We all have experienced moments we wished wouldn’t end. They may have been intimate scenes or silly, fun ones.
For instance, I recall an exquisite piece of carrot cake that nearly raptured me. And the time I stepped into a pâtisserie famished from trekking and getting my first taste of flan. I could have eaten a pan of it.Read More »
Life guarantees each of us some heartache. No need to search for it; it will find you. The scriptures add the possibility of God ordering us to pass through trial for the perfecting of our faith. But whether it is life’s distress or God’s higher purpose at work, trouble can be overwhelming at times and bring us to the brink of despair.
A conversation I’ve had with God during these times has often begun—and ended—like this: “Lord, I’m failing this test!” Frustrated, I’ll start praying and then stop because I’m sure God is sick of hearing me about that same ole thing. I know I am.
This usually happens when I’m at my wits end and don’t know my next move, or I feel that I’ve botched something. It springs from a heart that sincerely desires to please the Lord but is near despair because there seems to be no solution to the problem.
Sometimes it’s relieving to look at our Bible heroes and see that they dealt with the same emotions we face. Consider these words of Paul: “We do not want you to be uninformed…about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death” (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
Keeping it in perspective, my cares don’t compare to Paul’s active engagements on behalf of the souls in his young churches. Yet we all steer a state of mind that must be held at an even keel, whether we deal with real, urgent risks or matters of play. And Paul pulls the covers back for a moment and shows us a low point, which should encourage us.
‘Saved and on my way to Heaven’ doesn’t exempt one from dealing with the gamut of human emotion. Faith should determine how we deal with our emotions, although we won’t be happy perpetually or sad forever.
God vs. Our Image
Another thing that won’t be perfect is how we handle trouble. This is where I have often erred, especially in those times when I knew God was sending me through the wilderness. It is the crux of my ‘failing’ prayer. Let’s keep reading Paul’s words: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God” (v. 9).
Interesting: Paul submits that his life-threating ordeals occurred so that his team could fall upon the great strength of God to rescue them.
The Holy Spirit showed me how I stopped relying on his grace to face my cares and opted to confront them in my own strength and pride, attempting to persevere with tidiness and perfect form. The truth is, however, the wilderness kills those who don’t adapt. It’s a place of change. And you don’t get the luxury of looking good in the desert. Instead, God leads us there to get better things in and out of us—and that ain’t ever glamorous.
Trial is not pretty and never perfectly endured. But such a mindset only proves that we are not relying on the grace of God, which is perfect, to carry us, start to finish.
My “I’m failing this test!” prayer only demonstrates that I need to chill out and cease trying to please the Lord and score “A’s.” Instead, God’s tells me, “You already please me, and I’m not disappointed in you. Just learn what I’m trying to teach you.”
That means deal with the variables or the aftermath of the situation with faith and dutiful attention, as you must, but keep your heart open to the lessons the Spirit wants you to grasp.
A Spiritual Learning Curve
There is a spiritual learning curve for each of us, and it comes with some hardship. If it weren’t challenging, we wouldn’t grow and couldn’t achieve mastery. In time, however, we learn that it is challenge and resistance, along with the grace of God, that raise our lives from one state of glory to the next. Paul finishes:
“He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us” (v. 10).
Paul is suggesting one clear message: the triumph of God’s grace in our adversity. Later, he renders it this way: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (12:9). Did you see it that time?
Friend, lets lay aside those crooked prayers and rest in the mighty grace of God. We’ll gain confidence in his purpose with our pain and ease our troubled minds.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.” (Lam. 3:21-22)
One of my favorite websites is YouTube. I love that I can have an array of clips and video, movies and documentaries, or my favorite TV commercials at my fingertips, not to mention all the other quackish, non-essential stuff that can be eye-opening.
Oh yeah, it’s free, too.
I’m still a young guy but not so young that I don’t remember TV in black-n-white with just a few channels and it being a rap when the national anthem played after the late evening news. So secondary viewing by computer is pretty neat to me.
Sometimes I wish I had the facility of displaying my dreams on a player format like YouTube. We shouldn’t think it too strange these days since science is already producing mind-controlled devices; how much more would it take to display our thoughts? I have the wildest and most fantastical dreams sometimes, the kind so exciting that I get peeved if I should wake too soon!
When I start thinking this way, I begin wondering if in Heaven God will give us the opportunity to view certain parts of salvation history; and more than having my dreams on display, I think it would be a most awesome thing if we could see God’s agency for us individually. I’m talking about the drama of angels and demons, God’s meticulous planning for us, how our prayers worked, miracles we never knew of…the whole shebang. Now that would be something worth every second beholding!
Calling It to Mind
Right now, however, we have to be satisfied with our human minds for recalling the Lord’s faithfulness, which makes deliberate recollection an act of our will. We must remind ourselves not simply that God is good, but also that he has already been good to us in countless direct ways.
The Bible, in so many places, especially the Old Testament, commands us to remember the Lord’s goodness: “Remember His wonderful deeds which He has done, His marvels and the judgments from His mouth” (1 Chron. 16:12). Peter understood the importance of recall, electing to continue reminding his hearers about the truth of scripture, although he was assured that they already understood it (2 Peter 1:12-12). It’s worth noting how remembering God’s faithfulness benefits us.
It reminds us of God’s ability. It’s what is meant when we speak of God being magnified—let him be greater than anything concerning us. Our perspective will change when we understand that all Heaven is backing us.
It causes us to understand God’s affection for us.He is for us, never against us. Whenever there is a question in my mind on this point, I ask myself aloud, “Can God do it? (Yes.) Will God do it? (Probably.) Will he do it for you? (I believe so.)” God desires our maturity and success.
It builds our faith. Who can reflect on God’s past dealing in their life and not feel that their next battle is good-as-won? It was this that prompted David to write, “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall” (Ps. 18:29). It won’t make the waiting any easier, but it will retard depressive vices and place God above one’s feelings.
A Way of Life
Recollection is easily enjoined with many of the spiritual habits—solitude, meditation, journaling, fellowship, contemplation, centering. Also, if there is a certain atmosphere that bridges you to God, like a cathedral or beach, by all means go there. Nature lifts my soul to God, so prayer at my favorite park works well for me. Some people may discover this habit easier done in the fellowship of Christian friends; others might find the quiet of the early morning best while lying in bed.
The Lord has done marvelous things for you. It may not look that way in areas of your life right now. But instead of escaping in your mind to bygone days when things were good, retreat to those times when you knew beyond all doubt that the Lord acted on your behalf. Consider those victories that astonished you and all who knew your story. Your heart will quickly brighten again.
Consider this for a moment: the eternal God gives lasting gifts. You may think, Yeah, I know that, but really take in the implications.
I’m a stickler for quality. I don’t mind paying more if I am certain the item will last for years to come. That’s not having ‘expensive taste’ or ‘keeping up with the Joneses’, in my opinion. It’s actually saving me money and the hassle of replacing goods. I too like lasting things.
And what God gives you and me are eternal possessions, inasmuch as they belong to him, the Eternal One. God’s gifts proceed from his own good nature, just as light and warmth proceed from the sun. Without the sun we earthlings couldn’t survive; Jesus says the same: “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). All love, mercy, and virtue shine upon us from the glorious God—he being as much the gift as its expression.
God’s Greatest Gift to Us
One gift so many people, including Christians, take for granted is our humanity. I think folk miss out on quality life by either disrespecting their humanity or by not dignifying it and giving it proper expression. Many Christians hold a distorted or wrong anthropology and don’t understand that we were created as humans to eternally exist as humans glorifying God with our humanity. My goodness—Jesus represents us now in Heaven with a human body. I cannot imagine that he lived a crummy earthly life.
I don’t dispute the fact of sin and the depravity of the soul as a present reality. Still, although sin marred the creation, it never effaced the glory of God in it. The angels in Isaiah’s vision cried, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3).
In Christ we have restored freedom to be as human as possible in this life. Let that sink in: free to enjoy life. Jesus modeled a perfect humanity. I think that if we studied his words and life and the deep implications, we could free ourselves from rote and weighty behavior patterns that suck life out of us rather than give us life. We would see that there are far fewer restrictions on our lives pertaining to what it takes to please the Lord and just to experience genuine happiness.
Some people regard the Bible like a big red stop sign: “You can’t do that! You’ll be punished! God is angry!” But it was after I studied portions of the Old Testament prophets (yes) that I discovered just how loving God is and that all his words to us are a “Go!” rather than a no.
I wonder if we unnecessarily tie ourselves in knots sometimes.
Thus, we are free to celebrate and explore our passions, to embrace one another, to develop the virtues within, to enhance our talents, to soak in nature and art, to wonder and draw near to God by it—more gifts he gives.
In Yet a Little While…
Is this not the most fitting way to honor the God who bestows these good and lasting things? And how inseparable they are from our very human nature! It is how we process our existence…humanity is our existence. We are not angels or spirits nor were we intended to be. Instead, God has deemed it that we praise him best as humans; and I will accomplish that by being the best human I can be.
So I honor God and this great gift he’s given me by unpacking all the treasure he’s placed within me. I do it by cherishing others and building lasting relationships. I do it by fighting sin and storing up spiritual wealth. I do it by clarifying his will in my life. I do it by having uninhibited fun. And I do it by gleaning from every experience because I know my growth will continue in the life to come.
I cannot wait to see myself in resurrection with perfect form, within and without. You know, we’ll spend time in Heaven but we’ll return with our King, arrayed in immortal bodies, to a gloriously new earth. I believe that.
What excites me is that the gifts, talents, and virtues—that ‘spiritual wealth’—we amass now…things we love and that God has given us to perfect: they hold much value for that time, although we cannot fathom how. I surmise that this present life is just too important and too short to squander.
Every gift from God should ultimately become a gift back to him. Vibrant, godly, authentic humanity is our best worship.
Annoyed by the ringing phone, Grant paused his video game and snatched up the receiver before the answering machine came on. He expected someone needing his mom or dad, but it was Josh, the head youth leader at his church. Caught off-guard, Grant grabbed the remote and lowered the sound so he could hear. A baseball game played on another TV.
It was an awkward moment for Grant, who hadn’t attended his teen group, Lighthouse, in more than a month. It wasn’t because he didn’t care for it, but one thing had led to another…the spin he gave Josh: getting over a bad case of flu, tennis tryouts, his band sessions and gigs, and good ole R&R, which usually amounted to hours in video game world.
Grant texted while talking with Josh and even muted the call once to quickly answer his cell and promise a callback. The conversation had grown longer than Grant expected or wanted. Josh invited Grant to play at the church’s upcoming barn party, slated to be a big event. Grant was interested and tentatively accepted, now on his tablet looking over his schedule and then checking email and Facebook messages.
The conversation turned to spirituality. “How’s your devotional life?” Josh asked. Grant rolled his eyes, brushing his hair back and making sure not to sound peeved.
“It’s okay, I guess,” Grant replied, texting again. Josh wasn’t buying it.
“You guess? That doesn’t sound convincing,” Josh replied. Grant booted up his laptop.
“Well, honestly, I really need to get back to Bible reading. I pray fairly regularly though,” Grant said.
“Okay, but you need to be around your peers. That’s where you get accountability and how you stay strong in your faith.” There was silence. Josh continued, “Grant, you’ve been an example to many of the kids, and they’ve been asking about you. I don’t want you to lose your fire and godly example. We all have as much of God as we desire. I just need to be sure Christ remains your priority and that you’re making time for him.”
There wasn’t much Grant could say to that, tossing his cell phone on the bed. He sat down in the Banker’s Chair at his desk and sighed, a little dispirited now. When Josh started wrapping up the call, Grant interjected.
What is it that makes the God of the Bible greater than all others?
Ever since humankind fell into sin, however it occurred at the dawn of human existence, God, who anticipated it all, responded in un-godlike fashion, if we believe the historical characterizations of deities.
He did not become intemperately furious and rain down destruction to wipe humans from the face of the earth; he did not scorn his creation and leave them without divine support. Instead, he chose to communicate himself and a grand design for restoring the race that was blind to its need.
The salvific nature of God—that he redeems—is among his greatest characteristics. God has committed himself to a plan of reconciling all things to match his wonder. No other god takes the time to deal with sinners more than to exact punishment upon them. But God seems to specialize in processing and refashioning what is broken and repudiated and presenting it to a watching world gloriously restored.
Is this not the story of so many biblical characters? Better still, could it not be your story? Our life’s journey bears the twists and turns that only bend at the permissive nod of a God who loves us extravagantly. We climb mountains and plow through valleys, experience the heat of drought and the refreshment of the stream—are they all not teaching moments? Do we merely live and die? I dare not believe that life is a circle lacking of real purpose in my experiences.
Contrarily, I know that every experience builds me in some way and anticipates a greater moment, not only for me but also for those who should enter my life. Every good and bad moment is a teaching moment of how to ride the waves being disciplined and true to God. You see, God redeems the brokenness of our lives and life itself.
Proverbs 4:18: “The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” This verse is proof to me of God’s purposeful intention in our lives. The one who stands and raises his or her hands atop the mountain is the one who with strength and determination, cuts and sweat, conquered not only the mountain but every mental foe that threatened their resolve.
When that person takes in the view, perhaps a sunrise, they cherish every moment in the process it took to get there. Our redeeming God is eager to get our attention so we don’t waste our time. Many people don’t have a clue that they’re on any kind of journey or, sadly, don’t wish to climb the mountain. Some mountains don’t move because they’re not meant to move—we are. But it is never about the mountain.
In the end, the joy belongs to those of us who ascended. We may not have been perfect, but that certainly wasn’t the point. It was that we were committed to God and loved him back as richly as he first loved us. We acknowledged him and his plan in every high and low of life, and we served others with the knowledge we were blessed to experience. His reward to us is a view from the top, an uninhibited look at his goodness, the grace that all along pushed us higher and higher. This is the glory of God.