relationship to another, to something which gains focus instead of the relationship, etc. Both of these things don't really require much effort from us, but suggest a lack of effort - just simply taking our eye off the ball, so to speak. The only way a pitch gets past the batter is because he lost focus on the ball somewhere between it leaving the pitcher's hand and it crossing home plate. The difference between a home run and a strike out might just be related to the attentiveness one has toward the ball which is in play in the game. The same is true in relationship - we have to know what "balls" are "in play" and where they are at all times.
Whatever the relationship, the "rule of thumb" is the same - we must eagerly follow the Holy Spirit's leading within it! He is the one who will help us to learn to serve, not just take from the relationship. This will bring a depth which cannot be attained any other way - service being the catalyst which takes us to new levels within the relationship. How can service do this, you might wonder? Well, glad you asked! Serving one another compliments what we learned in our first lesson - love's "staying power" is determined by the focus we maintain within the relationship. If our focus is "gimme", "gimme", "gimme", the relationship will have a shallowness to it because we are revealing we are only "in" the relationship for what we can get out of it. If our focus within relationship is on "attaining" it rather than laying the foundation which will help us to "maintain" it, we will have one which really fizzles out quite quickly - leaving us disillusioned and without hope.
Going back to the idea of conceding or relinquishing - relationship needs to be a little bit of give and take, but when it is all about taking, one of the parties within the relationship will be quite unfulfilled. Whether it is our relationship with Christ, or that with someone God has placed in our path in the here and now, we need to be cognizant of the "ease" at which we can drift into expecting another to fulfill our every "need". This is something it has taken me a great deal of time to realize - no one can fulfill my needs! There is no individual on this earth capable of getting it "all right" when it comes to meeting my needs, and I am not capable of getting it "all right" when it comes to meeting theirs! We are imperfect human beings - expecting someone else will meet our needs is kind of unrealistic. Imperfection cannot "do" perfection very well! The only "perfect" one in relationship with us is Christ. He is the one we look to for our needs to be clarified and ultimately met fully.
Now, as it applies to serving one another, we look to each other and find ways to "serve" one another. Why? Serving one another is a means of "giving into" the relationship - keeping it active, engaged, and fulfilling. When we stop serving one another, we become "weak" in our commitment to the relationship. Some of the greatest times of "service" in relationship come out of times of praying for one another. In prayer, God reveals ways we can build each other up, bolster the hopes of another, and bring advice to bear on problems the other may be facing. There is something else I have learned about times of praying for those I am in relationship with - those prayers often reveal things about "ME" which need a little adjustment in order to make the relationship even better! As I set out to pray for them, God helps me to see where the attention needs to be turned toward me and where I need a little bit of his "fine tuning" in order to strengthen and build up the relationship. It shouldn't catch us off-guard when God shows us these things - but we should embrace them as the very thing which will give us "staying power" and "bind us" together in true commitment. Just sayin!