I woke this morning with a picture of a man who finds himself on a vast canvas of possibility. But stuff happens. An incident plays out and to protect himself from pain; he slices away a little corner of the canvas. It doesn’t make much difference, but his canvas is smaller now. A toxic comment is thrown his way, and he trims again. Another slice is added to the heap; the canvas is still spacious, but it’s no longer vast.
The years roll on. A robust experience here, a disappointment there, an abandoned relationship there, a rejection here, an overly personalised response there until, many years later, he awakes to find himself on an A3 sized canvas. Hemmed in.
He does not step lest that step is in the wrong direction. And he cannot step lest he leaves the canvas of his shrunken territory. He is hemmed in by his responses – culled and curated by his own flesh.
There’s a contrary picture of another man where nothing matters, no-one matters and the steps are wherever he chooses. But this is no canvas at all. Fleshly? Sure. Spacious? Well, perhaps not, for there is no sense of a boundary: no guiding moderator, light or compass in sight.
As I lay thinking about the man on the A3 sheet of paper, two things came to mind. First, whether he realises it or not, every cut from here matters. It always did. It was ever changing his world and his possibilities. From where he is right now, it continues to matter. With not too many more cuts, the man will have nowhere to move at all. Resigned to one leg, he’ll be exhausted from standing still.
I realised again that this is a scything and scathing analysis of flesh responses. Our world becomes smaller and smaller and increasingly toxic as we become lord of our ever-decreasing kingdom. Population: man standing on one leg. Capital: self.
The other response is a spirit response. No less intent required. In some ways, no less effort either. But the striving is for rest. And the striving is for joy. The striving exchanges life-sapping for life-giving as it lets go of the bitterness that had hemmed him in. And the striving holds no account of wrongs but pleasures in the truth. It always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres.
It takes a lifetime of spirit-work to craft the soul to enjoy these sanctified responses, but they’re not contrived, they’re cultivated. And, miraculously, they’re canvas-expanding.
Increasingly, these responses cheer on a good thing when they see it. They revel in another’s fortune. They’re compassionate in another’s grieving. They have spirit responses to incidents and accidents, hints and allegations. They have these responses not for self-acclaim or the acclaim of others, for their focus has become the Kingdom of the vast canvas. They revel in the natural fruit of abiding in their Christ-defined identity.
It’s never clear sailing. Storms come. Water gets choppy. Other boats cut in. But the man pursuing a life perfected by the Spirit, not torn, tossed and shrunk by the flesh, does not change his Captain nor his course. His heart is steadfast because it is overwhelmed by the spirit that overcomes the flesh.
Is there a battle? Of course. Will there be more battles? Regretfully, yes. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the spirit gives life because of righteousness.
So I pray that out of God’s glorious riches (not your fleshly poverty), that He will strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, and that out of that fortified and spacious place may flow rivers of living water that feed your soul, expand your canvas, enlarge your story, grow your vision and embolden your actions. That His Spirit will soften your heart, toughen your skin, create courageous conversations and eternally rest in the shalom of the one who brought you out of darkness into his marvellous light.