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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Future Harvest, Present Grace

Fox Business says one reason a significant number of Millennials struggle to find work is that self-control is still considered a major workplace asset. Rightly or wrongly, employers tend to associate that quality with older workers.

Self-control is the ability to subdue our impulses in order to achieve longer-term goals; to do the necessary things even when our emotions get in the way — not a priority much stressed in the last few generations. Karl Moore notes, “Millennials value emotion. They are taught in high school and university a Postmodern worldview which puts thought [and] emotions on nearly the same plane.”

Well, if how I feel is going to dictate what I do today, I should not be surprised to find at the end of the day that I haven’t got a whole lot done. And that is a problem.

He Who Goes Out Weeping

It’s not a new problem though.

The psalmist depicts a faithful Israelite for whom things are just not going well. Maybe it’s his grain harvest that’s been affected by drought; maybe it’s his vines or his olive oil. Maybe it’s all three. In all likelihood, this is because the vast majority of his fellow citizens are sinning once again and God has had to judge his people in the most practical of ways: by hitting them in the food supply. By definition, corporate judgments affect entire groups; and like Daniel and his friends in Babylon, the few good guys in the bunch experience a certain degree of discomfort too.

Perhaps, thinks this righteous Israelite to himself, this whole exercise is futile. He is frustrated to the point of tears. Yet he goes out into his field to plant seed anyway:
“He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”
Self-controlled people are generally portrayed as a bit robotic. I don’t think that’s quite right. Here’s a man with plenty of emotions about the conditions he’s experiencing, but who still manages his conduct appropriately. First he cries out to God to restore the fortunes of Israel, then he goes off to work, even if he can’t see the point at all. And the end result is a great return on his labor.

The Grace of God Has Appeared

Perhaps Millennials struggle with self-control more than previous generations. It would not surprise me. But the apostle Paul seems to suggest self-control is a problem faced by all Christians.

Paul repeatedly uses the term in his letter to Titus. Church elders are to be “self-controlled”, as are older men, young women and younger men. Older women are to teach self-control to the young women, so we can be pretty sure they are intended to both model it and stress it as a critically important quality in maintaining happy homes and strong public testimonies.

Summing up, Paul says:
“The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives …”
There is salvation to come, Paul says, at “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.” But there is also salvation of a different sort available to us prior to that great day, in that God’s grace teaches us self-control in the here-and-now, a quality that will help keep many of us from ruining our lives, our relationships and our witness for Christ.

Working It Through

Every Christian struggles with self-control on one front or another. Reining in the impulse to gossip or snark. Disciplining ourselves to give consistently to the work of the Lord, and keeping our acquisitive inclinations in check. Fear of submitting to others. Temper. Getting out of bed and being productive when we just don’t feel like it and don’t see the point.

If these verses mean anything, they mean that no Christian is exempt from God’s grace in this respect, and that no Christian is exempt from the obligation to take the grace available to him and work it all the way through his character in real time in front of family, co-workers, neighbors, friends and enemies. This is true whether my natural disposition is dour or mercurial; whether my general outlook is optimistic or pessimistic; whether I flirt with despair or am filled with faith.

And even if we have to go out into the field weeping, we ought to at least go out. The harvest may be future, but the necessary grace is present now.

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