The Grace of Pain

When and if you stop to consider your arguments and rationale for why you should get things that you want, those reasons are often based in our perceived value, contribution, entitlements, etc. For those of us of faith, we’ll then put those expectations on God and often find a Scripture or two to “support” our justification. Sometimes we’ll even mistaken the challenges we face as an “attack” when, in fact, God Himself has both orchestrated and allowed our discomfort and He has done so for our benefit and His glory. Consider the following passage:

“You have neither heard nor understood; from of old your ears have not been open. Well do I know how treacherous you are; you were called a rebel from birth. For my own name’s sake I delay my wrath; for the sake of my praise I hold it back from you, so as not to destroy you completely. See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do this. How can I let myself be defamed? I will not yield my glory to another.” (Isaiah 48:8-11)

The Father addresses the rebellion of Israel, which is typically no different than the rebellion of you and I. He explains that instead of appropriate wrath for the depravity of rebellion against a Holy God, He chooses to refine. Instead of a swift and just judgment to the demise of the prodigal, He allows for affliction to grow up the immaturity and grow out the obstinance. I’m thankful for that because without it, I would have been destroyed long ago.

He chooses to look past our depravity which is offensive to His nature and, by His grace, work it out of us. Here’s the bigger point; He does it for His glory and fame. We aren’t really that big of a deal, despite our participation trophies. He is and always will be the point. He knows our selfishness and shallowness would prefer it were about us, yet He allows the affliction of difficultly to refine us and work out those iniquities.

Justice would demand our punishment for punishment’s sake. We would be destroyed but we are pressed to work it out of us, instead. It’s gracious to give us the time to grow and it’s gracious to allow us the process of refinement to redeem what otherwise is simply unacceptable.

In this world, you will have trouble. It’s not always an attack, but no matter if it is or not, the Lord is likely willing in every challenge to work out some expectation of justice or entitlement from within you. He’s willing to redeem your pain for His glory through the resulting maturity that comes with trust, if you’ll submit to Him through the circumstances and allow His glory to be the point over your comfort, preferences or expectations.

The Tremendous Cost of Relying on Ability

The cost of refusing the invitation isn’t just an opportunity missed. The ramifications of our choices bring consequences that can be directly opposite to the intentions we had when we made the choice to ignore the chance. The thing that we set out to do can be defeated in our efforts.

A couple of days ago, I wrote of the invitation that Jesus gives us in Mark 6:31 to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” In that post, the resting point is that without a conscious choice to put things down, we won’t be able to accept His invitation. 

Turning down that invitation may not mean much on it’s face. It may not seem important to rest “in this season” for whatever reason. Maybe that reason is just this one project or the crisis of the present circumstances. Maybe it’s the sense of calling to change things for the better, therefore, “Jesus wants me to do this for Him right now” or some similar language.

If you are a professing believer/follower of Jesus, here is what He says about the stuff that we do: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

The word for “nothing” there at the end of the last sentence comes from a word that means “nothing” in the original language. Nothing means nothing. That is, without connection to, reliance on and abiding in Jesus as the Source, then whatever we do amounts to nothing. Even if we are able to raise money, build buildings, etc.

The opportunity cost for choosing not to rest with Him isn’t just refreshment; it’s everything. Without a “yes,” the rest doesn’t matter. It may feel good in the moment. I may draw some attention, adoration or accolades from others. Even so, it won’t matter. It’s nothing.

You see, I know, because I do. I like to do and I’m good at doing some things. Those things that I’m good at doing can even bring me some attention, reward and satisfaction. They are nothing, however, compared to when and what He does. Jesus is better at everything than I am. He’s a better lawyer, business owner, minister, leader, writer, speaker, you name it. Failure to truly trust Him to be better has, at times, cost me my “yes.”

No more. I say “yes.”

The Intersection of Faith, Fear, Theory and Belief

My beliefs have changed drastically over the past 20 years, although the foundation for what I now believe was put in place as a kid. In between being a kid and 20 years ago, I would have claimed some of the same beliefs that I was raised on, although there was no evidence in my life that I actually believed them. I was living like hell even when I said that I believed there was a heaven.

A belief is not a belief until it is displayed in a choice. Up until the supposed belief is manifest in a decision, it is little more than a theory. It could just be culture. When decisions are made in accordance with a previously untested belief, the theory becomes fact as our trust in the belief is proven.

Whether we claim to believe in God or not, we all face problems. No matter what our stated beliefs are related to God’s love, power, goodness, sovereignty, etc., those statements will be tested in our circumstances. Then, and only then, are our theories of belief put in the fire for refining. They will either be strengthened or prove themselves to be false.

‘But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?’ (Psalm 56:3-4)

David sings of “when” he is afraid, because sometimes he is. This “man after God’s own heart” experienced fear and, at that point, his belief in God was tested. While his soul cries out all through the Psalms, the place he lands is “I trust in God . . . What can mere mortals do to me?” He lands in a submission to God’s sovereignty and eternal context.

His comfort is in the distinction between man and God; temporary and eternal. His fear is the intersection for trust and decides that God’s sovereignty and the outcomes of the eternal picture are better than anything that might happen as man, among man, in the temporary state of man.

The “promises of God” we have are eternal glory . . . AND trouble in this world. We are invited to share in the sufferings of Christ here and now, trusting that our place with Him is forever. We either trust that His wisdom and intentions are better than our preferences or not. You’ll know the answer for you in the choices that you make about Him.

God Bless Texas

It’s easier to be in charge than it is to trust and release. We trust our limitations more than we trust the limitless possibilities of what might happen beyond our capacity. Our very nature, in it’s fallen state, is to be sovereign over ourselves and other stuff.

The sovereignty of God is a more complex idea than we might appreciate at a glance. If we really believe that there is a God who is actually God, then that means we can’t be. That realization contradicts our fallen state and requires our submission. No submission = no belief.

Concepts are not belief; choices are. For everything that I control the outcome and withhold my trust, then I remain “g”od where “G”od is ready, willing and able. For everything that I attempt to show Him how much I’ve done for Him, He is a spectator of my futile and temporal jukes towards religion as He waits willing to offer eternity.

The net result is often a life that lives out the Lord’s prayer as follows:

“Our Father, Who is in heaven . . . 1) give us this day our daily bread, 2) forgive us of our flaws and 3) protect us from evil. But just in case, for today until You show that You will actually come through in the way I prefer, I’ll strive to provide for myself by working myself sick and robbing relationships from valuable time. Also, I’ll continue to be expected to be judged by my intentions as others consider me but I’ll evaluate them based on their performance. Finally, I’ll buy lots of guns and stockpile money and build plenty of “wise” safeguards around my suburban existence to ensure that we can still make it to church on Sunday. But I trust You . . . really. Just keep blessing me, because, You know, I’m an American and a Republican and, oh, yeah . . . a Texan. Amen.”

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped. And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:20-21)

Trusting God . . . or Not

I’d like to say that I trust God, but I wonder if that’s true? If I truly trust Him, why do I experience so much worry, anxiety or fear? Why don’t I just pray and wait when faced with challenges?

Trust is, by definition, “firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.” With that definition, I must trust God. I firmly believe that God is reliable, true, able and strong so that means I must trust Him, right? Why, then, do I worry and imagine and strive? Maybe another definition is necessary.

The definition of dependence is “the state of relying on or being controlled by someone or something else.” Uh-oh, I think we’re on to something. Being controlled or even reliant are not appealing qualities to me. They don’t even seem very masculine or responsible. I can’t say that I value those traits very highly. Can I really trust without being dependent?

Allowing God to control me and my outcomes and to rely on His goodness takes faith. I have to believe that His ways are better. Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

That’s quite a promise but the conditions are significant. He “rewards” those who “seek” Him. Seeking includes the ideas of searching, figuring it out for one’s self . . . craving. There is a demand in the idea of seeking that suggests until the answer is provided, the search will not cease; not even unto death.

Here’s the trick, I think . . . Hebrews doesn’t say that He rewards those that seek the answers to their problems. It doesn’t say that He fixes things for those that ask for stuff. It says that He rewards those that sincerely seek Him without any “give up” in their inquiry. For those that will seek God for God’s sake unto their own death, He is pleased with them to the point of reward.

When focused on my problems, real or imagined, I don’t seek God nor do I trust Him, nor am I dependent on Him. I want what I want when I want it. He is reduced to a tactic to try to get my way. He is kept at arm’s length for the sake of my primary attention going into the problem solving process to control my outcomes and protect my comfort.

When I seek Him for Him with faith that He exists and can be found, the reward is satisfying no matter the answer of the prayers. When I seek Him unto the death of me, the stuff in my life is secondary to the eternal hope and satisfaction found in the intimacy of finding Him.

Do I trust God? Sometimes.

Do you?

Don’t Take the Bait

I fell into a trap lately and, before you know it, I was stuck. The consequences weren’t catastrophic other than the fact that the net result robbed my potential joy and diverted my attention from God’s glory. Not good.

We had a chance to minister overseas in a culture which is vastly different from what we know as normal. The language differences as well as event logistics resulted in a dynamic outside of the norm from which we typically operate. The time we had to engage was limited and we left soon after we were done. Frankly, it was a little difficult to tell how effective the time was. We had flown 1/2 way across the world and it was just difficult to tell whether it impactful. With the commitment of time and resources we had made, the question of impact was relevant.

Not being able to tell, I came home partially satisfied. I knew that some good things had happened as there was some feedback. I was less than 100% secure in the value of the trip as I processed the experience.

Then another member of the team who flew out separately got back and he had numerous video testimonies that he had taken following our time with these people. He also had a chance to spend time with local leadership after our departure and their appreciation for what was happening was evident. The long and short of it was the feedback that I was missing, he had captured. From those testimonies, It was undeniable that the trip created a huge ripple effect and God had clearly moved in people’s lives in powerful ways.

The trap I had stepped into was the need to satisfy my soul. My mind, will and emotions wanted validation that the sacrifice was worth it. I wanted the security blanket of getting to see results from the process we had engaged in. I wanted the visible to affirm the invisible. My faith in God’s faithfulness was weak compared to my need to be assured that He did what He does.

Ministry is not, cannot be and should never be about me (or any of us). If you go, it’s because He called and if you serve, it’s unto His pleasure and His glory. The results, then, are His to work out. Obedience is the call of HIs Spirit to our spirit and the wants and desires of our soul are irrelevant comparatively.

We don’t save people, heal people or set people free; He does. If it happens, He did it. If it doesn’t, that’s His deal with them. We don’t get credit or blame; we just get called and have to decide if we are in or not; no matter the outcomes.