What do we do when life goes south?

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We all face disappointments, some minor, some crushing.  God, I have learned, does not waste our trials.  In fact, He explicitly tells us that we WILL have trouble in this life – all of us, whether Christ-follower or not.  As believers who have God’s Word,  we should expect to suffer.  I read just this morning in Acts 14: 21b – 22:  “Then they (Paul and Barnabas) returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, ‘ they said.” 

So how do we think when yet another blow comes?  Recently I’ve been gifted with a situation that requires me to regain my balance and ‘prepare my mind for action’, as Peter exhorts.

The elevator synopsis is this:  While enjoying my best year of teaching kids French and anticipating staying on at my current school for a while longer, the tables turned abruptly and I know I need to look for a different job for after this contract year ends in June.

Here is how I am bookending or ‘sandwiching’ these new circumstances, using God’s exhortation through Paul to me:

Philippians 4: 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

The background is this:  two believing Philippian gals were upset with each other and the entire family of God was affected. Even Paul at a distance had received reports of this disruptive and sinful conflict.  By NAME, the apostle exhorts these two sisters in Christ to drop the issue and focus on the stupendous fact that both their names are written in the Book of Life.  How’s THAT for putting a dispute into context?

Paul’s thoughts then run to a myriad of OTHER reasons to find greater joy in the Lord than being right or vindicated in a disagreement.  Hence his double directive – ‘Think over all the gifts you have as a child of the Living God! Now THOSE are worth rejoicing about, over and over again, not just once!’

Philippians 4:5  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

I think the logic goes like this:  the über-rejoicing about being in Christ should result in you being mild in temperament, easy to get along with.  Let THAT quality be what people talk about when they mention you, not that you are quarrelsome.  And if you need help with self-control, take heart – Jesus is close by, ready to enable you to build this new habit.

And if you say, ‘But what about my grievance with my sister?  It’s a real problem and still bothers me!’  Take heart, because Paul goes on to provide THE way to deal with that need and all others:

Philippians 4:6 …do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 

Jesus is our Lord and aims to take care of ANYthing that weighs on us.  But we have to hand it over, for good!  How?  By asking Him to take it on.  I see the thanksgiving part of this teaching as what we do each and every time we forget that the problem NOW belongs to Him.  Instead of worrying, we must say something like:

‘Oh, right, there I go again!  I have started dwelling on the fact that I need a new job.  But I have handed that problem over to You, my Lord.  Thank you, Jesus, that you are managing this for me.  Help me to NOT to take it back, as I am prone to do.’

With the abruptness last week of finding out I need to start a job search, I have succumbed several nights in bed to thinking, thinking, thinking about lots of ‘what ifs’.  That is just plain ‘ole’ sinful WORRY!  Each time I catch myself, I repent and ask for His help to do what He commands.

What carrot does God offer as an inducement to rely on Him to bring about a resolution to my situation?  Something the entire world longs for, pagan and believer alike – true and lasting peace!

Philippians 4:7  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Our hearts are the seat of our longings and desires.  And our minds are a thought-generating factory.  As Christians, we need supernatural help to protect and block wrong desires and sinful ideas.  It’s no secret that our strong hankerings and thoughts fuel our actions.

I take Paul’s teaching in verse 7 to mean this:  God’s powerful peace, strong enough to shield you and me from harmful wants and musings, is ONLY given to those who STOP trying to handle their needs and manage their problems on their own.  We only get His peace if we abandon our situation entirely, 100 %, to Him.  But if you’re like me, worrying sneaks up on us unaware.  We often pretend and call it ‘being concerned and responsible’.  Phooey!  Bottom line, how bad do we want to be steadied by this promised gift of peace?  The way to HAVE and to HOLD it is by exercising God’s gift of faith – trusting in and relying on His character and His promises to provide.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Why this advice?  Paul has learned that even when he has set his mind to:

  • rejoicing a lot about all that Jesus is for Him
  • committing to His Lord and Savior all his stressful situations and those of believers he dearly loves
  • he still has mind-space to worry.

His remedy is to fix his thoughts on the many beautiful and true God-given gifts, worthy of his mental energy.  You and I are to do the same.  For instance, when I notice the cleaning lady at school treating her job with dignity, consider her example. Or when I learn about one or two honest, earnest politicians who take their responsibility seriously, I can praise God for His goodness.

But just in case, my mind has such a large capacity that I run out of ideas that are healing and safe, Paul gives us a challenge that should take up the rest of our mental energy:

Philippians 4:9  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Do you know how hard it would be to copy Paul and to practice, over and over, his habits of speech and rest and trust and thinking well of others?  That’s why I say that God has given us plenty, more than enough, to fill and steady our minds and hearts.  His promise of reward is not just PEACE, but Himself as the God of peace.

Wasn’t it the bus company Greyhound who advertised:  ‘Leave the driving to us’?  One of the reasons for traveling with them was so passengers could relax and focus on the scenery and enjoy the people around them instead of stressing over the traffic.

In the same way, we are to leave the worrying to God.  We’re NOT the driver, nor the captain of our souls.  Those jobs are way beyond the abilities God in His wisdom has deemed good and safe for us.

So, this job situation, I see as another opportunity to enjoy God’s peace and practice my Uncle Paul in contentment.  How about you?

Make it obvious, Lord

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Psalm 5:9 – Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness
    because of my enemies—
    make your way straight, before me.

Straight path

How kind of God to give us the specific words to pray for obvious, ‘in-your-face’ guidance and direction.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t want to have to GUESS what God wants you to do!  Therefore, it is doubly good news that our Heavenly Father tells us to pray for a straight path that is unmistakable.  Does that mean the path will be easy?  or provide us with a constant view of the destination? Not necessarily.  Come with me and take a moment to think about what a ‘straight path’ implies:

  • In the photo above, can we see any obvious stopping point or terminus?  No.  But we do see enough of the path to walk on for probably 5 more minutes. From past experience, God gives just enough light for the next step.  I certainly WANT more, but I’m learning that this is God’s way and He is giving me practice in trusting Him.
  • A straight path is not necessarily a level path.  Sometimes the way ahead is UPHILL.  We live in the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina.  In our cove, the incline is about 13 % on average.  So when we walk DOWN the half mile to get the newspaper, we have to walk back UP.  It’s hard.  And it doesn’t FEEL like it has gotten any easier in the 2 years we have lived here.  My point is that even straight paths are difficult.  Somehow knowing that ‘hard is normal’ make it easier to accept

To amplify this ‘Life is difficult by design’ truth, I’ll share with you a verse that Joni Eareckson Tada spoke about this week on her radio broadcast Link to the radio page of her website.  She told the story of Paul undergoing a sudden furious stoning that was meant to kill him.  Paul’s own analysis of this murderous attack was that this was God’s training. So Paul explicitly used it in his instruction of new believers:

  •  Acts 14:21-22 – after being stoned and left for dead (acute suffering) Paul taught the following, with Barnabas accompanying Him –  “They preached the gospel in that city (Derbe)  and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faithWe must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God, they said.

One final thought about God’s provision of the righteous path, the God-glorifying path: He will show us how to live, where to go, what posture or lifestyle to adopt in the face of enemies.  That we will live among enemies is a given!  What sort of enemies are these?

As many wise Christians have counseled, we should not be collecting enemies needlessly because we are jerks! But there WILL be enemies set on our destruction if we are showing our true colors as redeemed, forgiven, beloved children of the King. As long as we are sons and daughters who fearlessly, with joy, share news of available freedom from guilt and adoption as a sibling of Jesus we will be opposed.  Satan and his spiritual forces of darkness DON’T consider what we herald as good news.  And they sow lies as often as they can, through whatever means they can, both IN the church and in secular society.

Satan's plan

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