It’s one of my favorite scenes: steaming coffee in my pink-rose mug, whispering breeze and splashing sun dancing across the old wood of the porch, my favorite pens, books, and journal waiting in a quiet little stack. You might well imagine I enter the scene with a happy countenance. But imagine the opposite. I’m tired and grouchy and huff-puff-puffing. I fall into the chair with a heavy sigh, regretting the quick, impatient words that just slipped off my lips and complaining about my sprawling To Do list.
I open the Scriptures hastily, perhaps roughly. Like a soft answer turning away wrath, the page falls to I Thessalonians 4. Paul is urging God’s people to walk according to their calling, to walk in purity, to follow the Holy Spirit, to love deeply. “Do so more and more,” Paul writes. He says it a couple times: more and more. You’re already doing it – and you’re doing it well, he says. Keep going. Don’t stop. Aim and work for more.
At first, I am troubled by these words. “I’m already exhausted,” I mutter to myself. “Is that what this Christian life is all about – just striving, never being enough, always having to do more?”
“Really, I’m doing fine in my Christian life”—that’s what I think, there in the middle of my grouchy morning, in the middle of my unkind words and complaining spirit and anxious thoughts.
God is good by His Spirit to help us on these sorts of days.
For suddenly, like a torch ignited to light the way, I see that “more and more” is not burdensome—but beautiful. My grouchy, tired soul realizes that “more and more” is exactly what I need and crave. Holiness—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, being like God Himself—is deeply desirable.
A simple metaphor springs to my mind. Can there be a garden too big, with too many flowers blooming? Can there be too many sweet friends who support you, and cheer you? Can there be too much whipped cream on the ice-cream sundae? Tailor the story to your own loves. When you love something or someone, you don’t complain about having “more and more” of that thing or that person. You don’t tire of the good and the beautiful.
And that’s what Paul is saying. Walking with God is your good and beautiful calling.
“More and more” is troubling—and good and beautiful—on two levels, the first of internal concern and the second of external angst.
Internally, there’s my immediate reaction: I’m already trying so hard, I’m already tired. Can’t you just give me a break? Must I really work more? To this, I say to my soul: “Yes, yes—take a break, and work more!” Take a break from your sin—that sin that is wearing you down and making you frown this sunny morning. Let go of your pride and release your anxieties. Stop trying so hard to win the argument and approval of your competitors. Instead, drink of the fountain that is Christ. The holiness we are called to is not an isolating list of rules or thankless To Do list. It’s about a way of living—the way where self-sacrifice and perseverance and pouring out is the breathing in and out of Christ Himself. You’re not on your own. You work by the Holy Spirit in you and you work by the body of Christ upholding you. The hard work of holiness is the labor of a relationship, a work that is covered in joy, like the exploration of a beautiful and wondrous secret garden, where more lilies lie just around the bend, where we would not think to stop short or turn away from the blooming rose arbor. And this work, this task of holiness, is not unending! There is an end: when we will be together with the Lover of our Souls, and all His people, forever. Seeing Him, we will be like Him. We will never be separated from Him. This is our comfort.
But the second reaction to “more and more” is this: I just don’t want to be weird. This is my external concern: I don’t want to be so different or radical from the rest of the world. Sheldon Vanauken, in his book A Severe Mercy, describes his struggle with this as a new believer, desirous to follow Christ but fearful of being “too much.” He confesses, “I wanted Him approving from a considerable distance. I didn’t want to be thinking of Him. I wanted to be free—like Gypsy [the carefree pup].” But he describes his wife this way: “She simply wanted God—almost totally. Her service was her freedom, her joy” (p. 136). Ultimately, it is her death, the severe mercy, which unveils the immeasurable beauty of a life “swallowed up in God.”
“More and more,” then, attacks this part of all of us that wants to avoid utter transformation—avoid the disguised but ultimate glory. Jesus asks us not to settle with a sort of friendship remaining at an arm’s length, at a “considerable distance.” He asks us to marry Him, to forsake all others, to look nowhere beyond Him. He asks us to trust Him with our whole lives, to trust Him to show us a love beyond imagination. We’re called to take another step closer and press in, and let the world say, “Why is everything about Jesus for her?”
Nobody would have asked such a question of me that morning on the porch. But now I’m convicted, and relieved, and inspired, all at once. (That’s God’s Word for you.) And I whisper to my soul, and whisper now to you: do everything you can to get more and more of God—because He’s done everything—in fact, He died—for you, to know you and love you and give you all the fullness of life. He’s worthy of “more and more.”