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.”

Value Within the Unfamiliar

Last week, I was in an airport across the world waiting to come home. We had a 14 hour layover and were just spending time in the coffee shop when I wandered out front to stretch my legs. My phone was charging at our table just inside the outer window as I strolled out to take in the scenes and smells.

I turned to walk back in but there was an armed soldier preventing my re-entry. He pointed upstairs and informed me that I could only re-enter through the doors on the second floor. My attempts at an explanation or appeals to step right back into my table got me nowhere.

Upstairs, they informed me that I needed my outbound ticket to be granted access. I realized that the only ticket I had was on my phone, which was inside. I tried to explain and got nowhere. Fortunately, I was able to go back downstairs and get the attention of my friends through the glass to bring my phone out but for a minute I was stranded in a foreign land with no way to get to what or where I needed to go home.

This was the return trip from a week in a culture where language, food, smells, traffic and customs among other things were outside of my comfort zone. Connection and understanding is possible but requires greater intentionality than the familiarity of home. Insecurities related to your purpose, abilities, reason or choices can emerge in the discomfort of the unfamiliar.

Going places on a calling related to the Kingdom brings hope that you are bringing some value. Beyond that, however, the value is within. The revelation of insecurities when security based in preference is gone offers the opportunity for redemption. It requires dependence on God’s grace and your identity in Him beyond the controllable aspects of life and ministry.

Every time we agree to step into unfamiliar circumstances the likelihood of exposure within us multiplies. For as long as we are comfortable and controllable, there is a security in our maintenance. Outside of routine boundaries such as common language and agreement based in our upbringing, there are questions that can bring value in their answers.

Reliance is so much more real when there is no other plan. True reliance builds true understanding of true identity in true faith. The product is greater security in Him; not the substituted security controlled by me or my ability to move in familiar expectations.

 

You Absolutely Can Go to Jail

When I was practicing law, I would routinely meet new criminal defense clients for the first time and they would tell me about the situation they were in. With alarming regularity, somewhere in their account of the situation, some of them would inform me something like “I can’t go to jail for this.”

I would stop what we were doing and interrupt by telling them, “You absolutely can go to jail.” Obviously, I was trying to keep them out of jail but there is nothing worse than standing next to a client that is surprised by the reality of the deputy putting handcuffs on them. Even if they don’t go to jail, feeling the weight of the potential consequences is beneficial to them long-term to avoid the situations that caused them to have to come to court in the first place.

Consequences cause us to have to consider the actions that bought the result. Ideally, we learn from the consequences to avoid bigger mistakes and greater consequences. Consequences are our friend as they suggest we consider our will. Why did we do the thing that causes us the discomfort of the consequence? What should we do differently?

“Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” (Romans 2:4 NLT)

The love of God is particularly attractive compared to the consequences of our rebellion. It’s His kindness that calls to us for us to change our mind and turn away from the choices we make apart from Him. Kindness is only kind by contrast. If there are no consequences and everything is a soft landing, then kindness isn’t that big of a deal, is it?

Jesus invites us into His Kingdom; into His holiness. He is in the redemption business. He wants to exchange the depravity within us and replace it with His glory. He loves us and knew we had issues when He decided to die for us. He isn’t intimidated nor impressed by our sin.

The consequences we face aren’t from the anger of God; they are more like gravity. When we choose to walk outside of the way that He has made for us, we are open to the results of our rebellion. We aren’t very good at being our own small “g” gods, so when we try, there are problems. The big “G” God waits patiently in His kindness for us to come home from our prodigal ways to enjoy the benefits of the relationship He intends for us with Him.

We Don’t Catch Our Issues; They Come Out of Us

When representing people charged with a crime, one of the first things that was necessary was to hear their story. Asking them how they viewed the circumstances would help uncover not only facts, but attitudes. It was common for many criminal defendants to say that they “caught” the charge.

Depending on the situation, I would sometimes stop them there and help them realize the flaw in their choice of words. The choice of words, whether it started out as a mindset or not, can create a mindset which is based in a lie. That is, for them to continually say that when they are charged with a crime, it was something they “caught” can create the idea that somebody threw it at them or it was just bad luck.

Criminal charges don’t typically float around and just get on people. They are not like a cold or the flu. Charges almost always come from someone putting themselves in circumstances that lead to trouble. They typically come from bad choices. We don’t catch bad choices, we create them, and if we don’t own them then we’ll make them over and over again.

Whether it’s a criminal defendant or anyone else, breaking patterns of destructive decision-making can be difficult. It may be that we have irresponsible spending habits or sloppy time management. The first step for any of us in getting things going the right direction in a particular area of our lives is to own it. It’s our deal; we are the ones responsible.

The next thing is to strip it down to its lowest common denominator. We need to ask ourselves “why do I do the things that I do?” The answers are within us and we have to be willing to do the hard work of responsibility and honesty to dig to the core. God will show us if we are willing to ask and examine and He will redeem anything within us that is producing the consequences in our lives that are distinct from the glory He intends from us.

Every time a flaw, insecurity, stronghold or some other expression of our soul is revealed to us it is an act of grace. The revelation of our depravity affords us redemption for security in His identity. We don’t have to stay where we are if we are willing to admit that we didn’t catch it; we chose it.

 

Value of Consequences is Determined by Entitlement or Humility

I once watched an attorney represent a young U.S. Naval Officer in a DUI case. The officer was a Naval Academy graduate and the attorney conceded that the facts of the case supported a DUI conviction but that there was more at play. He brought in a former Naval Academy graduate to testify of the ramifications of such a conviction. That former officer testified that he was forced to pay back the value of his Naval Academy education as a result of a similar conviction.

The attorney argued that a $100,000 “fine” would be the practical result of this conviction and that such a “fine” exceeded the intent of the state legislature’s guidelines. The judge reduced the charge to reckless driving but sentenced the officer to several weekends in jail.

I asked the attorney how his client reacted to such a relatively favorable result and the attorney told me that he wasn’t happy about it. He said there was a sense of entitlement that left the officer dissatisfied with the fact that he have to go to jail for a number of weekends.

Similarly, I once represented a client for a felony that I was able to help get reduced to a misdemeanor but he had to go to jail for a couple of weekends. He wasn’t happy; he didn’t want to go to jail. Going to jail for two weekends with a misdemeanor vs. going to jail for months/years with a felony is a huge win. Yet, not a happy client.

Each of the defendants that I referenced was given a bit of a legal gift. The Naval Officer was afforded mercy to avoid a large bill to the government. The felony defendant benefited from a bit of legal maneuvering. In both cases, they did the thing they were convicted of but didn’t want to embrace the stark reality of some time in jail. They were above that, but they weren’t above the abhorrent behaviors that resulted in the scrutiny they were under.

When we are entitled and believe that our intentions supersede our behaviors and our beliefs justify our choices, we simply won’t grow. We’ll be stuck in our immaturity for as long as we aren’t willing to embrace the limitations of our soul. The limitations of our soul are reflected in our choices and our choices have consequences.

I wrote the other day about the value of my depravity. There is grace available where we will seek redemption. For as long as we embrace our “good-guy” status, we’ll miss the exchange. Consequences are graceful as they highlight the goodness of God and the opportunity for transformation if we will change our mind. Otherwise, it’s just a few weekends in jail and the embarrassment without the benefit to our soul.