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Reality Is Always Our Friend.
Instinctual trust in God who is real, present and capable is at the heart of spirituality in the way of Jesus.
Predictions about 2023 are rolling in. Prognosticators are weighing in on what will happen with the war in Ukraine, inflation, the effect of new COVID strains, the instability of the housing market and the direction of mortgage rates and recession. They are predicting political trends and which movies, TV shows or music will stream or drop as duds or top sellers. Throw in some prophesies from Nostradamus and well—you could give yourself a good laugh or a real scare.
Predictions have the characteristics of maybe, probably, or no way. Reality is a whole other deal. It is experienced as now, actual, and tangible.
Predictions are unreliable and unstable.
Reality, however, is always our trustworthy, supportive friend. God lives and moves and has his being in that which is real. Because God dwells in reality, our relationship with him can only happen there.
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Reality: Rely Upon It.
Reality is that which simply is—that which exists independent of our thinking or feelings about it. Reality does not care and is not altered by what we believe about it. Say you dash to your car, late for a job interview, and see that the gas gauge says you may not have enough gas to get there. But you decide, “I have no choice. I’ve got to go! I can make it!” No gasoline molecule is going to say, “Let’s give this guy a break. He is in a hurry. This interview is important to him, and he is so sincere in his beliefs.” There either is enough gas or not. Our hopes or beliefs about it do not change things.
This is a very important concept for growth in Jesus. We mistakenly believe things about reality all the time. We walk past an office of co-worker, see an irritable look on his or her face, and assume they are mad at us. In fact, they may not have even thought about us for weeks!
But our false beliefs should not cause us to lose confidence in believing rightly. Right belief (or true beliefs or truth or knowledge) has two components: it corresponds to reality and produces in us a confidence which in turn yields a readiness to act as if we actually believe something is true—not merely profess it because we think we ought to or should do so. Following Jesus can only be sustained by confidence in reality.
Jesus wanted us to see that we can come to rely on reality. Often, when speaking about this from a stage, I will walk up and down the steps illustrating how I have instinctually come to know and rely on the reality of the steps, on their capability. I do this without conscious thought. The steps are there, and I know it. I have learned by experience, walking up and down the steps for years, that they work, and they are suitable for carrying my body up and down.
Similarly, instinctual trust in God who is real, present and capable is at the heart of spirituality in the way of Jesus.
Jesus: The Real Revelation of God
Jesus calls us to live and move and have our being by believing in the reality of his teaching. In the New Testament, belief is understood as trust, confidence and reliance. For instance, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount—arguably Jesus’ most powerful teachings—he calls for such belief.
These [teachings] are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock.
But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, your life will be like a house built on a sandy beach. (Matthew 7:24-27 MSG)
Many will say to me Lord…Lord and never do the things I teach. (Matthew 7:22 MSG)
Jesus is simply noticing how people respond to him, to his teaching that reality—that which someone could build a life upon—comes from and is superintended by God. Jesus could see that most people had no intention of placing their confidence in his explanation of ultimate reality. He could see that they could not bring themselves to trust it.
Jesus operated outside of cultural norms because he operated inside an accompanying reality: a relationship with his Father. The reality of sandals, dust, water and bread—of cheering crowds, or mocking soldiers—was understood and made livable by an unseen Reality.
Nurturing a relationship with the unseen but real God was the key to Jesus’ life. There was a rhythm to his life in which he would flee public life, going off into private, desolate places to engage with the reality of his Father. Jesus would then return to the bustle of daily reality, saying things like “the Son only does or says what the Father is doing or saying.”
Jesus lived with the hidden reality of his Father always before him, motivating his actions, guiding his interactions, animating his words. From this reality, he knew he was safe, secure and protected. Knowledge of that reality was the basis of his posture toward life: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, to give his life to liberate, to rescue humanity” (Mark 10:45).
That commitment gave rise to one of the most evocative scenes in the New Testament:
Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.
Notice I put the little word “so” in bold. It is the logical connection between the secure reality of the Trinitarian life—that Jesus came from and was headed back to—and how he conducted his life as someone “in charge of everything.” He served. He was a model. He was the archetype of a life worth imitating.
Resurrection: Reality on Which to Build a Life
The resurrection is a key reality. It is the basis for pursuing discipleship. Resurrection validated that what Jesus taught could be relied upon as reality. It is an enduring doorway to the life God always intended for his people. Paul, seeing the centrality of resurrection as a lived reality, said:
If there’s no resurrection for Christ, everything about him is smoke and mirrors, and everything you’ve staked your life on is smoke and mirrors…if Christ weren’t raised, then all you’re doing is wandering about in the dark, as lost as ever
(1 Cor. 15, MSG)
But Jesus did rise, the beginning act of God really fulfilling and completing his intentions.
Living with Reality in 2023
The perspective from which Jesus taught stretches from creation outward to the whole cosmos and to the whole of human history. From that vantage point, he tells us we have no need to be anxious about anything, for there is a divine life, a rule and reign, available to us that is the true home of the human soul. Jesus invites us to enter this realm—the heart of God—by simply placing our confidence in him, becoming his friend, and following him. In doing so, we will be renewed from the depths of our souls.
No matter how bad things are predicted to get in the world, resurrection reminds us that Divine intention is not in doubt. Of God’s telos we can be totally assured: One day Jesus will hand over the kingdom to his Father and everything will be perfect. No more tears or pain—just the knowledge that God is God and that he has been right all along. He’s been working on our behalf from creation, through human history, and up to the new heavens and the new earth.
As we come near a new year, let’s sit with these thoughts:
From the deepest level of my motivation and understanding, am I ready and willing to bet my life on the reality of Jesus and God’s kingdom?
What would it be like, what might it entail, for me to recommit, to place my whole confidence and trust in Jesus and to follow him into the reality of the Kingdom of God as he taught it, to become his apprentice in kingdom living?
What might I need to do to implement a decision to trust and rely on the reality of God made manifest in Jesus? It will likely be something like a “New Year’s Resolution” but deeper, more fundamental than “going on a diet.”
Building my life on predictions is worse than building it on shifting sand.
Reality is the rock on which Jesus invites us to find and live a solid, secure life.