Luke 21:34-36

Luke 21:34-36

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

I’m so glad for this verse. Oh how it speaks to my heart this morning, for I was caught in a trap of worry, a thicket of briars constricting and choking me. But the good shepherd, who is always good, set my heart free.

“I cried out in anguish to the Lord, and he answered by setting me free” Psalm118:5

“Be at rest once more Oh my soul, for the Lord has been good to you” Psalm116:7

I’ve heard this verse quoted before, but only ever to emphasize the word “drunkenness”. I know a lot of people who dislike the idea of drinking, and use this one verse to confirm their dislike. I personally see a lot of depth in these verses, with drunkenness being the smallest tree in the deep woods of the word.

Readers would be correct to say that there is a primary command in this excerpt, and they have every right to believe it is “Do not drink alcohol”. I however, believe that the primary command is in the first three words: “Be On Guard”.  To me those words sound like a defensive measure.  The command is then followed by reasoning: “So that your hearts are not weighed down”.  To me, this reasoning is the main point of these verses. Protecting the heart, protecting it’s freedom which is given by God, is the purpose of the guarding.  To emphasize this point even further, they list 3 of the many many ways our hearts can be weighed down: “dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life”.  It’s interesting to me that none of those three are singled out as being better or worse.  Because of this, it’s my belief that wastefulness/unnecessary excess (dissipation), excessive drinking, and excessive worrying can all be equally sinful. I also think it’s interesting that we are to “Be on guard” against these things, as if they are coming at us at attacks from an outside source.

We are then warned about our hearts being weighed down: “And that day will catch you unexpectedly, like a trap”.  And it certainly does.  People generally don’t try to become alcoholics, it’s a sin that builds gradually until they are surrounded and trapped by it.  Similarly you can wake up one day and be paralyzed with worry… worries that have been building in your mind and never resolved or let go.  Dissipation is an interesting one. I see dissipation as the opposite of simple living.  To dissipate means to scatter, but dissipating as a lifestyle is to scatter your resources through wastefulness and excessive spending.  This can definitely be a trap if you are trying to conform to a wealthy lifestyle.  All of your clothes need to have designer labels, and all of your TVs need to be bigger than your neighbor’s TVs.  This can be physically paralyzing (credit card debt, status quo), and psychologically paralyzing by skewing and reversing the value of material possessions with the value of human life and relationships. 

The verse goes further to say: “For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole Earth”.  The rain falls on good and evil alike.  I think it’s very important to know that hope, faith, and love will not guarantee a trouble-free life.  I’ve known many people who blame God for their troubles, or see them as punishment from God, or use strife to accuse God of not being good or not being in control.  Each of these are extremely important ideas, because they plague the world with walls that people put up against God, building them with the bricks of illness, death, rejection, injustice, and every wrongdoing they’ve ever seen or experienced.  It’s very difficult to get our minds around the concept that God is good, and is in control, and loves us unconditionally, when we live in an unpredictable world where bad things can happen to anyone.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense to us, but it’s ok to question it. I think that God likes questions.  I also think that it’s important to note that we’re not in paradise yet, and that there is a very real presence of evil in the world, so it’s unrealistic to expect anything to be perfect while we’re here.  However, I also believe in eternal life: not life beginning when we die, but life continuing when we die… the continuation of the life and the love that we’ve been building with God, so I believe that Heaven starts now in our hearts, and is a paradise we can retreat to when our hearts are weighed down by the Hells of the world.

Then in these verses we are given a secondary and complimentary command (remember the first was Be On Guard).  The 2nd is: “Be Alert at all times”.  I like to think of that command as “Be Present”, or “Be Aware” maybe just “Be”.  If you are worrying excessively then your mind isn’t in the present, you’re distracted, distressed, and preoccupied by things that probably can’t be resolved/fixed at that moment.  Obviously in a state of drunkenness, our minds are not fully present, and are definitely not alert or aware.  When dissipating, we’re inebriated with greed and luxury, unaware of our lack of generosity and the poverty in the world that our action or inaction helps to perpetuate. 

This secondary command also gives a reasoning: “Be alert at all times, Praying…”.  We should be present with God, and grow in awareness of him constantly.  For God sees what we cannot see, and knows what we cannot know… so in our awareness of the presence of God, we can be infinitely more alert than we are without him.  The verse goes on to say: “(Praying) that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place”.  Praying for strength.  To me, the language in this verse compliments the previous verses so well.  It speaks of the need to escape the things that weigh on the heart, which directly correlates to the idea of those things as a trap.  Also, in saying “all these things that will take place” it reaffirms the idea that troubles will happen in this life, and that we should not only accept it as a fact, but can freely ask God for the strength to make it through. 

The last statement in these verses is: “And to stand before the Son of Man”. This last part is definitely an attention getter, and the sentence is given to interpretation. That whole verse is “Be alert, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man”. 

I can see it two different ways.

  1.  Be alert, praying that you may (have the strength to escape all these things) and to stand before the Son of Man.
  2.  Be alert, praying that you may have the strength to (escape all these
    things) and to stand before the Son of Man.

 One prays to be with Christ, and the other prays for the strength to be with Christ.  That’s an interesting concept.  When I first read this, the idea of Judgement Day came to mind… where someone might need strength to stand before a scary bloodied Christ on horseback.  I’m not a big fan of that perspective, because I believe that we’re totally forgiven and redeemed by Christ’s blood, and the only thing scary about him might be the blinding light of his glory. 

Perhaps praying for the strength to stand before him is to be on guard against the fear of death, to “pick up your cross”.  Or it could be to “go before” him with the good news (as John the Bapt did).  Or perhaps having the strength to stand before him means coming to him in total confidence, total repentance, total acceptance of his grace, and total trust in his goodness.  Or perhaps it means total recognition of his sacrifice, as the disciples did not have the strength to stand before him during his crucifixion (except maybe John, maybe).  For the other idea, praying to stand before Christ, could be a prayer of salvation.  It could also be a retreat into the heart, or a surrender. It could be a meditation, or a prayer of imagination.

“This was my method of prayer; as I could not make reflections with my understanding, I contrived to picture Christ within me… I did many simple things of this kind… I believe my soul gained very much in this way, because I began to practice prayer without knowing what it was.” – St. Teresa of Avila.

Overall, these verses specifically made me aware of my worries, and the ways they were trapping me. It also reminded me how much God prizes our hearts, and wants us to join him in protecting them: by guarding them ourselves, and by receiving strength from God to guard them, and by being present with God.  It also reminded me how much we take freedom for granted, the freedom that God gives to our hearts.

“In making the thick darkness a swaddling band for the sea, God ‘set bars and doors’ and said, ‘Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further.’ But have we come even that far? Have we rowed out to the thick darkness, or are we all playing pinochle in the bottom of the boat?” – Annie Dillard, The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

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