The Excellent Life
Most of the demands of life are rather ordinary; consuming our days, months, years and lives. We have things that we have to do from day to day, but we have to be careful that we do not let those affairs obscure the pursuit of real meaning. There is a nautical term that describes what those circumstances might do to us if we aren’t careful. One of them is “Boxing the Compass,” which refers to a wind that is constantly shifting. It is an interesting term because another meaning is that of stating the 32 points of the compass, starting at north and proceeding clockwise. The first suggests a situation that is out of control, while the second refers to a greater awareness and thus greater control of the direction in which our lives are heading.
God doesn’t call us to live for Him; He calls us to live well for Him, but He does not make taking us out of this chaotic world part of that prospect (John 17:15). Instead, we are to test those things that are surpassing in their ability to take us higher. We are to approve things that are excellent. This literally means that God invites us to put His system to the test and in doing so we will find out that though surrounded by difficult circumstances, we are to live above them, seeing the higher meaning of what they imply.
Those that follow the teachings of the Bible must show the world that the walk of the follower of Christ is so much more confident in the middle of adversity. Very often, those that do not believe accuse those that do of simply finding a way to escape or even rationalize hard times. However, the Bible does not indicate that Jesus ever shook off hard times; He dealt with them. Hebrews 12:2 says He endured the cross, but He put down the shame of it. The pain was there, the suffering was there, but because He chose to use that horrible instrument in a different way, it is now revered as a symbol of hope. That is what it means to “box the compass.” We take measure of the circumstances, take control of them, instead of being controlled by them, and look for the opportunity to turn them to advantage.
We should understand that God is performing a good work in each of us, but it probably isn’t completed yet. We have to be careful, because many people have used grace and growth as excuses for less than possible behavior. If we can say that our behavior has been less than what we are capable of, we are misusing God’s grace, something that is forbidden (Romans 6:1-2).
Paul gives us a good method for remembering someone, even someone with whom we may be struggling (Philippians 1:3-4). It is indeed very difficult to stay upset with someone for whom you are praying. That prayer time on their behalf just seems to melt the anger and frustration away.
The real and the ideal always find their common ground in practice or what we could call practicality. We do not hope that people could be better; we do hope that things could be better for people and get active in that hope. That goes back to purpose, attitude, goals and labor. We find commonality with people that base their purpose, goals, attitude and labor in the truth.
To take such a view of life is going to take discipline. There are plenty of mental and emotional seductions to take us off course. The book of Philippians says that rejoicing in the face of a crisis is the fastest way of out of it. Keeping perspective about what is happening is taking the higher course and is the key to leading the excellent life.