Why do we desire pity from others?

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I don’t know where the thirst for others’ pity came from.  Mike and I married at 22 and started experiencing hardship, both in our marriage and with work.  I also struggled with bulimia; Mike’s demons came from insecurity about his intrinsic worth.

Marriage with another sinner revealed a lot to me about how my natural coping mechanisms, developed those first 20 years of life were unhelpful for dealing with the real world, filled with other people who didn’t cater to my personal preferences.  But I didn’t have any other tools.

By God’s grace, we heard the Gospel at age 24 and met some genuine Christ-followers over the next decade.  I grew spiritually in fits and starts as I read my Bible.  Yet, God’s perspective was not IN me.  Every disappointment, trouble, and struggle in our marriage, parenting, work or the battle with my body surprised me.  Although we both had said ‘Yes!’ to Jesus at that first altar call, Mike and I tended to be more consumed by life’s dissatisfactions than intent in growing in the knowledge of God.  Many idols competed for our energy, focus and desires and won out.

Introduced to the Christian circle of women, I soon started sharing these ‘heart-aches’ and felt the sweet rush of another’s pity and understanding.  But like any sugar high, not only did the anticipated response from another NOT satisfy, it left an after-taste in my mouth.  You would have thought I would learn and abandon this craving to find comfort in someone’s sympathy about ‘how bad I had it!’

What happened, is that manipulating to get my pity ‘hit’ became a habit.  It felt MORE real to talk about our/my suffering.  My thinking grew warped so that I didn’t even want to share with someone a morsel or current feast of good news in our lives, because that might erode their view of how ‘pity-deserving’ I was.  This was SICK!   But there was a payoff.  The attention.  And the reverse pride of being so ‘noble’ in my suffering.  I would lament in a way that showed off how much I was praying for this ‘good thing’ and how I didn’t know why God wouldn’t answer it.

Okay, fast forward several decades.  At 60 and 61 Mike and I have seen more suffering in the course of time, as has anyone who has reached this age.  With Biblical perspective, we understand more clearly God’s purposes for preparing individualized suffering modules.  He designs all his training programs for his sons and daughters, in order to grow their holiness and pry their grasping hands off of this world.  One of his goals in trials is to increase our desire for the ‘real’ world to come, the world with him.

Reflecting on the benefit of suffering to my soul, I now desire to change how I talk about it to others.  I attribute this reversal in goals (from wanting a pity-hit to wanting to glorify God) to the care and tutelage of my Friend, the Holy Spirit.

Let me use the metaphor of a sandwich.  My previous sandwich, let’s name it the Pity Sandwich, contained a condensed but probably a bit exaggerated version of a current trial, held together by Pity-Attracting sandwich bread.

It was all about me.  Designed that way.  And like gossip, others actually probably enjoyed sharing a bite from it.  A bit of Schadenfreude appeals to us all.  And for that ‘entertainment’ they were willing to pay the price of sympathy.

Where was God in all that? Nowhere.  It was all about me.

My NEW sandwich I offer to people ONLY when they ask:

Friend:  How are you doing with school, Maria? (there have been pockets of suffering in the past 5 years)

Me: Thanks for asking!  I’m still getting pushback from my administration about XYZ, but I see now how God has his reasons for leading me through this valley of darkness.  These hardships have shown me how much pride I was harboring. I’ve also learned to depend much more on Him.  And that is all good!

The surprise in all this is that THIS kind of sandwich satisfies me far more.  And it honors God. And it proclaims some truth about Him to another person.

As I was praying through my Prayermate feed on my iPhone this morning, I came across these prayerful affirmations that I copied from someone a while back.  It sums up what I want to be about:

  • Since the gospel is the startling, but thrilling, announcement of what God has done for us in Christ, something that we could never do for ourselves, even with his help, then let us meditate on that. 
  • Help us rehearse this gospel, more than our dashed hopes for earthly plans, at a ratio of 100 to 1. And to talk about THAT more than our fears or how poorly we carried out a duty. 

Father, work this response in us so that it becomes automatic, like breathing. For our joy, your glory and for the hope of the world. Because of Christ’s life and death on our behalf. Amen!

 

Don’t waste your disappointment

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How disappointed ARE you by life?  Have things turned out better or worse than you had hoped?

The approach you take to ponder those questions depends on your age, by and large.

Or, it depends on how you were brought up.

I grew up in the 60s and 70s.  By the time I graduated from high school in 1975 I had suffered 3 disappointments that I can recall.  All three left their imprint. The first let down occurred when I was NOT selected to join the girls’ drill team at my high school.  A step below the cheerleaders, this group choreographed routines with flags. It was the first (and last) time I tried out for something.  The ‘failure’ humiliated me initially. But what really hurt was being excluded from a group of girls I had wanted to join.  I longed for friendship and fellowship.

The next disappointment took place following one year in a French-speaking high school. Toward the end of those 9 months of 9th grade, I had arrived at the point where I finally felt at ease with the language and was on the cusp of becoming fluent.  However, my dad’s military assignment to Belgium did not satisfy him professionally and at his initiative with Army assignments back in Washington, DC we moved.  I wanted to stay, but as a 15-year-old, I had no voice in the decision.  To this day I still wish I had been given one more year in that environment.

The 3rd and more impactful pain began when I ‘fell into’ the grip of bulimia.  This was a pain FAR greater than I could handle and lasted 9 years until I was 25 and pregnant with Graham. Repercussions still continue to this day.  My journey post bulimia, all directed by God, has led me along different side paths laden with harmful and false thinking, not connected with reality.  (Anyone who has struggled with an addiction like an eating disorder understands.) I have grown spiritually, without a doubt, accompanied by much mental suffering.

As I left home at age 18 for college, I had grown skilled at living a hidden life.  My mom didn’t know anything about the binging and purging or the nightmare it was for me. This was 1975, after all, and the popular press had not yet discovered eating disorders.

Why am I sharing these 3 events?  To provide examples of how my parents did not train me to handle disappointment.  At all.  And THAT has caused more harm than the bulimia.

So how DID they raise me? What did I hear growing up?  My dad, the career military man, preached:

  • Maria, you can do ANY thing you set your mind to….. and
  • It’s merely mind over matter…and
  • Do your best….and
  • You can have a good marriage if you give 100%, none of this 50/50 stuff

My mom’s messages were:

  • Good girls don’t
  • Take time to smell the flowers

I NEVER heard:

  • Life is hard
  • Life is filled with disappointments and failures and setbacks
  • AND here is how you deal with them!

Were my parents Christian?

No, my mom was a church-goer until the middle of my junior year in high school when she became a believer. And my dad had grown up thoroughly tutored in American pragmatism and optimism, raised dirt poor in the land of opportunity. His success was due entirely to his hard work, so he told me.

Didn’t my mom’s conversion to Jesus impact me?  Not on the surface.  I have no doubt that her prayers for me will follow me the rest of my life into eternity.  But as far as verbalized, explicit teaching? Well, we all know how long it takes for God’s Word to sink in to new believers and change their thinking, let alone what comes out of their mouths!

Back to my life as I headed off to college.  Compared to my childhood, I can say that without a doubt my life after high school has been hard, filled with more disappointment and suffering.

Of course, compared to some friends of mine, it’s been ‘relatively easy’.  And when I look at global suffering, it’s been a piece of cake.  I understand that.

What I’m worked up about is NOT my pain, as little or significant as it may be, but how WE don’t teach our kids to handle disappointment and failure.  Neither in secular culture nor more significantly in the church.

I teach in a private school that prides itself in being progressive.  And whereas they do talk the latest educational trends such as ‘failing forward’, they don’t invite speakers in to exhort and equip students to know how to deal with setbacks.  Just think about graduation speakers.  You get the picture.  Our American verbalized, publicized exhortations to the young are one-directional, toward a bright and successful future.  What is the cost?  Current culture and the news provide evidence:  strewn, broken lives and a rapidly-unraveling society.

Among Christians, I don’t hear of many parents in the US or any other western countries who structure home life any differently.  How many parents deliberately allow their children to face trials, exposing them to experiences that might lead to suffering, all along providing a safety net?  We have our children for 18 years, on average.  The time to fail and learn how to deal with suffering and disappointments should be in the home, before kids launch out on their own.  The consequences leap exponentially after that.

By God’s grace, there is ONE small category of families who seem to be teaching their children well.  These are the missionary families, whose children face hardships in places around the world, some of which are dangerous by our standards.  As one mom I know writes (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘my kids know the Bible is real, because we are living that moment-by-moment kind of life, depending on Jesus for our very survival’.  Whew!  Those kids are growing up equipped to face the world as it is.

Now for some encouragement for the rest of us:

On Friday, June first, I started to read the May 2018 edition of Tabletalk Magazine.  Scroll down the website and look for the issue that looks like this:

Tabletalk - May 2018 Ligonier Ministries publishes this collection of daily devotionals and essays, organized monthly around a different theme.  The topic for May is Hope and Disappointment.

A breath of fresh air enlivened my heart when I read the first sentence in the first full article entitled, ‘The Reality of Disappointment’ by Jeremy Pierre.  He writes: “Life is one long, steady disappointment.”  He then continues to explain what he means and how the believer can see the real hope that life with God offers, an eternal hope that will not prove unsatisfactory and sterile.  The very NEXT essay by Dr. David Murray startled me into proclaiming out loud, YES!

He penned, “If our schools really wanted to prepare our children for life, they would offer classes in failure and disappointment.”

Wow!  Now isn’t that counter-cultural and brave, to point out what we all learn the hard way.  What makes accepting suffering SO difficult for many of us Americans is that our country is all about success.

  • What are YOU going to be when you grow up, little child?
  • You can be ANYbody you want to be, even the president of the country.

No…..you can’t!  What a horrible setup for disappointment.

So, what is ‘my call to action’ as blog instructors teach us writers to add at the end of a post?

I don’t know, maybe the thought that each one of us has the power to start a revolution in embracing reality.  Consider this way of framing what we teach our kids before they leave home:

  • Life IS hard, because our first parents blew it. And it’s not going to get better in our lifetime here on earth.
  • God, who created us to enjoy a perfect world WITH HIM, has wired us to long for perfection, for beauty, for happiness IN HIM.
  • There IS another world planned, a perfect world.
  • And He offers a way to enjoy that fully satisfying world with Him forever.
  • All are invited to come and claim a spot in this permanent joy and peace, but there is only ONE path to it, and that is through His Son Jesus Christ.
  • There is nothing to DO or to earn. It is all gift.
  • Anyone who longs for this gift is eligible to receive it.
  • Once you belong to Him, you are guaranteed His continual presence and supernatural help and a bright future.
  • Oh, yes, there WILL be moments of genuine gladness and joy on this earth right now. So, celebrate them as God’s previews of the true and lasting happiness when we see God face to face.

Praying, the physics of intercession and gratitude

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What do you pray for?

  • safety?
  • the salvation of family or friends?
  • a new job?
  • patience?
  • healing?
  • reconciliation in a marriage or other relationship?
  • wisdom for a difficult decision?
  • unity in your church?

I pray for all these things and more!

Recently, WHILE praying, God has been pinging me for my lack of gratitude for so many of His gifts.

Here is what has happened.  Every day, on my Prayermate app, a different ‘Unreached People Group’ pops up in my feed.  Here is a photo of today’s UPG on my iPhone:

Prayermate Image  If you look at the % Evangelical of these people, the Shixing of China, you’ll notice that percentage-wise there are NO believers among that group. None!  That stuns me.  But more than being sad for their lostness and eager to pray that someone WOULD share the Gospel of the one, true God, I feel a deep conviction of how little I value MY salvation.

These 3500 people are locked into fear and superstition and a future worse than their present conditions.  Yet, I, by God’s grace have been given the most valuable gift anyone could want – God’s Holy Spirit presence with me right now, because of the Cross, and a future with Jesus, face to face.

So, what’s wrong with me?  Why am I not stunned by His grace, past, present, and future?

Two days ago, as I pondered and prayed for a people group currently imprisoned in darkness, I thought about ALL my prayer requests, not just the ones for others’ salvation.  I realized that each person’s request could be paired with multiple examples of God’s past provision TO ME of the very same grace I was begging God to give someone on my list.

For example, one son and his wife were traveling home from a trip this past Saturday.  I prayed for their safety.  Then the Holy Spirit reminded me of how He had brought Mike and me home safely only 3 days earlier.  I quickly thanked the Father for that, with a sudden rush of gratitude.

What I am beginning to confess is not just blindness to God’s hourly goodness in my life, BUT a pathway to NOTICE, NAME and EXALT Him for all His benefits and gifts.

I’m a language teacher, not a science person.  But even I recall something about Newton’s laws of motion. His 3rd law goes like this:

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

So if I’m obeying God’s law or principle, then each time I ask Him for something for someone, that request should generate the equal and opposite act of gratitude for having met the same or similar need in my life.

Here’s one small illustration of how I put this insight into practice today as I was preparing to leave home for school.

  • Initial action: Father, please give my husband your peace this day as he works from home and keep our house safe.
  • The opposite and equal REaction: Father, thank you for protecting our house through the night.  No trees came down on it, despite all the rain we have had over the past 2 weeks. Thank you also for how you are growing my husband, through Your Word, to depend on You when problems confront him.

My hope is that by praying according to this ‘Law of Physics’, which is a principle our Creator God set up, that my eyes will focus more readily on all the gifts He gives me hour by hour.  He really does ‘load us with blessings’ each day.  (Psalm 68:19)

I repent of time lost to praise Him.

 

 

More Spiritual lessons from a colonoscopy

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Genesis 39:9 How then could I do such a wicked thing, (such as WORRY), and sin against God?

If you read my previous post on this topic, you might remember that God granted me a ‘do-over’ of that lovely procedure, reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Groundhog day image

As little as I relished prepping for yet ANOTHER colon check, I realized that God was giving me practice in being content, not grumbling and relying on Him.

In His providence, I have been slowly reading, taking notes and meditating on truths from a collection of John Owen’s works on sin and temptation.

John Owen

One truth from his pages seems to be a pointed message from God to me:

  • I need have only ONE focus in this life, as a redeemed and adopted child. Singular & total obedience to God.  That’s it.

Application? If I am called ‘only’ to obey God, per His instructions in His Word, then I don’t have to (in fact I am commanded NOT to):

  • worry
  • fear
  • stress
  • dread or even….
  • rush!

So what KINDS of obedience am I called to?  How’s this for starters? I’m to…….

  • Cast all my cares on Him
  • Be glad in Him
  • Trust and rely on Him
  • Glorify Him
  • Serve Him with gladness
  • Wait patiently for Him to act on my behalf

Can you see why I viewed an extra colonoscopy as practice in obeying God?  This time, I was determined, by grace, NOT to complain or feel sorry for myself.  I wanted to see if I could make it through the prep days relying only on His sustaining, provisioning grace.

As “C Day, 2.0” approached, I refused to indulge in worry, fear, stress or dread.  Each time I STARTED to go down that trail of sin, I caught myself up short, repented and reminded myself of the many, many promises of grace like:

  • My grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor 12:9)

The night before the procedure, Mike said a couple of time:

“You poor thing!”  or

“I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this again!”

Each time, I stopped his tender sympathy with:

“Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m okay.  The Lord is sustaining me! “

So…..where did I experience His grace?

One example is that the ‘morning of’ when I had to finish the gallon of ‘clean you out stuff’, the plastic jug had sat in the frig all night and grown colder.  As a result, the 7 cups I downed in an hour WERE, in fact, easier than the 9 doses the night before.

Other examples of grace I saw our good Father furnish WITHOUT the ‘help of my worrying’ were:

  • no trees down on our property impeding our way out (and perhaps preventing or delaying my arrival – something I had projected and feared the first time)
  • the doctor’s on-time arrival, having commuted 45 minutes to the hospital (a previous worry – What if he doesn’t show up and they have to reschedule?????)
  • no ‘doctor errors’ such as perforations…..
  • a wise post-procedure nurse who told me I did NOT have to submit to the doctor’s announcement that I needed yet a 3rd procedure –  a barium enema with X-ray because my prep was only ‘fair’ (although happily good enough for him to complete the colonoscopy)
  • no ‘abnormalities’ found

But the most significant gift to me was this:  to learn that YES, I can rely on God for potentially scary and unpleasant trials.  And with the help of His powerful Holy Spirit, I can resist self-pity and complaining.

The morning of the procedure I was reading and praying through our assigned portion of Scripture along with some devotions (and chugging my ‘cocktail’!)   I happened to read the Genesis verse at the beginning of this post. It struck me that when I worry/fear/stress/dread or rush, I am sinning greatly against God.  Really?  Yes! For God cares about our hearts.  Your and my behavior is just a tip of the iceberg.   This gentle reminder from Joseph in Egypt against his will reinforced my new and singular focus – obedience to God.

With full sincerity, I can now say that I see the value from God’s perspective, that of training me by arranging for me to go through this ‘trial’ again.  I want to build on what I learned in this ‘pop quiz’.   God’s grace IS sufficient for anything He sovereignly plans for us.  To God be the glory!

 

 

Spiritual lesson from a botched colonoscopy

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Our Father has a sense of humor.  Even with colonoscopies.

It was the dreaded 10-year purge by puke-worthy prep liquid ritual of aging.

D Day – 2:  give up my beloved fruits and vegetables.  I started to feel ‘OTHER’ when I dined with my colleagues at school.

D Day – 1: no food after 11:59 am.  I stayed in my classroom during ‘lunch’ so I wouldn’t have to WATCH my colleagues enjoy their food.  Pity party continued all afternoon.  Got home and endured my Purge Cocktail. Happily chugged 32 ounces of water right afterward as directed.  Looked forward to warming some vegetable broth (I’m vegan for 18 out of 21 meals a week) to nurse AFTER that my ordeal.  Only to find out that the reason they restrict one to chicken broth is that it’s LIGHT colored and my veg broth is DARK.  And dark colors are ‘verboten’. Nothing but peppermint tea for me rest of evening.  Meanwhile, Mike enjoyed his dinner.  And wine.

D Day – my only consolation for the double horror of round 2 of the prep liquid is that ‘At least I won’t have to do this for another 10 years!’.  Famous last words.

Matthew 6:25-27  Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Once my morning beverage was behind me, the ‘what ifs’ taunted me.  I listened for a while:

  • The doctor who was to do the procedure had told me that he lived in Asheville and commuted the 45-50 minutes to my local hospital.  ‘What if he is sick?  or has car trouble?  or there is traffic? If he can’t make it in, they’d have to RESCHEDULE me!  And I’ll have to drink that stuff all over again!’

I fought that fear with facts about God’s providence and control over every single molecule in the universe.

The worry gremlins probed again:

  • ‘What if there is a tree that has fallen down in the middle of the night, after all that rain?.  It might block our egress off of the mountain onto the 4-lane to the hospital?’

Again, by faith I reminded myself of who God was, meditating on His command:  Be still and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)   Whew! Once down the hill, I thanked our good God.

We arrived at the hospital on time at 7:15.  All went well.  The staff was friendly and competent.  The doctor poked his head into the prep room to greet both of us.  The procedure went well from my point of view.  Quicker than both Mike and I expected I was wheeled back into the prep room.

Then the ‘bombshell’.   “You weren’t cleaned out enough.  I could not complete the scope.  I’m afraid we’ll have to reschedule you. Soon.”

Rats and double rats!  That’s putting it mildly.  I responded to the gastrointestinal expert with something a little more reflective of how I actually felt.  I had not anticipated this possibility.  In fact, I had not even WORRIED through this scenario.

As Mike and I were driving back up the mountain lane to our house, I contemplated yet another round of this ‘hardship’. Suddenly I saw the absolute futility of worrying about possible negative outcomes.  A chuckle escaped.  Mike looked over at me in the passenger seat, eyebrows raised.  I explained:

“Michael, you and I worry about different things.  But worry is worry, no matter what flavor.  I suddenly see that I wasted energy angsting over what might occur to cause me to have to go through that awful prep, all over again.  I think God is showing me that I cannot predict anything, so why should I bother mucking around in possible negative futures?  He’s sovereign, one way or another.  Better just to relax and trust Him.  Usually what I worry about never even comes to pass.  And if He has an event planned for me, then He will provide the grace to enable me to live through it.  Today, apparently, was more TRAINING that I needed.  He’s trying to teach me NOT to worry, but to rely on Him.”

Mike nodded in agreement.  He recognizes that each day contains these kinds of lesson plans. Part of God’s daily spiritual ‘workouts’ to make us more like our Big Brother, Jesus.

But do you know what?  There’s a happy corollary to this pattern of God’s, His unpredictability in some things.  He has unimaginably good and joyful plans for us, too:

1 Cor 2:9 (NLT) That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”

So….what did I learn from this to-be-repeated unpleasantness?  Simply that there is absolutely NO good reason to worry.  May God help me remember that!

 

 

How to understand suffering – some of the ways

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A friend applies for job after job, only to make it to the final interview and be rejected. Not just once, but discouragingly, a number of times.

Another gal miscarries, yet again. The hope of carrying a baby to term erodes with each pregnancy.

Then there is an older sister in the faith who has been through so many cancer treatments, from chemo to radiation to surgery to enduring experimental drugs in clinical trials.  Nothing seems to work.

One more example, a brother who struggles wholeheartedly to save his marriage through prayer, fasting and pursuing counseling.  Alone.  Nonetheless, his wife wants no part in an attempt to reconcile and files for divorce.

These are 4 standout examples of suffering that quickly came to mind.  We all can enumerate such cases and more.

How about the more mundane types of painful struggle like trying to give up drinking, one more time? Or losing that weight, over and over?  Or attempting to engage in conversation your silent, sullen teen?

Do you ever feel like you keep praying, even quoting scripture BACK to God yet nothing changes?

I have significant unanswered prayers in my own life and have…. and am walking through similar suffering in the lives of friends and family in the faith.

Now at age 60, I’m recognizing some of the reasons that God seems sovereignly to ordain such circumstances.  I’ll mention a few, but as John Piper has taught me over the years of listening to his sermons, (and I’ll paraphrase): ‘God is doing 1000 things at one time in any event and we might only be able to spot two or three.’

(If you don’t yet know what to do with evidence in the Bible that God CAUSES suffering, here is one verse to illustrate that fact: Psalm 88:8 ‘You have removed my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an object of loathing to them; I am shut up and cannot go out’

Here are the reasons that I’ve seen in the past year or so that God might be saying ‘No’ to the sincere and fervent prayers of a righteous Christian:

  • What you are praying for is not ‘good’ per God.  For if something IS good, then He doesn’t withhold it:  Ps 84:11  ‘no good thing does he withhold from those whose way is upright’
  • The way you are choosing to go and asking for his permission does not showcase God’s righteousness.  Ps 23: 3 ‘He leads me in paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.’
  • Per Anne Graham Lotz, our Father sometimes repeatedly shuts doors to a work until he has refined our purpose FOR the project.
  • Since God has created us to showcase his value as explained in Isaiah 43:6-7  ‘Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth—everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’ then in some cases God blocks ways and projects that work counter to his purposes.

The other morning I was listening to an archived John Piper Sermon about joy.  And what I realized is this:

IF God’s purpose in creating us is to showcase how much we treasure HIM above anything he has created, then it is possible he is ordaining our circumstances in the optimal manner to fulfill this purpose.

Recall that God fashions, calls and redeems a particular group of people for his glory, that is for us to showcase just how much we esteem HIM above anything else in the universe.  If this is so, then how does the world figure out that we consider God OUR MOST valuable possession?

Yes, by taking away other sources of contentment and pleasure. For if we have ‘earthly success’ but actually treasure God more than that success, what would be the evidence to the non-believer that the Triune God is more precious to us than gold or good health or a happy family or fame?

How will my non-believing neighbor see that knowing God makes me supremely happy?

I think you can figure out where I’m going with this.  Perhaps the most striking example of a Christian being content with Christ is when something normal and important is removed.  Or everything is stripped away:

  • think of Paul beaten and confined in prison
  • or Stephen stoned to death
  • or heroes of the faith burned at the stake for their beliefs
  • or a Columbine High School teen standing up and identifying herself as a follower of Jesus
  • or the Amish families who ministered to the widow and children of the murderer of their girls

That kind of faith doesn’t make sense to the world, but it sure does make God look good.

Is this why you are suffering? why God seems to be keeping doors shut or saying no?

I don’t presume to say.  I will say, though, that the longer I live, pray with friends and read my Bible I see more redemptive reasons for suffering for Christ’s sake.

If the above examples leave you depressed, here are two other reasons that will lift your spirits:

  • Joseph was sold into slavery, slandered and forgotten for years in Egypt before God’s good plan was revealed – Genesis 50:20  ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’
  • Job’s suffering – at the time, he likely did not know about or understand God’s purpose in giving Satan almost free reign to harm him. But over the centuries thousands of Jews and Christians have found help and strength to endure their own painful trials and losses.

Let’s allow God the final word:

1 Peter 4:19 ‘So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.’

 

The prophet Samuel’s scumbag sons and God’s will

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Was the prophet Samuel a bad dad?  After all, the people rejected both his sons to be the next judge because of their immoral characters.

1 Samuel 8: 1-3 When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel.  The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

Before today, I always concluded that Samuel, as godly a judge as he was for Israel, failed to train up his sons according to God’s word, sadly following the pattern of his predecessor and mentor, Eli.

Today I changed my mind, as I read this familiar passage.  When Samuel shares his disappointment and anger that the people don’t WANT his sons to succeed him, God says NOTHING about the character of his boys. Instead, God replies:  …..obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.

Why is Yahweh changing the routine now? Ever since Joshua died, God has raised up a new judge to rescue and guide His people.

I think it’s because the time has providentially come to set in motion a line of kings beginning with the good-looking, but weak-willed and jealous Saul all the way to the perfect King, Jesus.

God’s sovereign will trumps and overrides any action or non-action of man.

Did you get that?

Neither our GOOD actions nor our SIN determines the final outcome of events.

If we conclude that Samuel was a lousy dad and failed to train his sons properly, it is only out of speculation! The text is silent, contrary to what we read about Eli and how he fathered the other two priests, Hophni and Phinehas.  God explicitly rebukes Eli and announces severe punishment for Eli’s poor parenting.

1 Sam 3:13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them.

No such detail is given about Samuel to explain his sons’ greed and perversion of justice.  So we must beware of looking at their character and laying the blame at the Prophet’s feet. God has His reasons for each of us and each circumstance that we can only guess at.

I write this NOT to give me or you an excuse for not doing what we should.

I write this to correct our occasional false conclusions about our successes and failures.

What are you claiming is a failure in your life?  Yes, you might have exercised poor judgment or made some mistakes that led to this failure.  But could it be that God is actually directing the circumstances?  For His GOOD purposes which remain unknown to us at this time?

Likewise, we must beware of taking credit for good turns of events, what we often claim are successes due to us!  As Paul in Romans 12:6 teaches  – We have different gifts according to the grace given us.  And you can be sure that what God has given is for a specific purpose of His.

Resting in God’s sovereign control helps me both to NOT beat myself up when I fail nor to boast when I succeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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