With Fear And TremblingFr. Barnabas Powell
My little brother and I were typical brothers growing up. We would engage in “sibling rivalry” now and again! But we were being raised by a single mother who worked full-time and cared for us full-time as well. One such event when we were a bit older elicited a phrase from my mom to us both that really stuck with me. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about but mom came into our room and looked at us both and said with seriousness and sternness that got our attention. Insisting we act our age, she demanded: “Work it out!”
“Work it out!” It still strikes me in a powerful way and shakes me to realize that there are situations in life that are simply not going to have easy answers and clear paths. We have to exercise our minds and build on our foundation to both discover the right path and then walk it. We have to “work it out!”
Look at our lesson today in Philippians 2:12-15:
BRETHREN, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud
First, notice the Apostle clearly teaches us to realize our salvation is going to have unique demands on each of us because each of us is “free, unique, and unrepeatable.” We each struggle with varying degrees of spiritual illness that is going to require both ACTIVE participation and a keen and honest AWARENESS of our own struggles. If I am going to “work out” my own salvation, that is going to require me to seriously know myself and know the Faith so that I can see where my deepest need is in my soul. Of course, I also have the great benefit of regular confession and weekly fasting which helps me discover this necessary wisdom!
Next, I “work out” my own salvation in “fear and trembling” because this very work depends on my humility and brutal honesty, AND because I’m not doing this work by myself – God is “at work” in me! Part of my “working out” my own salvation is my intimate connection with God as He invites me to regularly, daily, and purposefully, cooperate with His work within me to make me like Jesus Christ. Amazing! But this “fear and trembling” isn’t because God is angry or disappointed in me. No, this fear flows from the awareness of my distance from God and the fact that “time is running out” for me to learn to repent and embrace God’s mercy for me. The Uncreated God is at work in me! Lord, have mercy.
Finally, as I “work out” my own salvation, I realize this creates a singular focus, not on other people’s sins, but my own, and I am liberated from “grumbling.” I am “innocent” as a child. And, the Light shines in my life to give hope to all around me! No wonder the Apostle speaks as he does to us today. The value of a simple and childlike focus or “wakefulness” sets me free from the temptation of looking at other’s sins when I need to be focused and awake to my own spiritual illnesses that need the “medicine” of the grace of God to heal my broken self!
Today, are you working out your own salvation with fear and trembling? Are you intimately aware of God’s work in your life? Is there a numbness in your spiritual life that is making your active participation in your salvation difficult? My life has been given to me SO THAT I can learn to repent, and all the Faith and its wisdom is given to me SO THAT I can develop such an awareness of my own spiritual needs AND God’s abundant and sufficient grace for me! It’s time to rise to the occasion and “work it out” as the mature believer you are called to be. It’s time to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. Dear Lord Jesus, You set before me today the invitation to be attentive to my soul. I will never be attentive until I know You as the Lord of my life. Until then, I will foolishly squander my life in frivolous living. Please build in me a holy fear, not of You, but of my own ingratitude. Help me to be grateful and loving so that I will stay awake to the awesome invitation You extend to me today, and for the rest of my life. Amen
Please pray for Fr. Barnabas as he travels to Chicago and speaks tonight at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on West Winona Ave. in Chicago tonight. He will be there through Wednesday to help the parishes in the area celebrate the feast day of St. Demetrios.