“We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:28-29)
It’s called many things today, power, energy, drive, vitality. Here Paul calls it “energy.” And even though, as I look through these verses, I find some great topics — teaching, laboring, struggling — it’s the “energy” that intrigues me the most. What is this “energy” that enables Paul to teach, labor and struggle? What is it that is working “so powerfully” in him? What is the fuel for the Christian life? What do you put in your tank? What enables you to start in the morning? What keeps you running all day? What fuels your commitment, your obedience, your ministry? I need to understand this because there are so many inferior fuels out there.
I have a friend who filled up at a gas station and then broke down three blocks down the road. He discovered he had one gallon of gas and 10 gallons of water. Or, you hear that clattering engine noise as you drive up a hill and you ask yourself “Why did I buy that cheap gas?”
Bad fuel. Cheap gas. There’s a lot of it around.
Fear is an inferior fuel. You can’t run a life on it. You can’t run a family on. It you can’t run a business on it. This is why Jesus said over and over, “don’t be afraid” (Mt. 10:31, 14:27, 17:7, Mk. 5:36, 6:50, Lk. 5:10, 8:50, 12:7, Jn. 6:20). This is why John wrote, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18). Fear is a bad fuel.
Determination is also an inferior fuel. I have a friend who lives on determination. There is a lot of rigid order in his life. He is a very disciplined athlete. He is also unyielding and unbending in his business practices. And all of this has carried over into Christian life. And so, when he succeeds, he is proud, he boasts and he takes all the credit. But when he fails, he becomes angry, frustrated and he blames others. His determination has not given him what he has needed. Determination will run out. It can be twisted. It is an inferior fuel. But fear and determination are not our only fuel choices.
The fuel of habit is high on the list. I have learned that often a weakness is a strength that has been over-played. And so, courage over-played becomes recklessness. Sensitivity over-played becomes timidity. Leadership over-played can become selfishness. And habit is the same. It can be over-played.
Now, this is not a treatise against the practice of good habits. Good habits are wonderful. But what happens when you over-play habit What does it become? Habitual. Just think of some of the synonyms for habitual — mechanical, routine, automated, artificial, thoughtless. Isn’t it possible to be moving along in your Christian life, not wavering to the left or the right, but staying on the straight and narrow, not because you are grateful to God, or because you’re convicted by his word? Not because you are touched by the plight of others or because you are moved by your time alone with God in prayer? But because your Christian habits have become artificial, thoughtless, plastic. Yes, habit alone is an inferior fuel.
And we could add several other versions of these inferior fuels — tradition, pride, arrogance, power, selfishness.
And Paul is very aware of these inferior fuels. His earlier life had run on them. And so, over and over, in this short letter, he describes a much better fuel:
1:3 — “we always thank God”
1:12 — “joyfully giving thanks to the Father”
2:7 — “overflowing with thankfulness”
3:15 — “and be thankful”
3:16 — “with gratitude in your hearts”
3:17 — “giving thanks to God the Father”
4:2 — “being watchful and thankful”
This is Paul’s fuel — Gratitude. And it never runs out.
In his book, God Is Inescapable, Dr. David Soper writes that the basic difference between a prison and a monastery is simply the difference between griping and gratitude. I think he’s right. Criminals spend their days griping; saints spend their days offering thanks. And to take the analogy a step further, when a criminal becomes a saint his prison can become a monastery. Or, when a saint gives up gratitude, even his monastery becomes a prison. Even his church becomes discouraging, disappointing, a prison.
You see, Paul was in prison when we wrote:
“I thank Christ Jesus our lord,
who has given me strength,
that he considered me faithful,
appointing me to his service.”
— 1 Timothy 1:12 —
Years ago, when Kipling was one of the more popular writers, it was reported that he received 10 shillings for every word he wrote. As a joke, some university students sent him 10 shillings with a note, “Send us one of your very best words.” Kipling wrote back one word …
It is still one of our very best words.